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Windy Chien shows us the ropes

  • By Melissa Ozawa
  • Photos by Windy Chien, Molly Decoudreaux, Vero Kherian, Cesar Rubio and Dannydansoy Photography

A San Francisco woman quit a big job in tech to pursue her passion in a creative career. She found a dream medium in macramé -- and is making her mark on the art form in eye-popping ways.

String Theory 

Chien (above) with one of her wall hangings, which resembles a circuit board. “They’re completely improvised,” she says. “I start working and get into a flow state; it’s blissful.” Her materials (left) come from hardware and marine-supply stores.  

For more info, go to windychien.com.

“I’m omnivorous when it comes to life,” says Windy Chien. It’s a bold and sweeping statement, but her career is proof: She studied film in college, owned an indie record shop, and helped build Apple’s iTunes and App Store. Yet she was always hungry for more. “I longed to create but knew I couldn’t do it with a full-time job,” she recalls. 

Four years ago, Chien took the plunge and left Apple. “I had to give myself permission to leave my whole identity and the security of a paycheck -- even the approval of my mom!” she says. To give herself time to find her way, she met with a financial planner, calculated bare-bones expenses, and put aside enough money to cover a year. That way, she didn’t have to reassess the viability of her plan every month. “This really freed me up,” she says. 

[MAKE IT: Knotted Hanging Lanterns]

Next, Chien sampled a range of creative outlets, including interior design, ceramics, and LED lighting. When she took a class in macramé, which she’d done with her mom as a kid, it “instantly felt right,” she says. So, ever the self-motivator, Chien challenged herself to tie a new knot every day for a year and post it on Instagram. This forced her to keep learning the craft, and gave her exposure. By day 365, she had more than ten thousand followers. 

[MAKE IT: A Modern Chic Vase with Macramé Knots]

In 2014, Chien started weaving sculptural extension cords and lighting fixtures resembling DNA double helixes, and friends -- and friends of friends -- started placing orders. As her customer base grew, so did her designs: She scaled up to wall hangings and installations that fill rooms. Today her goal is to expand her business while staying very hands-on. “I want to continue to get joy out of my work,” she says. “But it should make sense for the head as well as the heart.”

Small Steps

To develop her own style, Chien knew she needed to expand beyond the few basic knots used in macramé. “I wanted to learn all of them,” she says. Using a copy of the classic The Ashley Book of Knots as her guide, she mastered hundreds, and even created a couple of her own, which she dubbed “cruller” and “squid.” 

Grand Gestures

Chien finds inspiration far and wide -- from Massimo Vignelli’s iconic New York City subway map to virtual reality and video games. She now has installations in business spaces around the country, including the sales office of a San Francisco condominium (left) and the Brazilian restaurant Fogo de Chao in Tysons, Virginia (right). 

You, Inc.

Chien’s top advice for budding entrepreneurs:

  • 1

    “To make a living, treat your craft like a business, not a hobby. Don’t pay yourself too little; it isn’t sustainable. To price your work fairly, don’t forget about the time it takes to make a piece, including researching, developing, and perfecting it.”  

  • 2

    “Professional photographs are worth their weight in gold. Do not skimp. They are essential to showcasing your work.” 

  • 3

    “Don’t wear every hat. Hire an accountant, a PR rep, or an assistant as needed, so you can focus on the things about your business that you love.”

  • 4

    “Stay true to your vision. People come to me with unsolicited advice all the time -- like telling me I should expand and go mass, which is not what I want to do now. It’s important to stand your ground.”