Maker Profile: Chelli Look, Owner of CHC
How did you start CHC?
I actually started sophomore year in high school. I saw my older sister make a bag, and I wanted to make a bag and I asked her to show me how to make one. She said no, like an older sister would, and so I figured it out. It was a super simple bag, made out of denim, crossbody. Then I was wearing it around high school; I started selling them to friends, family, teachers, secretaries. Just seeing the connections I was able to make really intrigued me, and at that time, I knew what I liked, but I wouldn’t say I was into fashion by any means, but I had a very specific taste. Starting and doing accessories like that drew me into fashion. It just kind of carried on. I did it throughout college. After college, I was in retail management, then it kind of got to the point where I figured I needed to do this or I needed to not do this. My husband and I talked through it and made a financial plan and quit my full time job to go full time with this...so I’ve been doing it for awhile--since 2001, technically. And the name and logo has stayed the same since.
What’s your background?
Retail management, mainly, with a heavier focus on visual merchandising. I studied at Columbia, and after I left, I was with Guess, and after that, I was with Anthropologie.
What inspires your work?
People, mostly. The craft as a business, I would say people. Connection is a really high value of mine, and just the relationships I have been able to make out of that, the places I have been able to go, that’s what spurs me on. It is the essence of what I’m doing. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty of what inspires it, I’m really inspired by dance and movement. I love watching hand gestures--I don’t know if I have ever mentioned this in an interview before--I thought I was going to be an actress during my freshman year in high school, so I went into the library and got these books on how to act. One of the first books, in the first chapter, it was about how to get to know people and how to watch them. I love people watching, but this specific chapter was focused on hand gestures, and if you watch people’s hands, everyone moves and maneuvers things differently, and I just never noticed that. So in my people watching, I started to watch how people handled things, and it became an obsessive fascination. I love watching the way people hold a bag, open a bag--everyone does it a little bit differently. I’m really inspired by it.
What brought you to Chicago?
College. I grew up in St. Louis, and we moved when I was 12. I went to high school in Peoria, and small town was not my thing. So the minute I was able to get out of there, I wanted to go long and far, but I didn’t get very far, I only got to Chicago. But, it was a big city. I thought I would eventually go to New York, but that didn’t work out.
If you weren’t here, where would you be?
New York. In my current phase, I would say New York. I would love to say some amazing vacation or travel, but the reality right now, and my focus, is so on this business. My dreams of traveling will come a little later, but right now, I want to establish this business.
How do you spend your free time/how do you take time for yourself?
I’m a runner, so I run a lot. I’m a severe introvert, so once I’ve spent my time with people, I have to spend time completely alone, so [running] allows me to just process thoughts. But I really just love spending time with my husband, honestly, and I have a really tight circle of friends. I love people, and I love the interactions with people, but when I need time to decompress, I have that close circle of people.
Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
I think it really breaks the societal lie that women are all against each other. It is a lie we buy into. I don’t truly think women are against each other, I think it is something that we are taught to think about each other and it becomes competitive. But, I think in our nature, we are community builders. When you look at different societies, women can invest in their families and build up communities, and I think that says a lot about the nature of women in general, that we want to invest in one another. I think we naturally build community with one another, because, truly, business people thrive when we rejoice with one another. There is plenty of room for all of us to grow, and to think that Suzy Q is making really good handbags means that I won’t one day is a fallacy, it is a lie.
What is your advice for young creatives?
Don’t deviate from your vision. Know why you are doing what you’re doing. If it is for superficial things, you’re going to quickly fall short the minute it gets hard. Money is not a motivator, fame is not a motivator, all of that falls to the wayside. But know why you’re doing what you’re doing. When I first found my “why,” it was laughed at. It seemed very idealistic. And maybe in a lot of ways it is, but if you don’t have a big “why” to go after, what are you really doing?
How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
Simplistic. I would say minimal, but I feel like that word is overused. It is thoughtful, but it is really relaxed. I put thought into everything that I wear--even if it is the most simple things. If I am relaxing at home, I love just thinking about what I am going to wear, I love being thoughtful of how I drape clothing on my body.
How do you stay inspired?
Time for myself in the mornings. I started a practice of taking the first 30 minutes of my day to not look at any computer, and just have those minutes to sit in the quiet, or to read a book, or scriptural meditation. It allows me to have a life, and I think that if you don’t have any type of identity outside of what you’re doing, it is easy to detract. I can tell when I’ve missed that time. Also just watching things with movement really inspires me--dance and whatnot. If I am having a hard time in [my studio], and I can’t really get into the zone, I will sit for a half-hour and watch dance videos. There are two totally different types that I am obsessing over right now: one is the hip-hop range, and the other is more contemporary ballet.
There is no set thing. That 30 minutes is probably the only thing that is a routine. If that is consistently happening, I get up pretty early in the morning. I love being awake and like to wake up when it’s dark. Always coffee. Sometimes scriptural meditation, sometimes I just sit and relax, sometimes I’ll draw and sketch, then I’ll set out for my day.
Sprinkles! God I love sprinkles. They are the only colorful thing in my life. I really like public speakers, and people who are really inspirational and people who have found their truth, whether or not I agree with them. I get these kicks of listening to a new public speaker every once in awhile, just for the sake of learning or to challenge my thought processes. I like thinking differently, and I am an empathizer, so even if I don’t fully agree with [what they’re saying], I like to understand the “why” behind what people do, or how they live.
Favorite woman run brands/businesses?
Eileen Fisher is probably the big box that I admire most right now. She goes so far against what she could be doing to make more money, and she is incredible. There is the obvious like Elizabeth Suzann and Lisa Hackwith.
Your star sign?
I kill them, I can never have them around. I have a thing for lilies--it is more nostalgia. The smell of lilies is terrible to me. I love greenery, but it just dies.
Savory or sweet?
Sweet. I have a sweets issue.
Pizza or taco?
I eat both every week. It depends on the day! If it is homemade, tacos. If it is take out, pizza.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon.
Saturday or Sunday?
Movie or book?
I love movies, but I don’t make time to watch them. Picture book?