“I’m a hybrid of sorts – a designer and a businessperson. I wear both hats all of the time, and I would never be one without the other.” – Sandy Chilewich
Q&A with Sandy Chilewich:
How do you describe Chilewich and the kind of products you create?
We design and produce products for a variety of applications – for the table, floor, wall, upholstery and windows. Everything starts with our custom designed textile. We have textiles manufactured exclusively for us at two factories in the US who we have worked with for almost 14 years. All of the finished yard goods are sent to our own manufacturing facility in Georgia where we then make products which we ship all over the world. 90% of our products are made from our own woven textiles, although we do design and offer other very innovative non woven textiles and products. The link between all of our textiles whether woven or non woven is that everything needs to be functional, durable and easy to clean in addition to being beautiful.
As the founder and Creative Director of Chilewich, please tell me what your job entails.
My primary day to day is oversight of design and marketing. Second is oversight of retail and hospitality sales. Operations, finance and contract sales are my husband and partner, Joe Sultan’s arena. I get involved, but not day to day.
How did your company Chilewich come about?
Like everything I have done in my life I stumbled into something by accident or while looking for something else. My first venture into the home design world after selling HUE (the hosiery company Sandy co-founded in 1978) were my RayBowls in 1997. These were created by stretching power mesh textiles over a wire frame and creating a concavity to house fruit, vegetables, etc. This was a very simple idea and mechanism but nevertheless won numerous patents and awards because it was simply never done before. In my search for other textiles that I could incorporate into my RayBowl collection, I discovered outdoor furniture upholstery fabric. I had never focused on this material before because outdoor furniture seemed so plain and uninteresting at the time. However I became smitten with the design potential and the enormous benefit of this material’s innate functionality for certain application. This was an underutilized textile. It did not work into the RayBowl concept but it did work for placemats. That was a “no brainer” but it was my “no brainer.”
Did anything thing or anyone in particular influence your life, therefore give you direction?
I really had no specific agenda growing up. My parents were very uninvolved and did not guide me in any tangible way in any career direction. I was not the happiest kid. I really hated school, and I took a while to find my way into college and then dropped out of several. I never graduated. I always did artwork but never studied art. There were two big influencers, that I realize now in hindsight, that moved me along on a subliminal level. The first was innate – I was “naturally” creative in the sense that I liked making things. The second was just as important, or even more so – seeing how passionate my father was in his work. I watched him from a distance since he was away so much and not very involved in my childhood. However, it was so obvious that he absolutely loved what he did, and it really defined him. He was the third generation to work in the family business, which started as a business in hides and skins, and began in Russia. By the time my dad was in charge when they moved to the US at the beginning of World War II, he expanded and grew the business in other directions. I watched him and the business evolve while growing up. It was all consuming for him, but he was clearly just having so much fun. I think I absorbed this somehow and was driven to find something in life that gave me that much pleasure.
How did you learn to do what you do?
While I was always creative, I learned early on that I was not an artist. It was too isolating and lonely and I wanted to converse with my audience. I wanted to respond and adapt without diluting my original vision. Keep in mind none of this was conscious or something I could have articulated at that time, it’s just what I realize when looking back on my past. In my mid twenties I thought maybe I was an artist, but between galleries not accepting me and the fact that I liked making and selling multiples of things, I understood that I was commercial; and I have absolutely no reservations about this.
What do you love about the work you do?
I become almost intoxicated when I am in the throws of product development. Whether it is achieving a particular coloration or repurposing a manufacturing process to make something new. The process for getting to a final product requires many steps as we inch closer to what something is meant to be. It requires being open to change and shifting expectations as a consequence of accidents and roadblocks that manufacturing technicalities present. There are always moments during any period of development, whether it be designing a product, doing a photo shoot, or expressing an idea in writing, where I have self doubt about the value of an idea, and disappointment when things don’t turn out the way I wanted. I am trying to expect this stage and accept it is as natural, even though it can be excruciating at times.
I adore working with talented people, and I work with very talented people everyday here and in every aspect of the business. They bring skill, imagination, and artistry to the creative process. This is one of the most satisfying parts of what I do. Supporting and nurturing the creative growth of others is enormously rewarding to me.
I would love to have a store in order to create an environment for all of my products to live and interact. I’d also like to have a backdrop that I can change to mirror and enhance the mood of a season or a moment.
Where do you get inspiration?
What inspires me? I hate that question. Anything and everything, and I really try not to look for inspiration in obvious places. We are bombarded on the web with websites and blogs who’s only purpose is to be gorgeous. It is sensory overload and I just shut down. I would much rather walk a medical supply show than look at a trend forecasting presentation full of beautiful pictures.
How do you define success?
It sounds trite but I measure success by how much someone enjoys life, and what it is they do is really irrelevant…
Any advice for someone interested in following in your chosen path and learning to do what you do?
My advise to those starting out is to not think so much and just do. Get started somewhere and don’t worry so much about whether it is the right decision. It doesn’t matter. It is only through reacting to actual experiences in the world that you evolve. These experiences inform you and lead you forward in life.
To learn more about Sandy Chilewich and check out more of her products, go to http://www.chilewich.com/.