photo by Jon Gordon
Today’s Biz Ladies profile comes to us from ceramic artist, Demetria Chappo. Growing up around ceramics, Demetria learned early on that she had a passion for the craft. She began selling her work at various craft fairs and events and eventually set up shop in Brooklyn, where she continues to make her collections. Today she shares a bit with us about her career path and personal business strategies. Thank you, Demetria, for sharing your journey with us! –Stephanie
Read the full interview after the jump…
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I started making ceramics in college elective courses. There’s a little synchronicity too; my mother earned her MFA in ceramics and was making pieces when I was very young, so there’s a part of me that has always felt this connection with the clay! But I really fell in love with it in the last eight years. At some point, friends and family were asking where to buy my pieces, and with their encouragement I tried a few craft fairs. I remember a pottery teacher of mine saying that selling your work changes your relationship with it. At the time, it was hard to understand what he meant, but I discovered the response from total strangers was really exciting, energizing and it inspired me to pursue it further.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
My inspirations, interests and body of work morph, cycle and grow. I’ve learned the same takes place with business directions, as I’ve seen in my marketing career working with brands both large and growing. So, honoring and staying true to myself has been the underlying thread that defines what I do. Joy, happiness and fun, both having and sharing, are also really important to me and so I move forward with these principals in the business I build.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
More than any specific advice, I’ve gained the most from the consistent support from those around me. I’m lucky to have grown up surrounded by creatives. My parents own a landscape design and horticulture firm and my brother makes his living as a musician with the band CHAPPO, he are constantly sharing feedback and advice which is invaluable to me. I also have my sister and dear friends who have given me endless support and encouragement.
I have a running list of advice/mottos/sayings that I respond to and that help me in the day to day. A few of them include:
“Do what you love”
“Don’t let the bastards get you down”
“When you are in a hurry, go slow”
“Dance for the kiln gods”
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The inertia of over thinking. It can really get in your way. You have to let go enough to try things, put yourself out there and recognize it’s always a moving target that’s going to change. I’ve caught myself hesitating on things that when I look back shouldn’t have been things to hold me up – like shooting photos or launching a website update. I aim to be conscious of those moments when I spend more time on things than I should, falling prey to perfectionism or second guesses. No one will ever remember what you didn’t do. Self doubt can be failure’s evil partner in crime.
Oh, and pricing is an absolute beast. Finding the Goldilocks balance is a challenge and it’s essential you don’t undervalue your creative work, time and cost of goods.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
I feel like I’m always learning lessons (can you ask me again in another ten years). I keep coming back to, just give it a try, but trust your instincts on when to say no. And sometimes it comes down to trying the same thing at a different time.
One example that sticks out was when I was getting a great response on my planters and people loved the plants I used for display so much that they really wanted the plants too. At first I fought it and wanted only to sell my planters, but I realized I was able to offer something unique by having grown up around plants and horticulture my whole life, and, then, I got really into sourcing a particular plant for each piece. If I had dug in my heels I would have missed a great opportunity to grow my collection of Miniature Gardens and Sculpture Pods.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
For me, failure really falls under not trying, not risking and not facing the challenge. Some things work, while others don’t and those experiences are about learning and what you take away, with an occasional sacrifice to the kiln gods.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
With a budding business, every great sale and new account imparts a feeling of success and fuels the fire. I absolutely get a kick out of pots in the wild! Seeing a photo of a piece I made years ago displayed in someone’s home, a post of them wearing it or hearing about how much their mom loved the gift, it rocks. When what I created with my hands makes someone smile or when they interact with a piece, that’s rewarding.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
The biggest resources for me have been sharing experiences with other artists and entrepreneurs. Making contact with someone at a market or reaching out to someone doing a similar thing has created amazing friendships and business connections. Forums and industry groups are also fantastic places to learn, bounce ideas and get advice. I look to all these connections for tips on suppliers, contract negotiations, rates, and great retailer feedback. And there’s the small business camaraderie.
I also recommend teaching or volunteering. I teach children’s ceramics which has been so inspiring as well as so grounding. Getting back to basics, reiterating technique and process is fruitful for my own work and often translates to the business side. And kids! They are completely free and their creativity is extraordinary. It’s a charge to be around them and makes me want to dive into my work with the same spirit.
photo by Lindsey Schneider
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
When you have your own business, you’re at the convergence point of it’s personal and it’s business. I believe bringing your passion, heart and self into your work makes it the strongest and is the most rewarding.
So, first and foremost, ask yourself: do you love what you do and have a passion for it? That’s essential.
Make good relationships and be your kind self, you never know where things lead and how they connect.
Do your thing, work from the heart, and trust that.