Women Who MAKE: Relativity Textiles

I’m really excited for you all to meet Erin. This woman is making it HAPPEN with her own two hands! She’s juggling motherhood, coupled with acting as the creative director, artist, producer, sometimes installer and all the time boss lady of RELATIVITY TEXTILES. An artisan wallpaper and textile design company based in Chicago.

A good friend introduced me to Erin as a “mover and shaker” that I needed to meet in the creative community, and we really hit it off. Erin’s DIY spirit shines through, and I can tell just how much she’s invested both creatively and financially to grow her fledgling company. If you’re loving what you see in this post, check out Erin’s KICKSTARTER campaign. She is more than halfway to her goal of $20,000 to get her company started on a solid foundation, and she has amazing offerings at various donation levels – including a wallpaper installation in your space!

Photographer Carolina Mariana and I had a lovely morning at Erin’s home and studio last month. During our visit, we also worked on some easy DIY projects created with Relativity papers. Stay tuned for that post soon! For added inspiration around textiles and pattern design, check out Erin’s Blog – this teaching artist has so much knowledge to share!

Here’s the first Women Who MAKE interview of 2016:

Name: Erin Minckley Chlaghmo

Age: 33

Current title/company name: Founder, Relativity Textiles, LLC.

Years in operation: less than 1 year

Erin Relativity Textiles

Erin’s wallpaper sample book.

What is your first memory of making [art]/being creative? I have associated myself as an artist for as long as I can remember. I loved art as a child and through high school believed it was my best skill. I knew I would study art in college and wanted to be an artist as a career.

Erin Relativity Textiles

A DIY wallpaper display housing several of Erin’s original patterns.

How did your education or past work experience give you the confidence to go out on your own as a small business owner?

I worked for two years in the industry side of wallpaper manufacturing and saw a lot of well established designers produce patterns. I loved seeing things from an insider’s point of view because it informed how I might want to run my own business model. Many designers were very generous in helping me start out! They answered questions of mine and gave me resources. My schooling did not help me to become a business person at all. But, it did train me rigorously on how to make things well and how to talk about them. I developed many skills in art school that later come into play as a designer. 

Confidence is something that only comes with more and more practice. Being out in the world and talking about your work and presenting your work to people is the only way to gain self-empowerment. You have to say things like, “I am a wallpaper designer,” instead of what I used to say is, “I’d like to own my own company some day.” It’s not even a fake it till you make it attitude as much as it is, work hard until it exists in the form you imagine it. I am the owner of a business that will someday be very successful and I have to constantly convince myself of that in order to project that onto future clients and colleagues. 

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Erin’s Boteh pattern – her boots were part of the design inspiration, as were her family travels to Morocco.

Tell us about the process of launching your own business. Best parts? Biggest challenge?

Well, I did not win the lottery in terms of financial backing or family support. So, I had to scrape things together in the beginning. This was the biggest hurdle to actually starting. There’s a lot of vulnerability at first. “What if I don’t sell anything?” I kept asking myself. But, I had to power through that doubt and find more creative ways to spend my time thinking. I have hired a tribe of people to surround me and support me in making this dream a reality. I LOVE the fact that I am not only supporting other economies by doing so, but I have an intimate group of believers who is spreading my gospel for me too! I have a life coach, an attorney, a web designer, a graphic designer, two interns, a manufacturing team, a print shop who makes my packaging, and five amazing showrooms who promote me! The best part has been realizing that there is a true desire to connect from patrons and supporters. A lot of people are excited about my project and company. A lot of people want to drink my KoolAid. That’s a great feeling, because it means my energy is meaningful and also that my product is sellable. 

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Chatting about business, design and wallpaper with Erin and her intern.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? What inspires you and why?

The creative process might seem fun. But, it’s work. Hard work. I have to force myself to draw and step patterns in Illustrator. I have to allot time for that, which I’m not good at. I have to do a tremendous amount of visual research to see what is out there, what has been done before and what is relevant. This takes time and there’s no magic answer for how to do it; no seminar to learn this stuff. You just have to do it. So, I guess, this is a let down: but my answer is that the best part of the creative process is when it’s not for work. Like pleasure reading as a grad student, block printing or painting which is NOT related to Relativity is the most fun because there’s less pressure. Sometimes those images make their way into the collection. 

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An original drawing by Erin that inspired her iterations of the Peacock pattern in the collection.

I am inspired by historical textiles and global textiles. There’s a huge trend for African prints, Japanese shibori & indigo dyeing or Moroccan carpets. That is a wonderful embrace of the world’s cultures but also can be tricky when we appropriate. So, I want to create things that are “inspired by” the world but not belonging to any other maker, whether current or historical. I love William Morris’s wallpapers, I love Japanese Samurai block prints, I love Indian block printing techniques, I love embroidery and lace making techniques. I’m a total nerd for textile PROCESS so it is all I can do to not drool over books of Dutch wax cloth or quilts all day long. The reason is because there’s an embedded meaning in these cloths, a currency in the time and labor that the maker put into them and a relevance to our daily lives. Sometimes when I introduce myself to someone as a Textile Designer, they say… “What is a textile, exactly?” Anything you sit on or cover your body in is a textile. There’s more to it than that, but could we live without clothing or couches or seats in our cars? Not comfortably. So, we rely on these things. Why not adorn ourselves and our homes with things that symbolize who we are and decorate our lives with beautiful objects?

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A peek at Erin’s living room.

What is the best advice you have for other female entrepreneurs?

1. You can do it. And 2. Ask for help. I had a lot of negative voices in my head talking me down from my dreams a year ago. I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have as much experience as others, I didn’t know enough. But, those conversations are not getting you anywhere. Yes, there will always be people with more money, time and resources than you. But, no Master’s degree or bank account can compete with a good idea. If you have something, find a way to promote it. It might mean a better website. It might mean networking with different crowds of people. It might mean you need to get on the radio and tell people about your idea. But, you won’t reach that goal unless you give yourself a deadline and take some action. If you don’t know the answers, find someone who does. That doesn’t literally mean, open up the phone book and find an intellectual property attorney. It means, look around you and see what you have. You might have a friend who’s friend is a successful business owner and you’d like to have coffee with him/her and pick their brain. Ask your friend for an introduction. You have to ask in order to receive. And you can’t hope something will happen, you can only work to make it happen. No one is going to discover you. You have to promote yourself until the right person hears you.

Taking a quick break for a few snuggles with her youngest.

Do you have a design philosophy, and if so, what is it?

My design philosophy is to be inspired by the world, paying homage to every maker who came before me. To always create original, hand drawn or handmade objects. To promote artisans with skills in their trade or craft. To elevate the roll of the textile to the forefront of our modern life. To source ethically and support local businesses. And to promote as many other small businesses & creatives in the process of promoting myself. 

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A wall in Erin’s home showcasing the Kanoko print.

Imagine Relativity Textiles in five years. How would you like to grow?

Relativity could be a name in the industry in five years. I’d like to have five more collections, each by different artists. I want to have industrially fire rated vinyls for commercial use and a line of fabrics. I’d like to be supported by showrooms around the country and internationally. I’d like to attend trade fairs and be featured in magazines. I’d like to collaborate with some celebrity designers and do custom work for big clients. And most of all, I’d like to own a property in Chicago where our workroom can be built and support the jobs of many printers and designers. 

Erin’s son’s nursery.

Do you have a most popular item? 

Kilim. This pattern was our very first and has been installed in a few different iterations. As of now, that is our most popular design. It’s based on Moroccan rug patterns.

What do you enjoy most about the creative community here in Chicago?

Chicago is very diverse and has a long history of immigrants. People work very hard to make something out of nothing, including my Irish ancestors who came to Chicago. Nowadays the cost of living is cheap enough that you can live and have a studio and pursue your art. I admire all of the artists who I went to school with and studied under who are devoted to their studio practice and work many other jobs to support their ‘habit’ of art making.  The energy is a hard-working energy and an energy of survival & innovation. Artists are devoted and supportive and it’s a very small community so its relatively easy to get to know people.

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Centered By Design is my business name, but it’s also the idea that we can find a bit of sanctuary each day through design, that good design can center us and make us feel great. Does your design process center you in any way? If so, how?

Relativity Textiles is founded on Einstein’s theory of relativity. It states that two people looking at the same object have very different perspectives of the same thing, based on their proximity and momentum. I like that as a metaphor for design. We are possibly looking at the same room or building or garment and each of us has a different opinion or perspective based on our lived experience. I think the center of that statement is that we can be connected by human threads like beauty or the need to belong to a community, which is why I design things. My center is being connected to other like-minded people. That brings my life meaning and I feel valuable to society.

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A little look at the DIY project we worked on. How-to coming in the next post.

Erin’s Chicago Favorites: 

Favorite spot to get inspired: The Art Institute of Chicago. 

Favorite florist: Adams & Sons.

Favorite place to shop for home décor/furniture/thrift: 

I love this little shop in my neighborhood called Humboldt House. They have amazing rugs and furniture. They sell other gifts and things made by local artisans. Next door, practically, is a nursery with great plants and flowers, Adams & Sons. They are so friendly and reasonably priced. They have pumpkins, Christmas trees, and they’ll pot any plant for you in a pretty pot so you don’t have to.

Favorite place for coffee: 

C.C. Fern’s. I have a lot of business meetings there. The coffee is good but the ambiance of the place is amazing. You feel truly hip and wealthy when sitting in there. The vibe is good and the staff is kind.

Favorite place for a sweet treat: 

Roeser’s Bakery on North Avenue and Kedzie. It has cookies and pastries from all over the world: Polish, Puerto Rican, etc. Plus, my great friend from college’s family has owned the bakery for over 100 years. Mr. Roeser is one of the sweetest guys in Chicago. I highly recommend their donuts.

THANK YOU ERIN for your heartfelt and thoughtful answers! You can find more of Erin at http://relativitytextiles.com/

Next Women Who MAKE will be up the first week February.

XO – CLAIRE