Yao Cheng Design

Maker Spotlight

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We’ve had our eyes on the color-packed prints and tea towels by Yao Cheng Design for a while now, and every time we see those watercolor designs we fall in love a little more.

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Have you always been passionate about design?

Yes! I first was exposed to painting and drawing when I was very small, around the age of 4. My mom took me to my first drawing class, and it really clicked for me how being creative with my hands can express my ideas.

Why did you start working in this particular craft?

Painting, in general, really started back in high school and all the way through my undergrad program at RISD. But working in watercolor and the style that my work is known for today, that started just a few years ago when I was still working in the corporate fashion industry. I needed to find a creative outlet in the evenings and watercolor was a challenging medium that I never familiarized myself with in school. So, I took some lessons from a friend and it just sort of clicked into place for me when I saw how versatile and fluid this medium can be. It’s such a delight to paint with, even now!

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What do you think sets your designs apart from others?

I think it’s the unique culmination of my various creative backgrounds, from surface patterns, to my love for nature and geometry, to my love for color. That combined with my background in traditional calligraphy has really made our designs stand out! I also make a conscious effort to make our work attainable by making them affordable, but high-quality products that people can not only admire but also use in their daily lives!

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Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?

Aside from our retail products, we are also a design studio in Columbus, Ohio. I can’t count how many times, even recently, I’ve underpriced our design services to prospective clients! Pricing is tricky for all small business owners, but it really is important to know the true value of the work that we do as artists. There are also other mistakes like not doing bookkeeping correctly or not understanding how to market ourselves in a strategic way. We only started planning out our marketing and product releases this year, I wish I had done this years ago!

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Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?

My personal life, in the first 2 years, was my biggest sacrifice. I was so focused on getting this business off the ground and doing it right, that my work hours completely merged into my personal life. I felt constantly burnt out and it really did have an impact on who I was outside of work. I do regret not placing a clearer divide on this. For example, I used to check my work emails when I wake up in the mornings. It motivated me to get out of bed, but then I was stressed from the very beginning of the day. That’s not a good way to start each work day, so now I make sure that I don’t have access to anything work related until I arrive at the studio!

What has been your proudest/favorite moment since creating your business?

My proudest moments are when I am at shows, like Chicago Renegade, and I see people immediately light up and smile when they see my work! It’s very gratifying to know that all of the hard work we put into our designs can touch people in that way. My proudest achievement was not taking out a financial loan or having investors involved in starting my business. The financial freedom has allowed me to take my business in directions that I am excited about. It has also taught me a lot about what it means to build a sustainable business by growing at a slower but more conscientious way!

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What valuable experience/knowledge did you have before starting your business?

I was familiar and comfortable working in the textiles industry, and painting lent itself very naturally to starting my own business. I really didn’t know much about running a business, however, so there was a huge learning curve there! But, you take each day at a time.

What made you take this leap into being your own boss?

It’s really strange, but I have known from the time I was a teenager that I would be my own boss one day. I just didn’t know how I would get there, but I always had that confidence that this is what I would do for my career. I took the leap and left my corporate job because I felt like it was time. I knew I needed to take the opportunity and go back to doing what I love most, which is painting full-time. So yes, it was a financial leap, but it didn’t feel like a leap otherwise. It felt like a very natural next step in my career.

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What are some inspirations for your work?

Nature, color, geometry, and patterns. I use my Pinterest boards all the time for image references.

What are some tips or suggestions you’d like to offer to fellow makers?

Make what you truly love, and make sure it’s always about quality first!

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