Interview with an artisan: Resilience in business and art

Susan Jeannette Fernandez Chavez is a 29 year-old Kiva borrower and artisan whose crafts leave a profound impact on her community. I sat down with her to discuss her journey to the arts, her passion for child development, and the importance of supporting artists.
Check out her crafts here. And yes, she ships internationally!

Susan at work in her studio.

Me: When did you figure out that you wanted to make art?
Susan: I wanted to create something that was mine, that had my name. At the time I was working in a restaurant, but my kids’ babysitter quit and I needed a way to make money while also caring for my kids. So I started this business. At the beginning, I actually wasn’t doing any of the art; my mom would do it, and I would handle the business side. I had never taken an art class – I just knew business. But as time went on, I would observe her and she also began teaching me some things. Eventually our visions began to differ, so we decided not to work together anymore, and I took on the business myself. At the time I was 23 years old.
Me: How did you realize that art was more to you than just a way to make money?
Susan: Art is an expression of the mind. What you create is totally personalized. More than anything, I love interacting with my clients and seeing how they interact with my art. I’ve really grown as a woman, as a businessperson, and I can teach my kids how to value these types of things as well. And, that you can rise above and achieve something despite lots of people telling you “no” – because I heard a lot of “no!”
Me: Tell me about a favorite project of yours.
Susan: I have a line called “Materiales Sensoriales” that I make for a Montessori School. I make a lot of things for different purposes – for the house, for example – but my specialty is making things for kids. What I love more than anything is when teachers ask me for things to decorate their classrooms, and their students can benefit from the art.
Me: Why is it so important to use art in education?
Susan: In my opinion, education should be experiential. The moment it becomes interactive – when kids see, touch, move things around – they learn much more effectively. For example, if a child learns his primary colors through playing with objects, it’s much more effective than if he just sees the teacher write it on the chalkboard. It’s much more colorful, more sensory. They learn by experiencing.
Me: You have three kids – what are your hopes for them as they grow up?
Susan: My biggest hope for them is that they never stop dreaming, and that they don’t limit themselves, because limits are really only self-created. My son wants to be a pilot. So I said, “good, so be a pilot.” And he said, “but I’ll have to pay a lot of money to learn.” So I said, “well you’ll just have to work a lot.” That’s my dream for my kids: that limits don’t exist. That they can achieve anything if they put their minds to it.
Me: What is your advice for someone who wants to be an artist?
Susan: You need to believe in what you’re doing from the first moment. You have to dedicate yourself day and night to your product. You can’t stop or rest. The competition exists and it can be brutal. Nevertheless, I don’t compete with prices; I compete with quality. I won’t lower my prices because I know how much my products are worth. There’s a word that really resonates with me: resilience. To me, it means to be strong, to be persistent, to resist problems. If you have resilience, you will have success in your business. If not, find another job.
Me: Why is it so important for the global community to support artists?
Susan: A lot of people don’t believe in us! But it’s good to support things that are new, that are innovative. The artist has a special role in our society because she takes what’s in her head and expresses it. She expresses her form of being. But art is also a business, and we need support turning a loan of $2,000 into $4,000. And we need to support each other. With all the people – especially women – that I work with, I don’t want to be the boss of them; I want them to grow with me. The artist is an essence; each small part of the artist creates that essence.
Me: What would you like to say to Kiva lenders?
Susan: I am very grateful to Kiva lenders for believing in me. Sometimes I feel that the market in my town is too closed off, but Kiva makes me realize that there are people all over the world who believe in what I’m doing. Thank you for thinking of me. You are not just helping me, you are helping the many families that my work is going to support.
This interview was condensed and translated from Spanish.

About the author

Becca Levine

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Becca graduated from Johns Hopkins University in 2015, where she majored in Writing. After college, she joined Teach for America and taught high school Spanish in a rural Louisiana town. She spent a summer working on organic farms in Spain, and another summer studying urban development in Medellin, Colombia. In high school, she served as a Page for the U.S. House of Representatives. She is particularly interested in harnessing the power of storytelling to connect people and drive progress.