Remember making a potholder on a loom? Weaving all those loops in and out? So now, close your eyes and imagine taking that to the next, next, next, next level – the one where you create gorgeous, hand woven chenille scarves (as opposed to the lumpy potholder that only a mother could love). Can’t imagine it? Neither could we, until we met the incredibly inspirational Alexa Kastan. Alexa is a college student studying art education and fiber arts. She designs all of her patterns and prefers weaving with rayon chenille. We admire Alexa for her artistry of course, but also for her passion, drive and willingness to pursue a nontraditional path, all of which have enabled her to turn her talent into a business.
1. Tell us about your business/ your craft?
I design and weave rayon chenille scarves. I began to sell my work in 2013. To make a woven scarf, I work on a loom. Currently I have four looms. One is a floor loom that is the size of an upright piano. I’m lucky, because I actually converted my basement into a working weaving studio.
2. What inspired you to start weaving?
I started to weave when I was 13. I went to an amazing art camp called Buck’s Rock Creative and Performing Arts Camp. They have a weaving shop there. As soon as I stepped foot in the weaving studio I knew I had to learn. Fibers and art have always been part of my life. My mom is a potter and an avid knitter, so I learned to knit and crochet at a young age. Eventually I went from knitting scarves to knitting more three-dimensional animals. I started following patterns but that wasn’t enough. I needed to do more. So I began to design my own patterns. That way I could make them exactly the way I want them to look. After multiple summers at camp, I was able to learn more about the art of weaving. At that point,
I could only weave during the summer, because I did not have my own loom. It’s pretty cool to think back to all of this, because now I go to art school and am able to weave at a college level. I’m a dual major with art education and crafts with a concentration in weaving, and at the same time, I am selling my work at craft shows. It’s a challenge to be able to keep up with my inventory while being a full time college student. Now back to how I got started with using rayon chenille. I learned how to weave with chenille, because I took a one day workshop while I was in high school. Chenille is a really hard fiber to work with. If you give it a gentle tug it will just snap, and weaving is all about tension, so there’s a contradiction there. That’s where I come in. I had to figure out how to give enough tension while giving enough slack that the chenille didn’t break. Since it’s so hard to work with, I put it down for a couple years. Then once I got my confidence back I gave it another shot.
2. What gave you the confidence to make it a business?
I still have a hard time believing that I have a weaving business. I never in a million years would have believed it.
Even though I learned to weave when I was 13 I feel like I never fully grasped weaving. Weaving is extremely difficult. It is very mathematical. Which is funny because math was never my strong suit. But, once I figured it out, I couldn’t stop! I ended up making one of my very first scarves for my mom. At the time, she took a knitting class at an art center. I was home, and I got a text from her saying that her knitting friends wanted to know if my scarves were for sale. I was completely speechless! My parents kept encouraging me tomake something out of my weaving. They always say “do what makes you happy”. And weaving is what makes me happy! I think what gives me most confidence is when I see people wearing my scarves. They tell me how warm they are and that they never want to take them off. This definitely is a confidence booster! It makes me want to go back to my studio and weave.
3. Do you ever doubt yourself? If so, what did you do to stay motivated?
I doubt myself all the time. I think that is a sign of a true artist. I’ve always been extremely hard on myself since I was little. Especially going to art school, I constantly look around at my classmates work and the negative thoughts begin. I wish I didn’t think this way, but I can’t help but think that my classmates’ work is way better then mine. To be honest, I don’t always like my work, but I know I have to make art in order to be happy. If I’m having a really tough day, the stress of college is getting to me, or my anxiety gets too high, I just tell myself to keep breathing and throw on some earphones, listen to music and just weave. Weaving is my escape. It gives me something to focus on. Instead of focusing on what is stressing me out, weaving drowns out the negative thoughts and allows me to focus on my pattern. Whenever I do look at my growing inventory or have a quiet moment at one of my craft shows, I begin to question what I’m doing. But then I get the positive feedback on how much people love my work, so that definitely serves as a huge motivator.
What is your advice to other young women who may have a particular skill or talent that they are thinking about pursuing as a business?
I would have say that you have to do what you love and love what you do! And if you make a product that can impact a person’s life and make them happy then just do it!
5. Do you find that as a young entrepreneur it is hard to be taken seriously?
I think at times, it is a bit tricky to be taken seriously. Being young is tough, and it is even harder having such a young face. When I did my first craft show, I had a booth that was set up next to many well-established artists. Although it probably wasn’t the case, I felt that when other vendors saw how young I was, they initially judged me based on my age. But, when I began to lay out my work, they started to take me seriously. Weaving is such an unusual art. It is not a type of art that most people know. Since it is so unusual, people don’t understand it. Often it is confused with knitting or crocheting which is completely different. They don’t understand how much time and effort goes into making one scarf. Behind the scenes, I have to design the pattern, thread the loom, weave, wash, dry and trim in order to make a single scarf.
6. What do you think is the most fulfilling part of what you do?
The most fulfilling part is definitely seeing the faces of my customers after they purchase a scarf. As they leave my booth, I see them just hugging their new scarf. Seeing them so happy is contagious!
7. What does “She’s Fit to Lead” mean to you? How does someone become Fit to Lead?
I’m not going to lie and say everything is perfect and setting up a business is really easy, because that isn’t true. In all honesty, nothing is easy. But, things that you are passionate about are worth fighting for. When starting a business, you are paving a road that has not yet been formed. So I think “She’s Fit to Lead” is giving tools in order to help young women follow their dreams. I have to admit that I am a very shy person. But over the years, through running lexWeaving, I began to overcome being shy. I will always be shy, but being a leader is about putting all your anxieties and insecurities aside and doing your best to lead. From doing craft shows, I did notice that people like to follow. They are always looking for a leader. ‘She’s Fit to Lead’ gives an opportunity for new leaders to learn how to lead. But, it also allows me to pass down what I’ve learned in order to help others achieve their goals, and learn how to feel in control of their own destiny whether that is starting your own business or just feeling confident.
You can meet Alexa and check out her gorgeous scarves at our #ConnectToConfidence conference in New York on May 21, 2106 (more on that to come). Also, please be sure to check out her website: lexweaving.com
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