Still here, Still Alive: Little Match Studio
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There comes a point in time in our career when we reflect on the work that we’ve accomplished and ask ourselves if we are truly happy with where we are. It might not be surprising to discover that the career we aspired to have (or sometimes what our parents wanted us to have) doesn’t make us happy. Your identity gets lost in the work environment, you can feel less valued on projects that you have no voice in; maybe the values of the company change and don’t reflect yours; perhaps the required mental capacity to be present at the job becomes too much. To be honest, working in such emotionally draining environments doesn’t sound great at all. It’s more than likely the reason why some leave the workforce to pursue other jobs or even start their own businesses.
There are some perks to starting a business you are passionate about. It’s the joy of creating something with your own hands, a routine that is fitted for you, and genuine support from friends and strangers that your business touched. However, with more success the business requires more of our time, and it makes me wonder if we grow weary of it; the amount of labor involved, the repetitive routine day after day, and the ever-increasing workload. Can we look past all this baggage and focus on our own timeless world where our craft brings us joy? Can we still find fulfillment?
I want to introduce you to someone who can shed light with her own perspective, Alaina Thai of Little Match Studio.
Little Match Studio is a small ceramic business based in Los Angeles by artist Alaina Thai. Formerly a fashion designer of 8 years, she is now a full-time ceramicist at her home studio where she creates and designs her pieces. Alaina is inspired by functional ware items and tea, particularly matcha. For Alaina, ceramics was a tool to help ground her in the tumultuous times nearing the end of her fashion career. After the stress from work burnout and losing her identity, Alaina made the hard decision to leave her career as a fashion designer and start a new chapter. She became fully immersed in the world of ceramics, and that is when she put Little Match Studio into full swing.
During the pandemic, she impulsively bought herself a wheel and converted her laundry room/shed into an at home makeshift pottery studio. Alaina’s ceramic pieces began gaining traction through social media. Soon enough, many people started reaching out to her requesting for one off commissioned pieces and inquired about her next website restock.
Currently, Alaina is focused on her main core seller, The Little Match-a Bowl. They come in various colors/designs and have their own little built-in spouts for the optimal pour. As her obsession for matcha grew, other matcha enthusiasts and followers gravitated towards her bowls. Little Match Studio can be found at Chunky Things (a stationary store in DTLA Chinatown,) Sachi LA (a coffee/matcha shop near Marina Del Rey,) and a few more places listed on her e-commerce stockist page (www.littlematchstudio.com/stockist), where she also has monthly drops for purchase.
Since you transitioned away from your previous position and pursued Little Match Studio full time, there’s more work that’s landed on your plate. On top of producing your pieces to fulfill orders in between drops, you have photography/video content to produce to market on social media, managing your website, delivering to brick-and-mortars that host your pieces, and that’s just a fraction of some, if not most of, your workload. All of what is mentioned are obstacles to running your own business, and to some this may be enough to burn someone out over a period of time, and at some point, grow to hate what they do, even if it is something they loved. What has brought you fulfillment that has sustained your mental health through all this? How do you run a business that is tied to what you love, demands so much of you day after day and not grow to hate it?
Currently fulfillment, for me, is being able to have a say in my creative freedom. As an artist, I believe that compromising your work isn’t something you do. You should create what you feel without any limitations. So being able to have that freedom to go wild, or to be simple, and really being able to express myself in any way without holding back makes me feel fulfilled. Ceramics has become that vessel for me to have my own voice. Being free to craft pieces allows me to speak through my work, making it all that more meaningful. I would also honestly say, growing up I always had the plan to be my own boss, so that is pretty fulfilling on its own. I think I have always loved the non-structured life, I never did well on someone else’s schedule. Now I get to curate my own workload, plan around my schedule and also give myself back some time to catch up with my overall well-being.
Before I left my job as a designer, I was constantly working. I would research new ideas/trends, bring home projects, and even would bring my work with me when I was on vacation. I’m still convinced that it was because I was actually excited /driven about my work at the time, but I sure did not know how to apply boundaries. Eventually, it developed into the “not enough” mentality and I felt like I needed to do more to prove myself worthy. The pandemic really made me reflect on many things and it gave me that clarity I think I needed all along and helped me shift my life for the better.
As for my mental health, a couple years of therapy and facing my true internal demons along with finding ceramics has uplifted my thoughts and helped my mindset to focus on the here and now of everyday life. (Shout out to my therapist Dr. Cheryl, who has been there guiding me every step of the way; I wouldn’t be able to do this without her.) So all the work I do now for Little Match Studio from picking up clay and supplies, throwing, trimming, glazing, photographing, making video content, emailing, maintaining my website, meeting/delivering to my brick and mortar, etc., really allows my mind to be busy. Like when I prepare my daily morning matcha routine, it reminds me to just be here in the moment. I also really had to work on changing my perspective and letting go of my old mentality and applying boundaries to work/life. I think that if I just do enough and enjoy what I do genuinely, giving myself some breaks and in-between time, burnout isn’t something that could happen again. I am no longer chasing something, but more so being and living for the moment and trusting that I got this.