Meet Chelsee Karnes! A local Abilene artist located in Downtown Abilene, Chelsee is one entrepreneur who has taken advantage of the business-friendly environment in Abilene, Texas.

A recent winner of a $10,000 Venmo Business Grant, Chelsee is bringing her “hippie heart” (her words not ours) to the downtown entrepreneurship scene offering a look into how she’s combining art and passion into upholstery. We sat down with Chelsee to learn more about her business, why she chose Abilene, and get the “411” on her experience with the Venmo Business Grant program.

Tell us a little about your work and yourself:

Chelsee is not your typical businesswoman working in upholstery. She incorporates passion, art, and her frustration of life into making something beautiful that is original while catching the eye into a business that she says she didn’t mean to start.

“At this point in my life, I don’t think I can work for anyone else. When I moved back to Abilene, I called around to three other residential upholstery shops. None of them were hiring, and since I had been working at other upholstery shops, I knew it was something I was passionate about. I really like the idea of customization. I love working with my hands. I’ve always been a seamstress since I was about 16 years old. I really have a hippie heart because I don’t want to see things thrown away.”

“Upholstery serves both functional and aesthetic purposes. It adds comfort to furniture, enhances its appearance, and contributes to the overall style and design of a space. Upholstery work can range from simple tasks such as recovering a dining chair to more complex projects such as crafting a custom-designed sofa. Skilled professionals known as upholstery or craftsmen specialize in these techniques, offering service to repair, restore, or create upholster furniture.”

How did you feel about winning the Venmo Business Grant?

“I feel, I don’t know if I feel lucky. I feel like my Grammy. She’s like an old witch lady, too. She is always telling me, “Everything happens for a reason. Everything happens when it’s supposed to.” And that’s sometimes been hard to swallow because when bad things happen, you’re trying to understand, “What’s the reason for this? Why did this happen?” Especially in business. I sometimes get apprehensive, and my negativity and anxiety will set in with the panic of “Oh no! What if everyone stops calling? What if this business doesn’t work out?” But thankfully, that hasn’t been the case.”

 “With the Venmo grant, winning that was so out of left field. I didn’t expect it to happen, and it opened my eyes to other opportunities for funding for my business. The odds of the Venmo grant were so slim out of 50,000 businesses I feel special I was one of the 20 selected.”

Karnes jokes that originally, she deleted the email multiple times thinking it was a scam. After multiple attempts of trying to get a hold of her, she sent the emails to a friend in IT before replying to ensure it was legit.

“Not only did they put me on their website as a recipient, but they also paired me with a small business coach for the next year which has been super exciting because, I started this business not with the idea of, “I’m going to start a business.” I just wanted to redo furniture and then the business kind of followed, you know, and so I’m still really figuring out a lot, as I am going. Anyways, that’s what everyone does, I think.”

What is your project or plans to do with the grant?

“It is funny because, I’ve known about grants. I used grants when I was going to college, and I knew there were small business grants out there. I use Venmo a lot for customer transactions along with using their business account. I honestly can’t remember applying, I was probably bored at home one night. When the news came through, I mentally started thinking about how it would help me. I knew I was moving into this space, and it was going to be a larger overhead because of my studio. Knowing my rent was going to triple, maintaining that space, and trying to think of the bigger money picture. The most business I was ever taught was, “spend less than you make.” It’s a safety net.”

Karnes mentioned how owning a small business can almost feel like a roller coaster not knowing how some weeks might perform and did purchase a sewing machine and the “safety net” allowed her to put more down on her rent so she can focus more on her product.

Why Abilene?

In her twenties, Karnes lived in San Francisco and Oregon and struggled with addiction before having her son, Ollie. Named after Dolly Parton, Karnes refers to him as “her little Ollie Parton” crediting her son as her purpose.

“I felt lucky that my son came along, and he’s really been my purpose, he’s the reason I got sober. Of course, he’s also the reason I stay sober. But this business is my purpose, too. I’ve always had this in me. To be this creative person.”

“I grew up in Abilene, but we moved back because of my son, and it is close to family. It’s so much easier to raise him with family around. I have a close bond with my Grammy. She’s the craziest lady I’ve ever met in my life. She’s a little hippie biker chick. Everything’s falling more and more into place of what I envisioned.”

“I feel very lucky that I can be back here, and it is the right place. I couldn’t do this if I wasn’t in Abilene because the price is right. This same workspace in Austin or Dallas would be triple, quadruple the price. Even if I lived in a bigger city, my rent would be triple the amount at my home. Everything would cost more and there are upholsteries in bigger cities that have way higher prices. I really stand by my quality. I have a passion for it. If I see something wrong with a chair, I’m not letting it out the shop.”

Screenshot 2024-02-16 161422
Business Location:

2 Responses

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *