Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild Podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life, in-the-wild stories about business and marketing.
Julia: Everybody, I am excited to introduce you to my friend, Kamea, and fellow Salt Lake, Utah business owner. She and I met when I visited her store. And Kamea, I don’t even know if you know this, but my best friend loves stationery, loves cards, and that is how I found your store. She was visiting, and I was like, “I’ve gotta find all the stationary places or all the card places.” And that’s how I ended up at your shop. So Kamea, tell us a little bit about you and where you live and a little bit about Chosen Creative.
Kamea: Yes, Julia! Thank you for having me on. I was super excited to talk to you today, and it’s so good to see your face after so long. It’s been several years.
I’m Kamea Johnson, I own Chosen Creative Stationery, and I own the Utah Letter Writing Club. We write letters of hope, love, and encouragement to the world. And of course, letter-writing and stationery go hand in hand. The tagline for my business is “we believe in the power of the pen.” So writing is a powerful medium. The science behind it is that it helps reduce suicide. And this is a true study that was done in the 1960s with veterans coming back from the war. And through studying the medium of writing and letter-writing, we’re captivated by it through history, and the most famous letters that survived move us. They move us to action, and they tell a story that’s passed.
So that’s what I wanted to do. And I love cards just like your friend. I love cards, I love stationery, and we were lacking that in Utah. I’m not saying we don’t have other stationers that design cards, but we just do not have a very large presence here. But the Utah Letter Writing Club is part of a global correspondence society, so it’s actually a huge movement. And we’re the only one in Utah! So that’s what I do, and I wholesale my line nationwide. We’re in the Salt Lake Airport. We’re expanding with the Salt Lake Airport also.
Julia: No way! I didn’t know that. I’m gonna have to look for you in the Salt Lake Airport next time I fly. That’s awesome! Well, that is cool. I agree with you, it’s interesting that they did that study, and especially in Utah, how Utah, for everybody who doesn’t know, we have higher rates of suicide. It’s a real big problem here. And so how cool to bring that, the power of the pen into this state that really needs it?
One of my favorite cafes in Madison, Wisconsin is called Short Stacked Eatery. They have glass tops, and every time somebody writes a letter, they slip it in. And so you can be sitting at your table reading other people’s postcards and notes, they’ll put ticket stubs in there. It’s so fun! And some of them are so old. And there is something about that, about having it written down that makes it more meaningful.
Kamea: It preserves our moments in time. And as moms and dads, it’s important that we preserve some things for our children, some things that are left unsaid. So I love it. I love that! Well, I’m from the Midwest also. I’m from Des Moines, Iowa.
Julia: I don’t think I knew that! Oh my gosh, that’s awesome!
Kamea: And my sister went to University of Northern Iowa, so she had a lot of friends from Wisconsin.
Julia: Yeah! That’s awesome!
Kamea: My mom moved us here in the eighth grade, and then I ended up getting married after I graduated and left and went back to Des Moines, and then lived in the Midwest for about 13 years. I just came back here. It’s been about eight and a half years. But you are right about Utah, there is a mental illness issue here. And I feel as if it’s just not yet addressed, or it doesn’t want to be addressed, or it is being addressed, but not fully. And when I speak to people or when I’ve gone out and I’ve spoken to people, I spoke at the Governor’s Summit last year, and I always talk about, no one is you and that is your power. Because part of what we go through, and my entire card line has these messages, part of what we go through is programming. When we’re born, it doesn’t matter where you’re born. Little girls, you need to smile, boys are providers, we are nurturers. A lot of this is true, we can’t be held captive to it.
So our brains are constantly being – if we’re not careful, we struggle to deal with our past reality and our current reality. And a lot of it is all societal-driven. And those are narratives we shouldn’t be taking in. And so it does create forms of mental illness. And so I talk a lot about that. And this diverse business group, it was a seven part series through the Women’s Business Center, and they had a lot of sponsors that brought us in and we’re teaching business components. We’re teaching marketing, different forms of business plan writing. But the number one thing I talk about when we’re talking about marketing and advertising, is if your brand message is not true, or if you’re trying to be something that you’re not, it’s very difficult to keep that up, and a lot of businesses fail. A lot of times it’s not due to poor planning, it’s due to poor messaging.
Julia: It’s interesting how that’s a fact of life for us as people, but then also, these things infiltrate into our businesses too. And I just think about the power of writing with that. Like I have a business coach who’s like, “Write it down!” Every time he’s like, “Write it down!” There is something about not just saying it, but a different medium. And I even think about your work and all of that you’re doing. I save cards that mean something to me. And I look back through them because when I need something or some encouragement. And there are people who were pivotal when I was in high school, like my mom, like different people who have been influencers in my life. Having those things to look at over and over again is just a beautiful, beautiful thing.
So I’m curious, tell us, what was your journey like? How did you end up doing Chosen Creative and the Utah Letter Writing Club?
Kamea: So back in 2009, I was married for a very long time and I owned a business with my ex-husband. I was one of the first wave of Etsy sellers. I did all wedding invitations online and locally too.
Julia: That’s awesome!
Kamea: First of all, I was an executive with City Financial. I worked for their oil and gas division, and I was part of three system conversions and two buyouts. I really had this great career in finance, and I had gone into mortgages. So my background was not this. But I always scrapbooked and I always drew. As a kid, I was drawing constantly and loved art, and my grandma would enter me into art competitions. So I had that in me and I had a teacher around the sixth grade tell me I wasn’t very good at it. So I kind of dropped it. But I was great at running teams and leadership.
When my children were little, we were living in Kansas City, Missouri, and I had gone to work in their Christian academy because they were going to a private Christian academy. And because my husband at the time was traveling a lot with business, I needed to be more of a mom. My kids were little. And they said to me, “Mrs. Johnson, we don’t have anybody to do our invitations for all of our galas, and we don’t have anybody to put together the graphics for the newsletter.” And I’m like, “How am I supposed to do that?” But you know with nonprofits, you’re always lacking money, so they throw whoever is available in to learn.
Julia: That’s how I got into social media! I was the youngest person. I come from a nonprofit background, and so I was always the youngest person. And they were like, “Well, she must know how to do social then.”
Kamea: It’s true! I hate those stereotypes, but yes, I agree with those stereotypes. Right before this, I’m calling my 22-year-old up like, “Hey, I can’t get the mic to work.” And she’s like, “I don’t even know what you want me to tell you. I’ve never seen that microphone. Where was it?”
Julia: Oh my gosh! That’s awesome!
Kamea: So anyway, there was a gentleman on staff. He had come out of retirement. His name is Keith Shepard, and he was an illustrator for Disney, Pixar, and then Hallmark, and he’s part of the Negro League Artists in Kansas City. He just took me under his wing and he was like, “Kamea, you can do this.” He said, “There’s so many graphic designers that come out of school that have zero talent.” He’s like, “But you actually have some.” And I was like, “Really?” And he nurtured me and I would run things by him. And so it was one afternoon, the director of the school, who was also the pastor’s wife, because it was a huge ministry, they had a printing center in there and that’s how I learned how to print. I mean, look, you’re thrown in, right?
The pastor and his wife said, “Are you sure you’ve never done this before? You’re really good at it.” And that is what my message to people is; there are crumbs that get laid down through your life. And if you are too consumed with who you are supposed to be, you think you’re supposed to be within a societal structure, you will actually miss your calling. Because it’s in every job you’ve taken or it’s in every movement you’ve made. And those things that you’re attracted to are not random. They’re part of you for a reason. And I slowed down to pay attention. And as I was exiting, because we had moved to a different part of Kansas City, and if anyone’s ever been there, it is huge. I mean, we have an NFL team, it’s not like here. It’s not like Salt Lake. Although we are growing, it’s nowhere in comparison to Kansas City. So we had moved, that ministry now became almost an hour away, so I launched my own business, and from there, I used everything that I had learned.
Now, it made no sense. I should have gone back into executive work or gone back into being a loan officer, because I was always in finance and sales. But I paid attention, and I quieted myself to try and learn. I honed the craft.
Julia: What I love about your story is just how people spoke beautiful words of life and belief into you to counter your sixth grade teacher who I feel like, ugh, I wanna slap her in the face! But they spoke these beautiful words and now you’re turning around and have almost done that with your business and with your work, to speak words or, in this case, write words that speak life into other people. That’s really cool!
Kamea: Yeah. Because it’s important for us to fill each other up because there’s so much tearing down. And I do believe, like the suicide rates in the state of Utah, I know this is not the topic, but I think it’s important that we always pull in a little bit of mental health, is that they’re amongst men mainly. I believe that we all struggle with these forms of reality that society has built for us, because there are literally, and I don’t know if this is okay to say Julia, but I’m just say it. There are two gospels on this earth. There is the gospel of the earth and then there’s the gospel of Jesus Christ.
You can cut this out if you want to, but Julia, between you and me, there are two narratives playing. And the narrative of the world tells specifically women, because I wrote a book during COVID called Identity Mark. I came across this research in regards to traits in America, and what are the 10 leading traits that are programmed into us. And for women, the number one trait is beautiful, and for men, the number one trait is provider. But there’s some sickening thought processes that come along with that, because every 10 years, we’re told as women, this is what the narrative of beautiful looks like. In the early 1900s, all the way through the ‘60s, it was how curvy you could be. So a size 12 and 14, sometimes a 16, very voluptuous and beautiful. By the time the ‘60s set in, it was extremely anorexic. It was Twiggy. She was the face of beauty. So it was anorexic and thin.
And for men, their conversations look like, “Well, what do you do for a living?” And if they don’t measure up financially, there’s a whole different form of dysfunction that comes in mentally for them. And these are real traits. My daughter was in a communications class and brought home these lists of traits, and she was so appalled by them. And the teacher even said I get pushback every time, but this is part of the communication curriculum. So we’re taught a curriculum. And if you’re not careful, it will make the mind sick because it’s not stable. So writing is a form of stability.
Julia: Totally! Totally! There’s something about sitting down, slowing down, writing things down that really brings your mind to the present. I think that’s why even my therapist is always like,
“You should journal more.” I’m not a very good journaler, but when I do journal, it is powerful and it is effective.
So I’m curious, you have been through a lot. Even before we started recording, we hadn’t seen each other since before 2020, so you were telling me, “Hey, a lot of things have changed, like how to shop.” Now, I don’t have a shop, and it’s a good thing. But tell me about your business trajectory. What have been some of the hardest things about business?
Kamea: So I took my line, I developed a stationary line. The easiest part was creating everything. The hardest part was, will everyone like it? You know, because you could produce and produce and produce, but that doesn’t mean people are gonna like it. So what I did was, in the beginning, the hardest part was, how do I test the product? And so I designed 300 products. And I mean this was cards and more.
Julia: 300? Wow!
Kamea: Yeah. With different messages. And a lot of them, I liked. I had a large notepad line with notepads, and I had a large sticker line. And it was necessary, and I just had a few of each of these. So it wasn’t like I was swimming overhead. But because of my background, I knew how to create it all without having to pay someone to do mockups for me. So I rented some space in some local vintage shops, just these co-ops. There’s tons of co-ops in the state of Utah. I rented a space, and in my space, I was able to design a shop. I was honing my look! And it evolved. It evolved throughout the few years I tested this out in several shops. And while I tested it, this is what I was able to do, okay, this product is not selling. I’m gonna clear it. But this product is, so I’m gonna develop another card within that line.
So I was able to narrow it down to 100 products.And that’s all I keep even to this day. Like right now I wanna say I’m at 106, but it’s because I’m about to retire a couple of cards that aren’t really selling this year. But I have a core line that I keep going all the time.
Julia: So then you’re keeping what’s selling. And so you’re at 106 now, but it’s because you’ve created fresh things. So it’s not like you’re also staying static either.
Kamea: Correct. And I update products, but the new products I bring in, I retire some of the older ones that were slowing down. So I pay attention to my analytics, like what’s happening, or through my wholesale website, what are people returning? Which I don’t have a high return rate, but there have been a couple of the notepads that people are like, I just feel like the price point’s a little too high. So I’m listening, right? And these are for the shops around the nation. So that was the hardest thing, was testing that line, and being honest with myself, just because I love it, people spoke.
Julia: Like in the end, you do have to do what your customers want.
Kamea: But I stayed true to me. And the hardest thing with any business, I believe this in my heart, just by working with small businesses, because I work with a lot of small businesses in Utah. The hardest thing is staying true to yourself and not being swayed in a direction that is not who you are as a business owner and who your products are. So many businesses get off in all these wild market segments because business goes slow, so then they’re like, “Well, I’m gonna try this and I’m gonna pull in this.” Well sadly, they get off in too many market segments, and that’s how businesses go under, or that’s how the message gets confusing to the public.
Julia: This is perfect timing, because even this week, my team and I have been talking about, what about our own marketing? Like what do people know us for? What do we want them to know us for? And I think it’s so good to step back every so often and say, okay. Because I agree, sometimes we test new things and then we find out, okay, that’s not what I wanted to do, and let’s realign. And so I think what I love about what you’re doing is you’re testing things and then measuring them, and then deciding, okay, am I being true or do I need to realign myself?
Kamea: And you have to be honest with yourself, and that’s a really hard thing to do sometimes, because a fence can set in when the public is not supporting you, or when your products aren’t selling. And it’s just a humbling moment to say, “I thought that was a really good idea, but it did not work, and I will abandon it.” And so the one thing I learned early on is just to abandon it very quickly and then keep moving. And then the other thing was being with my messaging, pulling in my true identity, which is, I have strong faith. I had to make a decision early on, was I going to say what certain people would love me for? Because I won’t say certain things, which sometimes limits some of your selling ability, right? But the things I did say were the right things. I am so authentic mm-hmm that I had to be authentic to myself. And so some of the products that I had been asked to make throughout the years, I had declined.
I’ll help anybody, because I love and support the public. But I had to be careful saying, I don’t believe that the universe brings you things, I believe that the Lord brings you things. And so that limited some of the stuff I could do, but in a good way. I stayed true to my brand message.
Julia: For sure! And I think what’s beautiful about that is we all have the ability to choose. And so you had the ability to choose like, what is more important to me? Authenticity or pleasing the people? And in that case, it was authenticity. And I think that that is extremely important, because somebody else might have landed a different way, but if that’s what’s authentic to them, by all means, go for it!
Kamea: And I try really hard not to discredit anybody’s messages, but I know for me, and when I speak to a class of business owners, I always say, “Lay out your values first.” Those have to be laid out. And they cannot be a narrative that’s given to you by this world. You must lay out your values. And when you do, it’s easier to say, “You know what, that’s not what I stand for.” I was the board chair for the Women’s Business Center of Utah during some very pivotal years. They’ve had many pivotal years in the 25 years they’ve been in business, right? But it was during COVID. And so we had some decisions to make. And messaging was going in a different direction, because all these things were happening, so what to address? And it was so beautiful that they sat down and really looked at their values and built their values out, and just said, if it doesn’t go with these values, we can’t address everything.
And that’s the other thing I did. I could not address everything. I had to continue to stay true to my brand message, to myself, to being good to people, to looking at why we do things to people, and what values we follow. So for me, my values are important. Now, I’ve made mistakes.
Julia: Yeah. We all do! We all do!
Kamea: After I closed my shop, I said, “I’m never retailing again. Not in this capacity. I love these three things; producing, selling wholesale, and nurturing those relationships.” And it’s difficult to stay true to those three things when you’re also front-facing to the public in a retail space. So I want to nurture those relationships, these small businesses that order from me, or these large businesses. Like Atlanta Botanical Gardens was a client for many years.
Julia: Cool! That’s awesome!
Kamea: And Joan Cusack, like I told you before the call, she’s ordered twice. And I want to nurture those relationships.
Julia: Wow! And how cool that you had that opportunity to pivot! And again, like you and I talked, you had the opportunity and got to sit down and say, okay, this is what I actually love. I got to try something new. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t my favorite. That’s awesome!
I’m curious, what are some of the best things about owning a business?
Kamea: For me, it’s meeting so many different people and hearing their experience with my cards, or on social media when they just say, oh my gosh! Because I don’t show my face a lot, I have to get used to maybe taking a selfie every now and again, and being okay with the fact that I don’t use filters, I don’t clean anything up, and will people like me, right?
Julia: Oh, they’ll love you, Kamea!
Kamea: But that’s a vulnerability! But I loved that as I became a little more vulnerable, people would reach out to me privately and then publicly and say, “Thank you for saying that.”
Julia: Oh, that’s awesome!
Kamea: A single mom that’s raising children, she’s also a Christian, she’s a believer in Christ. She reached out and said, “I don’t really know what to do, because it’s a very hard thing to be a single mom. How do I keep my kids on track, or not shove it down their throat, but teach them some values that will help them?” And so that’s what I love, is when people reach out and I’m able to have some human to human conversations.
So the easiest part is being in the public and meeting people and sharing stories, and learning from them as they’re learning from me. The number one thing that usually happens to me after I’ve stepped down from speaking, inevitably, a man always approaches me and says, “I’m raising daughters. What is your advice?”
Julia: That’s a beautiful question, first of all, and a beautiful compliment too, that somebody sees you as a trusted source for that.
Kamea: And I wasn’t ready for it though at first. I replay some of the stuff and I’m like, I should be better prepared for that. I was never expecting that!
Julia: Yeah. That’s beautiful!
Kamea: But that’s what I love most, is that you don’t know if you’re an impact, or you’re creating an impact until someone approaches you. But that’s what I love the most!
Julia: I love that! I love, Kamea, that your work is rooted in the value of people, like valuing them, seeing that return on the value in those relationships, and really putting pen to paper to make it clear that people are valuable. I love that!
So as we close out, I’m curious, you do a lot of mentorship, so this should come easy to you, but if you were to give somebody who’s just starting on their entrepreneurial journey, some advice, what might that be?
Kamea: Honor who you are as a person, and don’t be ashamed to not know everything. I watch people, instead of being okay with receiving advice from people in the community or trusted business sources, I see shame sometimes set in. Like, why didn’t I know all of that? Or I’m really embarrassed to ask that. Don’t be embarrassed. You are not an entrepreneur if you’re not waking up at three o’clock in the morning screaming. Okay?
Julia: If you’re not worried on occasion, you’re not doing it right.
Kamea: It gets scary sometimes. And be okay asking for help. None of us know everything. I have people who pour into my life. I need that iron sharpens iron too. I need them to say to me, that’s okay that that went that way. The third year I was in business, I had my shop open for about a year. A gentleman approached me and asked me to create. This is the other thing, I got out of designing stuff for other people. That was just a way of generating some extra income. But anyway, this person approached me and I was doing some work for him, and it did not go the way that it was supposed to go. I was very honest in all of it, but this person was not honest with me. It was a $220 error. But not even that, I couldn’t even calculate how much time and energy wasted, right?
And a mentor said to me, at least it was a $220 mistake and not a $20,000 mistake. Because I was really hard on myself, why did I not see that this person was like that? The warning signs were there. But because I love people, and sometimes I value them more than they value me, because it’s the devaluing that we’re all trying to get past and how to honor one another better, that I made this mistake. And I have made others by not staying true to my value system, and then having to come back and forgive myself for it.
Julia: For sure!
Kamea: So that would be the advice I would give, is it’s okay to make mistakes. You’re gonna make them. Please make them. And it’s okay if sometimes it costs you a little bit of money, you’ll recover. You will recover! My goodness!
Julia: Yes! I love it!
Kamea: And then third, just lean on the people in your circle. And don’t be afraid to reach out to somebody you’ve never met that’s doing something you wanna do, and say to them, “Can you help me?” Reach out to people. It’s the human experience that you’re really endeavoring into. And that human experience has error, it has trial and error, it has mistakes, it has humble moments, and it has moments of triumph. And we all celebrate when you do all of those.
Julia: Yeah, for sure! I love it! Kamea, if people wanna find you, how can they connect with you?
Kamea: I’m at chosencreative.net. https://www.chosencreative.net/ You can find me on all social media platforms under Chosen Creative. Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/chosencreative), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/chosencreativestudio/), Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/chosencreatives/). You can buy my products in the Utah made gift shop inside the Salt Lake Airport.
Julia: I’m gonna be lucky! We’re flying in a month, so I’m gonna be looking for that. That’s awesome!
Kamea: I love that partnership. It’s been awesome!
Julia: That’s so fun! Well, Kamea, thank you so much! I appreciate you. And even just the words, the truth and encouragement that you’ve shared this time, I feel like they’re what I needed, and so I’m sure that everybody else who is listening is gonna appreciate them too. So thank you!
Kamea: Thank you for having me. Thank you!
Friends, thanks for tuning into this week’s podcast episode. I am so glad that you have. If you’ve enjoyed it as much as we have, I just ask you to subscribe so you know each time we have a new episode coming out. If you loved our podcast and wanna give us a rating or a review, I promise, we will read each and every one of them. A special shout out to our friend, Carson Childers, who is producing our podcast. We really appreciate him and all the hard work that he’s done for us.
Also, thanks to the Stratos team. They have been behind the scenes doing all of the graphic design, brainstorming, et cetera, et cetera. Really, this wouldn’t be possible without them. I’m thankful for each and every one of you guys.
Lastly, listener, we’ll be back next week, and I hope you will be too!