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Meet Alumna Kathy Cano-Murillo: Turning a passion into a profession

UOPX grad “The Crafty Chica” shares how she became a ‘creativepreneuer.”

A left-handed, middle-child Sagittarian with hair that matches her big personality, Kathy Cano-Murillo (BSB, ‘02) exudes fun and creativity. The “Chica” behind the powerhouse brand Crafty Chica, Cano-Murillo is a speaker, artist, author and co-owner of Mucho Más Art Studio in Phoenix.

She has her own Latino-inspired product line at a major craft store. Simon and Schuster just published her 10th book, “Forever Frida: A Celebration of the Life, Art, Loves, Words, and Style of Frida Kahlo.” On top of that, she runs, a lifestyle site anchored in DIY and crafts. And this is all a second act for Cano-Murillo, whose first career was in journalism. While she loved the hustle of the newsroom, she saw herself making a business out of the creativity she had busting at the seams.

Now she’s a sought-after speaker, brand partner and crafting expert, but her business savvy is hard-earned. It kicked into high gear, she said, when she enrolled at University of Phoenix in 2000 at the urging of her newspaper’s managing editor.

It started with a craft column

Already an artist making and selling Latino-inspired home décor and jewelry, Cano-Murillo landed a weekly craft column for an Arizona newspaper while she was working as a news clerk. Things changed when her column was picked up for syndication and she realized she was doing the work of a features writer but being paid far less, all because she was lacking a degree.

“My managing editor told me how important it was to have my degree,” Cano-Murillo said. “My first thought was, ‘No way. I don’t have time.’ I was in my mid 30s and I had two little kids.”

Her editor persisted and recommended University of Phoenix.

“She told me, ‘You need to believe in yourself. You need to do this.’ After I let it sink in, I realized it would haunt me my whole life if I didn’t go for it,” Cano-Murillo said.

She enrolled in classes and embraced a motto that she still lives by today: “Echale ganas,” Spanish for “Do your best.”

Success was hard-won — and worth it

She hustled as a news clerk by day and earned her business degree at night, all while juggling family and her side crafting business.

“It was really hard,” Cano-Murillo said. “But when I looked at the long timeline of my life, I knew this was going to be worth it.”

The day after graduation, the entire newsroom celebrated Cano-Murillo’s accomplishment with a huge cake.

Passion turned into a profession

In 2007, she left the newspaper to become a full-time “creativepreneur” alongside her husband. She leaned on the skills she learned at University of Phoenix as she jumped into her business venture full time.

“My business degree instilled in me that my dream was real — and I learned tactical methods I could apply to my passion to monetize it,” she said.

She also worked closely with her husband to build her career.

“We just always knew that we wanted to build a life doing what we love to do,” she said. Her husband, who is a musician and artist, encouraged her to pursue crafting and taught her to draw.

Before her days at the newspaper, the couple crafted for a living. Their handmade jewelry and home goods were shipped to more than 300 boutiques around the country, but it wasn’t sustainable. “That just got to be too much,” she said. “We couldn’t handle it.”

Principles she learned while earning her degree allowed her to continue her crafting career. Today, Cano-Murillo works as an influencer and the couple also co-owns a boutique.

Being an influencer to others far away — and at home

Her degree didn’t just change her life — it changed her family’s, too. In fact, her two kids grew up watching their mom become an influencer before influencers were even a thing.

“When the kids were little, they helped me a lot as my ‘little personal assistants.’ When they turned 16, I got them each their own websites. They both have turned those brands into part of what they do today,” Cano-Murillo said.

Her daughter just launched a new scripted series and her son’s indie media site boasts 50 contributors.

From inspiration to motivation

Her advice to Phoenixes starting their own second act?

“Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t live off your passion,” she said. “You just have to make a business plan for how to make money doing it.”

In the end, working hard to earn her degree proved to Cano-Murillo she had a higher gear — a gear she summons every time her creativity empire grows.

“There’s always more to conquer,” she said. “There’s always a way to make a name for yourself.”

And for the Crafty Chica, it’s fitting her name is a fun one.

See Kathy’s Phoenix Feature video