Meet the Maker: Convivial Production

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

Welcome to the third installment of the "Meet the Maker" series here on the Mix & Match blog! If you enjoy reading this interview, check out the others in the series here.

I'm so excited to introduce you to Chentell Shannon - the woman behind the beautiful modern ceramics design and manufacturing company, Convivial Production.

I was recently introduced to Chentell by a mutual friend who recognized that we had a similar aesthetic and boy was she right! The moment I clicked over to Convivial's website, my jaw dropped - I wanted to find a place in my home for every single one of her amazing pieces. You'll get a peek at them today, but make sure you head over to see all of them yourself too. And if you need further validation that her pieces are just as lovely in real life as they are in the photos, her shop on Etsy has an average rating of five stars with over 600 reviews! 

Chentell was kind enough to send over one of her pieces for me to see for myself, and next week, I'll tell you all about it here on the blog. Stay tuned! *Update* Come on over and see the 2V Geometric Hanging Planter in my office!

Now let's hear more from the founder herself - a very warm welcome to the Mix & Match Design Company blog, Chentell!

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

Tell me a little bit of your story. Where are you based? What’s your personal/professional background?

My name is Chentell Shannon. I am a visionary and an entrepreneur paired with the technical skills of a modern potter. I am efficient, selective, introverted. I am the owner of Convivial, a ceramic-based manufacturing and design company that specializes in creating home, table, and garden wares. I was born and raised in Hawaii, lived in Chicago for my undergraduate degree, and have landed in Kansas City.  My education is in Community Art, Urban Studies, and Ceramics. 

Tell me about Convivial - how did you get started and what made you want to design and manufacture ceramics? Where did the name come from?

I started Convivial in the basement studio of my college classroom. The month post-graduation I hid myself away, working day and night to produce our first line of products. I've always had a love for hospitality and my love for ceramics has grown out of the ways functional wares can be used to gather and host individuals.

Convivial, a form of the word conviviality, comes from the latin origin "to live." Over the years it has evolved to mean "to feast, (of an atmosphere or event) friendly, lively, and enjoyable," and in my understanding, "the joining of individuals to eat, drink, and be well with one another." Convivial was born from the idea that as a company we can create wares that will spur on conviviality - to inspire others to host and to provide items that set the scene to do so. The tablewares we create will seek to bring individuals around a common table, and our home and garden items will serve to create a atmosphere that is warm and inviting.  

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

How did you land on Convivial’s signature minimalist, modern look?

When I moved from Hawaii to Chicago in 2009, I was captivated by the city architecture. The skyscrapers, bridges, and water towers specifically stole my attention. The initial designs within Convivial were all structured - designed after the architectural features I was seeing all around me. This is the quintessential Convivial design style. Our wares simply evolved from there to include less-structured pieces that reference architectural features of buildings, windows, rooflines, etc. Because architecture holds such timeless design features, I thought it best to pair these designs with what has become our signature ivory glaze to allow the shapes to really stand out. 

What does your design process look like from idea conception to production? Do you study trends or do trends affect your design process?

When it's time to release a new collection of work, I typically decide on a outline of the types of products that I'd like to make. I'll have in my mind, for example, that I'd like to create a new set of dinnerware, 3 planters, a candle, and so forth. From there I walk the city and take notes of various shapes and forms that may work for these products. I will try to see the form as these products that I am hoping to create. Then I create a prototype and a series of molds that will be integrated into our production system. I never study trends. This is very important to me and has been a huge commitment I made from the start of Convivial. I study architecture and I study the needs of the common home. I put on blinders - never looking at Pinterest or other companies in similar fields. My hope is that by doing so I can truly pursue unique ideas that hold the timeless features of the buildings that surround us. In turn, I hope our wares will hold the same timelessness within the homes in which they find themselves. 

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

You mentioned that you started out as a one-woman show, and now the business has grown into a small team of women who works out of a 2,500 square foot production space. How and when did you decide to hire on employees and move to a larger space? 

Knowing the right time to hire is always a challenge. Convivial has decided to bootstrap, meaning we do not take on outside investment. We only work within our financial means. This tends to creates the situation where we need more help than we currently have, and as we grow it becomes more and more obvious that another set of hands is needed. I've noticed a personal trend that I hire when my work exceeds 10 hour days, 7 days a week. Mentally, I know I should hire sooner, but I am very conservative with how I allocate finances. As we grow, however, I notice that my comfort level stretching our financial capabilities also grows. I am proud of myself for this. It's uncomfortable, but it's necessary to trust myself as well as challenge myself as a business owner. 

Expanding our production space is the same process mentally. I have a knack for creating a very efficient space. I will push the production spaces we use until they cannot handle our needs, then I will pull the trigger to expand. Though it isn't easy to know when the time is right, once the decision is made, there is no looking back.

As a follow up to that question, I know that your husband, Stephen, is a part of the team as well, and as it says on your website, he has been “wildly influential in the company’s growth.” (I love that!) Tell me a little bit about what it’s like being a husband/wife team, and what his part in the business is. Is he full-time with Convivial as well? 

I truly believe that my husband and I couldn't be a better match to work together. I didn't realize this at first, but the more experience we have working alongside each other, I am blown away and in a sense, honored, to have the dynamic we hold.  

Convivial, as a company, is 100% a result of my initial vision and technical work. I am the sole owner and implementor of the company Convivial is today.  Stephen, however, has been there every step of the way. We constantly banter back and forth about the opportunities, challenges, and ideas that present themselves. Throughout the day our communication is dominated by the day's happenings. We celebrate victories together. We strategize our way through challenges together. 

I think of Stephen as an endless idea generator. He is constantly thinking of ways to improve our products, our systems, our customer experiences. When I hear his ideas and make decisions on what will be best to pursue versus lay to the side, he is incredibly resilient and admirably humble. In a company meeting today he talked to our staff about how proud he is that I have built the company into what it is today - despite the challenges, despite sexism that I've experienced. It was hard to keep tears from welling in my eyes. How beautiful is his soul! 

For now, Stephen has full time employment at a developmental research lab locally. After work, he devotes his free time to work as our Sales Manager, handling all wholesale accounts and customer service inquiries. He hopes to join our team after he has completed his Ph.D. Until then, we are grateful to have him involved in any and every way possible. 

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

When you imagined your career path, did you think it would involve becoming a small business owner and creative entrepreneur? What are your favorite parts about having your own business and what’s most challenging?

Yes! I have always imagined myself running a ceramics studio. I did not imagine that it would be manufacturing designer goods, but I am happy with the way different opportunities have led to the place Convivial is in today. The majority of my family members - immediate and extended - are small business owners. Looking back, I now realize that I had very limited examples of prominent adult figures in my life who worked for corporate companies or as employees of smaller organizations. 

My favorite part about owning my own business is that I get to shape it into what I want it to be. Within our means, I am able to say yes to opportunities that fit the Convivial vision and in turn, say no to opportunities that don't fit. The most challenging part is growing through the pains of meeting demands without putting the company in a precarious spot. Another challenge - which I won't fixate on long, but I think is worth mentioning - is the sexism I have experienced as a successful woman in business. Traversing this terrain with grace has been difficult and at times disappointing. 

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

You just relaunched your website and released a new collection. What are some of your favorite pieces from it? 

Tough question! From our Home Collection, I can't help but choose our 2V Geodesic Fruit Bowl (shown below). This is a design that I've had in my mind for 2 years now. It holds the classic Convivial feel. It's a complex, eye catching design and I love seeing it fill our production space. From our Table Collection, our Riveted Dinnerware is my favorite. I love how the simple facets around the edge of the plates makes any dish seem so fancy. Last, from our Garden Collection, I cannot choose! Our home has every single planter design that we carry and I could not do without them. They're all so special and complement each other in subtle ways. 

 Come "Meet the Maker" behind Convivial Production - a modern ceramics company. 

If you were to dream big, where do you see your company in five years?

In five years I hope to be in a 8-10,000 square foot building that hosts our manufacturing space, as well as a retail and hospitality area (a cafe or coffee shop). I'd like to be able to invest in our staff's long-term personal goals, as well as be able to invest in Kansas City's developing community through beautification projects. My husband and I are also tapping into real estate. We're sitting on some ideas there but will keep those hush-hush for now. 

Where can everybody find your products and follow along with you? 

Our website, convivialproduction.com, hosts our shop as well as a list of 50+ retailers that carry our work across the US. Additionally, we share a lot of first-hand news, sales, and inspiration via Instagram @convivialproduction.  Follow along!

 Meet the woman behind Convivial Production and hear all about her modern home and garden ceramics company on the Mix & Match Blog!

Wow, thank you so much for sharing your story and all about Convivial today, Chentell! It's always fascinating and inspiring to hear about another creative entrepreneur's journey. To my Mix & Match friends, head on over to Convivial's account on Instagram and say hello - let her know what encouraged or inspired you from today's interview!

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All images courtesy of Convivial.

*This post contains affiliate links, which means Mix & Match earns a small commission from your purchase at no cost to you. 

 

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Meet the Maker: Skeem Design

 Skeem Design's beautifully designed modern matches and candles.

Hello, friends! I'm excited to be back with my second "Meet the Maker" post - this time with Suji Meswani of Skeem Design! If you've been following along on the blog in recent months, you might remember the first one featuring Royal Bohemian Home's founder, Bridget. There was such a great response to that post (thank you!), so I'm excited to continue sharing about these companies and the faces behind them through these interviews. I love introducing you to amazing brands and small businesses that fall under the interior design and home decor umbrella - let's support them and cheer them on to great success!

Skeem Design was founded by husband-wife team Suji Meswani and Geoff Weiser, and they're based right here in Philadelphia (hey neighbors!). They make soy-based candles and match bottles in beautiful vessels that are intended to be repurposed after the product is used up - you'll understand why as soon as you see the images throughout the post! All of their products are American made, which is pretty fantastic. :) The scents they've created and the clean design of the products are right up my alley. They've become one of my go-to gifts this year, and I personally can't get enough of their Fleur de Sel and Sweet Balsam candles. 

Now let's hear from Suji herself! She's got some great stories to tell about Skeem's beginnings, their goal of creating beautiful products with less packaging waste, how they got their name out there, and her new favorite product from their collection!

 Skeem Design's fireplace matches.

Tell me about Skeem Design - how and when did you get started, and what made you want to design products like your candles and matches? Where did the name come from?

My husband and I both grew up in entrepreneurial families. My whole life I imagined I would own my own business. I became interested in fashion and then in home decor, and envisioned I would own a store. I have a unique dual-degree that is one half design and one half business. For my first 10 years out of school I worked as a retail buyer. At around 30 I sort of had a life crisis because I had not yet started this business I had always imagined.

At that time, I had a wonderful job as the buyer of home decor for Anthropologie and traveled all over the world for them. For me though, the corporate grind did not leave time for a healthy work-life balance, and the idea of moving up the ladder to manage other people didn’t make sense for me. I felt like I would be moving farther away from what I really enjoyed and into more of a management position, which I really didn't love. My husband, Geoff, was in the exact same position working as an art director in advertising. We started brainstorming business ideas and came up with all sorts of wonderful plans. It was great fun dreaming up all the possibilities. We were “scheming” a way out of the corporate world, and that word, scheme, eventually became our brand name, Skeem.

As a buyer I could see where the holes in the market were, and knew we could create a successful business on our own if we could fill one of those holes. Luckily, my husband is an incredible designer so we were easily able to join forces and start the business.

 Skeem Design's marbled candles

What inspires your products? How do you decide what to create?

Skeem has evolved tremendously since we started 16 years ago. We actually started as a novelty drinking glassware company offering cool barware silk-screened with interesting designs. A good, large customer of ours asked us if we would make the glasses into candles and we started exploring that option. After about a year of development, we introduced the candles and they we a huge hit. The line has continued to evolve based on market trends, our lifestyle, and the limitations of being American-made. What has not changed is our focus on trend-forward design and the customer we are going after.

About 3 years ago, we completely over-hauled our line and we are not even recognizable as the same company, but our customer base remained the same. Because we are a smaller, boutique brand, we only have to answer to ourselves and that allows us the freedom to carefully and thoughtfully develop and introduce products to the market. Geoff and I also have a unique skill set between us - he handles all of the creative and I run the business end of things, which makes for a strong team.

We are lucky to have a few larger clients that are always pushing us to come up with new ideas, processes, finishes, etc. because of something they want or need. By creating these products for them, we're able to test them out with that larger retailer first and if successful, we can then launch a version of it on our own line. 

 Skeem Design's birch log fireplace matches.

I know that a big focus of Skeem Design is to reduce unnecessary packaging and provide vessels that can be repurposed after the original product has been used up. What motivated you to design that way? 

When we started the company there were only a handful of candle companies unlike today, when there seems to be a new one popping up each week. All of those companies had plain, white candles poured into simple, clear glass. They were almost always "over-packed" in some type of gorgeous box. The design was beautiful, but we thought it seemed crazy that the nicest part of the candle was the box, which the consumer was ultimately throwing away. We thought, why not make the packaging part of the product itself? It worked and became our mission for all new products we have developed since. 

 Skeem Design's candles.

What challenges have you faced in making that your mission with your products?

We are always surprised. There is always a customer, supplier or manufacturer that keeps us on our toes. The problems that have come our way have always ended up being opportunities to do something better, learn something about ourselves, grow, and improve. Luckily we have a few guiding principles that we always turn back to in times of uncertainty and the answer is usually there before us. Many people think it must be challenging to work together all day as husband and wife, but we love it and wouldn’t have it any other way. We think we make a great team and are still in awe at one another’s skills. 

 Skeem Design's modern match collection.

I feel like I’ve been seeing Skeem products everywhere these days - from national retailers to local shops. For example, when I was in Pottery Barn recently, I spotted your matches sprinkled throughout their store, and one of our local gift shops carries your candles. I’ve also been given one of your wonderful citronella candles you made exclusively for Terrain and I love it! How have you gotten your name out there?

Part of our business model is to outsource as much as we can, which includes our sales reps. We work with a large network of reps throughout the country that have relationships with both mom & pop stores and many of the larger retailers. They get paid a commission for their work, so they only get paid when you get paid. A good sales rep is worth their weight in gold. It took awhile to build and develop the relationships, but many of them have been with us for over 10 years. It’s the best check I write all month. Because I worked as a buyer for many large retailers, I know what is expected from the larger multi-store chains. It can be a challenge for someone new to that world because there are a lot of special requirements: testing, ticketing, carton labeling, routing guides etc., so it really helped that I had that background. It is pretty important that the back end of your business is really well run before you venture into wide distribution. 

 Skeem Design's party candles.

What’s coming down the pipe for Skeem Design? Any insider info you’d be willing to share?

We just released a pretty large new collection for Fall/Holiday 2017 that will debut at the gift shows that start later this month and run through August. One of my favorite new products we are introducing is a new Palo Santo collection. Palo Santo is a type of “holy wood” from South America believed to have all sorts of special properties for healing and cleansing the mind and body. It's burned in a similar way to incense. I have totally fallen in love with the ritual and the scent, and ours is packaged in a beautiful glass jar with a printed cork lid and is available in 2 sizes.   

 Skeem Design's Axiom Candle in white and fireplace matches.

If you were to dream big, where do you see your company in five years?

Honestly, for us, this is the big dream. We love having a small, manageable company where we are able to make all the decisions and have complete control of the brand. We really like the size we are right now and we have a few strong missions that help guide our decisions as we grow and evolve. One big guiding factor is we want to have a rich, enjoyable life filled with free time, travel, and friends. We don't want to lose sight of that as we grow and so we have made a lot of decisions to make those things possible by outsourcing as much as we can. For example, we do not own a factory or a warehouse. Sure, we probably make less money this way, but at the end of the day it gives us a tremendous amount of freedom. 

 Skeem Design's End Grain candle collection.

Do you have a personal favorite product right now? What’s your best selling item?

This spring we introduced a citronella candle collection for the first time. It is in a large 3-wick container and has a great black and white insect graphic, but is simple and clean with a modern wooden lid. It quickly became a best seller and is available is three great scents, Sea Salt, Grapefruit and Eucalyptus. 

 Skeem Design's Apothecary matches.

Where can everybody find your products and follow along with you? 

Our website is at www.skeemshop.com, and you can follow along on Instagram (@skeemdesign) and Facebook.


Thanks so much, Suji! What an amazing business you and Geoff have created together. I can't wait to follow along with your new products that are coming out this summer. 

Reader friends, make sure to follow Skeem Design on social media for the latest on their products, and keep an eye out for their candles and matches at stores near you

And lastly, if you know of a small business with an online presence that's related to the interior decorating/home world that you think would be a good fit for the Meet the Maker series, let me know! 

 

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