Friday, June 2, 2023

Elevating AANHPI Stories: Meet the creative behind AALVO


Amy Chantra is an architect and designer by trade. A graduate of the University of Houston, Chantra  decided to open her eponymous store online in 2018 while still working her 9-to-5 job. In April 2023, her brick-and-mortar store AALVO came to life that focuses on laser-cutting and interior design. But Chantra had more in mind for her store than just laser-cut goods.

AALVO also provides event space for photographers, bakers and other creative to rent out for various classes and events. 

The M Report spoke to Chantra for Asian-American Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander Month (AANHPI) to get her words of advice on entrepreneurship, how being a first-generation child of immigrants affected her drive to success and more.

Amy Chantra, owner of AALVO
M: Tell us about yourself, particularly your career path before you began AALVO in 2018. What was the defining moment for you that made you pivot?

My name is Amy Chantra and I'm the owner of AALVO. Mother to two spritely kids and wife to an insanely patient husband. I grew up in Houston, TX. My family are immigrants from Vietnam and China, my grandmother owned a fabric store in Vietnam and my parents owned a restaurant in Houston, TX for over 20 years, thus creating a little entrepreneur in the womb! I went to school and received my Bachelor's in Fine Arts in interior design and later my Masters's Degree in Architecture. 

I worked at various firms throughout Houston working on high-end residential homes, and educational and worship buildings for almost 8 years until I decided to commit and do AALVO full time. I started AALVO in 2018 mostly as a creative outlet and possibly a way out of the rat race, at that time I didn't know what it was going to be, honestly.

I bought a laser cutter and started creating and it felt SO DAMN GOOD just to design and create on my own terms. I built so many great relationships along the way and it just fueled me to do it full-time in May 2021. COVID taught us many lessons and one of them was that time is precious, that life is precious. I was able to spend so much time with my kids and family while we were home and I relished it. 

I didn't want it to end, so I did the next logical thing (in my mind at least): quit my job and do things on my own terms. It was scary, no doubt, to leave the only career that I knew for almost a decade and a career that took me 7 years of schooling and MOUNTAINS of student loan debt (R.I.P. MONEY) but we made it. 

    M: How has being a first-generation, child of immigrants, affected your drive to succeed?

      My parents fled Vietnam, a war torn country taken over by Communists in 1978. They came here with almost nothing except the clothes on their backs. They were young, didn't speak the language, and didn't understand the culture.

      I watched them work 70-80 hour weeks for over 2 decades while raising 4 kids, which taught me so many things. One was in order to be happy and prosperous, you have to be your own boss. My parents worked at various companies doing various jobs but it wasn't until we opened our own restaurant that the switch flipped. 

      Being an entrepreneur provides freedom, creative freedom, freedom of choice, and financial freedom. 

      M: What as your biggest challenge during the time leading up to AALVO becoming a brick-and-mortar?

        Physically, building this space from SCRATCH. Every base board, every corner, every ceiling tile BY US. Mentally, the imposter syndrome kicked in (and still comes back to visit from time to time) but I just have to focus on my intention for me, my studio, and my community. 

        M: What are your hopes for AALVO?

          My hope for AALVO is to create beautiful things that bring joy to people. It doesn't have to be huge or extravagant, my goal is to simply BRING JOY. I I want my customers to celebrate all the tiny moments, show off the business that they've worked so hard to establish, and get that cute little pin because it makes them happy! 

          With the opening of our new studio, I hope to allow creatives a space to do their thing which is to CREATE, I want them to share their ideas and creativity with others and create a community of like-minded individuals. 

          And I hope those who are looking for a creative outlet come and participate in our upcoming workshops to hopefully spark or scratch that creative itch they've been wanting to let out. 

          M: What advice would you give other women of color when it comes to navigating the 9-5 but also interested in more?

            Start the side hustle NOW. There will never be a "good time" to start it. Don't think if I get A done, then I'll do B. Just do it, even if it's small baby steps like purchasing the website domain, just the get the momentum going. 

            You don't have to have it all figured out before you start, just let go of the reins and enjoy the process of exploring your creative self. Its so beautiful to watch it all unfold!

            M: Let's talk about your interests. What podcasts/books/TV shows/music are in heavy rotation.

            Podcasts lately: 

            • The Huberman Lab - a scientific podcast that discusses how our brains and its connections to our body affects our behaviors and perceptions
            •  We can do Hard Things with Glennon Doyle
            •  Anything with BRENE BROWN, she's a goddess and discusses courage, shame, vulnerability and empathy 
            • How We Built This - Always a nice confidence boost to listen to entrepreneurs talk about how they built their empires from the ground up! 

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