We've Got Her Back: Mandy Kolahi of POT Studio
For women of color, female entrepreneurship can be a very different experience than what’s portrayed on social media. There are no budgets for whimsical photoshoots, no high price tag branding, no three-day women’s conferences or mimosa networking brunches. Rather than rosé all day, it’s long days and sometimes even longer nights, maybe a full-time day job and a fresh stack of bills waiting at home to top it all off. Sounds a lot less sexy doesn’t it? But strip away all the glamour and pretty packaging and you’re left with all the real qualities it takes to make it as a female entrepreneur: Hustle, vision, and smarts.
Mandy Kolahi is everything we love about female entrepreneurship in LA. She’s the 32-year-old activist and owner of POT Studio in Echo Park. Her journey to opening her own studio was a relatively straight shot, as far as entrepreneurial journeys go anyway. “Pottery studios and art spaces in general, are all run by like old white hippies,” she said. “The scene felt very WASPy. Even if you look through Instagram, it’s like $80 for a pinch bowl. As women of color, LGBT, queer, or even millennials, they just felt inaccessible.” She longed for a creative space that was welcoming and representative of people of color, where they could feel validated and go to freely express themselves artistically. As a lifelong resident of LA, she knows this city inside and out. So when Mandy said no such place existed, then no such place existed.
After about a year of deliberating, researching, and running numbers, she came across a vacant space in Echo Park, owned and managed by a woman of color. Mandy signed the lease and on July 15th, POT opened its doors. “We opened before we had an Instagram,” she said. And just like that, she was officially an entrepreneur with her own brick and mortar. “Everyone’s gonna tell you you need all these professionals – a business manager, finance – you don’t need anyone. You just need a vision.” She’s been steadfast with her own vision, and as a result, bypassed all the branding and social media buildout that so many of us get caught up in. “You don’t need a vision board when you have a vision,” she said. “If you are just yourself, are authentic, and have actual beliefs, that’s your brand. We just wear our beliefs and our personalities on our sleeves. That’s it.”
For so many female entrepreneurs, a brick and mortar is the ultimate dream: A physical home for our businesses, our clients, thoughts, and ideas. But the pressure of high overhead costs and generating enough business to keep the lights on – that deters most of us. So we keep dreaming. But Mandy just started doing. “That’s why the brick and mortar part wasn’t scary,” she said. “Because I knew our mission was solid.” When asked if she was afraid to fail, she admitted she was. “But I also was 32 and spent my twenties realizing that you literally just have to do it. Not doing anything is going to make you feel even shittier.”
When it came time to fund her dream, she left no stone unturned. For women and women of color in particular, financing options can be few and far between. Only about 16% of small business loans go to women, and a depressing 2.7% of all venture capital. Mandy knew she would have to be resourceful. “I hit up family, I hit up the banks. I started Airbnbing my downstairs. I straight up did everything I could to start hustling more money,” she said. Although she was reluctant to go into debt, she believed in her mission and pushed through. She’s currently paying off a few credit cards that she maxed out in the process. “I’m very passionate about women of color and people of color unashamedly pursuing money and business and enterprise. I think the whole ‘only do what you’re passionate about, don’t worry about money this and that,’ is very white privilege. Because when shit hits the fan for people of color, money and resources are the only thing we have on our side – money and access to lawyers – not the law, not the cops, not the powers at be.”
Her persistence has paid off. Today POT stands proud and tall on the tree-lined street of Echo Park Ave. It’s easy to spot the bright blue and orange building with “pottery studio” painted in English, Spanish, Farsi, Korean, Tagalog, and Chinese on the exterior – the languages of LA’s largest immigrant diasporas. Inside feels more like an airy living room rather than your run-of-the-mill, cramped ceramics studio. The walls are lined with old school hip hop records, eclectic furniture, and plants. Members can come and go as they please, while everyone else can sign up for any of their six classes throughout the week. Their bestseller? The Ghost Class for two, which comes with a free bottle of wine.
POT prides itself on being a beginner’s studio, and is guided by a “pottery for the people” philosophy. In a time when ceramics is the new “it” thing and subject to crazy markups and pretentious marketing, Mandy and her incredible teachers provide a safe haven. “A lot of people of color are intimidated to go into art spaces because they’ve never done anything in their whole life,” she said. At POT, beginners are always welcome, as are pros. But the same rule applies for everyone: Check your shit at the door. “Ceramics is such an ancient art form. People put their ceramics in dirt ovens. And I know what goes into it. There’s no reason for it to be so elitist.”
To learn more about POT and sign up for a class, visit www.potstudiola.com.