A desire to see her Mexican-American heritage reflected in crafting was the impetus for Crafty Chica Kathy Cano-Murillo to create her own art, jewelry and other decorations. She now spreads her “gospel of glitter” through her craft product lines, books, art, speeches and more.
Photos courtesy of Kathy Cano-Murillo, the Crafty Chica
Kathy Cano-Murillo is, indeed, one Crafty Chica. A desire to see her Mexican-American heritage reflected in crafting has made her quite the entrepreneur, spreading her “gospel of glitter” through art, workshops, product lines, books (seven craft, three novels, and a recent work about Frida Kahlo), podcasts, blogs, speeches, brand partnerships, a Crafty Chica cruise, and a retail store/art gallery, Mucho Mas.
Oh yeah, she makes stuff, too.
Cano-Murillo has been growing – and evolving – her Crafty Chica brand for nearly two decades, spurred by her hunt to find home décor, jewelry and decorations that reflected both her heritage and her personality.
“I love patterns, color, texture, glitter, and I wanted to weave my culture into my crafts,” the Phoenix, Arizona, native says. “When I couldn’t find what I wanted, I made things myself.”
In the mid-1990s, her unique Latinx inspired jewelry, home décor, and art caught the eye of a national sales rep with some 300 markets. But with a husband, two children, and a full-time job at The Arizona Republic newspaper, making so much product became overwhelming and she burned out.
While at the newspaper she started a general craft column that was syndicated to 130 papers. On her Crafty Chica website, she shared a potpourri of craft projects, parenting stories, recipes, and more. “Instead of making things to sell, I showed people how to make them.”
And so began her evolution from maker to entrepreneur.
“When I first started (growing my business) I didn’t know what I was doing,” she admits.
But wow, did she learn.
A trip to the 2007 Craft and Hobby Association trade show (now Creativation) “helped me decide to be an entrepreneur.” Duncan Enterprises hired her as a spokesperson and designer, launching her first Crafty Chica product line that included “a little bit of everything” — glitter, iron-on transfers, embellishments, mugs, papers, patches, markers, tote bags, and more. “I’ve since (learned) how to have capsule collections, with cohesive themes.”
Her Crafty Chica products at Michaels was the first Latina designed, Latino-centric line in a major craft retailer, she says. But after eight years, she “felt the line got stagnant,” and moved on.
Evolving is the linchpin of Cano-Murillo’s success. She keeps a close eye on trends and is never afraid to “adapt and evolve if things get stale.”
“If you are selling coffee mugs and they stop selling, don’t stop selling coffee mugs, figure out why they aren’t selling,” she advises. “Do you need new designs? Different colors? You may need to readjust a few times to get it to work the way you want.”
She’s following her own advice with her hand painted ceramic Amiga Angels™, sold in her online and retail stores. She wants to lift the Angels to another level, perhaps with a giftware line. “I’m working with a buyer who has a different vision that I never thought of, so I’m flipping my thinking, trying to see it another way.”
The point, she says, is to always keep an open mind.
She also believes wholeheartedly in having several income streams, which for her includes retail and online stores, workshops, and consulting jobs. These, however, are “mid-level” income producers, and she wants a higher return for her efforts. Today, she says, speaking engagements and influencer campaigns provide the bulk of her income.
Kathy Cano-Murillo created her hand painted ceramic Amiga Angels as friendly, sassy angels “who are excited to guide and protect” and be “spiritual cheerleaders” and “messengers of love.”
Cano-Murillo’s bright colors reflect her Mexican-American roots.
“By the time influencer marketing became a thing, I had already built my brand,” she notes. “I was very specific with my brand and website, (which was) not just about crafting but also lifestyle, cooking, travel, and more, so I was able to have an authentic point-of-view no matter what the campaign.”
Cano-Murillo’s bright colors reflect her Mexican-American roots.
Having a wide range of experience, she adds, allows her to branch out beyond glitter and glue guns, pitching her expertise to diverse businesses. For Turbo Tax, for example, she was an entrepreneurial expert with business tips and advice. “I found ways to make sure that what I talked about fit their needs, so it was win win win for everyone — client, readers, me.”
Before giving up her day job to become a full-time entrepreneur, Cano-Murillo did her homework. “I prepared ahead of time, had multiple streams of income, and worked smarter. I made sure my website was polished, that I had a strong community to connect with and that people would be excited about my content.”
She also took a hard look at her finances. “I figured out how much I wanted to make that year and planned how to bring in that income. I thought not just about what I need to survive, but what I need to thrive. I had to be fearless, to think bigger.”
Thinking bigger also meant investing in herself, she says. “I could only reach a certain level before I needed to hire people to help me. Hiring people is the best way to prove that you believe in what you are doing.”
She hired professionals to redesign her website so it looked polished, and to handle the back end “so I could focus on making content.” She also hired a brand manager to help with everything from speaker requests and media kits (tailored to each client) to negotiating contracts and helping with social media. “She also makes sure I am on track with my projects,” Cano-Murillo admits with her ready laugh.
Cano-Murillo is the author of 11 books, including her most recent, Forever Frida, A Celebration of the Life, Art, Loves, Words, and Style of Frida Kahlo.
Having specific goals helps her focus her business decisions. For example, when customers started asking for face masks during the pandemic, she asked herself, “What do I want to get out of this? We need a new roof, so all the mask money will go towards a new roof. Now, how many masks do I need to sell at what profit to get this roof? Once you are specific with goals, it starts to come together.”
She is an inveterate list-maker. Each year she creates a vision board with a “big picture” goal. “I assess that goal, create a visual action plan, and break down a to-do list for each part.”
She makes weekly and daily to-do lists so she knows what she needs to accomplish the next day.
“If I don’t make a list, I am so unfocused I can’t get anything done. It’s important to have goals, to know where you are going and what you want. Don’t just wing it. Ask yourself, ‘what do I want out of this? Why am I doing this? Will turning my craft into a business take away from that happiness?’”
Anyone can be a Crafty Chica, she says, because being a Crafty Chica is a state of mind.
“It’s about being positive, looking at the world, finding the good things but also breaking things down, figuring out how things work. It’s being realistic and striving to find solutions. It’s about embracing contrast in life, in crafts; in trying different things, finding a different way to approach an idea … The magic comes from loving what you do.”
Crafty Chica entrepreneur Kathy Cano-Murillo offers some tips for growing your own creative enterprise
- Before starting a business, think it through. For example, how will you create products, and source materials? What capital do you need? What is your plan? “Don’t wing it.”
- Set goals and figure out how to reach those goals. Know where you are going and what you want.
- Have an end goal. Ask yourself, what do I want out of this? Why do I want it? Will turning what I love into a business take away the happiness I had in the making?
- Invest in yourself. Hire professionals to help you, whether designing a website or managing social media. “Don’t expect everything to be free.”
- Pay attention to trends. What are your best sellers? Which social media feeds are getting the best response?
- Reward the people who support you, let them know they are appreciated.
- Make weekly and daily to-do lists. Follow those lists.
- If something stops selling, figure out why. Do you need new designs? A fresh idea? Keep an open mind and don’t give up too quickly.
- Stay organized, especially in your work studio. Put away tools and supplies when you finish a project. “It’s a waste of time and money if you can’t find a tool and you have to go out and buy another.”
- Be honest with yourself. Is something not working because you gave up? Are there flaws? Have you not worked hard enough developing an idea? Don’t re-invent your business, she says, evolve it.
- Create a signature style.
- Beware of “productive procrastination,” in which you feel as if you are doing something productive, but that project is taking time away from the bigger task you need to accomplish.
Roberta G. Wax
Roberta Wax is an award-winning journalist and imperfect crafter. A former news reporter, her freelance articles and projects have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines, from the Los Angeles Times and Emmy magazine to Cloth Paper Scissors, Somerset Studio, Craftideas, Belle Armoire, etc. She has also designed for craft companies. Although she has no art background she was a crafty Girl Scout leader. www.creativeunblock.com