Episode 41 Creative Hub with ChaCha Hudson
00:14 Lisa: Hello, stitchers. Welcome to Stitch Please, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. I'm your host, Lisa Woolfork. I'm a fourth generation sewing enthusiast with more than 20 years of sewing experience. I am looking forward to today's conversation, so sit back, relax and get ready to get your stitch together.
Hello everybody, and welcome to the Stitch Please podcast. I am honored and delighted to be talking today with ChaCha Hudson, who is a designer, a creative and a convener of the Sewcial Cafe, which is a creative hub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. ChaCha, thank you so much for joining us today, and welcome to the show.
01:21 ChaCha: Thank you for having me, Lisa. I'm so excited to be here.
01:24: Lisa: Alright, so let's get started, I'm so excited to hear about how you came to be where you are now. Can you talk a bit about your sewing background, like where does your sewing story begin?
01:38 ChaCha: Okay, so my sewing story begins at the age of 12. So I started sewing at the age of 12, and it was more so me getting interested in clothing construction and pattern making. I never set out to be a designer at all, that wasn't in my mind at all. It was more so being intrigued by how pieces come together, kind of like a puzzle. So that's where I started, and it just developed from there, I guess.
02:10 Lisa: It's really so impressive because I think that lots of folks start with being an interest in sewing or maybe they've had some folks... Did you have any particular mentors or family members or like moms or grandmas or aunties or somebody else that sewed that kind of was a model for you, or did this kind of curiosity just come upon you all on its own?
02:32 ChaCha: Well, not exactly. When I first started, I didn't know that some people in my family were sewing or had sewn before. I found out that my great-aunts were actually seamstresses and they made their own clothes, and I had no idea at all. I did receive one class from one of my aunts the day before I started a Saturday sewing school when I was 12, besides that I wasn't around them when they were sewing, and most of them had passed on by the time I started sewing.
03:05 Lisa: So you started… So it's kind of like you kind of stepped into and be a family, it wasn't a huge family tradition, even though you had individual folks in your family who unbeknownst to you did sew, it's like sewing was something, you were kinda doing, kinda on your own. You get one lesson from a relative, but for most of them, you didn't realize that you had this kind of sewing family history.
03:29 ChaCha: Right, I had no idea.
03:32 Lisa: And so tell me about this Saturday sewing school, that sounds fun, but it also sounds like something, I'm not sure if I was a 12-year-old that I would have been really excited about. I probably would have thought, you just wanna get rid of me on a Saturday.
03:44 ChaCha: [Laughter] Okay, well, you'll understand more when I tell you the story. So it was a Saturday morning class, so I think class started somewhere between 9 and 10 o'clock, and I was 12-year-old girls who went to school during the week and had to take sewing classes or desired to take sewing classes on the weekend, but I soon realized that waking up early in the morning on a Saturday was not something that I wanted to do, so I actually missed three classes. And if you missed three classes, even if you pay for it, you get kicked out of class and you can't come back.
04:22 Lisa: Oh my god!
04:23 ChaCha: Yes, and that's exactly what happened to me. I got kicked out of class and I couldn't come back. And they actually gave my spot to somebody that I knew, which was so funny, but I continued on, it didn't deter me from continuing.
04:38 Lisa: So you had signed up for this class, or your parents had signed you up for this class, your parents had paid for this class, they had paid their US dollars for this class, and ChaCha was like I already go to school five days a week, and I am not getting up at 9 o'clock or 10 o'clock or 8:30 even in the morning to get to Saturday sewing school, so.
04:59 ChaCha: No ma’am.
5:00 Lisa: Sorry, not sorry, y’all lost your money. But you know, my friend is really enjoying it, so I guess it's not all wasted.
05:09 ChaCha: Yeah, I think I only did one project, I remember doing pajama pants and that was about it.
05:14 Lisa: That is so funny. So, you got put out of class, kicked out of sewing class, but you still were interested in sewing, you still were like, Hey, I can still do this, just 'cause I got kicked out of sewing class doesn't mean that ain't no thing, that ain’t no problem.
05:32 ChaCha: Right, because it's not like I stopped going because I wasn't interested. I was forced not to go because I didn't come to some classes, but yeah, I was still into it. I still wanted to do it. My mom knew I still wanted to do it, so I just kept going. And she supported me 100%.
05:51 Lisa: That's really amazing. So basically, you had violated a policy, they had a policy that said if you miss three classes, you will be put out and you missed three classes, and that was that, but it wasn't enough to dampen your, it wasn't enough to dampen your enthusiasm for sewing.
06:12 ChaCha: Not at all.
06:13 Lisa: So you stuck with it, you stuck with it, and you stuck with it so much that you ended up going to college and studying this. So was there anything like, exciting between being kicked out of sewing class at age 12 to doing a sewing-related profession in college? What happened in those intervening years, did you just stop not going to class, or like what? Where did this transition happen?
06:38 ChaCha: Okay, so let's talk about the five years in between, because I went to college at 17. With the five years in between, I kept sewing. I was making clothes for myself, and then my friends would see my clothes and say that they wanted things made. I actually had a book that went around my high school and different sketches in it that I was sketching, people would put their names next to it if they wanted to buy it.
07:03 Lisa: Wait a minute, wait - you sold the sketches, or you sold the garments you made from the sketches?
07:11 ChaCha: I sold the garments I made from the sketches.
07:13 Lisa: Oh my gosh. So I thought I was doing good by selling candy to my friends at school, you were selling actual garments.
07:21 ChaCha: Oh no, I sold candy too! I've been an entrepreneur for a long time, I sold candy too.
07:25 Lisa: Oh my gosh. So you had a sketch book and people could kind of place orders, it's like, Well, this is it, this is this week's design, and if you are interested in this, you should have put your name down and I will make it for you. Wow.
07:37 ChaCha: Yup, that is my thing, and also doing prom dresses, so I made my own prom gown, I made prom gowns for other people in my school. So I was just known as the fashion person, I would throw these fashion shows from my school. I went to a very small school. So all together, grades 9 through 12, it was maybe about 250 of us, so it was very small. And I was known for fashion throughout high school. So I would even make clothes for the teachers too, 'cause some of the teachers modeled in the runway shows that I put it on.
08:10 Lisa: Oh my gosh, this is incredible. So, you were putting on runway shows throughout high school or during your high school years, and that just, it shows such great creativity as well as determination, 'cause I could tell you, if I could tell you an actual true story, I failed out of a gymnastics class because I was little and really skinny and it was something I couldn't do, I had the little skinny tiny body of a gymnast, but I didn't have any of the strength or the power. And so I think, the coach called me like, spaghetti arms or spaghetti legs, and I was like and I was like, I've done with you now. Gymnastics is dead to me.
08:51 ChaCha: Oh gosh. Adults really have to realize the things that they say to kids and how it affects them.
08:55 Lisa: Yeah, and so, I mean. So for me, I'm like, who knows, it could have been an amazingly great gymnast, probably not, but I could have been... But I was like, No. So for me, because if I had got kicked out of sewing class, I would probably not be sewing, 'cause I'm just like, I'm holding a grudge for the rest of my life instead. But you got kicked out, you were like, you know what, that's just a class. That class doesn't control what my actual sewing practice is gonna be, and so you kind of took that, and just took over the high school kind of. And making clothes for the doggone teachers, that is something I have never heard of in all of my days.
09:29 ChaCha: They were so supportive.They were so supportive.
09:33 Lisa: I would be supportive of you too, if you were making me clothes!
09:34 ChaCha: But, that's not to say, I don't want everybody to think that I was just such an amazing designer, pattern maker and seamstress. No, it wasn't like that. It took a lot of practice to get to where I am now, and in high school, I look back on some pictures like, what was I thinking that was not put together correctly.
09:58 Lisa: Well, I think a lot of people look back on their high school years and might have a few regrets or think, Why did I wear that out there for picture day, was that, was I really putting my best foot forward? I'm sure I was, I'm sure I thought I was. But, I mean, the idea that you can look back at garments and that you've made that you have a history of from such a long time ago, and just be like, Oh, I can grow and like, well, obviously you can grow because you're going from being a teenager to being an adult, you're going from someone who was training themselves to then stepping into some more formal training, but what you got is this kind of really invaluable practice in a community of trust, right? You have a small high school, you have peers, you have teachers and advisors who want the best for you and who are gonna support you and, yeah. And I think that you just made the most out of that opportunity. So I thought, that sounds really wonderful. So tell me about school and what did you study when you said you studied fashion, what was like your concentration and how did that come about?
11:05 ChaCha: Okay, so the story is funny, but I got my bachelor's degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Philadelphia. But initially, I only applied to one school. I applied to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design. My mom took me down to SCAD. We drove from Philadelphia.
11:28 Lisa: Oh my gosh, all the way to Savannah.
11:30 ChaCha: Yes, to Savannah, Georgia. Very long ride, and I'm sure that my mom was tired of me because when we got down there, I said, mom, this is too far, and she said, You knew how far away it was before we drove down here. So yes, yes. We drove all the way down there and I decided not to go to SCAD because it was too far away from my family.
11:56 Lisa: Man, your mother has the patience of Job, because...
12:02 ChaCha: If you knew my mother, you would say the same thing. Everybody says the same thing.
12:05 Lisa: I mean, I'm saying that because this story and the fact that you have lived to tell the story, suggest to me that she has the patience of Job.
12:16 ChaCha: She does. She does.
12:18 Lisa: She drove you, how many hours is that from Philly down to, 'cause we've driven, I live in Virginia, some I’m maybe, I think five or six hours from you in Philadelphia, and so we've driven down to Savannah, and that's not a short drive for us.
12:32 ChaCha: No, I think it was about 17 hours, something like that.
12:35 Lisa: Wow, so all it took was 17 hours in a car. And you were like, yeah, you know what, on second thought? No.
12:46 ChaCha: That's exactly what happened. And after that, I had to figure out what the next move was gonna be because I needed to go to school, so I ended up right downtown in downtown Philadelphia, going to school.
12:59 Lisa: Philadelphia has a lot of really great schools, there are a lot of really great schools there.
13:03 ChaCha: Yeah, we do.
13:05 Lisa: And so you decided to go to the, what did you call it?
13:08 ChaCha: Art Institute of Philadelphia.
13:10 Lisa: The Art Institute of Philadelphia. Oh, that's just amazing, amazing. Did you study fashion design?
13:16 ChaCha: Yeah, so my degree is in, my bachelor's degree is in fashion design, and my Master's degree is in fashion and apparel studies from the University of Delaware.
13:28 Lisa: Excellent, so tell me about what does a fashion design major or concentration require, what kind of courses did you take when you were at the Art Institute?
13:40 ChaCha: So at the Art Institute, we took, oh gosh, all types of fashion courses, we had draping, we had pattern making, we had portfolio prep classes, learning to work with computer-aided design, so Illustrator, Photoshop, so that you can build your portfolio, different things like that. But then we also, a lot of people didn't think that we would take, like the general ed classes because it's the Art Institute, but no, we had to take every class that anyone at a university or another college we have to take.
14:16 Lisa: So, in addition to taking things like, you know like English and math and maybe a language, sociology or history, you did all of those things in addition to classes that were more art focused.
14:27 ChaCha: Right, and I believe the art classes were more so in the junior and senior year, we may have had a few in our sophomore year, but not starting off, not as a freshman.
14:39 Lisa: Okay, so not starting off. Okay, I understand. So what's so interesting to me about this is this balance between what's called a liberal arts curriculum, which is the kind of the science and literature and cultural studies and stuff, plus the art and arts is an important part of liberal arts as well. So do you have a favorite class that you remember? Do you remember the classes that you like the most during your time at the Art Institute?
15:09 ChaCha: Actually, the class that I liked the most was not a fashion class, the class I liked the most was called Effective Speaking.
15:16 Lisa: Oh, interesting. Like a public speaking class?
15:22 ChaCha: Yup. Yes, I remember that class. I don't remember a whole lot of things about, I don't know, last week, but I remember that class so vividly and I remember that for my project, my final project, I did a demo on teaching people how to braid hair.
15:41 Lisa: What? You braid hair? What is it with these talented people? This is so unfair! I cannot - oh my god.
15:46 ChaCha: Okay, so I'm one of those people, but I don't really like to touch my hair, I don't like to do much to my hair, and I don't like to spend a lot of time on it, but my mom on the other hand, is great at braiding. She worked her way through school by braiding, so maybe that's where I get it from, but I don't braid for other people, I barely braid my own hair. But I just remember in that class, I decided, like, Okay, for this public speaking class, I'm gonna do a demo on instructing people how to braid hair, and it came out so good. Yeah, I love public speaking.
16:24 Lisa: Oh my gosh, that is really wonderful. It's funny because you would think about the classes you've taken like in draping and design and illustration and all of the stuff that you had to learn about the computer and social media and digital design and graphic design, that those would be the ones that seem to be more relevant for the work that you're doing right now. When in fact, it's like, no, it's being able to talk effectively about what I'm doing that 'cause sometimes opens the door to so many opportunities.
16:55 ChaCha: Well, that, and you know what, I'm actually gonna speak on something that I haven't, I haven't actually talked about since it happened, so I guess this will be more like an exclusive, but I was pretty bitter and a little tainted by something that happened in the school. So my senior year, or my last semester in school, I was taking one class, which was my final collection class, and then I was also interning four days a week Ana Sui in New York. And I came to graduation and they told me at graduation that I was not graduating because my teacher did not pass my collection. And this is something that I've never talked about at all. Which kinda, it really put a sour taste in my mouth as far as the design classes there.
17:56 Lisa: Oh my goodness, I am so sorry. That is really frustrating. I mean you would think that you could get feedback earlier than coming to the doggone ceremony... I am so sorry that happened to you.
18:07 ChaCha: Oh no, we did a critique and everything. I had no idea. No, idea.
18:13 Lisa: Teacher, the professor gave you a critique and did it...
18:16 ChaCha: Yeah, the whole class did a critique. It was a whole portfolio and final collection critique, and I had no idea. So the following semester, 'cause we were on a quarter system, so I graduated three months after that, because - we weren't on the quarter system, but I had to retake that class.
18:35 Lisa: Ugh. What a disappointment, what a disappointment. Oh my goodness.
18:42 ChaCha: I know, I know. But, I also wanted to say that because just from appearances, a lot of people think that a lot of people kinda glide through or have an easy time all the way through, and that's not the case. That's not the case for a lot of us. A lot of us have gone through a lot of things that could have discouraged us or stopped us, but we keep persevering.
19:02 Lisa: And you are so resilient, I'm like, that school didn't know who they were messing with. You could be like, you know what, I got kicked out of sewing class at 12 years old, and bam, I'm still here. So you in this little last three-credit class, I need to finish up, okay, whatever. Watch me work. Because you did it.
19:24 ChaCha: It had me down for a little while, but you know, I got back up.
19:27 Lisa: I'm sure it did, I'm sure it did. So, tell me about, you said you were interning at Anna Sui in New York. What was that like and what does that involve? Of course, I've never done anything like that, so I'm just interested.
19:39 ChaCha: Well, it was amazing, and I was actually working in the production department for half the time, but then I think that their receptionist left for one reason or another, and they like my speaking voice, so for the rest of my internship, I was on the phones. Yeah, I mean, it's better than, some people, when they have internships, the whole internship, they're getting coffee and things like that, and I would rather answer the phone. But I got a chance to talk to celebrities when they would call in and things like that, so that's a good thing.
20:17 Lisa: That's fun. That is fun. So you had a good time and were you commuting back and forth, 'cause I know Philly and New York aren't that far, but maybe they're not that close to do every day.
20:28 ChaCha: No, I was staying with family in Jersey.
20:30 Lisa: Oh, okay.
20:31 ChaCha: So four days a week, I would stay in Jersey and just take that commute because they were closer to kind of like Newark area, which is not that far from New York, I just took one bus.
20:42 Lisa: Okay, cool, cool. So can we just transition to talk a bit about some of the teaching that you've done? I mean, you've described your work at the Art Institute, as well as some of that very final difficulty getting over that very last hurdle for graduation. Can you talk about what it means now for you to be doing some teaching, you would say, I read in your portfolio, that you do some teaching at the University of Delaware. Can you share some information about that? About what that's like, what that's been like?
21:14 ChaCha: Yeah, sure. I absolutely love teaching. I really think that that's what I was put on this earth to do. Even if it's not teaching fashion design, any type of teaching, I think that's my calling. So, I was an adjunct professor at the University of Delaware where I taught clothing construction and design innovation. I also taught continuing education at Moore College of Art and Design right here in Philadelphia. [21:40 Lisa: Oh, wonderful]
Yeah, and I've taught entrepreneurship at different high schools, and last year, excuse me, last year, I had the privilege of being able to teach at two schools in Ghana, two fashion schools, which was really great.
21:58 Lisa: Oh that's wonderful, that's wonderful. Two fashion schools in Ghana. 'Cause I think that the fashion scene in Ghana, Nigeria, in so many places on the continent, Senegal, it's just fire, you know? It just really is. It's really great. Okay, so I wanna ask about your design. I'm so curious about both your classes, the ones that you were teaching, the clothing construction and design innovation, of those two classes, do you have a favorite project or a favorite story that you might recall right now about what it meant? It's kind of like you're on the other side of the table right now, when you're teaching students and you're evaluating them and you're helping to train them, and I know you talk about your passion for teaching, which is really clear. Can you talk about something that you, in terms of the clothing construction or the design innovation class, that was particularly meaningful to you?
22:56 ChaCha: Well, okay, so in my design innovation class, it wasn't just fashion design, it was also a fashion merchandising students, and then it was an elective, so people from other majors could come in and sit in on the class, whether they wanted to get a grade or not was up to them. But what stood out to me teaching this class is that starting off, all of the fashion merchandising students are like, I can't do this, I'm not creative. And it's just like, No, no, we're all creative, and I had to go back and forth with them all the time. "Why do we have to do this? I'm not creative, I don't know how to do this, I don't know how to draw, I don't know how to paint, I don't know how to... "And it's just like, do what you can. It's all about the effort that you're putting into it. And the projects that these students were able to come up with, was just amazing. And they had no idea that they could do things like that.
23:54 Lisa: And I think that that's like the power of a good teacher is someone who believes that you can do something even when you don't believe it yet, and I think that that's what you were giving your students. That's what you are giving them. You have merchandisers who are like, "No, no, no, I don't make... I just merchandise." And it's like, no, no, no, that is a form of making, like you are helping to sell something, and in order to do that, you have to be creative, so you're already halfway there.
24:25 ChaCha: Yeah, they have to just change their thoughts about what creativity is because it's what's in all of them, if it wasn't, then they wouldn't be in fashion merchandising. That wouldn't be, that wouldn't be the major for them,
24:37 Lisa: That would not be what they choose, that is right, that is so right. Excellent. Well, thank you. Let's take a, we're gonna take a quick break everyone, and when we come back, I'm gonna continue this conversation with ChaCha Hudson, who is a designer and a teacher and a convener of this amazing social cafe in Philadelphia. And when we come back, we're gonna talk more about the Sewcial Cafe itself as a creative hub. So stay tuned.
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26:10 Lisa: Welcome back, everybody, to the Stitch Please podcast, the official podcast of Black Women Stitch. I'm Lisa, your host, and we are talking today with ChaCha Hudson of the Sewcial Cafe. She was telling us in a previous segment about her background, about the education, the education that she has received as well as that she's given in fashion and design and innovation, and now we're gonna see how she transforms these ideas into an actual physical building and physical location. Tell us more about the Sewcial Cafe. I know that this is a space, I know that I've been following the Sewcial Cafe since you all first launched. I had already had plans to come up for some of your events, so I'm really excited about this place. So can you just talk about the space itself, when it started, why it started with some of your goals behind beginning this cafe?
27:05 Lisa: Yeah, sure, so the SEWcial Cafe is an incubator and a creative co-working space for female entrepreneurs. I had this idea, I think it was back in 2016, where I said I wanted to open up a space. I already had a space then, and the space was more so for me teaching classes, not necessarily a co-working space, but when I went to the University of Delaware, excuse me, when I went to the University of Delaware for my master's degree, there was in a program called The Horn Entrepreneurship Program, and at Horn Entrepreneurship they help you to get your business off the ground. They provide mentorship. It was just awesome. So I applied for a pitch competition called Hen Hatch, And for Hen Hatch I was actually a semi-finalist, I didn't make it to the final round, but I used that critique to be able to make my business plan better, and I knew that if I opened up the space and was able to show some kind of traction by the following year, then it was a good chance that I would be able to make it to the finals, so I made it to the finals in 2018, and I've received 8,400 dollars to put towards the SEWcial Cafe.
And our doors were already open... no, actually that was last year. I got the grant in 2019, but we opened in October 2018, and I used my own savings, I used money for members who wanted to start, and they put up money before the door's even opened. So that we can open our doors on October 5th, 2018.
28:52 Lisa: So you open in 2018, and this was kind of like... It was almost like extending the incubator in some ways because you were like, if I can float this, then I know that I'll be well-positioned to do a better job in that competition. so it's kind of like, you were like, you opened it with the vision of planning to win.
29:15 ChaCha: Yeah, that's exactly what happened.
29:18 Lisa: And I just think that's so beautiful and so affirming and such a great message, you know what I mean? Because I think sometimes you want to like I can't start until I have all the ducks in a row and I have to have everything. I have to know everything, and if you do it that way, then you won't hardly do anything, you know?
29:37 ChaCha: Yeah, you'll get stuck in that place of planning and you'll be planning forever. That's usually how it happens.
29:42 Lisa: That is a beautiful phrase, you get stuck in the phase of planning and then you'll be planning forever. That is absolutely true. That is, I remember the enthusiasm that I had, I was like, Oh my gosh, this is gonna be amazing, and I'm like, I do live like six hours away, so it's not like I could pop up there. But I was like, I don't know why, I was so excited, like this was happening right in my own backyard, but I was so excited to see it grow and I just really love the space. I am a fan, I'm a fan of the project, I'm a fan of the work that you've put up. So let's talk about some of the things that the SEWcial Cafe has done in the, you know, since it's opened in 2018 and then the grand big opening in 2019, what are some of the things you all have put together during that time?
30:25 ChaCha: Okay, so let me start with how I was able to open, because I didn't mention that.
30:32 Lisa: Yes, that will be a good lesson for lots of us, so please share.
30:35 ChaCha: Yeah, sure. So this is what I tell people all the time when they ask me about creating a new product or building their brand. You have to do customer discovery first, if you don't do customer discovery first, but you're coming up with solutions for problems that you don't even know about. And that's kind of the backwards way of doing it. You need to find out what the problems are, what your customers are experiencing, what their pain points are, and then from there, you create solutions.
31:05 Lisa: So, this phrase, customer discovery, can you just explain what that means?
31:11 ChaCha: Okay, so customer discovery is the legwork that you do before you actually open up your business. You need to talk, if you think you know who your customer is, you need to talk to a lot of those people. The people that you think would be your core customers, you need to talk to them and see what problems they're having, what issues they have. So, for instance, for the Sewcial Cafe, I interviewed maybe about 700 people from my sewing group, and from there, I was able to find out that a lot of people don't like to work from home, that's one. Also, they're distracted when they're at home, so either by chores or by their family obligations, their TV, anything, because as you know, as beings we can be distracted easily.
32:00 Lisa: Yes, yes.
32:03 ChaCha: Especially from work. So it's that, and then they also lack the instruction. So there was nobody there. Of course, there's YouTube, but I think you can only go so far on YouTube, especially if you have questions because you need to be able to ask somebody in person and maybe they can show you how to proceed. There was also a lack of networking with like-minded people, so a lot of people expressed to me that they wanted to talk to other people that were doing similar things, so that they can get more ideas or so that they can bounce ideas off of other people.
And then also socially, they were lacking the social interaction between people, because when you're home and you have a family, a lot of your time is dedicated to either being at work or being with your family, you don't have a lot of social time. And what we've realized after opening is that we're like the family we never knew we needed, or the friends we never knew we needed, because when you grow up, you're like, I don't necessarily need more friends, I have friends from middle school, high school, college, I don't need more friends.
And then they come to this space and realize we were all meant to be friends, we were all meant to be family and be connected, and then also in the customer discovery, I found that people were looking for different ways to generate revenue and to have extra money outside of their regular 9 to 5 job. So, I interviewed people that have taken classes with me who are groundskeepers, teachers, artists, doctors, nurses, and these are people from all different backgrounds. And this was the common thread that they needed a space to work, they were distracted, they needed instruction, and they also needed that community, and from there, I was able to come up with a business model or a revenue model, so they can meet all of those needs of my customers.
So I would say for anybody who's starting to do anything new, you need to make sure that you are actually adding value to your customers, to your customer's life, and being able to help them with things that you may not have even thought that they needed help with.
34:31 Lisa: That is great. This idea of doing this kind of research to find, I love this idea of you said you don't wanna be solving a problem that's not really a problem, you don't wanna come out a solution for something that's not a problem. And also, I think that something I've learned is that it's hard to make friends as an adult. I think that when you're a kid, like you go to school, you go to Saturday sewing class until they kick you out, you know, you do these things, you have church, that your social life is really controlled by the context that you're put in if you're on a sports team or whatever.
But when you get to be an adult, basically work is where we spend a lot of our social time and other people, we might have different - you might have temple and synagogue, and church, and all these other, you might have other things, but for the most part, so much of your relationships are built based on those same kinds of childhood connections outside of sorority, for example, and other civic organizations,
But to make friends with someone as adults, it can be challenging or something that I have absolutely loved about Black Women Stitch is this chance to make some of the best friends that I have had in life over sewing and really building a strong community.
So when you said we are the family that we didn't know we needed and we are this kind of community, it's really, I believe that that's absolutely true. And so you were able to kinda do that in the co-working space. So when you open the doors, what kind of things started to happen? So you've done your customer discovery, you've got a good plan, it's 2018, you are taking a step out on faith, you're putting your savings into this project, and then what happens?
36:23 ChaCha: Okay, so I started offering the pattern making class, sewing classes, brand building workshops and seminars, and just getting people in the door, letting them know that we're here, because for a few months, even though I did a lot of preparation beforehand, for a few months, people that were outside of my initial sewing community didn't know we were here, especially since we're in a space, we're in a building with a lot of different artists, but there's no signage outside or you can't just look into our space because we're on the second floor, to know what we do, so it's not like the average person that's walking by will know that we're in the space. So it was more so just building awareness and having more events here, even some that wasn't necessarily fashion-related, we do have other art events here. We have instructors that come in and do painting events. We also have poetry events. All within the arts, not necessarily driven by fashion, but if people are coming in who don't necessarily do fashion or sew, more than likely do know other people who do sew or do crafting or are looking to start a small business. So, that's how we were able to get the word out there.
37:45 Lisa: I feel like you've done so many really cool things when I look at some of the projects and some of the things that you all have sewn. and you said you had... I remember seeing that Mimi G, who is a big sewing influencer, that she came through for an event. and it's just like, this is really very impressive. [ChaCha: Thank you!]
I just feel like between all the obstacles that you were describing and how you just kept your spirit of resilience, your spirit of, of course I can do this, of course I can do this. I am gonna continue, I know what to do, I'm gonna follow these steps, and I'm gonna remain on my path undeterred. I think that's kind of bravery can be hard to come by, you know what I mean? And I'm not sure if you would even call it bravery, you might just call it... I don't know, something else, but it does seem. [ChaCha: I call it life!]
Would you call it bravery? She's like, no, I don't know. Bravery seems apt to me.
38:42 ChaCha: I just called it life, because things happen and you just have to get over it.
38:47 Lisa: Well, there you go. I wanted to ask about some of the, talking about your creativity. Your sewing patterns, like some of the patterns and the dress patterns that you've made, the shoe covers that you did for the event selfies posts that you did back in February this year. So some of the stuff that you have actually made and demonstrated for people to learn, it's just really, very cool.
39:15 ChaCha: Thank you. For a lot of the dresses that you probably saw on social media, those are different projects that we make at our Sip and Sews. So you come in, you stay for a few hours, they usually last between three or four hours, if we're not talking too much. And all of the fabric is... and all of the faith.
39:34 Lisa: I think talking too much and too much and drinking too much is the point of a sip and sew. I think that's like the purpose.
39:38 ChaCha: Well, you know what, the sip and sew customer, there's two different ones, there's the ones that come to sip and watch everybody else, and then there's the ones that actually come in and sew
39:52 Lisa: They're like I would like to leave with either a buzz on, or a new dress.
39:58 ChaCha: Or a dress, you know, it's either-or.
40:03 Lisa: I prefer both. I prefer both, but continue. Yes, I prefer both.
40:05 ChaCha: Well, you know what, you're a little more advanced. [Lisa: Well that's true.] Some of the people drink a little bit too much, you can't have them around the sewing machines.
40:14 Lisa: I have trained for this, many years of sipping and sewing at my own sewing machine has really helped me test the limits of sobriety and the sewing machine.
40:23 ChaCha: See, you have the practice in, a lot of people that come in with that practice.
40:27 Lisa: You know what I say, hey, if you stay ready, you don't have to get ready. [ChaCha: Exactly, exactly.] Just gotta be prepared. So you said you did these in the sip and sew, that some of the dresses and the shoe covers and those kinds of projects?
40:39 ChaCha: Well, not the shoe covers, the dresses, different types of bags. We've done a lot of different projects, jackets. But the shoe covers are actually a new venture, and I was actually supposed to launch in April a line, they're shoe covers. [Lisa: Wait, when did you call them again?] A line of shoe covers. You say that with the accent. Shoe covers.
41:12 Lisa: Shoe covers. We're gonna have to get the spelling of that, we'll put it in the notes. So, tell us about that. I'm telling you, you all should check out these images, because she's got this gorgeous, I'm looking at one of the blog posts from February, and you've got this kind of houndstooth dress going, and then you have the same houndstooth over the knee style boot, but you're saying that that's not actually a boot, it's a shoe cover.
41:38 ChaCha: No, it's a shoe cover. Yeah, so I was supposed to be launching those in all different designs and collaborating with other artists for my fabrics for April. And unfortunately, with COVID, I wasn't able to, but that actually gave me more time to come out with some different designs and also to work all of the kinks out.
42:05 Lisa: Well, it really is, it's a really fierce look, and I'm looking at, this as an image from March 27th that you have on the Instagram page of the SEWcial Cafe, which we will, of course, include the link to that in the show notes. And it's just fire. It really is. You got the headwrap, you got the dress, you got the, and I mean really, thigh-high boots. I'm just like, okay!
42:29 ChaCha: I've received so much love from the pictures I have taken with the shoe covers. Especially because being plus size, it's hard to find boots that go over the knee or thigh-high boots. Even for taller people, it's hard to find thigh high boots. [Lisa: Yes, yes!]
42:51 Lisa: I could, sometimes, I have a difficult time like getting a boot to go over my calf and I'm just like, you know, and I'm just like you know what, forget it. But you found a great solution for that.
43:01 ChaCha: I have, and they're coming in different lengths, they'll be to the calf, to the ankle, knee-high, thigh-high and coming in all different colors and prints, and they can go on stiletto shoes, and they can also go on to wedged shoes. So yeah, I have a lot of things coming out. And I'm really excited about it.
43:28 Lisa: That is incredible. I am very, very excited. And so, let's talk really quickly about your mask making network, I know you've got a lot of great press about the mask making network that you've created, and that's just one of the ways that you've been able to transition some of your business model, I think, to basically talk about supporting makers during this time of crisis. Can you share a little bit about the mass making network, and then I'd love to talk about some more future projects.
43:57 ChaCha: Yeah, sure. So as everyone knows with COVID, a lot of people had to pivot their businesses and what they were doing to generate revenue or to add value to their customers during this time. So, I have to cancel a lot of classes. I had to cancel contracts for rental agreements, and the members are not able to come into the space because we're not clear to open. Which is actually fine with me now, just because I definitely value my health over anything. [Lisa: yes!]
Yeah, but it saddens me as well because I really want my ladies to be here, and I missed that camaraderie and being able to exchange information and laugh together, talk about different things together while still creating. So I miss that so much. But we'll be back. We'll be back.
So I started making masks maybe about, I wanna say it was almost two months ago, or about two months ago, and I received a lot of press for making masks, but also I received a lot of interest for people to buy a mask and since I'm making them myself, I am not able to take on all of the orders that come my way, so I figured it would be great to have mask making network because we were actually gonna do a small, well it wasn't really a pivot, but it was more so an addition to our offerings by adding in a network on the website where people can actually purchase from the members of the cafe, their garments and the things that they make straight from the website.
So I'm like, Okay, well, since we're not able to do that right now, how about we do the mask making network, so that people can buy masks directly from the website, but from different designers, from different areas, and we'll be able to ship all over the US because my customers now for the mask making network comes from everywhere. And I thought that it would, [Lisa: Wow] Yeah, I thought that it would be really great to be able to include all of my members, but not just the members, but the members of the sewing community as a whole in this project that I'm doing so that they can generate extra revenue because I'm sure that is much needed right now.
Just last month, we had over 10,000 unique visits to the website just to buy mask, so people are really looking to buy these masks, and I also have mask making kids, which is also an idea for people who don't necessarily have the manpower or desire to make the mask, you can make up kits where you have the pre-cut fabric, make sure you include instructions, pre-cut elastic, and ship that out to people, and it's a great way for families to get together and make masks and have something extra for the family to do. A great family project.
47:03 Lisa: Yeah, and it also cuts out so much of the guesswork, and if you don't do a lot of sewing, but just happened to have a machine lying around. I know some folks that are... I know some folks that are also doing kits and stuff, I think it's a great idea as well, as well as being a resource for people who want to buy masks.
I know that I am not a big mask person, I, of course, wear a mask, and I know I talked about this in the previous episode, and I didn't even wanna sew any masks and I've already sewn 25. So, I mean, it's just like, I feel like if you sew, someone is going to ask you, and now I'll be able to say, some people have been asking me. I'm like, "Okay, well, here are those people that I know that are sewing them, that are making them," and now I can also direct them to your mask making network, so I think that's amazing. [ChaCha: Oh, thank you]
What do you have coming up next? What are some of the future projects you're thinking about for the cafe, any other things that you are imagining in terms of expansion or growth or deepening certain connections?
48:03 ChaCha: Yes, so we were actually supposed to open up a second location in Wilmington, Delaware, by the end of this year, but because of everything going on, we're gonna push that back. I don't know how far we're gonna push it back, but I'm thinking it's gonna be some time in 2021. Even if it's a smaller space than what we have here, 'cause our space here is about 2600 square feet. And moving into a second location, I think we should start off just a little bit smaller, because I'm more familiar with the Philadelphia market than I am with the Wilmington, Delaware market.
So the plan is to open up that second location and then open up a third location within two years in downtown Philadelphia, and then continue expanding from there. I have thought about doing the franchise route and other people have inquired, but we need to make sure that the operations are down here so that I can be able to help people repeat the success of the SEWcial Cafe in different areas.
49:10 Lisa: That sounds so cool. [ChaCha: Thank you]. Yeah, to go from Wilmington, to go from Wilmington, Delaware, and then back to downtown Philadelphia, and then you never know where it could go next, because the SEWcial Cafe, as you were saying, people, you know - I know, for one, certainly appreciate a creative hub, a creative space, especially, even though I have a studio here in my house, it can be a lot of fun to get together and sew with other people, and the idea of having a space for that is really quite wonderful.
So I just wanted to say ChaCha, thank you so much for talking with me today. And thank you for sharing the future of the SEWcial Cafe with us and just sharing so much about your past. Can you tell us where we can find you on the socials, where people can look up and find information about you and I will be sure to include all this information in the show notes, but where can we find you on the socials?
50:05 ChaCha: Yeah, sure. So you can follow the SEWcial Cafe, T-H-E-S-E-W-C-I-A-L-C-A-F-E on Instagram. I'm not really on Twitter too much, but I do have a Twitter. You can also follow us there on The SEWcial Cafe on Facebook, and also ChaCha Nkole on Instagram, C-H-A-C-H-A-N-K-O-L-E. And then you'll be able to see some of the pictures that Lisa was talking about. Because I like to do photography on the side, that's like my thing, my fun thing to do, and then digital enhancements to the photos, so you'll be able to see some of those on my personal Instagram account. Also, check out my Facebook group, it's called Sewing with ChaCha Nkole. If you put it in Facebook, Sewing with, it usually just comes up straight after that. and yeah, check out our online classes as well and online courses on the website, and it's thesewcialcafe.com/courses, where you'll be able to see the online courses and then also sign up for the mailing list, you'll be to check out what's coming up next, when we're re-opening and what we'll be offering.
Thank you so much, Lisa.
51:22 Lisa: Oh my gosh, this has been so exciting, I've been talking today with ChaCha Hudson of the SEWcial Cafe in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and everywhere else, because she's not just in Philadelphia, she does go...she teaches in Delaware, she teaches in Ghana, she teaches online, and you can find her work and all the social media places she just listed that. ChaCha, thank you again for being with us today.
51:46 ChaCha: Thank you, Lisa. I appreciate it.
52:01 Lisa: Thank you for joining us for this week's episode of The Stitch Please podcast, the official Podcast of Black Women Stitch, the sewing group where Black Lives Matter. There are a variety of ways that you can support the program, and you're doing it right now by listening to the podcast, it does help us grow. Another way to do that is to rate the podcast, review it, subscribe to it. All of these things are ways that you can support the podcast without having to spend any money at all.
If you would like to spend some money to support us, there are ways to do that as well, you can make direct donations to our Patreon site for monthly contributions as well as one-time contributions to PayPal, Cash app, or Venmo. And finally, we have another cute, very adorable way for you to support the Black Women Stitch project, it's a pin, a p-i-n, enamel lapel pin, that's very cute. It's about two inches wide and one and a half inch tall, and it's of the Black Women Stitch logo. And that is $15 with free shipping to the US. And so if you drop 15 in the PayPal, Venmo, or Cash app accounts, and then send me your email, well not email, you send me your mailing address to my email, either at blackwomenstitch.com, or you send me a direct message on the Black Women Stitch Instagram page, we will put the pin in the mail to you. Again, free shipping, $15 for the pin, and all of this goes to support the Black Women Stitch project.
Thank you again for joining us this week. Come back next week and we will help you get your stitch together.