Monday Mar 27, 2023
Monday Mar 27, 2023
Monday Mar 27, 2023
Welcome to Season 4 of the Wise Not Withered Podcast! We are back with interviewing interesting women who are doing some really cool things!
Today's guest is Ann Chikahisa, creator of Chikahisa Studio. In our interview, Ann talks about how she got started making jewelry, the ways that jewelry can move through generations in a family, "Creative Zen", challenges, successes, and future plans.
Wise Not Withered - Interview With Ann Chikahisa
Your name—is it Ann or Ann [pronunciation]?
Ann, okay. And is it Chikahisa?
Yes, that’s perfect!
Okay, excellent, cool! Yay, I said it right! Okay, just to start off, how old are you?
I am 59!
59, awesome. Can you describe the work that you do?
I am a jeweler. I hand make jewelry for women who like to stand out in the crowd.
And how did you get into that?
It just began as a passion. I was taking classes at an art studio, making jewelry. When you talk to any metalsmith, pretty much everybody gets bitten by the bug, and they become obsessed, like I did. There’s something very alchemic about it—just working with a piece of metal, and then turning it into a piece of jewelry. So that’s how I started. I was taking classes at a local jewelry studio, and then I started making jewelry for all my friends, giving it to them for birthday presents or whatever, and then a friend of mine said, “Oh, you should sell your jewelry!” One thing led to another—she threw a trunk show for me, and that’s how the business began!
Nice! And did you say a trade show?
Trunk show. So my friend invited a bunch of friends over to her house, and I put my jewelry out, and I was very, very fortunate a lot of people loved it and bought it that night. And that’s how the business began.
Okay, yeah. Nice! And how has it changed over time?
Well when I first started making jewelry, I did beading. So I bought gem stones and bindings—things that were already pre-made—and put them together. So that’s how I first began. And then I had so much fun mixing metals and mixing materials that I decided that I wanted to learn how to actually make those pieces instead of buying them pre-made. And that’s when I took the art classes.
And so as I’ve taken more classes, and made my own style and voice, my jewelry has progressed over the years, and has become much more defined in terms of my own personal style and signature look. You kind of find your rhythm and find out who you really are when you’re an artist. And sticking with that point of view and that voice has been really fun. So it’s like a road of self-discovery to figure out who you are, and how you wanna tell the world who you are through your art.
Yeah. Oh, that’s great. You mentioned on your website learning from your mother, who learned from her mother. Can you talk more about that generational teaching and learning?
Yeah, in Japanese culture—I’m third generation Japanese American. In Japanese culture, the arts are very, very prominent. In our culture, we really look for beauty in everything that we do. We surround ourselves with beauty. So it’s been handing down through the generations in my family. When I say that quote about I learned from my mother, who learned from her mother… My grand-mother on both sides, they did Japanese flower arranging, which is called ikebana. They also were sewers, made their own clothing, and did all kinds of things with their hands. My grandmother also did some beadwork, made little handbags.
So she did all those kinds of things, and taught my mother. My mother was very big on sewing, and knitting, and those kinds of things. As a child, I learned all of those skills from my mother. So it’s just been ingrained in our family history and our culture.
Yeah, nice, okay. Let’s see… So you talked about—
Can you hold on one second?
What’s going on, if you don’t mind my asking?
We’re working in the studio—my assistant was pounding and stuff, so I didn’t know if you could hear it.
Oh! Oh, cool yeah, I couldn’t. It must be the Air Pods.
Okay, good. All right!
Yeah, so you make a lot of it yourself, but you also have assistants that help you out too?
Yep. I have one assistant. She works like three-quarter time with me. She helps me put together things for the store—helps me supply the pieces for our online shop.
Okay, nice! So you mentioned learning from your grandmother and your mother. Are there any other really influential mentors that you’ve had?
Yeah, I do have people that have influenced my work, and influenced my style. It’s been friends and other jewelers that I’ve worked with. I have favorite artists that have influenced my style and my aesthetic. Georgia O’Keefe is somebody I’ve always admired. I love her work. Calder is another person. I am just amazed by what he does with wire work, how he creates these beautiful sculptures and pieces of jewelry. Noguchi was a Japanese artist who did a lot sculptural work, and I love his work as well. It’s both famous people and just people in my life that have influenced my work.
Yeah, okay. And can you talk more about “Creative Zen”? I thought that was really interesting.
(Laughs) Thank you. So for me, when I am working, there’s a zone, that creative zone where you get into this space where time doesn’t exist. And it’s almost like mediating. You just get in this space of not thinking and not worrying, or anything. And you’re just working. And it’s the coolest experience, because you’re really letting your inner voice and your inner spirit guide you on your design and what you’re creating.
And so it becomes part of you that comes out, because you’re not thinking, you’re not judging. That little inner critic voice, that comes out and says “Don’t do this. Don’t do that.” It’s really getting into this flow and letting it happen. And it is so fun. When I get into that zone, and I start working, it could be eight hours, and it feels like ten minutes. It’s such a fun place. And that’s what I call my creative genius, because it’s really you’re just flowing and working and things come out that you never dreamed would come out, because you’re not thinking about the outcome. You’re just letting it happen.
Right, yeah. Oh, I love that. How about on the flip side? What do you do when you don’t feel as inspired?
Which is a lot! (Laughs) You know, I will say, it is really hard to get into that zen zone. So when I’m not in that zone, and I’m trying to create, it’s really, really hard, because it’s like forcing something to happen. So to get back into that zone, or to try to feel into that again, I’ll do a lot of walking. Just going out and walking, and letting my mind go. And I also do a lot of meditation, and that helps as well, because you’re getting into that non-thinking, letting things go, kind of state.
And yoga also is another powerful tool for me when I’m stuck creatively. Just moving that energy in my body to get back into that creative space, is basically what I’m trying to do. Whether with the walking, the yoga, or the meditation.
Yeah, yeah. Getting out of your head and back into your body.
Yeah, I love that. How about your talisman pieces? Can you talk about those? Those were really cool, on your website.
Thank you! That has become my most personal part of my collections. And it really was kind of a thing that just happened. I was going through a lot of major life changes, like most of us in our forties and fifties—life just changes. And so I needed something to help me through a big change, and I didn’t know how else to do it.
I was kind of at a loss. I just knew I needed something that I could hold close to me, that I could hang on to, to help me manifest my stability and my life, moving forward. So I decided to just make a piece. I wanted it to be artistic, and sculptural, and something that had a lot of meaning to me. And I didn’t want it to be literal. So the first one I created was “Hope”. Because to me, if you don’t have hope, you… There’s nothing left in your world, right? You need hope to get you through the bad times.
So I created the Hope talisman, it’s got a little spinel in it—spinel represents hope. And I created it and I just started wearing it, and women responded to it. They liked it, commented on it. So I started designing more pieces, not only for them but also for me. Each one has a different meaning: strength, healing, reflection, compassion, wisdom… Each one has a different meaning, and it’s like a little piece of art. And you can collect them, and put them together to help you manifest what you’re working on at that particular moment, or that particular month, or time in your life.
And the feedback has been great. I’ve gotten amazing messages back from my customers on how they were able to mark their journey and their life at that particular time with the talisman, or how it’s helped them stay focused on meeting a goal that they were trying to bring into their life. So it’s been really fun.
I create maybe four of them a year, and each one is different. So it’s an evolving process. It’s fun for me, as well as for the customers, to collect them, and come up with new inspirations for their life.
Yeah. Do you often do custom things for customers?
In terms of the talismans, or just in general?
I guess both! Maybe start with the talismans, and then in general.
Okay. I haven’t done a custom talisman, only because it takes a lot of time and energy to create one concept. So to do a one-off would not probably be too cost-effective. But I have done a lot of custom work in terms of personal jewelry. And how that usually works is I will take someone’s old heirloom gems, and rework them into something new. And that’s really rewarding for both of us—me and the customer.
Jewelry is such… It travels through families, it becomes an heirloom. And it holds so much energy and meaning, to the person it’s coming from, and who it’s given to. But sometimes, the style isn’t your style any longer, but you still want to hold that piece in your life, in your jewelry box. So I work with my clients in taking those old pieces and reworking them and fitting it into the look of what they will wear. Then they can pass it on to their children, or somebody that has meaning in their life that they want to share it with.
So the gem will continue through the generations, and carry on. When we rework it, the iteration of it changes to fit that person’s life at that current time. That’s what’s so cool about jewelry. It’s an heirloom. I have a couple pieces from my grandmothers that are from the 1920’s. They’ve gone through my mother’s lifetime, and now my lifetime, and it will probably go to my son as well, and his children. So it’s really cool to have your jewelry go on and live on beyond your lifetime.
Yeah! I wanted to ask more specifically, if you wanted to talk about, which specific pieces are in your family?
Yeah, I have three pieces that I really cherish. One is the engagement ring from my grandmother. It’s a platinum vintage set ring, and I just love it. It’s got this really delicate setting on it. It’s not something that I would ever particularly wear, but I love it so much because it’s from her, and she gave it to me before she passed away.
And then my other grandmother gave me this really cool fresh water pearl vintage piece, also kind of in the same era… Probably early 40’s, and it has that vintage look as well. And it’s so beautiful, and I love wearing it. But I only wear it around the house, because I would be devastated if I wore it and I lost it. So I always wear that around the house.
The third piece I love is this enamel pin that has a road runner on it that my father gave me. He never really ever bought me jewelry except for this piece, and one other. So I’ve had these since I was maybe thirteen or fourteen. I’ve just kept them in my jewelry box. It’s so special that my father bought them for me, and I just cherish them. And he’s no longer with us, so it’s something that I hold and when I look at them, it brings back very fond memories.
That’s the power of jewelry! The energy of someone giving it to you, you remember when they gave it to you, and the meaning that it has in your life.
Yeah. Maybe along the lines of losing your dad… What are some of the greatest challenges you’ve had in your life—whether in your business or just in general?
Well… Obviously losing my dad was very hard, I was very young. Well not super young. I was twenty-eight. At the time, maybe you don’t feel that young. But looking back I was very young. And the hardest thing is that he didn’t get to see me grow up as an adult. He only knew me as a kid, really. He didn’t get to see me progress in my career, and have a family, and all those kinds of things.
More recently, I got divorced. That was really challenging. Trying to start my life again, and make sense of who I am and what I wanna do in the rest of the second half of my life, has been a big challenge. And then of course, having a business—owning and running a business is very challenging, yet very rewarding. I’ve learned so much about myself, about who I am, what I’m good at, what I’m not good at. And how to make decisions, learn from my mistakes. I’ve made lots of mistakes…
I think one of the best things I’ve learned about having a business is surrounding myself with people who are smarter than me, that help me, teach me how to do things better. Because you can’t do everything by yourself—you really need to have a team. And choosing that team has been really fun. I’ve met some amazing people, made some incredible relationships that have transformed not only me personally but also my business. So that’s been really fun.
Yeah. Awesome. Thank you so much for sharing all of that. How about some of your greatest successes?
Some of my greatest successes… I think one of the biggest things I’m really proud of is taking my business from having no online sales a few years ago, to now generating almost all of my revenue through online sales. So that’s been a long journey, a hard journey. But it’s been so rewarding to know that if you just put your head down, and take baby steps, and figure out what works and what doesn’t work… Just keep tweaking and staying with it, and having that resolve to do something. You can make it happen. So that’s probably my biggest accomplishment, I would say.
Okay, and how do you define success?
Oh gosh… I think success is multifaceted. Of course, from a business standpoint, success is, you know, financial. Do I reach my goals? Have I made a profit? Those kinds of metrics. But I think for me also, what is most important is, how do I feel at the end of the day about what I’m doing? And am I living up to my values? Am I living up to my vision? And those are two really big metrics for me in terms of success and how I run my business.
So they go kind of hand-in-hand, right? I couldn’t be successful if I didn’t make money–because then it would be a hobby. And then how do I run the business financially to make money but also still hold those values?
Right. And if you’re willing to share, what are some of those values?
So for me, one of the biggest things that I strive to do with my business is to be a company that values their customers, and to be easy to work with. We work very hard at customer service. And to make sure that our customers feel heard and seen by us, and that we treat them with the utmost respect. Because when I go and shop at a company or business, I always want to feel like they care about me. And that’s what we really try to do—care for our customers, and hear what they have to say, and make sure that our brand exceeds their expectations. That’s one of the most important things for our values as a company.
Yeah, that makes sense! Can you talk about the trade show you went to recently?
Yeah, I went to a trade show in New York, and that was super fun! I had been doing wholesale about four or five years ago, and then just took a break from it. And I decided to re-look at this, and try it again. The energy was so great—I had such a good time going there. I think now that it’s… Sort of post-pandemic? I don’t know if you can say it’s post-pandemic. But now that the world is opening up again, it was really fun to see old wholesale customers who I hadn’t seen in four years. And also meet a whole bunch of new people.
And the energy of the show was so fabulous. People were excited, they were interested. Lots of really good questions. And just being in a collective energy was really wonderful. And this was a gift show, so there were people with all different kinds of products, it wasn’t just jewelry. It was a lot of home goods, personal care—makeup, skin care—and then there was also clothing there. It was really fun to be around so many creative energies, as well as buyers from all different kinds of stores. So I had a great time!
All right, we’re wrapping it up. Do you have any plans for the future? Anything exciting in store?
Yeah! I am working on some new things and I can’t wait to reveal. And so we’re gonna be launching some stuff in… Summer. So we’re not gonna spill the beans yet, so you’ll have to follow me on social media or check me out on the website. We’re also doing a little… We’ve already created some lifestyle products—bowls and trays, for the home. We’re gonna be expanding that portion of the collection as well. That’s been really fun, and we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from our customers.
Nice! Sounds pretty exciting!
Yeah! Thank you.
Yeah, is there anything else you’d like to share before we wrap up?
I am just so thankful that you reached out. It’s been great to come and chat with you and share my story, so I really appreciate it. And yeah, thank you for your time!
Yeah, this has been really great. Thank you so much!