Meet the 27-year-old Designer Who Turned Down Her Dream Job to Start Her Own Business
"Don’t require yourself to gain a certain number of years of experience before you consider yourself credible and valuable."
This past August, I walked into Jenna Blazevich's calligraphy class for beginners, kind of sure that I would be a natural. I mean, why not? She made it look so easy! Fast forward approximately five minutes into the class when I realized there was a lot more to the art of calligraphy than I ever knew...and a natural I was not. But Jenna's enthusiasm and energy in the studio was contagious, and I left the class feeling totally inspired and curious to know more about her company Vichcraft—a powerhouse design studio that offers client services, products, and workshops.
Today we're talking about finding the courage to turn down a dream job to create your own company (which she did at just 25-years-old), how Vichcraft has evolved over the last two years beyond her initial vision, and the impact of moving from a coworking space to her very own studio.
Name: Jenna Linnea Blazevich
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Current title/company: Founder & Designer: Vichcraft Design Studio
Educational background: Fashion Design at the University of Cincinnati (unfinished degree), Graphic Design at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
Let's start from the beginning. You started out at the University of Cincinnati's School of Design, Architecture Art, and Planning as a fashion design major, but later transitioned to UIC. What brought on that change?
In high school, I didn’t take any art classes, even though I’ve loved making things with my hands all my life. However, since there's a history of sewing and hand embroidery with the women in my family, my mom taught me how to sew at a young age. My interest in sewing and making my own clothes led me to pursue a degree in fashion design at the University of Cincinnati. While there, I enrolled in my first drawing and visual communication classes, which introduced me to graphic design. The summer between my second and third year of fashion school, I worked as a graphic design intern at a gig poster shop (my dream job at the time) called Powerhouse Factories. The people I met there and the understanding that I gained about graphic design as an industry led me to solidify my decision to change my major to graphic design, and start college over as a freshmen at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
And when did your interest in calligraphy come about?
Prior to working customer service at a Paper Source store, I wasn’t aware that modern designers were using calligraphy and lettering in fresh and updated ways, and one of the calligraphers whose work I was introduced to was Molly Jacques. She hosted her first public workshop in Ann Arbor at the end of 2012, and I attended it and learned how to properly use an oblique calligraphy nib holder with pointed pen nibs. That acted as a turning point for me, and I felt more determined than ever to get comfortable enough with those tools to one day do it as my job. At the time, I was one year into a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend, and we were already writing letters to each other every day. The daily letters served as my outlet for consistent practice with my new calligraphy tools for the following few years, and I credit that as a reason why I was able to progress and improve in the ways that I did.
I had a full-time job offer at my dream design job. Instead of taking it, I spent the last month of 2014 building and planning the Vichcraft website and branding.
At what point did you officially launch Vichcraft?
I launched Vichcraft in January of 2015, two months after I turned 25. This was following an internship and subsequent full-time job offer at my dream packaging design job, Moxie Sozo, in Boulder, Colorado. Instead of taking the full-time offer, I spent the last month of 2014 building and planning the Vichcraft website and branding. Prior to the launch, I had worked six design internships while finishing my graphic design degree at UIC, as well as four years of freelance design. It took a lot of courage and planning to launch, but I eventually convinced myself that, although I was young, I had significant design experience; money saved up to continue paying my rent should I experience months with fewer clients than others; no one to financially support but myself; and confidence that I could handle the demands of self-employment.
How has your business evolved since you first launched? Are your products and services different than you initially envisioned, or have you stayed true to your initial plan? Tell us a bit about what you offer.
When I launched, I expected to mostly work on branding design projects with small clients, as was my focus when I was freelancing under my own name in the years prior to starting Vichcraft. While this is something that I still focus on, I now split my time three ways: branding design, calligraphy workshops, and designing/fabricating/shipping my line of product. My shop of products was only born in the summer of 2015, about six months into running Vichcraft altogether. I designed and fabricated an initial run of “Tough Little Bitches / Self-Employed” patches, and those attracted enough interest for me to justify another run, and to also design another product. My ad hoc approach for adding new products has worked well enough for the first year of having a shop, but I’m interested in learning better methods for sustainably running a product design business. I’m looking forward to growing in that way as a business owner, especially because I’m my only employee, and my content can stay as experimental as I want while I learn better ways to manage the shop.
As someone who has taken your beginners calligraphy workshop, I have to ask...did it always come easily to you, or was it something you had to work hard at when you were first starting out?
Much like meeting clients one-on-one, teaching workshops was something that used to cause me much more stress because of how young I am (and how much younger I look). It has helped me to just focus on the fact that my students value that I am willing to share my skills with them. At this point, I see my youth as an asset, not a limiter. The young women and men who take my class hopefully see me as someone who is approachable and relatable, and each class inspires me to teach another.
At this point, I see my youth as an asset, not a limiter. The young women and men who take my class hopefully see me as someone who is approachable and relatable.
Let's delve a little more into your workshops. When did you first start offering them, and what was it like to nail down that process? I imagine it takes a few goes before you feel comfortable teaching. How was your first workshop different than one that someone would attend today?
I taught my first public calligraphy workshops in the fall of 2014, just before launching Vichcraft, and I’ve taught at least one beginner workshop per month since then. The format of the class has generally remained the same: introduce the tools, talk about the craft, work through exercises, then graduate to lowercase letterforms. I do, however, think the workshop has evolved into something that people value attending because they gain the ability to utilize me as a resource both during and after the class. I get almost an equal amount of questions about how I started freelancing, what was required to start selling product, etc., as I do about the actual craft of calligraphy, and I enjoy offering myself as a real person who can help answer these questions (versus whatever answers would otherwise come up in a Google search). This is a big reason why I want to continue teaching calligraphy workshops, and possibly other types of workshops, in the future.
In the past five years, the online business world has grown so much! Can you tell us a little about the process you went through to start up your online business (business plan, website design, media exposure, etc.)? How much research did you do before you started, and how much have you just learned as you've gone along?
In addition to working at agencies and in-house as a designer, I had years of freelance experience going into my official business launch. All of that put together armed me with an ability to handle several projects at once, work with clients directly, and manage money. If I had been experiencing all these things for the first time once I launched, I don’t believe it would have gone so smoothly. There were a lot of kinks that I already had a chance to work out as a freelancer while having the “safety net” of a job that consistently paid me a bi-weekly paycheck before I set out to work for myself full-time. Even though I had a freelance portfolio that I had been building up while working under my name, I wanted to intentionally think of a different name to start working under, and curate a very specific aesthetic for the portfolio I would begin showing as that name: “Vichcraft." This was in an effort to make a site that showed only the kind of work I wanted to get hired for (not a place to show every project I’ve ever worked on).
You recently designed pins for Hillary Clinton's campaign! Pretty incredible. How did the opportunity come about and what was that design process like?
In July, I was approached by Hillary for America with an opportunity to be part of a campaign button series called “The 45 Pin Project” which aimed to “take back” the campaign button, which has historically been an outlet for sexist rhetoric. The task was both thrilling and intimidating, and I chose to hand-letter three small buttons with the original phrases “Votes for Her," “Deal Us In," and “Fighting For Me Since ‘73”. In the week leading up to election day, I lettered “Nasty Woman” artwork, and sold shirts with it, and donated $16 to Planned Parenthood for each one sold. Following her loss on election day, I’ve continued selling the shirts, and continued donating a portion to Planned Parenthood, because women’s right to bodily autonomy is seriously threatened.
As a young entrepreneur, what was the most difficult part of starting your own business?
Not having anyone who has taken your exact path to turn to when things are exhausting or confusing. It’s different from being in an work environment where a job falls within some kind of a structure, where one generally knows who to turn to should a challenge arise. I’m lucky to have supportive friends, some of whom are also self-employed, and a boyfriend who has patiently acted as a sounding board and support system long before—and during my time—running Vichcraft. That being said, I think I possess personality traits that make me a good candidate for self-employment: extreme attention to detail, self-motivation, obsessive, good time management skills. The work/life balance thing is something I’m still trying to figure out.
You recently opened up your incredible studio space here in Chicago. What did it feel like to be able to have a dedicated place for your business, and has it changed the way that you work at all? Were you previously working from home?
Opening my physical studio has been one of the best accomplishments since starting Vichcraft. Prior to working out of my studio, I ran Vichcraft out of the building that Cards Against Humanity runs their business, because it also functions as a co-working space for a few independent designers, developers, illustrators, etc. During the first few months of running, Vichcraft’s offerings were entirely service-based, so being in a co-working space was ideal. Some of the most exciting projects that I worked on in my first year were brought about by meeting people in that space, and it was advantageous to work in a collaborative environment. Once I began selling physical product, I started moving in a direction of needing more space to house, package, and ship it all, and when a studio opened up in a building where a friend of mine, Eileen Tjan, runs her business (Other Studio), I jumped on the opportunity to move in there. It’s a super personal space; the walls are covered with my work and pieces that inspires me, and I love having classes and friends in there.
Don’t require yourself to gain a certain number of years of experience before you consider yourself credible and valuable.
You just got your motorcycle license...KIND of badass. What inspired you to go through that process?
Getting an m-class license has been a goal of mine for a long time. My dad has been riding a Harley since I was a kid, and my boyfriend Chris works on and rides vintage motorcycles nearly year-round. I already ride my bike around Chicago every day that I can, and it’s a freeing and empowering thing that takes some grit. There is a sense of solidarity that I feel with other cyclists who brave the streets of Chicago, and I know motorcyclists to experience something similar. Generally, motorcycle culture is overwhelmingly masculine, but I’ve become inspired by the groups of women who have carved out their own place in it: Babes Ride Out being an outstanding example of this. I attended my first B.R.O. this past October in Joshua Tree, Calif., and it was an amazing experience. So many badass ladies.
You're a partner on a new indie game coming out in 2017 called TumbleSeed. Tell us what that's like! What is your involvement and what sparked that opportunity?
This is an example of an opportunity that is directly related to the people I met while working in the co-working space. Two of my close friends, Benedict Fritz and Greg Wohlwend, have been working together to create this beautiful and challenging rogue-like game since I first met them in 2015, and they have since partnered with Joel Corelitz on sound design, and David Laskey on development, and with me on lettering. It’s different from any client project I’ve worked on in the past, in the sense that it’s way more long-term than what I’m used to, and how much I’ve gotten to learn about an industry I was previously unfamiliar with.
In five years, where do you see your business?
I’d like to have a physical space similar to the one I have now, but street level so that it can act as a storefront and event space, as well as a studio where I could work and ship out of. Having the ability to consistently welcome people from the public would allow for more events, partnerships, and inclusivity. The horrifying outcome of this election means that the next four years will call for more work, collaboration, activism, and connectedness, and I know that Vichcraft will be as involved in these efforts as possible. Since my launch, I’ve already established my voice to be one of an activist, and it hasn’t even begun to be loud enough.
Let your talent and tenacity speak for itself, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re worth less than you believe yourself to be.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Don’t stress about how young you are and whether people aren’t going to take you seriously. Don’t require yourself to gain a certain number of years of experience before you consider yourself credible and valuable. Let your talent and tenacity speak for itself, and don’t let anyone tell you you’re worth less than you believe yourself to be.
Jenna Blazevich is The Everygirl...
Beach or Mountains?
Mountains, every time.
Favorite way to spend a day off?
Coffee and homemade breakfast with Chris, riding my bike, thrifting some jackets and embroidering a project, dinner at Chicago Diner, and going to a punk show.
Who would play you in a movie of your life?
I’m flattering myself here, but I want to say Jennifer Lawrence (not based on looks—she’s a bombshell) because she is fierce and authentic and I love it.
I wish I knew how to...
Play the drums. For years I haven’t shut up about how much I want to do this, and this year Chris actually bought me drum lessons for my birthday! In 2017, we’re starting a band.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Bell Hooks. Her writing has inspired my feminism and my art in more ways than I could ever explain. She is an incredible force.