Women in Flint and Genesee County are propelling themselves to new heights. Their numbers are impressive: At 5,500 and growing, they are helping fuel Michigan’s ranking at the top of the nation for the growth of women-owned firms since 2014. The HUB Flint will highlight some of these achievers in the coming weeks. Meet Chrysa Curran-Cronley.
It’s a barometer of fashion trends . That’s how some local fans liken the window displays at Chrysa Studio, an exclusive design studio that offers custom alteration services to a growing base of loyal clients.
The popular design studio’s origins stretch far beyond its six-year history in Flint’s business district. For more than 27 years, the studio was a ‘basement business’ of its founder Chrysa Curran-Cronley, who launched her start-up during her freshman year of college.
“I went to college for fine art, but I’ve always known I wanted to be an artist, ever since I was five,” Curran-Cronley says.
Her design aspirations started young, according to Curran-Cronley, who remembers being somewhat of an “artist in residence” of her kindergarten class. The defacto title stuck and the budding designer continued to serve as a creative influencer.
Curran-Cronley’s creativity really took off when she started sewing at age nine. Barbie dolls became her first dress forms, according to the designer who has retained her affinity toward the iconic dolls.
“My daughter and nieces donated their Barbies to the shop,” says Curran-Cronley, who notes that her doll display brings back good memories for many customers and frequently spark interesting conversations with patrons.
Curran-Cronley’s talent blossomed in concert with her passion for sewing and she quickly moved from making clothing from patterns to creating her own original designs.
Her early fashion designs drew praise from parochial school nuns, who admired her creativity and innovative flair. The early recognition from the nuns fueled her passion for creating unique, one-of-a-kind clothing.
The skills came in handy in her household, which she shared with 10 siblings. Her sewing skills helped the family control clothing costs and gave Curran-Cronley the opportunity to satisfy her siblings’ wide variety of style preferences.
By the time she started attending Powers Catholic High School, Curran-Cronley was making all her own clothes, in addition to doing custom work for family and friends.
“Powers’ sewing classes nourished her passion and gave her an important opportunity to hone her skills, according to the designer, who enrolled in every advanced sewing class offered during her high school career. The classes were discontinued in 1981, the year she graduated.
“Those classes were pivotal for me,” says Curran-Cronley. “When I look back now, I realize how very lucky I was to have the opportunity to hone my skills at such a young age.”
Although she would have liked to have pursued fashion design and sewing following her graduation, no local colleges in or around Flint offered advanced education in that area.
The absence of choices led the young student to study art and quickly led to her status as a “starving artist.”
“I had to get a grant for my tuition and work three other jobs to pay for all my art supplies and other costs.” says Curran-Cronley. “I got my associates in fine arts from Mott., but couldn’t afford to go on.”
That’s when her aunt and owner of Becca Inc. stepped in. A designer herself, her aunt knew the importance of first-hand experience. She gave Curran-Cronley insight into the business side of fashion.
It was there that Curran-Cronley learned a lot about the back end of the shop from employee relations to operations.
Creativity is an exciting free-form process, which can be enhanced with discipline, according to the designer and alteration specialist.
“I learned the value of digging in, making a mess, cleaning it up and picking it back up again,” says Curran-Cronley, who notes that the creative process is often helped by forced pauses in activity.
“It’s good to pick all that up and come back with a fresh mind and start again. My aunt taught me that,” she notes. I learned a lot of good discipline form her. But, most of all, I learned I could do this.”
Curran-Cronley is concerned about the future of fine tailoring and alterations, which she believes is a dying art form.
“I never gave up on doing alterations because something will always be too long or too short, says Curran-Cronley, who says there is not as much demand for skilled professionals because customers are no longer trained to look for them.
“Just because something you love doesn’t fit right, doesn’t mean you have to give it up,” she says.
It’s amazing what you can do with a good eye, great sewing skills and a bit of inspiration. Curran-Cronley’s customers bear witness to that.
One steady area of growth is weddings, proms and homecomings, according to Curran-Cronley, who recently transformed a mother’s prom dress into a contemporary style for her daughter’s prom.
No one could believe it was the same dress she walked in with, noted the designer, who admits that her business is not an easy one to stick with.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” she says. “It’s really hard. You don’t get a paycheck every week. You’ll have a good week and you’ll have a bad week.
“I’ve had more good weeks than bad, especially lately,” says Curran-Cronley. “With the economy getting better, I am positive this year will show the best profit ever.”
With more stability, Curran-Cronley’s hopes to transform an unused room in the back of her shop into a classroom. And the enterprising entrepreneur is working hard to attract grant funding to teach children’s classes on Saturdays, as well as adult classes on Thursday nights.
The adult class will have adult beverages, according to Curran-Cronley, who will offer wine and instruction at her “Sip and Sew” school. For it, ladies will be able to come to the studio for three hours and make a fixed project on the sewing machine using material that is already cut while sipping wine.
Curran-Cronley hopes to spur on the entrepreneurial interest of others with her creative programming.
“Women have come a long way,” she says. “And I believe there will be just as many women-owned businesses as male-owned businesses sometime in the future.”
“I’m excited,” she adds. “Look at all the suffragettes and Rosie the Riveter. You really gain new appreciation of their accomplishments when you look back historically. They faced a lot of pressures and challenges, yet overcame them all.”
They are great role models for other women, struggling to keep up, according to Curran-Cronley.
“They remind me that you can be a good influence, do good and still be a mother,” she says. “As a single mom, people are shocked that I made it this far.”
It’s mind over matter, according to Curran-Cronley.
“And, I’ve made up my mind to make a difference right here in Flint,” says Curran-Cronley.
Editor’s Note: Chrysa Studio is located at 522 S. Saginaw Street in downtown Flint. Customers are encouraged to call ahead for design consultations and alteration appointments. You can reach Chrysa at (810) 516-5299.
This series on Flint and Genesee County entrepreneurs is sponsored by Metro Community Development, a community development financial institution and originator of BizBox, a 360 degree business program that includes training, development and financial support.
To learn more call 810-767-4622 or visit metrocommunitydevelopment.com