For Chentell Shannon’s business, 2017 was a year of big changes.
Convivial Production is a design and manufacturing company that makes ceramic home, table and garden wares.
Convivial produces about 1,000 pieces a week, sold in 100-plus stores in the United States. In Kansas City, Convivial products are carried in Coveted Home on Country Club Plaza, Urban Provisions in the East Bottoms and Made in Kansas City locations across the metro. It also sells directly to customers through its website, convivialproduction.com.
With continually growing sales, Shannon was able to make big changes last year with her four-year-old company. Convivial moved its operations to a 2,400-square-foot space in Kansas City’s West Bottoms. Shannon said the relocation to a bigger space was a major investment of both time and money.
“We custom fit the space with new work tables and product shelving, as well as invested in a new mixing tank and over 500 production molds,” Shannon said. The move also included retooling all aspects of the company’s production process to accommodate the growth.
“By October, everything was in place, and things started function routinely. That was a nice realization,” Shannon said.
“This year, we are focusing on refining our processes so that we can continue to grow and create more local jobs for artisans.”
Genesis of Convivial
Shannon’s company was born from a lifelong passion for ceramics. Growing up in Hawaii, it was Shannon’s older sister who was into ceramics.
“I looked up to my older sister and wanted to be just like her, so I took the same ceramics class and ended up falling in love with the medium,” Shannon said. “By the time I was a senior, I was set on a career in ceramics. I was drawn to the therapeutic aspects of working with clay and the opportunity functional ceramics provided for hospitality.”
After high school, Shannon attended Wheaton College in Illinois for an interdisciplinary degree in community art, urban studies and ceramics. During her senior year, Shannon created her first set of 300 dishes for event rentals.
“I hand-made them in the basement of our school with the intention to rent them out,” she said. “We had our first wedding a month after I graduated.”
But a funny thing happened, Shannon said.
“After the wedding, people were more interested in purchasing the plates rather than renting,” she said. With more interest in buying the pieces, “I quickly pivoted.”
After moving to Kansas City with her husband Stephen—a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kansas Medical Center— Shannon focused on designing her first product line. Today, there are more than 30 designs, including dinnerware, garden planters, fruit bowls, vases and candleholders. All products are food, dishwasher and microwave safe.
Convivial still offers rentals, working with local event company Ultrapom, based in the Crossroads Arts District, but the main business is in manufacturing and designing products for wholesale and retail purposes.
Convivial makes all products in-house. Shannon designs all the pieces, and her staff works to create them. The process includes clay mixing, mold making, casting, cleaning, carving, glazing, firing, packing and shipping.
A five-woman team keeps Convivial humming. Shannon said having an all-female staff was not something she set out to do.
“It just happened,” she said. “I would love to have a gentleman on board in the future … (but) all these women are incredible, respectful, endearing and all work well together.”
Shannon is always on the lookout for local artisans to join the Convivial team.
“I am passionate about job creation,” said Shannon, “so we are figuring out costs and ways to provide more opportunities.”
Shannon has been able to carve out additional opportunities for Convivial. Ibis Bakery purchased a full line of wares for its two locations in Lenexa and downtown Kansas City. Convivial also conducts tours once a month as part of the First Friday weekends in the West Bottoms.
‘Awesome Place to Start a Business’
The woman whose love of ceramics began in the Aloha State has found the middle of the country to be a perfect place for Convivial.
“Kansas city is a really awesome place to start a business,” Shannon said. “the cost of living is really affordable, allowing Stephen and i to live off a lower salary than we would be able to in other cities.”