Q&A: SHERRY LEE
I met Sherry a while back when I went to look at Kinfolk Inspired Space, her beautiful office that doubles as a creative studio and coworking space in Fremont, CA. I was so excited about KIS because there are so few places like this in our area. I also love her mission. Sherry is passionate about bringing creative women together and recently started hosting coworking events in order to build up more community among creatives and businesswomen in the East Bay Area.
Sherry’s first business, Esselle, is a tabletop decor brand selling beautiful ring boxes, coasters, place card holders, and more. Her work has been featured in many places including Martha Stewart Weddings, Design Milk Everyday, Glitter Guide, and Refinery 29. I wanted to know all about her businesses and how she juggles multiple roles. I hope you are as inspired by her as I am!
Tell us a little about who you are and how you started Esselle SF and Kinfolk Inspired Space.
I’ve always enjoyed arts and craft and appreciated designed focused products but never thought I’d start a business in the creative space.
Hand-crafting décor pieces for my own wedding was what led me to start Esselle. I fell in love with creating little party accents, but I didn’t think I had the ability to build my own brand at the time. So, I decided to focus on sourcing and selling tabletop décor online instead.
Amidst opening an online shop, I was also a full-time graduate student at The Academy of Art San Francisco and freelanced as a graphic designer. School pretty much monopolized my time so the process of building Esselle was slow. Over time, Esselle started gaining visibility through collaboration, and features.
Over the years of running Esselle, one thing I treasure the most are the relationships I made along the way. I’ve always described the maker/creative industry as a warm blanket. The genuine support and empathy for each other is REAL. That sense of community was what inspired me to create The Kinfolk Inspired Space- a space for folks to come together and get inspired together. I think there are so many wonderful pockets of communities in the Bay Area but none (that I know of) are in the East Bay – that’s why I wanted to carve out a space in my studio to serve that purpose.
How do you juggle running two different businesses at the same time?
Get help. Esselle pretty much takes up all my time so as Kinfolk Inspired Space started gaining traction, I knew right away I needed help coordinating. I hired a photographer friend who have shot numerous photoshoots at our space to help coordinate rentals because she already knows KIS so well.
Where do you go to find inspiration?
Is it weird to say that I don’t go looking for inspiration but rather it finds me? I could be doing the most mundane task and all of the sudden find beauty in my surrounding and that sometimes could spark a new product idea. I might be shopping for furniture online and see something I liked and started imagining what it may look like in miniature size – and that is literally how it inspired me to design our ring boxes.
What does a typical day look like for you?
The first thing I do when I get to the studio is clean and organize the space. I care deeply about cleanliness and since we get rentals and have people work out of our space, it’s important to me that everyone feels comfortable in the studio.
I prioritize the rest of the day between emails, meetings, administrative task and production. I still do a lot of the production myself, from pouring resin, marbling, to painting coasters.
What has been the biggest creative or business challenge you have faced, and how did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges for me was letting go and delegating tasks to others- especially when it comes to production because I was obsessed with perfection and speed. But it came to a point where my life was drowning in production on top of everything else I needed to do to grow the business. So finally, the decision of hiring help was made for me as I couldn’t keep up doing everything myself. This forced decision made me overcome all the fear I had in trusting someone else doing the work. I grew to trust the team that I’ve built and able to rely on them when I struggled.
What is one thing you want to accomplish before you die?
Open an animal rescue ranch!
Any advice for someone who is just starting out in business?
I’d say research. DO PLENTY OF RESEARCH! Talk about it and don’t be afraid to share your ideas. Starting out is the easiest part, but running it is the actual challenge. And that challenge is perpetual.
What are you most proud of in your businesses?
For having started it in the first place. Everything after is a hurdle but the experience from it is the most valuable thing I can ever obtain.
What is next for Esselle SF and KIS?
I am trying to redefine Esselle as a lifestyle brand. We are making a lot of changes into how to structure our wholesale line for stores so that it’s cohesive and has a strong brand voice. As for KIS, we are hoping to broaden our network of women entrepreneurs and creatives and host more events. Before moving into the studio, I had no idea family portrait photography was SO BIG. Since we opened our studio, 95% of our studio rentals are for family sessions. It’s awesome to see that we are able to provide a space for that.
If you could only listen to one song for the rest of your life, what would it be?
OH MAN. It would have to be one of the Disney song- Between ‘A part of Your World’, or ‘Belle’.
Thank you Sherry!
We hope you enjoyed our second Q&A. To learn more about Sherry, check out her social media accounts below:
Instagram: @sherry_esselle, @essellesf, @kinfolkinspiredspace
Website: essellesf.com, kinfolkinspiredspace.com
You can read our first Q&A with Diane Villadsen here.
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