Photographed by: Rachel Maucieri | Interview of: Jordan Kavuma of Thistle and Thread Design
How did you get started?
I have been a fiber artist since I was really young. My grandmother taught me how to do embroidery as a little girl, and as I went through high school and college I enjoyed playing around with weaving, knitting, and crochet. I have been trained in painting and drawing, but there is something about fibers that just peaks an interest so much more than other mediums.
After college I moved to Uganda to work for a non-profit and that is when I met my husband, Paul. I lived in Uganda for a little over a year, and when he and I decided that we wanted to get married I moved back to the states and started his visa process so that we could get married and live here in America. We were apart for a year during that time and that’s when Thistle and Thread was born. I needed something to fill my time and I had always loved the idea of being able to sell my art, so I thought there was no better time than that to jump straight into it. I hoped that it would become my full-time job, but I was really uncertain.
The year that Paul and I were living away from each other I was running Thistle and Thread along with working 40 hours a week at another job. As soon as we had the green light for his visa I went back over to Uganda for a couple more months for a few more interviews with the US Embassy and it was during that time that we both decided that after we moved back and the wedding was over I should quit my other job and move forward with Thistle and Thread. So that’s what we did, and we wouldn’t change any of it.
What influences you?/ Where do you get your inspiration?
My art has really changed and developed over the years and I think that my source of inspiration shifts as well. When I started selling my work for the first time, it was really hard for me to create pieces because I was so afraid that people wouldn’t want them. In the past I had always created what I wanted because it was for me. So for the first year or so of my business I felt a little lost because I was always chasing the trends and trying to make things that I thought would be popular regardless of if I felt inspired by them.
Thankfully, over the course of time my confidence has grown and with it my art has become more personal and more complete. Currently I am drawing a lot of inspiration from travels that Paul and I have taken, and just nature in general. I feel like I am more aware of colors in the environment and the shapes that make up different scenes, so I am working to turn that into stitched art that can communicate an emotion. I am trying to get away from pieces that are heavy on words and phrases, and create pieces that capture a moment or convey a feeling using colors and shapes and arrangements of scenes.
How do you balance your personal time + work?/ How do you create separation?
For a while there was no life/work separation. If there was any physical separation, my mind would just be thinking about work. I couldn’t turn it off. Paul plays a big role in the business, and while that is amazing and I don’t know how things would get done without him, it made it hard for a while because we were both so consumed with the work. So, we recently moved into this studio and one of the main reasons was to create some separation. We have some rules about “office hours” now, and also about how often we are allowed to bring work home with us. In the past we would be working from 9am-11pm, and it was causing some serious burn out. So giving ourselves quite literally a new space to work in it has allowed us to feel that there is a start and an end to the work day.
What keeps you motivated?/ Why do you love doing this?
There are a lot of obvious reasons why someone would love owning their own business, and those are all very real to me. I love the flexibility and the creative freedom, but for me the real reason that I continue to power through the obstacles and uncertainty that comes along with entrepreneurship is the example I can be to others. I teach a Craft Entrepreneurship Course through our local government to artists who are looking to have a profitable business selling their art, and it has been such a rewarding experience. I have had so many conversations with people who are really discouraged because they have this amazing gift, but they don’t see a way that they could earn a living by marketing it. I love being able to encourage them and show them that it is possible. It’s a lot of work, but it is possible. And the thought of having kids one day and being able to show them that they can really be creative in their passions and mold a future for themselves that satisfies and sustains is beyond exciting. I hate it when people feel that they are trapped and can’t pursue what they want because of money. I truly believe that with drive and a little ingenuity you can create the life you want for yourself.
Where do you see yourself in 2-5 years?/ What's next for your brand?
Well, thinking ahead any more than 3 years is a little hard for Paul and I. We are loving living in the states and getting to spend time with my family and friends, but we both are anxious to move back to Uganda. It is Paul’s home country, and might as well by mine. It will take us about 4-5 years before we can relocate, but that is what we are working towards. So at the moment I am working on establishing relationships with stockists and morphing the way that I release products so that I will no longer sell to individual customers, but I will sell directly to the stores that carry our work and everything will be released in a collection. So instead of shipping items one at a time to customers we will deliver large quantities to shops and they will distribute or sell them to the customer. It’s a long term plan that we are still in the stages of implementing, but that’s the direction that we see the business going so that we will be able to continue on while living across the ocean.