“It’s a rare gift to pay your bills as you fill up your soul.”- Jennie Allen. This is how I see my career as a creative: a rare and treasured gift. People search their entire lives to find an occupation that gets them out of bed in the morning. I can honestly say that having the opportunity to design daily lights a fire in my soul. It is so sweet, so life-giving and so rare. Here is God’s written faithfulness of my journey as a creative.
My name is Chandler Mann, and I am the Director of Visuals & Styling, as well as a designer, at S&G. I’m a Kansas girl, born and bred. Don’t get me started on how incredibly perfect that precious Midwest state is because we’d be here all day (Rock Chalk Jayhawk & GO ROYALS), but I’ll spare you that--for now. Almost three years ago, I didn’t know what I was going to do with my life. I was a senior in college, wrapping up my undergrad at the University of Kansas with a major in Visual arts and a concentration in Printmaking. Everywhere I turned I got the dreaded question, “So what’s next?”
Let’s back up for a bit. Where I am now is NOT where I always saw myself. High school seniors or struggling college students, I’m talking to you here! Seek FIRST the Lord and He WILL guide you to where you need to be.
I started as a design major and quickly realized I’d much rather eat grass than sit in front of a computer all day (Insert God’s humor here). I quickly ditched my MacBook and began creating hands on. I became a drawer, welder, weaver, ceramicist and painter, but most importantly, I fell in love with printmaking. I spent hours in the studio creating. Through my long hours and sleepless nights, I recognized this unique connection I had with the Lord while creating, the way He created me. Light bulb moment. I realized that without Jesus, I wouldn’t be making artwork in the first place. It’s all to Him. It’s His gift that He knitted in me to use for HIS GLORY, not mine.
But y'all, this is HARD. It is so easy for Satan to get a foothold in this area. In a world full of me’s, I’s and selfie sticks, I know the struggle of putting Jesus on display when so much heart, time and effort goes into every piece of work I’ve created. It's hard to find humility, but it’s CRUCIAL.
After KU, I attended a graduate seminary program, The Kanakuk Institute. This place was an EXTREME vessel that changed the trajectory of my walk with the Lord and my life forever. Here I grew in my knowledge of the Word and was able to experience true community with other like-minded people who shared the same goal: to equip ourselves so that we would be prepared to go out and fulfill the great commission. While I was at KI, the Lord grew a passion in my heart for design. I opened my Adobe Creative Suite for the first time in years and started designing wedding invitations for friends and family. I was also able to design for The Kanakuk Institute and saw how using this gift for the kingdom lit a FIRE in me. To be able to share the Gospel through art was a deep desire of mine, and I knew in these moments that this was what I wanted to do with my life.
So, how do you connect the dots from undergrad to having your dream creative job at 25? Jesus. Three years ago, I couldn’t even tell you where Auburn, Alabama, was on a map, let alone think I would ever end up living here. In April 2014, I was finishing up my seminary program with NO job in sight. On a flight after graduation, I discovered Scarlet & Gold. It was like the Lord took everything that was in my heart and placed it in front of me. I rushed to send the owner, Megan Smalley, an email as the flight attendant was telling me to put my phone on airplane mode!
Megan immediately responded saying they’d been waiting for me and could not wait to move me to their headquarters in Auburn. FALSE! I DID NOT hear back from them, which in all honesty wasn’t a huge shock to me. I had figured my chances were one in a million anyway. I sadly tucked that dream away and continued my job search.
A little less than a month later, I got an email that changed my life forever. Megan responded saying that she had also worked for Kanakuk and would love for me to send over my portfolio and resume. Although I felt completely under qualified, I submitted my work and through extreme prayer from both sides, I got an internship!
I was ready to pack my bags and move, but reality set in. When Megan and I talked on the phone, I found out the company was only a couple months old, they were working out of her house, and no one was a salaried employee. Following this conversation, I started designing from Kansas City. I had no idea if there would be a full-time job for me in the future, but God showed me once again that He is faithful. By the end of my internship, they brought me on full time. I was their first full-time employee so this was a huge risk for the company and a BIG responsibility on my part to create pieces that people loved!
This October I left everything I knew and ADORED in Kansas, to move 15 hours away from home. I was committed to this brand. I knew if I wanted to continue growing, I needed to be in Alabama. This was my fourth move in three years. That meant three different cities, three states, three new churches, new friends, new ministries. CHANGE, It was becoming something I was all too familiar with! But with this, I have learned to lean on Christ with everything I am. I have grown more than I could have imagined and experienced things I could have worked years for and never gotten a chance to do!
In my four short months living in Auburn, I’ve been blessed with the sweetest roommate on the planet, an incredible community of believers and a church that I love. God WILL DO IT! When I got here, I didn’t think people my age and in my season of life even existed in this town, but God provided above and beyond my heart's desire.
Now to the good stuff. What exactly do I do? On a daily basis you can find me in lululemon designing on the office couch, painting on my studio table or doing calligraphy from my desk. I’m all over the place, and I wouldn’t have it ANY other way! I’m as Type B as they come, and I treasure the freedom I get while creating. My skill set has grown tremendously while working for this brand. I taught myself calligraphy a year and a half ago, and is has become crucial to my work!
The reason I love this job so much is because I get to start most of my work by hand, then pull it onto the computer later. It’s seriously THE BEST! I love pushing the boundaries and using different mediums; from nail polish to acrylic paint to shaving cream & food coloring-- the sky is the limit here at S&G, and MAN am I thankful for that! What creatives can do when they aren’t put in a box is seriously MAGICAL! Some of my favorite products I’ve designed have started from the kitchen sink!
My biggest piece of advice to other creatives is to keep pushing! There have been so many moments when I feel my work just isn’t where I want it be. Redo it thirty times if you have to! Our phrase around here is, “Don't stop until you’re proud.” Don’t settle for mediocrity. You’ve gone too far to put something out there that isn’t your best. I have my art director, Koral Dean, to thank for instilling this in me! There really is nothing better than seeing something you created in a store or in person--it’s beyond surreal.
Throughout this journey I’ve learned so much. First and foremost, never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God. Surrender all control to Him! I’ve learned to always recognize where my creativity is stemming from and to bury myself behind the cross of Christ, not pride. I write this because I truly believe that His plan is so much greater. No matter where you are in life, God wants to use you and your gifts for His Glory! This changed everything for me. I needed to get out of my own way and obey His calling in my life. It’s definitely not comfortable, and sometimes it means leaving everything you know, but it’s SO worth it. I'm beyond blessed to be able to create for a living and will never take it for granted. I’m so thankful I get to be a part of a bigger picture, one that God has gone before and written, and work for a brand that is striving for eternity.
- Chandler Mann