In 2015, the Center for Cultural Innovation (CCI) awarded $100,000 in grants to eight Los Angeles-based creative businesses through the Creative Economic Development Fund (CEDF), currently in its fourth year of granting. As this CIIN documentation project draws to a close, we’re speaking with CEDF grantees directly to hear about their journeys in their own words.
We spoke with Ana Guajardo, founder and owner of Cha Cha Covers, which received an early CEDF grant: “Cha Cha Covers is an independently run, Latina owned business founded in 2012. Everything is made in Los Angeles, by graphic design and by hand, aiming to use non-toxic water based ingredients that are kinder to the skin than most water slide nail decals on the market.”
What was the genesis of your career as an entrepreneur?
I think my whole life I’ve been an entrepreneur. My dad was a pharmaceutical sales rep so he was always in business, wheeling and dealing and doing sales…and then my grandma had a Mexican restaurant, but she started out just selling burritos out of the back of her truck in the 1940s in El Paso. And now my mom, my sister, and I actually all make cultural products like this. Every time I go back to Texas we vend together and do events together. So I feel like maybe it’s just in my blood, to be self-made or to always look for ways to make money.
And how did your business sense intersect with your cultural work?
I love the idea that I can rely on myself to support myself. I love that concept. But on top of that I was also initially on a road to a career to promote arts and culture through museum work. I was studying art history and cultural studies. I was always really proud of my culture so I always wanted to be an entrepreneur that promotes cultural pride and identity and literacy. When I was in college, I was working at a gift shop in Albuquerque and I was seeing all of these artists come and sell their products wholesale, and that made me realize that I could be creative and also sell goods that are functional. My very first business was called Los Switcheros, which means “light switch” in Spanish, and they were just little light switch covers with cultural images inspired by being Chicana and Mexicana.
What were the best resources as you were building your business in Los Angeles?
To be honest, I don’t really take advantage of a lot of the small business programs that are out there. I learn more through my community of peers in the Latino community. We’re a close-knit community of artists and friends. We learn from each other and share information: where to get your business license, your sellers permit, good shows to work, that sort of thing. Caracol Marketplace was a huge resource and network of artist-vendors that taught each other things. Like, one person would get a booth at the California Gift Show [recently rebranded as LAMKT], and then we’d all come with them and learn and just figure it out together.
So it’s never really been about programs so much, for me. It’s about community and building up from each other. A lot of the formal programs just don’t speak to us because it’s more like “business-business” and not passion. It’s a little different nowadays because there’s a wave of creative entrepreneurs and that concept is all hot and trendy, but when we started out we were really just artists. This was our calling. Downtown there seems to be a lot flourishing for creatives now, but honestly it still looks very white to me compared to our group…so even though it exists, certain people still aren’t accessing it.
So what convinced you to try applying for a grant like CEDF?
Even CEDF seemed formal, but I liked it because it was less conventional. More free, and open, and it allowed me to have my vision and not have to report back in spreadsheets or, like, charts on my growth. That’s not really how artists work. We’re progressing, we’re growing, we’re working towards something…but it’s not always something that can be graphed monetarily. I liked that it was more qualitative, so I thought I’d just try it.
And as you look ahead, what are your greatest needs for the near future, to continue your success and growth trajectory?
We need capital. Always. Space is also great. I do have a studio now, but there have been times when I can’t afford a studio. I know there are co-working spaces for tech companies but I don’t know if that exists for artisans, or if they can be subsidized or something, but that would be great.
Professional workshops are great, but even more than workshops we need real clinics where you actually accomplish something. Like, you set up your webpage in a four-week clinic, or co-working with someone who can guide you. Or access to PR machines that are pushing your events. Maybe a way to promote alums even beyond the timeframe of the grant, for example.
And you know, we need access to interns, access to volunteers, access to students. Even if we’re not in a place where we can hire a full-time employee, we need people that are eager to learn and be part of our team, because we need help–we need more hands, and we also have things we can teach, just like any other business.
And finally, is there any advice you might you offer to a young person hoping to follow in your footsteps?
Everyone needs to have education, but something experiential is also absolutely necessary. I didn’t finish my Master’s but everything I did in my master’s program I’m using today. So the academic framework will definitely be a part of your career, and I took on internships in college to learn the ropes, but I wish I had been more structured about getting mentors. I guess you can just go out and do it on your own and learn it on YouTube these days if you want, but there’s really nothing like learning directly from someone who’s doing it and modeling it for you.