Interview with Fran Aldea of Minka Inhouse
Fran Aldea is the owner and creative mind behind the wonderful store Minka Inhouse, based in Santiago, Chile.
I met Fran through Instagram about a year ago. I was mindlessly scrolling one day, as one does, and stumbled across her page. Instead of letting this gem slip by, I decided to reach out and see if she was interested in chatting. I am a strong believer in women supporting women and so I DM’d her and voila, we decided to meet. Luckily for me, Fran was in Brooklyn at the time, taking ceramic classes and working remotely from Brooklyn.
Our meeting was eye opening to me, we talked about the art world, about starting a serious career in the arts and how to go about setting up a business. Fran was incredibly generous and gave me a nice insight into her world - I can’t thank her enough for allowing me to pick her brain! As a young woman beginning to explore the possibilities of starting my own business, I have one million questions for those who have been successful in their own right. I thought it would be a nice idea to get Fran’s words down on paper for others to read. Thank you Fran for your time and inclusivity!
How did Minka Inhouse start?
I studied graphic design and right after graduation, I started working for different retail companies that specialize in home products. I traveled to international design fairs in Hong Kong, China and Europe. I was part of a big company, had the opportunity to explore the planet, but I knew that life was not for me. I wanted to be more involved and “hands-on” with the making of products from start to finish. I was also really keen to know the stories behind the craftsmen.
On my last trip to China, I realized that many of the things we sent there to produce could actually be manufactured locally. Upon my return, I started looking for suppliers and researched local techniques that could be redeveloped in a contemporary way. I began to source for local raw materials that could be used. Now I can happily say that everyday I am learning something new (about crafting) and at the same time, meet interesting people.
Please tell me about the Minka community! What impact and importance do they play in your brand and way of making?
My production partners are essential. As I mentioned before, I studied graphic design, so everything I know about ceramics and textiles is kind of self-taught (with books, Youtube videos and making-experience). Sometimes I have an idea and then, thanks to their knowledge, I realized it is not possible to make. I am constantly learning from them and their feedback is fundamental for my design process.
Currently, it’s just me in the design and management and I work with José in the ceramic workshop and with Alban, Mónica and Lidia in textiles.
Did you always want to be a business owner or was there something that prompted you to take the plunge?
My main drive was my need to be able to manage my own time and to explore new ways of making/creating products.
Were you a business savvy person before owning Minka or have you learnt on the job?
I had some small knowledge about pricing, marketing and advertising. Then I realized I had to learn about everything and especially about paying taxes, accounting and all the small administration aspects of owning a business.
What are the key aspects to owning a successful business?
I think the most important aspects of owning a business are being passionate about what you are creating. If you don’t believe or you don’t love what you do then it is going to be very difficult to overcome obstacles and mistakes (which are many!). I also believe that you have to always stay positive, have a main goal and go for it.
What are the biggest challenges of owning a business?
For me, one of the biggest challenges is having time of no-business and no-control over production. Owning a business is more than a job, it is a lifestyle. I am constantly thinking about lead times, new products, collaborations, photos for social media, etc. Sometimes it is difficult to have extra energy for just hanging out with your partner, friends and family.
What inspires you on a day to day basis?
I am inspired by simple things: nature and silence.
How important are traditional designs to you? Do you pull from traditional prints and ceramic designs or are you more interested in contemporary ideas?
I am constantly impressed and inspired by ancient crafts, history and technique. For me, any contemporary idea starts from something traditional. If you look back, for example at pre-hispanic textiles, you will find patterns and color pallets that look very XXI century. Or in the Qing dynasty there are porcelain vases with glazes and shapes so modern and clean that they look like something that was created last week.
I am always interested in hearing about art practices in different cities. New York to me feels incredibly intense and often times a little stifling when it comes to making ”art.” Can you briefly tell me about similarities and differences to art making in New York vs Chile? Cultural differences?
One of the main differences is that in New York you have everything available and made-easy. You can order through Amazon your clay, glazes, brushes, sponges, packaging, yarns, etc. The offer is overwhelming. So many different alternatives without getting out of your workplace. Also, my impression is that everyone there is absolutely professional and there is this status-quo or collective awareness that your work has to be exceptional 24/7. This is awesome because you feel that everyone is paddling to greatness. In Chile it is very difficult to find good raw material, suppliers and production partners. If you are lucky and find a shop, then it closes. Despite this, there are many small crafts businesses that make shoes, bags and clothes of the highest quality. This can be similar to New York because it means there is a true interest for handmade products and people willing to pay for them.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting a business?
Have a main goal, don’t let obstacles and mistakes be a deterrent, work with and for your networks. Also, don’t wait to have every detail of your idea/business plan 100% perfect and solved. Perfection may stop you from ever starting.
All photos courtesy of Minka Inhouse.