For our How’d You Do That? series, we take a bit of extra special time to ask professionals to tell us their story --this could be starting a small business, self-defining success, thriving as a freelancer or making waves in their respective fields. This month, we had the pleasure of speaking with Chloe Keene of Chloe Keene Jewelry.
Chloe, being drawn to her mother’s “beautiful collection of vintage Native American jewelry” at an early age, began her own maker’s practice in 2016 when she, on a whim, took a jewelry making class at the small non-profit where she was working at the time. She expressed that she did not have the intention of starting a jewelry business, but after such a well-received response to her creations from family and friends, Chloe Keene Jewelry was born.
What is your business philosophy and what do you value most as artist and maker?
My business philosophy and artist philosophy are very different but I think it’s important to have both as a craftsperson.
Business-wise, I focus on quality-- quality of my work, and quality of my designs. Jewelry is unique because it’s everlasting, it’s an heirloom made of earth-found metals and stones, that can be passed down for generations. So to me it’s so important that what I’m offering my customers has the potential to live on for decades, if not centuries, and passed down from family member to family member.
My artist philosophy is different in the way that the customer isn’t regarded-- it is just me and my work. Art is about pure expressive play, sincere exploration, and looking at things in curious ways. It’s about unfolding concepts at your own pace without the pressure of a sale. Art in its purest form is about getting back to our child-like roots-- without any preconceptions of how things should exist, without any understanding of boundaries-- that’s what allows for something completely original and beautiful to be created.
What has been the most rewarding thus far? Your greatest areas of self-defined success?
My jewelry has allowed me to travel across the country, I’ve gotten to see beautiful landscapes and have been able to meet really special people along the way. I think the most rewarding thing it has given me is that-- connections to other artists and experiences.
This summer I attended Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC in the Blue Ridge Mountains for a whole week, and it was one of the most inspiring experiences I’ve had. To be a part of a community with a total dedication to slow, intentional craft-- it’s a rare thing to be a part of.
What has been the most challenging? Areas where you as a business owner may still be learning, and where your business may still be growing?
FInding balance is the most important thing in order for a business to be viable, but it’s also the most challenging equation to figure.
Juggling time between a full-time job, my business, a social life, and family. It’s a delicate dance of sorts. But I find that the most sure fire way to ensure balance is through scheduling and list making.
Creating a new list of to-dos at the top of every week helps to put it all out there in front of me, from there I divide the tasks into a day-to-day plan on how to accomplish everything that needs to happen in that week.
Jewelry-making is an art. How do you balance nurturing your craft and growing in your artistry and managing logistics and growing your business?
You have to set time aside for both sides separately. They are such different ways of thinking that I personally benefit from focusing on one at a time. Telling myself, “Okay today I’m going to focus on creating new designs and not worry about business happenings, and tomorrow I’m going to buckle down and focus on my business strategy”, is what allows me to succeed.
Tell us about what the holiday season has looked like for you as a small business owner?
The holidays are always a whirlwind for me as a small business owner. There is so much hustle and bustle between jewelry production, custom orders, marketing, customer service... the list could go on.
But it’s really invigorating, especially after the typical slow and contemplative energy of the summer. All spring and summer I work on new designs and concepts for my jewelry, and I finally get to see those ideas exist in the real world.
Holiday is also unique in that I’m fully centered on sales, which is different for me during any other time of the year. I buckle down, get organized, and become a little jewelry machine -- and it’s inspiring because I’m able to see the full potential and profitability of my business.
What are some helpful hacks, tips or tricks that have been helpful during the holiday season?
My biggest word of advice is to start production early. Building your stock in the summer and fall in preparation for the busy holiday season is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your sanity. You’ll save yourself from a lot of last minute scrambling and stressing. I promise you’ll thank yourself later!
What are some helpful hacks tips or tricks, resources or tools you’ve found helpful in general?
Well at this point, marketing is such a must for any small business and it can be really time consuming, especially when you’re wearing all the hats in the business. So I find using apps (like Planoly, which plans out your Instagram posts and automatically post them for you) is super helpful in making sure I have constant representation on the internet and am reaching my full potential of customers at all times.
There are so many different resources on the internet-- blogs, podcasts, forums-- that can give you insight into the best marketing practices for small businesses. Marketing is crucial for any small business to reach new customers, so I would say creating a marketing plan is one of the most important things to do for the viability of the business.
What is one nugget of advice you could share with a maker, artist, entrepreneur looking to start a small business?
Slow and steady wins the race-- build your business out of genuine passion and love for the process. Fads come and go, and quick, but honest passion and intention can outlast all of that.
Also-- disregard the current conception of success being 10k followers on Instagram. Having 500 engaged followers who respect and admire what you do is so much more valuable than having 10,000 disengaged followers.
I also think finding a community of makers and situating yourself around them is essential to your business’ (and your personal) growth and health. Your community is your best resource-- they provide you with new ideas, they help you troubleshoot problems, and best of all, they motivate you when you need it most. Find your people!!
What’s one moment where you felt the most proud-- of yourself, your craft, your business?
Honestly it’s hard to pick one spotlight moment for myself-- every small triumph is a major celebration in the world of small businesses. But I did experience a lot of exciting moments this year. I started selling my work at this super chic boutique in Philadelphia called Ritual Shoppe, that was pretty major, and I also did a pop-up market at the Urban Outfitters HQ, which was thrilling.
But to this day even receiving just one online order is a major accomplishment and so moving. I’m constantly overwhelmed and humbled by the people who love and support my craft.
Chloe Keene had such a wealth of knowledge to share with us as both an entrepreneur and craftsperson. She is a business owner that prioritizes value, integrity, and quality in every aspect of her artistry and business. The craft and the community that supports both her and work are at the center of what she does. The thought and intention that she puts into both her business and art practices-- separately and together-- reflect those qualities that make for all around fulfilling work.