making it as a crafter
How one designer has navigated the tricky transition from crafter to artisan entrepreneur
To make a living following one’s bliss has long been the dream of many an artist and crafter, yet for most, the path to attainment can be a long and winding road. For Kelli Ronci (prop stylist and craft author/ designer), her circuitous journey was one of pursuing ideas, creating opportunity, and ultimately finding sustainability. From her first venture, which resulted in a collaboration with renowned UK designer Paul Smith, to the launch of her online shop, Corda ( www.cordadesigns.com) featuring her line of exquisite crochet accessories, Ronci ultimately landed on a business model she could believe in.
Along the way, she had to navigate the changing landscape of the handmade movement, product manufacturing, and beliefs about what constitutes a handcrafted good. As her business evolved, Ronci had to tackle some of the realities associated with selling one’s wares: How does one produce efficiently? Where does one manufacture affordably and ethically? How does one keep the product “handcrafted”?
Upon finding a lack of needle-arts manufacturing in the US, she decided to look for where her craft was still being produced, and ultimately found a fair-trade manufacturer in Bolivia that connects designers with artisans, while offering them health and educational opportunities. Granted, this arrangement is not without its challenges – communication problems, quality control, cultural differences with regard to our 24/7 expectations – but for Ronci, “these inevitable issues are far outweighed by the value of knowing that the women who are re-creating my designs are able to make a fair wage through their craft.” It was also important for Ronci to stay true to her “crafter” roots: “Continuing to handcraft limited-edition and one-of-a kind pieces in my studio keeps me growing creatively as an American artisan.” Her ability to straddle both the manufacturing and handcrafted worlds is evident in the success of her line, which is growing steadily.
To fellow artists who dream of designing a handcrafted line she advises, “It’s helpful to have additional means of income as you are starting out, such as freelance styling, designing or illustrating, and If you want to expand and take on more wholesale orders, consider looking for existing artisan “industries” to collaborate with.Think about how to make creating and selling your work sustainable.”
Many of Kelli’s designs are made from hand-painted, 100% silk yarn, which give the pieces an elegant look and graceful drape.
Kelli in her Mill Valley studio, surrounded by her creations.