From Joyless Jobs to Whimsical Wares

Cristina Romero | September 19th, 2023 (Volume 1)
Cristina Romero recounts her transition from graphic designer to small business owner, sparked by her search for passion and community. After experiencing burnout and job loss, she embraced ceramics and started selling her art under the name Howdy Ceramics. Her brand exploded in popularity after she won a grant and participated in a virtual market organized by Future Front Texas (formerly known as Boss Babes ATX). Her pieces, inspired by her Mexican heritage and a desire to bring joy during COVID times, stand out for their colorful, whimsical style, reflecting her journey of self-discovery and connection through art.


All right, so the year was 2019 and I was sitting at my first design job out of college. I didn’t hate it, but I also didn’t really love it anymore, and I was starting to feel kind of burnt out, looking forward to only the weekends.

And unfortunately, this burnout was nothing new. I was part of a really competitive graphic design program that often pinned us all against each other, which was very stressful and very isolating. So whenever the opportunity came to take a ceramics class as an elective, I jumped on it. Not only did I get to work with my hands and not stare at the screen for 12 hours a day, I found a community that I personally felt like I connected a little bit better with. They were way more collaborative. And I graduated in 2018 knowing that no matter what happened in my future, I wanted ceramics to be a part of my graphic design career.

So when I moved to Austin and I was working at this graphic design job, I had been scouting for ceramics classes around town, which something about living in a very creative city is that unfortunately there are a lot of creatives. And so finding a class was not only really expensive, but there just weren’t any openings. So unfortunately that dream kind of had to be pushed to one day. And for better or for worse, one day came quickly. I got fired, which should have sent me into a spiral, but I realized that I was actually really relieved because 9:00 to 5:00 just was not for me, and I set forward to find a job that would allow me to have a little bit more flexibility in my schedule while letting me explore other passions of mine.

And I found bartending, and that was great. I got to talk to people. I could pay my rent, which was obviously the most important part. And that was great for about a month. And then spoiler alert, I got fired again. This time was because of Covid, though. So like many people, I ended up having to move back home. I moved in with my parents, which was very humbling, getting fired twice in three months. But yeah, I moved back home and I realized that I drained my savings trying to break my lease and just moving and stuff. So I had to look around my bedroom and I was like, “Crap, I have one more bill that is due at the end of the month.” And I ended up selling a bunch of ceramics and just art pieces from art school into my surprise. They sold immediately, and I was able to pay off that bill that was due.

So I thought, “Okay, well, I guess now’s as good a time as any to start making ceramics. I’m not doing anything else.” And I researched a ceramic store near me, which ended up being around forty-five minutes away in downtown Houston. And pretty soon I was driving there around once a week with 10 or so pieces just for fun.

And then one day on Instagram, I got an ad for an organization called Boss Babes ATX. They’re now known as Future Front Texas, and they were hosting a virtual market and also giving out a grant. This grant entailed a monetary value, but also allowed your pieces to be sent to sponsors around the city. So I applied and I honestly kind of forgot about it, not thinking anything of it since I’d only been making pieces for myself and I wasn’t really branded. But to my surprise, I actually ended up receiving the grant and the application for the market went through.

So this was kind of the moment where Howdy completely exploded. I went from making 10 pieces for myself and my friends to getting my first wholesale order of 50 pieces and having a deadline for the first time. Also learning how to package everything, brand myself. It was all just kind of happened in the span of two weeks, which is really crazy. My childhood bedroom turned into a production studio and my poor parents’ living room turned into a mail room, which they love to still bring up. I like to think it was a good thing.

But yeah, so I started connecting with the community here in Austin, even though I was in Houston, and pretty soon we all realized that the virtual market had been such a success we should have in-person markets. So we all started hosting events here in town, and because of Covid, they were outdoors and people felt a little bit more comfortable attending those.

And I just started coming up to Austin and I started working with two dear friends of mine, Dear Diary Coffee Shop, and the Little Gay Shop. They are two local businesses, you guys should check them out. But yeah, this was just kind of when it all really took a mind of its own. I think the moment that I realized Howdy had really exploded was when somebody ordered a $25 mug, but paid $60 in shipping so that it could find its way to a tiny town in Germany. And that was really cool. I’ve since sold stuff in Qatar and Australia, Canada, France, so it’s kind of crazy to think that my ceramic pieces are just sitting around somewhere.

People often ask where I got my inspiration, and I used to draw blank, but my parents pointed out that it’s always been around me being from Mexico City. I grew up being surrounded by all these colors and textures that I think differentiate my work from a more traditional earth toned stoneware, which I still obviously love, but I’m very inspired by these whimsical pieces. It makes a lot of sense looking back that my pieces would reflect this part about me.

Another thing that I think makes my pieces a bit unique is when they came to be, they came during Covid where many of us felt starved for human connection. And I knew I wanted to make something that made people feel a little bit of joy as part of their day-to-day life. And I wanted my pieces to not just be background objects. And thankfully, I think a lot of people resonated with that. So yeah, thank you.

Cristina Romero
Agency graphic designer turned ceramist and founder of Howdy Ceramics.