A Craft Business Owner’s Journey: Meet Chandra Chatmon
Chandra Chatmon, born and raised in Berkeley, California, is a creative businesswoman. Awaiting the interview questions, she’s posed at her computer screen with a cool, calm, and reserved demeanor. When she speaks, her voice captures attention. Her speaking is clear, firm, professional, polite, transparent, and confident. Speaking of confidence, she took a bold step when she left her corporate job to start a jewelry-making business. Known for her wire jewelry designs and bold colors, this third-generation crafter got her creative influence from her mother and grandmother.
Chandra proudly speaks of her creative influences during early childhood. Her mom, who was a seamstress, taught her how to draw and cut pattern shapes. She was also known for her stylish fashion, which impacted Chandra as well. Then, Chandra learned how to crochet from her grandmother.
Since then, she has acquired knitting and quilting skills. While knitting and crocheting are different, they are viewed as the same by many. When asked to explain the difference between knitting and crocheting, Chandra was more than happy to elaborate.
“Even though knitting and crocheting are related, crocheting only requires one needle, whereas two needles are utilized when knitting. Secondly, knitting typically produces a flatter fabric when using a stockinette stitch. Thirdly, crocheting is more textured, working one stitch at a time per row. With knitting, you’re engaging in several stitches at a time per row.”
She goes further to explain quilting.
“It’s in a class by itself. Oftentimes, people think a quilt is made of fabrics, but you can knit or crochet pieces to weave together to make a quilt. It utilizes various techniques, including sewing, rather it’s by hand or a sewing machine. They can also be finished with embroidery and can comprise a combination of all mentioned techniques.”
During Winter College Break
Growing up making crafts with her family and taking home economics in school, Chandra tried a new project. One day, she wandered into a yarn shop a few days before Christmas. When the store owner asked if she was interested in learning how to knit, Chandra was up for the challenge. Three hours later, she learned how to cast yarn on needles, create basic stitches, and read a pattern. Not wanting to leave her skills at the store, she purchased yarn to make a knitted sweater, which she gifted to her mother.
From Corporate America to Making Jewelry
Having a corporate job is a dream come true for some. It wasn’t Chandra’s intention to trade in her job to make jewelry. While working in a corporate setting, Chandra found herself buying lots of jewelry to complement her wardrobe. One day, she had an “aha” moment. She looked at the jewelry designs and decided to start making her own jewelry sets. In the beginning, she saw this as a hobby that relieved stress.
However, it was her husband who suggested participating in exhibitions. Since they lived near the city’s arts district, she contacted the exhibitions and participated in various shows. As she talks about her first craft show vendor experience, she mentions the fear and excitement co-existing. The thought of sharing her work with others and seeing their reactions scared her. But the feedback from others ultimately encouraged her to keep pursuing this craft.
Her advice to newcomers is, “Believe in yourself and what you’re doing. It’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t respond to your work the way you might hope or expect. Use feedback to understand strengths and weaknesses. Keep moving forward.”
When asked about selling and pricing products for a vendor show, Chandra said,
“Sell what you would purchase is a great way to start. You’ll understand your customer in terms of what you have in common and where you might need to develop some understanding. When it comes to pricing, try not to compete with big box stores because they can order mass-produced products. As an artist, you have to factor in time, labor, cost of materials, and unique offerings. Your prices should reflect the value of talent and ability.”
Breaking into the Craft Business
After having continuous success being a vendor at craft shows since 2011, Chandra knew it was time to transform her craft into a business. She soon learned that jewelry making is ultra-competitive. While wire jewelry-making is a niche, many artists compete in this space. A business and science major in college, Chandra applied her knowledge to her business. Instead of making what’s trendy, she makes jewelry she knows and likes. The sensation of manipulating wire and learning metals were added bonuses.
To set herself apart from fellow crafters, she taught herself to style colors. She enjoys playing with colors so much that she often daydreams about putting colors together. During her teenage years, Chandra was encouraged by her parents to experiment with colored dyes.
Berkeley, her hometown city known for Telegraph Avenue, also influenced her creativity. She recalls blocks of street vendors selling everything from jewelry to art next to the University of California at Berkeley.
Pricing was the hardest lesson Chandra learned when she first started her business called C Dyann Designs. As with many entrepreneurs, she too was worried about making sales and started slashing prices. “I believe sale promotions can help the business move along; they shouldn’t be the sole driver in business. Customers might leave due to high prices, but you want customers who are willing to pay what you’re worth.”
Relocating with her husband from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, Chandra gained more opportunities. Her designs have been featured in several magazine publications and on tv shows. She admits that Los Angeles is a tough place to get your work recognized in the media. The opportunities are there, but the barriers to entry are high.
Chandra also believes that in order to make it in business, you must have good products and services. In addition, having good relationships with vendors, customers, and suppliers is key in business.
“If you are new and trying to build a name for yourself, build an audience through videos, podcasts, or blogs. Networking is important but make sure it’s a two-way street. Always have something to offer. Be sincere. Have a genuine interest in others.”
C Dyann Designs is a handmade jewelry and accessories online store. To learn more, go to https://www.cdyanndesigns.com/
Disclaimer: All images belong to C Dyann Designs