Bringing Dust to Life
Chentell Shannon is creating a company and a culture that celebrates community.
It’s possible that Chentell Shannon shouts, but it’s difficult to believe that she would. She’s built Convivial Productions – a company that creates collections of handmade wares for the home, table, and garden – over the last five years with a quiet, steady hand. While she does not pretend to know all the answers of what happens next, she is conscious and careful with her life and her company as she considers what is best using her own definition of success.
While Shannon is passionate about what she does and how she does it, she was not envisioning her future as she made clay pots in kindergarten. Her interest in pottery came much later.
“My older sister is two years ahead of me,” Shannon says. “I was the
quintessential younger sister. I thought she was so cool. I wanted to be just like her.”
Shannon’s sister had enrolled in a ceramics class in high school, so she enrolled in a ceramic class in high school.
“Then, independently, I really started loving it. I took ceramics class-
es every semester that I could. Then I started doing independent study with my professor and learned wheel throwing and hand building.”
She discovered she has a visceral experience working with her hands.
“I think your mind goes into a different state,” Shannon says. “For me it’s therapeutic. It’s a release.”
She followed the same path in college, taking pottery classes and doing independent study. Her senior year, she found that she wanted to share the process and started looking for ways to introduce other people to the craft.
“Art therapy was the path that classified as a career in the arts. Even though I wasn’t really interested in the clinical aspects of art, it was the thing I thought I could make a career out of.”
But the reality of art therapy wasn’t the same as creating. She studied community art, which felt more organic. But after graduation, she became more and more interested in designing, creating, and selling her work. She trusted that all the components of the things that she had learned would come into play and become a career.
“It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately,” she says. “We’re five years in. The first year was just me, then some interns, then part-time people. I think we were in five spaces before here.”
“Here” being the light-flooded space on the fourth floor of one of the old brick buildings in the West Bottoms that accommodates Convivial’s growing team. Shannon said this last move felt significant.
“When we moved here two years ago it felt like we jumped from being an individual studio to an actual company. There was consistency and culture.”
Convivial recently took over the full floor and has committed to the space for three years. Shannon says that the growth and expansion raise questions about who and what Convivial should be.
“I want to be really intentional with our growth. What will our products be like? What will the studio be like? What will our culture be like?”
She’s discerning about expanding the product line and how they will move forward as a company. This conscious movement drives decisions in every aspect of the business, including a recent opportunity to paint a mural on the side of the building.
“We had the opportunity to do the mural and we considered putting our name on it,” Shannon says. “But it’s not our building, so we reconsidered. Recognizing the neighborhood seemed like the right thing to do.”
The mural, which Shannon’s team designed and painted with the help of community volunteers, reads, “Welcome to the Historic West Bottoms.” This result is part of a broader philosophy.
“Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how owning a business is an opportunity. We can either work within the outline of standard business practices or be creative in how we approach growing and sustaining as a business.”
Shannon thinks this applies to where they invest, how they approach sales, as well as their motivation. This thinking is the root of Convivial’s creative, alternative, community-based marketing approaches, such as collaborating on murals, events, and dinners.
“I want to be creative with how we approach partnership and marketing,” she says. “We’re exploring putting those resources toward investing in the culture of our community and the architecture of our city, determining if this works as a more holistic approach for our staff, community, and customers.”
While she moves thoughtfully, Shannon and her team want Convivial to create more pieces, more lines, and, perhaps more importantly, more jobs. But they are careful about growth.
“What we do is not trend based. That’s why we don’t do limited editions. We are being intentional about things that last. We want our customers to know that if they buy dinnerware from us, they will always be able to get it.”
The company is currently exploring creating new concepts. Verdant, a plant and flower shop in the Crossroads that carries planters and candles, is planned for the spring.
Shannon sees Convivial as the parent company, while responding to smart opportunities along the way.
“I would rather keep being creative. This could lead to more variety, which could bring more chaos – or more success. We want to keep things fresh. The questions that I will always come back to is, ‘What will I be proud of?’”