Profile: Convivial Production
Convivial Production was started in 2014 by Chentell Shannon. Since then, the company has grown and grown, and you can find Convivial’s beautiful ceramic wares in retailers across the country. Their signature ivory-glazed pieces are both decorative and functional, cool and minimal.
Owner Chentell Shannon was kind enough to invite me for a studio visit. Convivial Production’s studio is a lovely, light-filled space in the West Bottoms. In addition to Chentell, the team consists of Blair Paulakovich, Emma Williamson, Anna Hutchison, Haley Kostas, Hailee Hudson, Esther Kontny, and Stephen Shannon (Chentell’s husband) who manages their wholesale accounts.
I sat down for a Q&A with Chentell on the origins of Convivial Production, design inspiration, her insights on running a small business, and more. The studio team also opened up about studio culture and how their team collaborates on a day-to-day basis. Read on for a glimpse inside this wonderful Kansas City company!
Tell me about the start of Convivial.
Convivial is a design + manufacturing company that labors over the creation of ceramic-made home, table and garden wares. The company was born out of a deep appreciation for hospitality paired with a love of creating functional ceramic wares. Convivial began in 2014, wheel-throwing out of a home garage and now operates out of a 2.5k sq/ft production space where each piece is brought from dust to life thanks to seven talented and hard working women.
Convivial was founded from a passion to encourage beautiful, thoughtful hospitality through the use of functional ceramic wares. Convivial, for those who aren’t familiar with the word, is a adjective describing a lively atmosphere or event. In our words- the joining of people to eat, to drink and to be well with one another. Convivial’s start came from a passion to bring people together under one roof, around a single table and to do so beautifully. We design items needed to host your friends and family as well as the surrounding decor needed to create a warm and inviting space for gathering. We create the wares- you set the scene.
What are some of your favorite things about calling KC home?
I moved to Kansas City four and half years ago. My husband, Stephen Shannon, is from here. After graduating from Wheaton College, he relentlessly talked with me about KC and how it would be a good place to build the business I was dreaming of. Summer of 2013, a month after graduation, I told him I would give it a try. I planned to stay for a year and ended up planting here for what seems will be the long term. No city is perfect, but KC has captured me. It has been a wonderful place to grow Convivial and bring local creatives into the company. Kansas City has a huge heart for the arts as well as a commitment to support entrepreneurs. Convivial is a pairing of these two, seeming to make it an easy company for the city to rally behind.
What inspired your initial designs?
All Convivial designs are inspired by architecture. The shapes, forms and angles of our wares are referenced from architectural elements that I’ve seen walking through the city. I have never been one to scour Pinterest or Instagram for inspiration. Rather, I deeply believe architecture to be a universal love that captures and centers individuals deeply. Alain de Botton wrote in Architecture of Happiness: “What we seek, at the deepest level, is inwardly to resemble, rather than physically to possess, the objects and places that touch us through their beauty.” My hope in creating wares inspired by architecture is to pull from universally captivating designs that can be collected and used within our homes and daily routines. It’s honestly not about the products- rather how the products impact us on a personal level and inform the habits of our daily lives.
Where do you start when designing a new piece?
As the company has grown, our process for designing new items and releasing new collections has become more refined. I have more time to travel for inspiration and to create thoughtful and cohesive collections. Last fall we released a handful of new designs and two new collections are now in the works. We are currently working on our 2019 Spring Line, all wares inspired by Hawaii (where I was born and raised) as well as our upcoming Restaurant Collection, refining and expanding our table top wares with design + functionality input from the owners of Ibis Bakery and Antler Room.
Tell me about the move to the space in the West Bottoms. Where was the studio before? How has the change in space impacted the work?
Spring 2017 we jumped from a 800 sq/ft space to a 2.5k sq/ft warehouse. The new space changed everything. It allowed us to produce more, which in turn allowed us to create more, sell more and ultimately... provide more jobs. It allowed us to host customers for drop-in shopping, tours and warehouse sales. We began hosting tours in November and love showing people all the behind the scenes work that goes into each item. We’ve really enjoyed having a space where people feel comfortable walking around and that we feel confident and proud to show. Having the expanded location has allowed us to build momentum. We’ve now outgrown the space and have begun to search again for a larger location. The fun continues!
What are your goals for Convivial for the next five years?
The vision of Convivial has always been to have production, hospitality and retail under one roof. We’ll work as hard as we can to get there, letting time take course as it will. Our focus isn’t in growing fast for the sake of awe-ing the community and gaining social status; rather, it is important to me that we grow lean, strong + organically. I hope Convivial will be around for 20+ years and am building the company with this in mind. Being a responsible company in how we choose to grow is of high importance to me. I want to ensure our processes and products are positively impacting our company employees, environment our surrounding community.
Building a beautiful jobs, spaces and wares for Kansas City - that is what truly matters.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
The first thing that comes to mind is to stay in our lane. I can’t remember who placed that thought in my mind, but I often find it applicable. I’ve been thinking about the advice in relation to company designs and business choices. If I have an idea, I’ll think: does this make sense for what Convivial is already doing? Does it align with our core purpose? If it doesn’t, then I know that it probably isn’t a product or project that we’re going to pursue. I think staying in our lane - having a really clear vision and running full force within that vision - has contributed to our growth.
What does hospitality mean to you personally?
When you’re hosting it’s all about making people feel comfortable, special and thought of. Hosting is all about thoughtfulness first and foremost, with products being mere necessities for hosting uniquely and thoughtfully. Whether you’re sitting to eat with your family or preparing to have guests, you want to be sure you have all items on hand needed to orchestrate a warm, comfortable gathering. You select a table large enough for all individuals to gather around, you collect enough chairs for everyone to sit comfortably and your curate enough table settings, serving dishes and napkins for serving. Taking note of your hosting wares prior to gathering will allow for undivided time together and will ensure you family and/or guests feel thought of and cared for.
What have you learned from leading a creative team?
I find that I have a very specific management style- one that I am constantly critiquing internally and refining outwardly. It’s important to me that my staff trusts me- that they trust the work I’m doing and the decisions that I make, especially when all factors haven’t been explained. In turn, it’s important that I trust my staff. With every hire I ask “How can I be the best boss to you and your unique personality?” Almost every staff member replies with the same sentiment- 1.) Clearly communicate what is expected of me 2.) Inform me if I am doing something wrong 3.) Trust that I am doing everything you’ve asked to the best of my ability and 4.) Acknowledge good efforts and show appreciation for the work being done.
How does your team work together?
I’ve worked really hard to curate a team that works well together. If I had to describe our team dynamic in three words I’d say they are: Resilient. Dedicated. Bright. They are always up for the tasks the day holds and as a bonus, they have a unique ability to keep a good attitude when challenges arrive. One last fun fact... Music is a really big part of the studio. The staff produces a weekly playlists through our #WEDNESDAYWORKFLOW Instagram releases. We listen to a lot of R&B, folk and jazz and have loved sharing this aspect of our culture with those who follow us closely.
On the weekday afternoon of my visit, Haley Kostas, Blair Paulakovich, Anna Hutchison, and Emma Williamson working in the studio.
How would you each describe your work dynamic?
Haley: We’re all so in tune with each other that if one of us has an off day, we all have an off day. Working in that amount of silence we learn to read each other. I think it’s a good thing, even on the off days.
Blair: Work-wise, Anna and Hailee Hudson both have backgrounds in ceramics, but Haley Kostas, Emma and I do not. [Anna and Hailee] are more technical, but we can add some perspective. It gives room for a lot of growth, if you have a background in ceramics or you don’t. They can do more technical things, but we can offer that extra perspective. I think having the mix of the two balances the studio out.
Anna: All our jobs are dependent on each other’s jobs. Everyone’s so specific in their tasks that if one of the tasks doesn’t get done, it halts the entire process.
Emma: Our roles in the studio, the flow of the production of the studio, most days we execute it pretty well and it all gets done. I’ve never walked into a company that has such a specific role for what you’re doing and how you move the company along every day, so that’s really cool. And it seems like the girls are always looking for ways to be more efficient with that as well, which is good and brings a lot of positivity too.
Haley: There’s no complacency.
Emma: We all get along quite well, and we all believe in what we’re doing, and I think that makes our drive to be efficient in our roles that much stronger, since it is such a lean company.
What’s one word that you would use to describe the studio?
Haley: A machine.
In more than one word?
Blair: I enjoy being in a creative environment. I like the values of Convivial and where Chentell wants to go, where she foresees the company going, and the growth of it, and how she wants to get there.
Haley: I like being in an environment, being here in the studio, doing something methodical. We don’t work in absolute silence – we’re playing music – but there isn’t a lot of chatting back and forth, it’s not so interactive all the time. You just get to be with the work. It’s very satisfying.
What do you listen to while you’re working?
Blair: The days start out quiet, we normally start out with something chill, and then after a while, it’s like, alright, we need something upbeat.
Emma: We also listen to so much Frank Ocean. Probably a full album a day.
Haley: We listed to Shakey Graves for two months straight.
Anna: We go in spurts, of listening to one person every single day for like a month, and then we’ll switch to a new person.
Tell me about the playlists you’ve made.
Blair: We do #WEDNESDAYWORKFLOW, where we release the playlists at the end of the day, so it’s a weekly thing. We curate them. The girls put in their input with what they’re feeling that week, or what we’re listening to in the studio, things we’re really into. So it’s all over the place every week. It depends. The more we’ve done them– I think we’re on 15 or 16 now –the harder it is to find music. It’s fun that we have to discover new music. It’s normally a pretty good mix.
Emma: Yeah, it’s a nice mix of things that are cool, up and coming, and then random things individuals are feeling.
A big thanks to the ladies at Convivial Production for sharing about their work! Follow their #WEDNESDAYWORKFLOW playlists on Instagram. Want to check out the studio in-person? They offer tours the first Saturday of every month. Reserve your spot here– they fill up fast!