Chentell of Convivial Productions was so nice to sit down with me and share her success story. You’ll love her determination and advice.
Can you take us on the journey of your creative career path so far?
I was born and raised on Maui, the most charming of the Hawaiian islands. It was here, nine years ago (so crazy to say that I have been developing a skill for 9 years!), that I took my first ceramics course as a high school freshman. My oldest and only sister at the time was in the class, so I automatically considered it “cool” and signed up. My teacher took immediate interest in my work and encouraged me to continue developing my ideas through numerous independent studio courses. Looking back I think this is where I learned to set my own artistic goals and how to develop projects functionally and conceptually. I took a class every year and approaching graduation I was sure I wanted to continue my education as an artist. It’s interesting because people always speak of my work as if it was a hobby that magically developed into a business, but this is far from the truth. I always knew I would create a career as an artist and looking back I think this assurance is what enabled me to move forward with such direction. Continuing with the timeline, post high school graduation I attended Wheaton College, a small liberal arts school in the suburbs of Chicago. I entered as a Interdisciplinary Major in Community Art, Urban Studies, and Ceramics and that is exactly how I left. I loved what I was studying and the more years that went by the more my dedication grew. Approaching graduation I began developing business ideas, strategizing how I was going to build opportunities for myself and get involved with which ever community I landed in. This leads me to my transition from Chicago to Kansas City, a decision I am so grateful I made. Never would I have imagined myself living in KC. I am honestly not sure I knew it existed prior to my college days, but none the less I am finding more each day that this city is exactly what I needed in order to begin my work and to begin it this soon in my life. Summing up the rest of a long story, which I will get into more below, I began Convivial Production a few months after moving to KC, officially establish in 2014, and I work consistently each day to further the work and the company, moving it towards all that I know it can be.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve overcome so far in your business?
I will be brutally honest here, because this has been a thought I’ve found hard to escape. My biggest challenge, putting aside the never ending question of “where did all my inventory just go?”, has been coming to the realization that most people, when they hear of the “success” or I think I’d prefer to say, the opportunities that I am being presented with, they are not genuinely happy for me. I can see it in peoples eyes, their body language, and the change in the tone of their voice. Realizing this has been truly disappointing and it has changed the way I interact and speak with most friends. It’s a hard line to walk – wanting so bad to share good news while trying to discern when I need to reserve information in order to care for others. I’m not sure I’ve figured out how to navigate this jet yet, but I’m working on it.
What has been the biggest ‘fist-pump’/successful moment for you so far?
I think the coolest part of this experience has been the timing. Like previously mentioned, I always saw my work as a career, but I am not sure I ever considered a timeline. SO I would say my biggest ‘fist-pump’ moment has been realizing that within a year of graduating college I am running a full-time business and am being contacted by companies that I’ve admired growing up. West Elm, Urban Outfitters, you guys rock! Pound it.
Do you ever have doubts as to your future creative direction? Are there things you yearn to achieve, but haven’t yet found the time for?
Oh time, don’t get me started on time! Yes and yes. I wouldn’t say doubts, but definitely questions. I have a ton of questions. And time… there is not enough! My “dream job,” beyond what I am doing now, is to just be the designer of CP. Have an idea, make it, and provide jobs for others to recreate it. That’s my future solution for finding time to do things I yearn to achieve. Delegate and invite others to join the company.
Are there times when your creativity and inspiration seem to disappear? How do you handle that?
Yeah I have experienced this. I find that it is usually when I transition to a new space. There is something about being in the groove that keeps ideas turning, working day after day, one project to the next. It seems to just flow. But when I move somewhere new and try to do the same designs it never feels right. Typically I just know this means it time for new work and I start fresh. For inspiration, I tell this to a lot of creatives, never look on the internet! Never use pintrest. I’ll say it again…NEVER!. The reality is, nothing you make after looking there will ever be original, and honestly you’ll probably feel defeated after anyways because you’ll feel as if everything has already been done. What I typically do when I need new inspiration is walk nearby streets or take a drive through the city. Something about this feels more authentic and it sparks new ideas.
How do you balance your work with the rest of your life ~ what does a typical day in your life look like?
Yikes. I don’t know! A book I recently read about a young entrepreneur described the main character as a “one girl assembly line.” This made me laugh and honestly it almost caused me to tear up a bit. I can relate! It’s so difficult to do or think about anything else when starting a new venture, especially when all the company’s responsibilities seem to be your personal responsibilities. Most days I am up at six am starting production and I don’t fall into bed until midnight. Each day is packed with it’s own deadlines and tomorrow’s tasks never seems to relent. This is something I am really thinking through for the future. For now I am okay with the fact that I work 18 hour days, but I know this will not be a sustainable schedule in the long-run. For now my mindset is to work my hardest, get all that needs to be done done, know when a priority arises that is not work related, be willing to stop and sacrifice for whatever it is, and work thoughtfully on making a sustainable plan for the future.
What has been the best marketing move you’ve ever made for your own business?
“Say ‘YES’ to every opportunity.” These words have been ringing through my ears for the past year. Leah Samuelson, a dear professor of mine at Wheaton said this within one of her final lectures to our class, and I truly took her words and put them into practice. For the past year every opportunity, without much investigation, thought, or contemplation, I have quickly said “yes, of course, lets do it.” This is my first thought. My second is that in all I have done, I have been very specific about the aesthetics, display, photography, brand, and quality of my work. When people see the work I want them to be inspired not only my the product, but how they can use it with their personal space.
What is one piece of advice you’d like to give fellow makers about running a successful creative business?
Don’t look obsessively at other people’s work. Don’t be discouraged that others are “ahead” of you. Be confident in your unique perspective and trust that if you give yourself space to think and create aside from all that the world is throwing at you, you will make work that is true and unique.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?
Taking a long vacation! Kidding. In five years I plan on having a full time production and customer service staff that allows for me to focus specifically on designing new lines of work. Can’t wait!
You can find Convivial Production online:
Etsy – Convivial Production
Instagram – @convivialproduction
Facebook – Convivial Production