Tammy Gammon’s house caught fire, destroying both her burgeoning fashion business and the Atlanta home she shared with three sons — an 11-year-old and 16-year-old twins. For two months, the family of four lived in a hotel. Then, COVID-19 struck. It wasn’t enough to stop the artist and entrepreneur.
Gammon grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and moved to Miami when she was 17. After graduating from FIU in 2000 with a degree in English, she taught English to 6-8th graders whose first language was not English. The only way she was able to initially communicate with her students was through her first love — art. She then switched to higher education, eventually becoming director of admissions for an online university.
Five years ago, the working mom tried her hand at painting a pair of earrings. And just like that, Three Dream Designs was born — a collection of art, life and memories. The colorful pieces were a definite statement piece. Gammon became an entrepreneur, transforming a room in her house into a studio and creating handmade earrings, accessories, paintings and wearable art.
Working from home in Atlanta gave Gammon more time to focus on her sons, one of which has special needs.
Her work is inspired by her Caribbean roots and time spent drinking café con leches in Miami’s Little Havana, she says. The jewelry and clothing designs celebrate women of color, abstract expressionism, stylized mandalas and bright colors.
The January fire that tore through her home destroyed all of her artistic creations, wiping out her business’ inventory. While living in a one-bedroom hotel room, she sketched and painted earrings to keep the business going. Hotel staff noticed. The housekeeper attending to her room saw it all and word spread. Gammon sold the pieces and began saving up money.
“I remember saying, ‘I have to come back from this. I have to come back stronger. I don’t know how, but I will.’”
Gammon and her sons returned to their repaired home at the end of March, just as COVID-19 was gripping much of the country. Worried how the pandemic was affecting the economy, she kept working. Her heart was set on launching a new line. She bought all the materials she needed, leaving only $2.30 in her bank account.
Two days later, she launched. It sold out.
Gammon decided to gamble a second time. She sent $300 worth of her merchandise to Tabitha Brown – an American social media influencer and actress.
Once again, the gamble paid off. Brown wore a swimsuit Gammon sent her the day after she received the package and posted a photo to her Instagram account, which has more than 3 million followers. It went viral. Then Brown wore a dress Gammon sent, and that went viral too.
Tammy Gammon's hand-painted earrings.
Gammon’s dresses and swimsuits started selling out fast. She had to stop, replenish and hold the pieces for a virtual international women’s conference with the Jamaican Chamber of Commerce for Women in Atlanta where she was scheduled to present.
Currently, Gammon has 56 different products that she hopes will give people life, love and hope.
“When I’m painting, I have music playing,” Gammon said. “Bachata, everything else. It’s just being able to light up.” I want somebody to look at my pieces and just say, “You know what, I feel it.’”
Gammon has a long-term goal of creating a nonprofit – Tam Gam Foundation – which she hopes is up and running within the next 10 years to help medically fragile children and people who suffer from depression. For now, the artist, designer and business owner sketches drawings and sends them to children and elderly people in nursing homes to paint.
“The paintings won’t look like Picassos but who cares,” she said. “It’s just that they are actually doing something and not thinking about that pain or anything else right now.”
Until then, she will continue to share her art with the world through her wearable designs, pop-up galleries and exhibits. Her work is also found in a wide ethnic variety of homes in the United States, Jamaica and other parts of the Caribbean, as well as the Blu Rose Art Gallery in Georgia. Her products are available for purchase online and can also be seen on Instagram and Facebook.
When asked to describe her life in one word, the answer was simple. Phoenix.
Tammy Gammon was recently featured in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education series Humans of CASE.