Today we’ve got the inside scoop on designer and founder of Koonyai Studio, Beau Sinchai. A true woman of passion and dedication, Sinchai has had a love for all things design since she was little and truly has a natural eye for it. Her interest in jewelry making transpired after her undergraduate classes in structural architecture at the University of Minnesota where she started experimenting and constructing small wire-frame design models for various assignments.
Aided by her entrepreneurial spirit and go-getter attitude, Koonyai studio — named after her beloved grandmother — was born. Sinchai says she wanted a creative outlet and a personal project of her own. Without much initial experience, she dove head first and started her own business selling her jewelry on Etsy. Her handmade designs are bold, custom and simple. Her materials are fresh and unique (you don’t see too many designers mixing their own concrete!).
While most of her time goes into her one-woman run business, Sinchai is also attending graduate school studying 3D Design at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. She is currently entering her second year and preparing her thesis on using products and visual communication to address social issues and start conversation. She continually puts one foot in front of the other on her path to success and never looks back. Sinchai is extremely hard working, not afraid of making mistakes and is relentlessly passionate about learning. She is fearless and a true inspiration to anyone.
We are honored to feature you on T&B! Can you tell us how the name Koonyai Studio come about? What significance does this name mean to you? Koonyai means beloved grandmother in Thai. After my father passed away when I was very young, financial circumstances forced my mother to leave Thailand to find career opportunities overseas. My three siblings and I grew up under the care of our grandmother. Witnessing how hard she works, how much love she gives, and her entrepreneurial spirit, I was determined that I would name something in her honor. So when I started my handmade jewelry business, Koonyai was the first name that came to mind. I added Studio to represent my practice style as it is very hands on. Koonyai Studio is a design studio dedicated to my beloved grandmother.
How did you get interested in designing and making jewelry? I taught myself how to make jewelry in middle school by reading books from the library because Youtube wasn’t a thing back then (laughs). Jewelry making has been one of my hobbies for the longest time but I never took it serious enough to consider making a business out of it. After receiving my degree in Architecture and being a year into graduate school for 3D design, I realized I cannot and do not want to work for a big corporate design company. I want to have my own business.
As soon as my first year of grad school ended, I started Koonyai Studio from the ground up. I knew basically nothing about how to run a business, all I knew was how to make things. My undergrad and grad school is very theory-driven, so I use jewelry making as an outlet for me to turn conceptual design ideas into a physical objects. It has been very rewarding for me because it is an excuse to make very minimal yet architecture-inspired jewelry.
What materials do you use to make your jewelry? We noticed you use concrete and we absolutely love that and feel it’s such a unique niche in the handmade jewelry marketplace. What’s the process for this like? Aww thank you! Concrete and wire is my main material because they remind me of construction concrete and steel rods used in buildings. Concrete as a material is very strong, but when used on such small scale like I do, it ends up being very fragile. There are concrete mixes for jewelry making being sold, but the price is high so I decided to make my own concrete. Being independent of readymade mixes allows me to offer my concrete jewelry at more reasonable prices compared to the current market.
Looking back, it took me a full month of experimenting to get it right. From concrete proportion to mold making to sanding to finishing, every step in the process requires extensive experimentation. The process is full of frustration at times but the result is immeasurable joy. It also makes me happier to know that I am able to develop better and better jewelry because I know exactly what’s in the concrete I make.
We know you are a busy lady with teaching summer courses at MCAD, designing, making jewelry and attending grad school for your second year this fall. What’s a typical day like for you? Please don’t judge me when I say this. Haha. During the summer, my days start around 11am and end at 3am. I found that I am most creative very late at night, and most productive early in the morning. I do not have a set schedule of when I do what, but I set a specific allowed time for each activity that geta shuffled depending on my mood and the importance of tasks each day. Finishing my to-do list from the night before is two hours and I dedicate a couple hours of my day for digital work. This includes photographing new works, writing up descriptions of products, emailing stores, and connecting with social media. Another two-three hours is for managing orders and shipments, and business keeping. The rest of the day is spent making and designing. Before going to bed, I created a list of things I need to finish tomorrow. This helps me sleep better at night knowing exactly what the next day will entail.
My schedule is different when I teach or I have class. School and teaching come first even if that takes up my entire day. Then time with Koonyai Studio is squeezed in whenever possible. There are times when I pulled all-nighter and did not even notice it. I am so happy doing Koonyai Studio that I never feel like it’s work.
Where is Koonyai Studio jewelry currently being sold? Currently, Koonyai Studio is on Etsy and gift shops around Minneapolis. However, my preferred platform is Etsy because I am able to interact with my customers which is lacking when my works are being sold in stores without me there. I love being able to include handwritten notes to customers and to follow up with their recent purchase to make sure my products meet their standard.
In addition, I am able to make sure the customers feel that each of Koonyai Studio products is made with care through our special packaging. I want the customers to feel as if they got a gift in the mail and to love it from the minute the package is in their hands, even before they see the products. This is why I put just as much time creating packaging. All jewelry is wrapped in Koonyai Studio small cotton bag made in house before packaged with hand written note from the owner of Koonyai Studio, aka me :). All packages are wrapped and treated like presents because after all, it is a present.
Any additional thoughts you’d like to share with aspiring entrepreneurs out there? I have so many things running through my mind, but the most important thing is to just go ahead and do it. Things take time to launch and succeed. So you can put it off and wait until next year for a “better time” or start now and see your business grow bigger next year.
Also, don’t compare your beginning to someone else’s middle. DO NOT do that ever! I made this mistake when I just started out. The first couple weeks went by and I did not sell a single thing. You may laugh at this, but a couple weeks seems like years when you see other sellers have hundreds and thousands of sales. It was like comparing myself to an Olympics runner when I just learned how to crawl.
I am happier now that I learned to grow my business at my own pace and celebrate the little milestones along the way. Everyone has a different business model. Some people start off with grand capital investment and take lots of risks. Some people plan their business for several years before starting it with a clear model in mind. I started right away where I am with what I have and learn as I go. Find your own way of creating a business and go for it.
**Be sure to check out our Instagram for a special giveaway of two pairs of earrings handmade by Koonyai Studio to two lucky winners!
Content curated by Sara Chars.