Friday, August 13, 2010

Feature Friday features Vanessa Walilko of Kali Butterfly

Welcome to another of our Feature Friday profiles of woman run businesses - today we'll be talking to Vanessa Walilko who is the owner/designer for Kali Butterfly, a fabulous handmade jewellery company basedin Chicago.

Thanks so much for taking the time to chat to us today Vanessa - can you tell our readers more about you and your company?
My name is Vanessa Walilko and I own and operate Kali Butterfly. I make aluminum chainmaille jewelry and clothing as well as beaded armor pieces and sculptures. I also teach chainmaille jewelry classes throughout Chicago, Illinois. I've been making beaded jewelry since I was 8 and I started making chainmaille about five years ago. I just love working with my hands and having the ability to give form to whatever ideas I can dream up. I'm meticulous, which comes through in my work--I'm obsessed with taking lots of little things and putting them together to make wearable pieces of art.

Where did the idea of running this as a business come from?
As I mentioned, I've been making jewelry for nearly all my life, but I didn't think that I could make a living off of it. I had spent several years doing what was expected of me, and working in safe jobs, even if I wasn't particularly thrilled with them. One day, I just got fed up and departed from the safe path. I wanted to be able to do what I love, so I decided to start a business. I don't want to be doing anything else aside from making jewelry, so I'm determined to make this work. Thankfully, I've spent the past four years working for jewelry designers, so I've learned a lot about what works and what doesn't work when starting and growing your own business.

What do you love most about your business?
I love the fact that I get to do what makes me happy every day. There are few things I love more than making jewelry for people. When a customer tells me that they wear a piece they purchased all the time, to me that means that they really love it. I also enjoy being able to teach chainmaille and to give people the opportunity to use their hands to create a piece of jewelry. It's so satisfying to watch people light up as they're making something that brings them joy.

What would you like to change?
I would love to have more wholesale accounts to provide a steadier income. Aside from consistent sales, wholesale accounts would help me better live my ideals. I make aluminum chainmaille jewelry because aluminum is 100% recyclable and endlessly recyclable. I love the idea that if someone got tired of one of their pieces, they could just toss it in a recycling bin. In order to do a craft show or art fair, you should have about four times as much inventory as you actually hope to sell in order to keep your booth looking full. That's a lot of jewelry! I would prefer only to make pieces that I know people want instead of making pieces and only hoping that someone will want them.

What is your aim for the next year?
Next year I hope to have at least 15 new wholesale accounts and to be more situated on my path as a business owner. I also hope to have more international orders. I've sold pieces to women in Australia and Russia, I'd like to add a few more countries to that list. My plan in the next year is to start making instructions for some of my beaded animals. I designed many of these pieces years ago and I hope to start sharing them with the public.

This past year has been an experiment--if I had to put everything on the line, what would I do in order to make my dreams a reality? So far, I've been working hard and building a fulfilling life for myself and things are coming together in a way that I didn't think was possible. I recently won the People's Choice Award and second place in the Wirework category in the Bead Dreams competition for my chainmaille jacket. Step by Step Wire Jewelry magazine also published my Squares with Flair project in their latest issue, and just accepted another jewelry project for an upcoming issue. I've done things in this past year that I didn't think could happen, so I'm excited about facing any new challenges in the upcoming year.

Where do you ultimately see yourself?
I'd love to be known as the aluminum chainmaille jewelry queen! Ideally, I would have a studio/storefront in New York City with three to five employees. My pieces would be in galleries throughout the United States. I hope to keep applying to competitions, winning awards and getting more attention for my work. I would also love to start selling some of my chainmaille fashion pieces on commission, since those are my passion projects. I hope to continue publishing projects consistently and selling my jewelry-making instructions to the public.

What are your Top 5 tips for new Business Women?
Tip 1 - Never give up. Starting and running my own business is easily the most daunting task I've ever undertaken. I don't know how many times I've thought that it would be easier if I just decided to work in an office and receive a steady paycheck. At the end of the day, I keep working at building my business because it's really the only thing I want to be doing, and the only thing that makes me happy. If you have a dream, be willing to pour all of your time and energy into making it happen. The rewards are worth both the risk and the fear.

Tip 2 - Be shameless. I spent a long time making jewelry for myself and putting it on my website, hoping someone would notice me. Unfortunately, that's not how things work. If you want people to notice you and what you're doing, you have to put your work in front of as many people as possible. I don't feel comfortable bragging to people I don't know, so I've had to train myself to tell people about what I'm doing. I've also gotten used to doing craft fairs and art shows, applying to every competition that seems relevant to what I'm doing (especially the contests with no entry fees), and posting everything on Facebook and my blog. There are so many things vying for people's attention--you need to be able to provide consistent content to your fans in order to keep them interested in what you're doing.

Tip 3 - Get organized. It's never too early to keep track of expenses and file all of your receipts away in an orderly fashion. As your business grows, you'll be happy that you started organizing all of your paperwork at the very beginning. Having all your receipts in one place also makes tax time a lot easier, especially if you have consignment accounts in a number of places.

Tip 4 - Surround yourself with supportive people. I'm very lucky to have a close circle of friends who support everything that I do as an artist. I spent a number of years with nay-sayers in my life. Negative people are a drain on your energy. As a small business owner, your energy is your greatest resource--don't let anyone take that away! When I talk to my friends, their excitement for me gives me added inspiration, and I feel ready to take on any other challenges that arise.

Tip 5 - Set specific goals for yourself. When running your own business, it's very easy to think about the big picture and get overwhelmed. In order to keep yourself from panicking about everything that you have to do, set specific goals for yourself. One of my goals for this year is to have a piece in a juried exhibition every month. In order to reach this goal, I keep track of calls for art that happen around the country and apply when I feel that my work is relevant. Specific goals help keep your energy focused so that you can see results from your plans.

If any of our readers would like to contact you regarding your fabulous items, how can they do that?
I can be contacted via my website at or by email at; I'm also on Facebook at or I can be tweeted at

Thank you so much for talking to us today Vanessa - your items are truly unique and stunning!!

Don't forget to check back next Friday when we'll be featuring another woman run business on our Feature Friday slot.  If you'd like your company to be featured, drop us an email at with the words "Feature Friday" in the subject line.  Also, if you haven't already, make sure to join us on our new forum at - lots of businesswomen chatting and networking!

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