We are back with the mompreneur series and talk to Lilian Lo. She swapped diamonds for chalk and started CHALKapella, home of chalk t-shirts and wall stickers. You can read our review of the fun chalk t-shirts here.
1. Can you give us a brief description of your business and when it started?
I have always loved painting and made family t-shirts for all family celebrations. I also loved doing party decoration with chalk on black paper: it is so quick and easy, and every stroke with chalk is beautiful. My friends used so much time and effort in their party decoration, but with chalk and stickers you can be done in an hour. So I started looking for better materials than those thin ones you can find in the shops, that can only be used once. The I came up with the idea of t-shirts that could be decorated over and over, that would be perfect for parties and team events.
I am jewelry designer by trade, and still run that business as well. We make bespoke name jewellery under the Grafiti line. They are perfect heirloom pieces, often worn first by the mother, then passed on to the daughter.
2. What made you decide to turn your interest into a business?
Actually I started first thinking about giving the t-shirts to orphanages, homeless children and refugee kids that are deprived of new things, and always have to use clothes they can’t choose for themselves. I didn’t think about selling them, but then I came up with the 1 for 1 campaign idea. When a corporate customers or schools buy shirts, we match the purchase by donating the same amount to less privileged kids.
3. What challenges did you face getting your business started/going?
It does take time from your other work or business – actually it takes all your time! The charity aspect of this business keeps me going. In the beginning you are very much on your own and there aren’t really places to look for support. We have received many inquiries but most shops want to do consignment, where they only pay when the goods are sold. For a small, starting company this is often not possible.
4. How do you balance your time between the other aspects of your life (e.g. like being a mum) and being an entrepreneur?
Oh I don’t! My house has turned into a factory, but my daughter loves to help me with packaging and labeling and family time has now become Chalkapella time. As a jewelry designer I had much more time to spend with the family, but in starting up a new business it’s difficult. When we get an office and staff it will be easier again.
5. What tips do you have for other hobbyists or creatives who are thinking about setting up their own business?
If you do what you love, don’t think it is too small or that nobody will buy it. If you love it, so will others. In the beginning you may have people doubting your idea but don’t mind them – when I went from diamonds to chalk I saw many raised eyebrows. But do get a hang of your new business before letting go of the old job.