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Hey, it's Guy Raz here. You know, one of the hallmarks of economic crises like this one is that people actually start businesses slack betterment, even Airbnb. All companies we featured on this show were all founded during the last economic crisis.
And a lot of people are talking about using this period now as a chance to reimagine what they do.
And if that's you. Well, I've written a book that you might find helpful. It's called What Else? How I Built This.
And I wrote it for anyone who is starting a business thinking about starting one or just looking for inspiration and ideas from the incredible stories in the book. The How I built this book is designed to be that voice in your head cheering you on when you're feeling like you just want to give up. The book is based on interviews with hundreds of leading entrepreneurs, and it traces how to start a business or pursue a big idea and how to avoid the big mistakes along that journey.
Normally, I'd be leaving on a book tour at around this time where hopefully I'd get a chance to meet some of you. And thank you for your support of our show. But of course, book tours are all going virtual right now.
So I wanted to make sure that you and our most devoted listeners get a chance to get a signed copy. And if you preorder the book in the next few weeks before September 15th, I'll send you a free signed book plate that fits right inside.
You can order the book however you get your books or you can find all the information you need at Guy Raz Dotcom or how I built this dotcom.
I mean, it was amazing how quickly people got it. I mean, I remember the first international show that I did in Paris for the EU and I'm standing there when we introduced it and I went to the ladies room and then I'm walking back and literally there's like a wall of people around our booth and in the booth I couldn't even get in. And they're all staring at the placemats. And it was like, everyone's talking about it. It was like instant.
From NPR, it's how I built this show of innovators, entrepreneurs and idealists and stories behind the movements they built. I'm Guy Raz, and on Today show how a simple splash of color accidentally launched, say, Chilliwack into a 40 year career as a designer, entrepreneur and creator of the now famous Chilliwack placemat.
Some of the most successful brands we've had on the show were incredibly simple ideas that didn't require much startup capital at all. Stacy Madison had a sandwich cart in downtown Boston at the end of the day. She'd cut up leftover pizza, toasted in the oven and sell the chips in baggies for a dollar. Eventually, that became Stacie's pita chips. Lisa Price wanted better skin cream, so she mixed shea butter and essential oils in her kitchen and packed them into baby food jars to sell at flea markets.
Eventually, that became Carol's daughter, a line of personal care products. Kathleen Keen baked chocolate chip cookies and turned those into Tate's bakeshop. All three of these entrepreneurs used their most valuable asset, their own creativity. This was Sandy Chilla, which is most valuable asset as well, back in the late 1970s in New York, when the city was filled with struggling artists and squatters living in abandoned apartments. She and a neighbor decided to buy a few pairs of Chinese slippers and dye them into different colors.
That simple idea turned into a brand called Hue, and eventually they branched out into tights after Sandy sold you. She launched a second company called Chilliwack, which is known for selling home products, especially placemats made from durable, woven vinyl. Sandy grew up outside of New York and came from a family that had been in the leather goods business for generations. She says she was a pretty bad student. She went to Sarah Lawrence College but ended up dropping out twice so to earn money.
She painted, made sculptures and sold handmade jewelry. She was making a little bit from the jewelry. But one night, a simple creative Do-It-Yourself idea changed Sandy's life. What happened is, is that I met a neighbor of mine in the loft building that I lived in, in New York, in New York City. So I'm living in Soho. It was a factory building. Everybody was an artist in the building. And one woman and I who at that time she was an art teacher.
She was also doing some art, but mostly teaching her.
Her name was Kathy Moscow or Moscow. It was it was a Moscow, Moscow, Moscow.
And one evening we were together. We were a little tipsy drinking wine. And I think we were in her loft and we were looking in her closet at her shoes. And at that time, all young downtown women, what they would wear every day were cotton canvas shoes that we bought in Chinatown. They were black and they were like really thin, sole rubber back. And that was cheap chic.
And we don't like the flat shoes. Like the flat.
Yeah, flat cherry only Mary Janes and they were three point ninety nine cents in Chinatown. And we thought, I don't know how we thought of this, but it just occurred to us because we both have are creative. We wondered like why doesn't anybody make these in colors? And that night we one of us have Clorox. I had Riddhi and we bleached out the black. It actually came out and we overdid them. Okay. And they look pretty great.
You just thought we'll make them for ourselves or our friends or whatever.
Yeah, well, this will be fun. I don't know why. I think sometimes you just do it because it's fun to do it. So. So we went and we got more of them and we did a bunch of them and then we had a building meeting in my loft or her loft I can't remember.
And we had all the shoes out and everybody in the building, they all said, Oh my God, what did you get? These kids are amazing. This mean so just died Mary Janes, you know, because it seems so simple. Because the simple thing.
Well, this is a time seriously where things were not available in a lot of colors. This was before or around the same time that for the first time you get a T-shirt in twelve colors like canal jeans, which was one of the forerunners of this was just a couple of blocks away from us where you would get T-shirts that people would die at home and then sell because you couldn't get a T-shirt in a pale teal color. People that made T-shirts, they made white in or black maybe.
All right. So you guys have all these artists in the loft and they love them and they want an end. And I wanted that spark further discussion about maybe we should actually make more of these from what like you and Kathy, you know what that lead to. So what was happening? I was still had the jewelry going on in my loft and I got an appointment at that time. Vogue magazine would have open days and you could show product to all the kind of fashionistas that.
There this is they would just have an open day where they could just walk in and show the stuff you're making. I think it was by appointment, but they were very it's not like it is today. They encouraged and wanted to see new stuff, you know. Now, it's like very it's not quite the same way. You kind of have to be more established and so forth. But then I had an appointment already to show them my jewelry.
Right. And this is at the time this is the woman that was the editor in chief before Anna Wintour. This is Grace Mirabela. She was the she was the heavy and she was there forever before Anna took over. Sure. So we go up there and work with all these fashionistas and I've got my jewelry. And we decided I just I said, Cathy, come with me. Let's show them the shoes, too. So we showed them the jewelry and then we showed them the shoes.
And they all said, you know, in so many words, forget the jewelry. Tell us about the shoes. Wow.
Like, these were really simple shoes that you got in Chinatown. They were just in different colors and they were blown away by those shoes.
Yeah, well, because everyone knew the shoes and they were great, but they were not. But imagine them in any of the color but black. So it was like it was like think that was a big thing. Yeah.
I'm I'm trying to think of something that would be analogous, like like car tyres, car tires or black. But if somebody pulled up in front of your house with yellow neon car tires or orange Cotard's, you'd be like, oh my God, where did you get those car tires in orange?
I think that's totally but, you know, that's taking it to the furthest extreme. Yeah, but this is at a time when towels were available in four colors. I said beige, white, darker brown. I mean, gray. That's it. And that was the beginning where people started to offer more colors in everything.
So they're looking at you and they're saying, hey, this jewelry, not for us, but the shoes. We love the shoes. And and what did that mean?
I mean, well, it goes a little further because then they said, look, hold on for a minute. We'll be right back. And they all left. And ten minutes later, Grace Marabella walks into the room. Oh, wow.
She says, oh, my God, these shoes. And so see, so this is on a Friday. And she said, we need to take these shoes to Sardinia.
We're leaving on Monday to Sardinia, to Sardinia. We have a shoot in Sardinia. I want all of these colors in size 10 or size nine in when she said, can you do that? You know, and yes, I always said, yes, we can do it.
Of course, she said, I'm going to put you ladies on the map or something like that. It was like she it was like it's like a movie.
It was a movie. It was without question, a movie.
I mean, this was for people who don't mean I remember like there was a magazine called Mirabela. I don't even know if it's still around.
Oh, for sure. Yeah, for sure. Yeah. That's a magazine named after her like that. She started. So how did you get did you guys go rushed out to try out and scramble to get these, these shoe sizes. Yes.
I mean we had to get a whole case of like forty pairs in a box to get the one size ten that was in the box. Well, and because they didn't sell them singly. So we probably got like ten of these boxes, I don't remember. And we tried to simulate those colors which we did probably drunk one night and like, how are we going to get this color again? Yeah, so we did it. They were still wet on Monday morning.
We're blow dry them with it. We didn't sleep. I mean, we were just making these shoes and off they went to Sardinia and there's going to be a lag time between them.
The photo shoot and one that's probably five or six months later, it's going to be in the magazine. So at that point, what do you do? I mean, do you decide to make this a business? Do you and Kathy say, you know, I think we got something here?
You know, it was certainly quite a long time before it went into the magazine. But when they came back, they knew that they shot them. And this will be, they told us, a two page spread and it said Shoes by Kathy and Sandy because we didn't even have a company name. And they can't take a credit unless their customers can buy it in a store. So we went to Bergdorf Goodman. We told them we had a credit in vogue, but they look at this product and would they buy it so that we can cover the credit?
And they did. So it wasn't available at Bergdorf Goodman. Yes. So they could say then what? Did you price the shoes at God? You know, I know ultimately they were like sixteen dollars. We started to buy them in quantities. We went to Macy's, we went to other stores at that point and showed people and then were buying, you know, all these big boxes. But we weren't using all the sizes because some of them were tiny.
I mean, none of it made any sense economically.
So. All right. So when the Vogue spread came out, was there like a huge rush to buy them? Or what do you remember about that?
I would think we were selling a lot. And I don't remember the. Quantities, but we were selling a lot and we were we had to work all night long. I mean, we had we had people that came in and were dying and bleaching through the night.
And this was all in your loft apartment. Like I read that you had a bunch of washing machines you were using to dye the shoes and stuff.
Well, it was my home and it was a big loft and it was very open. And I had the whole back area was really nothing. It was an old studio and that's where all the washing machines and dryers were, plus the place to kind of lay the shoes out, store the shoes. I mean, I had 3600 square feet in this loft was huge.
All right. So you are basically dyeing these shoes and getting them out the door and eventually you call your your business Hugh Hewitt, which stood for what was that name?
Just colors. You know, it was it was like the all these colors, because that's really what we were doing, which is offering something that was kind of a very pedestrian product and offering it in tons of colors.
Yeah. And it was you and Cathy kind of running this shoestring business.
And and I guess, like pretty soon after you launched the shoes, you started to get into tights, dyeing tights. How did that happen?
Because every editor I mean, we were like the darlings of the press because of color. And all the editors was saying, well, what else do you guys do in cloth? So we were looking for things that were kind of cool, that were never available colors. And one of them were were these cotton nurse's stockings, which is kind of hard to believe that we even picked them up because neither one of us were stockings but and some other products to these cotton gloves that were sold in Chinatown, some of these cool garter belts, all these kind of weird accessories.
And we put them into the same dyeing manufacturing.
And again, we were get like two pages memoirs magazine. And we were at the beginning called Hugh Shoes. And then we just became Hugh and and I'm thinking like cotton stockings. Were they was it thin cotton, thick cotton? I mean, would they like tube socks? What do they look like? Well, nobody wears stockings anymore unless they're porn stars. Something it's got this like really because it's a garter belt. It's like, you know, they were called nurse's stockings, what we were buying because nurses had to wear, I think, cotton wool in their uniforms not long enough because that was uncomfortable.
So they would wear a garter belt to hold them up. So nobody we weren't saying, hey, let's wear stockings. It was more like we're just trying to feed the market with color and in something that was always so boring. So this was this was just a guess. This was like a kind of a revolutionary, you know, sort of a new kind of offering and in the fashion arena. Well, honestly, the stockings didn't become the big thing.
It's what we did based on the feedback we got from customers and us making a stretch cotton tight. How did you come to that? Well, because people were saying we love the fact that it's cotton. We don't want to wear nylon and but we don't want to wear garter belt. Can't you make a cotton tight for us? You know, so that was what we did. We did a couple of things like that that kind of changed the world of leg wear.
That was one of them. How did you how did you identify that the right material to use? You know, it was identifying how to combine a stretchy material with the cotton to make it tight. And this had very much nothing to do with Cathy. I think the nylon pantyhose there was nylon wrapped around a stretch fibre.
So what she was saying is, why can't we find somebody to take cotton and wrap it around a stretch so that we can make a stretch tight made out of cotton? And was that possible to do? Yes. And we did it well. So so here's my question. I mean, you're in your mid 20s at this point. How did you like how did you figure out how to just, like, manage the business?
We didn't know what we were doing from a business standpoint. I mean, we're making all this inventory. We don't realize like, hey, you have to sell your inventory before you make more stuff. I mean, they didn't know what we're doing.
And and so you were just making a bunch of stuff and then like, oh, we've got to sell this exactly right. You weren't making the sale first and then and then making. Absolutely.
And also, not every color you make is going to sell. Sell. Now, what are you going to do with all those pink things that you just made? You know, where does that go? And and you're making the wrong things and you're not selling to enough people or people are not paying you fast enough. I mean, they're just basic parts of the business and how to deal with cash flow and how to deal with, you know, receivables and collecting.
And so we're def. You know, losing money, but we knew we had something great and the somebody, a mentor of mine who was a friend of my brother's that who went to business school and had been out in the world, and he came over and looked at both of us and he he appreciated what we were doing. He looked at us and he said, let me just tell you right now, one of you has to stop designing and you have to sell full time.
There's nothing else. That's what you have to do. And that's what I did.
Huh. So. So you decided that you were going to focus on on sales in the business and Kathy was going to focus on the creative side? Yeah. Yeah.
And did you want to do that? I mean it. I mean, kind of designing the products a little bit more fun. You know, I've always been and in the later businesses I did designing alone is not kind of enough for me. I do like the business side and I do like the marketing side. And I have a very, very interested in that. And I didn't know it at the time, but I volunteered for that position and I really learned how to sell, which I think I had a talent for anyway.
So I do like the I love the that combination of art and commerce. How did you get the word out? I mean, in the beginning you had this sort of attention from these publications, but then like let's say I don't know, you know, bullocks, which doesn't exist anymore in Southern California. Well, I grew up in Southern California, so let's say bullocks carried your stuff. Like how would how would people walking into a bullocks know about your product?
You go to the hosiery department and you see it. We had great packaging and we did very unconventional photography at that time. All of our products had a picture of a woman with the product and they were kind of way more fashionable. You know, the hosiery departments were a commodity department in most stores. They were so basic pantyhose, really ugly socks. I mean, just nothing. And when we came aboard and there was another company called Hot Socks at that time, but the whole year we were a huge part of the Treasury Department.
We still are at some of these big stores. How I mean, I understand how early on you funded the business. You just used money to buy these shoes, but eventually you had to buy lots of inventory and they had to be said to be sold. So how are you funding it? How did you have how are you getting the cash to build this business up?
I can be quite specific. My father had lent us 300000 dollars and he gave it to us as we needed it. You know, I would ask him, look, we really need 10000, we need 20000.
So that's that's what capitalized it. Plus, at the beginning, I was I kind of didn't take a salary out probably for several years, but then I did. And it was able to pay both Kathy and I.
You know, we get Sandy, we get from time to time letters from people who, when they hear some stories, will say, hey, you know, that story, I didn't I couldn't identify with it because I have a parent who has a lot of money who could help me out.
And I think, you know, with some justification will say, you know, that that sounds like they had all these advantages, you know, that I don't have.
And what I mean, what do you think when when you hear that?
Well, I hear it. I mean, I definitely hear it. And, you know, I've spoken very often, you know, especially at schools and art schools and everything that, you know, they want to get a more practical idea of, you know, what you can do with whatever.
Yeah, I'm always a little uncomfortable about that part. I mean, but I the I actually that this is the first time that I've ever said publicly to anybody, as I did with you today, to tell you literally exactly how much I got from my dad.
And at the end of the day, you know, it is what it is. I mean, I. I know it's it's I was lucky. OK, so you you're growing you, you and Kathy and selling a bunch of different things. Yes. Eventually you stopped, you stopped selling shoes. Was that just because they were hostile or what? No. I think it's like it's something that I've certainly learned and really believe in is that you got to narrow your focus and be clear on what you're doing.
It's just it's a different you have to look at your avenues of distribution and who you're selling to just wasn't going to work. I was going to be able to sell these shoes in a hosiery department. I just I identified this like this product has legs, let me put it, and this can grow. And I kind of knew that intuitively. And so the idea was to grow it. You kind of had to kill one of the babies, which was the.
Yes, the Mary Jane. Yes. And you have to kill a bunch of things while you're growing, in my opinion. And a big one that we did was back then there were two sections in a women's if if a woman wants a sock or a tight or a pantyhose. Back in those days, there were different sections within the hosiery or Linguere area, and one was kind of casual socks and tights, and the others were pantyhose. And we were trying to sell both of them.
And it was definitely my thing is like, no, let's be the best in one area or another because it's splitting us up. And that's what we did. And I tend to that's something that I learned on my own. And it's it's carried me through in general.
So in 1991, you decided to sell you and Kathy decide to sell the company? Yeah. And by the way, I should mention, Hugh is still around.
You can still buy their leggings and tights and shapewear and stuff like that. You and Kathy stay on as co presidents for a few years.
Did you I mean, I'm assuming that essentially you become financially secure at that point for the rest of your life. You could have probably stopped working.
Probably. I mean, I wouldn't have lived, you know, the we're not like the billion dollar business, so, like, it's not that kind of money. Right. But it was nice. It was a really nice sum of money and it didn't put any panic at me.
And did you sell it because you just wanted to kind of move on or it was just it was just an offer you couldn't refuse or you were just kind of tired or whatever, remember behind that? Yeah.
I think that to be honest, I think my relationship with Kathy, she and I both I think we're both kind of it was just hard to work together and. Yeah. And I you know, so was it was time. And we were together, we were doing this for a long time, so it was time to move on.
Were you guys not getting along? I would say it was a little too I mean, it wasn't horrible or anything, but we we were fighting. Yeah. I think I also, you know, more and more I wasn't designing, you know, and then it became kind of difficult for me to kind of get back in.
You wanted to get back into the design side and you'd been out of it for so long as a sales person that it was. Yeah, and probably Kathy felt ownership over those designs, understandably. Yeah.
And she I mean, I definitely had my, you know, my hand in a couple of designs. I can say 100 percent. They were mine. But in general she did amazing things. She was very good at it. And I wanted to do that not with hosiery, but I needed to do that for myself. Yeah. I mean I loved what I did, but then I it just wasn't as much fun anymore and I wanted to change.
When we come back in just a moment, how Sandy's big change was inspired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York and a factory making outdoor furniture material in Alabama. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz. And you're listening to how I built this from NPR. Hey, everyone, just a quick thanks to our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible, first to EPIK provisions, maker of Epic Bar Beef was nature's idea. The epic bar was their idea.
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So it's the mid 1990s and Sandy Chill, which is finished with you, and she wants to get back to designing things and creating things herself, something she hasn't done in a while. But at this point, Sandy does have close to 15 years of experience making, selling and distributing products and running a business. So she's pretty confident she can launch a new venture if she can just come up with another great new idea. So it's this very organic kind of intuitive process.
And I decided I'm just going to explore ideas and see where I land. Okay. And I got a studio downtown. Just one room was on Lafayette and Spring. It was like, so inspiring down there.
Then you just got a studio space to like just kind of a room of my own, you know.
Yeah. And one idea that I had, which for the life of me, I don't understand where it came from. But, you know, the butterfly chair, you know, that's sure. OK.
So I always loved the chair, extremely uncomfortable, but I always loved it. And I loved that the idea of the canvas in the wire and bubble bath. And I had this idea, like, wouldn't that be great? Like as a bowl?
I mean, that whole concept of having a butterfly bowl, a butterfly or creating a concavity with a textile to be a container.
A bowl to hold what? Fruit. Vegetables, OK, like a fruit bowl you put in your counter. Yes.
That was that's where it started. So, you know, my husband's an architect. He had his own practice at that time and he helped me build this prototype. And it was like very organic, like a you know, we're using wire and then I go out because you have to have fabric. And the because I was in hosiery, I kept I was always drawn to stretch materials. So I bought the stretch netting. It's like what people use for girdles, you know, so playing around with it, if you stretched it around the structure, it's like a trampoline because it's stretchy, it's Boigny.
So the only way to make it a concavity is to pull it down in the center. It's so hard to explain this without seeing it. You know, it's some. But ultimately, I called this the Raible after my older son. And the first thing I had to do is to see if people actually would buy this thing. So I was connected to somebody that was the the head of the MOMA design store. And they saw it and they launched literally launched their whole website with an image of that, both the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Yeah. Yeah. Which has a really cool online shop. So they picked it up and they put it on there on their website. Yes.
And they had they never even had a website before. And when they promoted the e-commerce site, they have this great photographer took a picture of my balls flying in the air and that was what they used to sell and tell everybody that they had a website and there was a poster of my balls, like flying through the air in front of the museum, the actual Museum of Art, like right at the entrance. It was like I mean, nothing made me more proud, just like I couldn't believe it was there.
But then I did I I did everything that I would have done and that I did do in a little business.
I, I always that's what I liked, you know, a start with one store then learned more than, you know. So that's what I did. That did it again with rebels.
I mean, the rebels are very cool. It's a it's a a wireframe bull with a stretched material that looks cool. But, you know, it's not something that it's not like stockings that people need. It's a real niche product like the Museum of Modern Art. Gift shop is a place to sell. It was this was not going to turn into a scalable business. Absolutely.
Because everyone was coming to me and saying, you know, it's such a great concept because I did the bulls in the boxes. Why don't you do lighting? Why don't you do furniture? And actually, I did like small prototypes and I realize, you know, that's just pushing it. I hit you know, I hit note here.
It's perfect. You know, this is what that's all this is. And so I but in this whole process of kind of expanding the rebels, I started to experiment with other materials that I could create a concavity with. And I found it just accidentally this outdoor furniture material that I found at this library called Material Connection, which it had just opened their doors and I was probably one of their first customers.
This is a lot like a library in New York, right? Yeah, that was it was I don't know, it's still there. And it's basically a library for materials. You can just go and, like, feel and touch different materials. Yes.
This guy that started his name is George Blairism. He's kind of iconic in the design business. But I thought all of. So to them, maybe they can I can find something and I found this factory in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that made outdoor furniture upholstery. So I got some of the material. I'm looking at this material and it's pretty ugly. And yet it's waterproof. It's stain resistant. It's like it's woven so and it's you know, it's got opportunities.
You know, this is like a woven vinyl.
It's a woven vinyl, which I didn't even know what that was, you know, and this was used on like I'm trying to imagine, like just outdoor chairs and like sling chairs, you know, like whatever.
It's like outdoor outrebounded pool. And I just became intrigued with the material. And so, honestly, I don't understand why, in a way, how placemats even entered my brain, because honestly, I don't remember even eating on a placemat. But all I know is that I tried to get more more of the fabric. So I called them and I badgered to speak to somebody important down at Phifer, which is a Tuscaloosa, Alabama. It's a big weaving mill.
And I told them, you know, look, I want to I want to come down there. I want to talk to you guys. And so I did. So I go down there. It's a really big factory.
And presumably you told them, hey, yo, I'm I'm a designer. I've already had a successful business with this thing called Hugh. Right. Because they knew that brand.
They knew the brand. The women there certainly did. So once I told them what I said, look, you're not dealing with a complete rookie here. I know what I'm talking about, you know, and a lot of what they showed me was more interesting and interesting enough for me to start making some prototypes of placemats, which is how I started just just curious, like, how did you even see this material and think placemats?
These these could be placemats?
You know, that's a good question, because seriously, I'm telling you, I don't understand how I I think it was just one of these dumb moments where, like, it's sitting on my table. And I think I said, you know, this is a really good placement. It looks it looks good on my table to frame something. It looks great. It's a barrier of some sort. And then I have to do so little. I don't know how it came to the moment.
I really don't. I think it was very, very organic. It's just looking at it and like this looks good on my table. I think that's what happened. So you you you basically get them to make you some exclusive designs that you design them and colors and you decide to make a go of this. I'm assuming you use the proceeds from the sale of your previous business to fund. Absolutely. And you get the first delivery. Where did you also go?
Back to the Museum of Modern Art shopping. I went everywhere that I sold. The rebels were going to buy this because this kind of a home design product. So I already have in a way, an already a built in. It's small distribution, but I had a distribution channel. Was anybody like this is a little weird standing in place. Mats are, you know, usually cloth or, you know, or they're they're kind of anachronistic. People don't really use them.
I mean, did did you get any feedback like that in general? It was I mean, it was amazing how quickly people got it. It's like I mean, I remember the first international show that I did in Paris for the EU and I'm standing there when we introduced it and I went to the ladies show and then I'm walking back and literally there's like a wall of people around our booth and in the booth I couldn't even get in. And they're all speaking multilingual and they're all staring at the placemats.
And what it is, is that you don't even have to touch this thing. You can have it on the table. Beautifully said. And you know exactly what it is, what it can do and how to maintain it. It's you don't even have to touch it. And it was like everyone's talking about it. It was like instict. I mean, I remember the first time I saw them and I am full disclosure, I have some of them probably about them ten years ago, and they're very simple.
And so there was nothing like it at the time. Like people saw they were like, not ever zero. And right away, people like this is so cool.
I love, oh, God, it was so instant. And, you know, it's a humble product. That's the thing. But what goes into it when you see the designs that we're doing now, people get to own such a beautiful, thoughtful product that's, you know, fourteen dollars and they get to see it every day. So but let me just say one funny thing about the when I first told people when they said when when the store would ask me, well, how much are these going to retail for?
And I said like twelve dollars. And they said, that's a dozen. Right.
And it was like, now that's one place man, you know. Yeah.
And so that I changed that whole idea because people thought a placemat was a disposable. Yeah, exactly right. Because twelve bucks is still a good price but you know per place method that's. A lot so and and did you I didn't I didn't know until we set up this interview that your name was Sadie Chiloe, which I thought Chiloe, which was kind of English, you know. Right. Village brand. How did you come to call it after your last name?
You know, it's probably that hunger that I had that was left over from WHU where I feel. So the ripples, you know, that was my they proved to me that I was a designer that was hugely important to me because I had really kind of lost that identity. And I wanted to know if I still had it in me. And a product is not a business. The Rebels was a great product and it was not a business. And once the placemats when that happened, I could see it.
I could see the future there that, you know, could be rug's, could be this or that. And I wanted my name attached. I was very proud of it. And it was time to do that.
When you started to when you started getting wider distribution of the placemats, because I think initially you had them in like boutiques and gift stores and today they're available on Amazon and Crate and Barrel, you know, William Snowman's, West Elm, big, big place like that. Do they catch on pretty quickly? Did you see that happen fast or was a slow burn?
No, no. Oh, my God. You know, I've had so much experience. You know, it's huge. You know, it's like selling in versus selling through are two different things. It's great that you got the order. But did it sell to the customer or did it sell to the to the ultimate party that's going to use it. And when I sold the rebels to MoMA, I was in their store every day counting the stock because I wanted to know whether or not it was selling to the point where the buyers she actually physically pushed me out there, said, Senate, you cannot come here every day and get unstuck because I need to know, is this going to work or not?
Because I have to know how I was going to produce it in real. For real. But the same thing with with the placemats. I mean, you know, it's really about sell through. I would call the store and say, how many did you sell this week? And I knew before they did that we had a winner.
We should acknowledge that you must live near a hospital. By the way, there's a lot of sirens that. Do you live near a hospital?
Well, you live near hospital wherever you are in Manhattan, Lenox Hill.
You know the reality of the pandemic era interviews where we're not in the studio. So when your husband, Joe, came into the business, was there any part of you nervous about that? You had a partner? This is different. This is your life partner. And he brings a certain set of skills, are probably very valuable as an architect. But as it was, it was a part of you nervous about working with your spouse?
I don't think I was nervous before. I can't it's hard, though. I mean, I don't you know, there's no separation. And, you know, it's not so easy working with your spouse. I don't think it's so easy. I don't think either Joe or I would say it's so easy.
Yeah. I mean, it certainly has some good things and we've done great things together. But all the turmoil that you have at the office, it's hard to cut it off and you continue the arguments or the controversies at home. I just know it's not so easy.
There's a nice picture of the two of you on your website in the About US section, you and Joe. And you seem like, you know, the nice picture. And but do you find that I mean, he's probably a designer, too, right? He's an architect. And you love design. And are there moments where one of you really just has to kind of surrender to the other person?
You know, he has never tried to be involved with the design. He found his own thing, which was manufacturing.
And you make most everything in the U.S., right?
Yes. Everything is woven for us in Alabama. And pretty much everything we make is finished, either backed with different materials for different flooring or wall covering or the ultrasonic equipment is. And I mean, he built a factory. That's what he did. And this is your furniture factory in Georgia. Yeah. And it's our factory. And, you know, it's grown like crazy. And we employ a lot of people and it's, you know, it's all made here so that materials made in Alabama and then it's all cut and it made into products in in Georgia.
Right. So all the also so we make it into products, but also we laminate different backings to the materials in laminating machines that Joe helped design that, you know, that are very specific to our needs. But you were so successful that you attracted a lot of copycats, right? I mean, even now, you can probably find companies that are really just copying what you're doing. Yeah.
How do you. Well, at first, you know, if at first it feels terrible, but at the end of the day, at this point, you know, and it's all about how quickly be really saturated, the segment of the marketplace that we really wanted to saturate copies over the years in general are viewed and they are, in fact, cheap knockoff. From China, you know, we have very, very strict trademark and, you know, copyright protection and we've sued people and we've made big companies stop when they get too close to our designs.
You can't copyright a simple basket weave. It's but when people get close to really are more graphic designs and certain other things, we can I don't know, in America, we don't have any competition, to be honest.
I mean, within the stores that we're in, if they carry somebody else's, we've told them if you carry this, we're pulling out and nobody lets us pull out.
I wonder I wonder if you we are in the middle of this global health and economic crisis meltdown.
And I have to imagine you have like ninety nine point nine percent of businesses seen a slowdown because people can't physically go in to shop. So you still have to rely on direct consumer, probably a lot. What does that meant for for your business right now?
Well, I mean, the lucky thing is that all the big stores like, you know, Crate and Barrel, let's say, is our biggest customer, the top or any of these big people, they will have Web sales. And we've been building those businesses with these stores for a long time. So we're not dependent on brick and mortar. And in addition to that, because we have our own factory, when somebody orders, you know, placemats from West Elm, we can ship it directly from our factory to the customer.
But from a design perspective. Right. So much of what I imagine you do has to happen in a room with people looking at the material like right in on that table.
I mean, my design team, first of all, we're nowhere near as big as there's one to four people in mind.
But you still need to, like, pass things around. How are you doing that, like on Zoome and stuff?
Well, no, that that has been I mean, actually my master Weaver, she actually wove all of our small samples that we're going to do for Fall 21 in her home.
Well, and we all met for the first time, all with masks to look at all the things that we had. Five, four, do you know, it's not ideal, but we're functioning and we actually did a season. And also, given that the sales are definitely down, we don't have to have every SKU. So many new Skewes. I mean, who knows if the world's going to come back like it was, you know? So.
Yeah, but we're doing okay. You know, we look we cut expenses. We had to furlough a little bit, but we hired pretty much 99 percent of the people that we furloughed for a couple of months back. But it look, it's we have to rethink everything. It's just it's tough. But I don't I feel very bullish. I feel our product is really good. It's just damn good.
You know, when you think about the the journey you took and, you know, the considerable success you've had as a as a business person, entrepreneur, do you think more of it has to do with luck or more of it has to do with your hard work and the skills that you brought to it?
I don't think luck had anything to do with it. I don't I think it has to do with endurance. It's constantly testing yourself, being open minded, hugely listening to negative feedback. You've got to be able to listen. You have to listen, and you have to make sure when people say they like something that they really, really like it. You've got to constantly test the value of your product. And I think I did that. I think I did that very intuitively.
That's Sandy Chilliwack, she's the co-founder of WHU and the founder of Chilliwack, and by the way, remember Sandy's Raible, the design that was featured on the Museum of Modern Art Web store? Well, if you had difficulty imagining what the Raible looks like, if you do a quick image search, you can see it for yourself. Just make sure you type it all as one word. Otherwise you'll just see Bolls by Rachael Ray. Hey, thanks so much for listening to the show this week, you can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.
You can also write to us at IBT and Prague. And if you want to send a tweet, it's how I built this or that. Guy Raz, you can also follow me on Instagram. That's at a guy that runs. Our show is produced this week by KC Herman with music composed by Rutina Blooey. Thanks also to Julie Carney, Candice Lim, Neva Grant, Sara Sarasohn and Jeff Rogers. I'm Guy Raz. And you've been listening to how I built this.
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