AU students open Etsy shops during COVID-19 pandemic

Students take advantage of time at home during pandemic to cultivate their businesses

When the coronavirus moved American University's classes online in March, two students made use of their extra time by opening shops on the e-commerce website Etsy.

Katie Kolczun, a senior in the School of Communication, began selling handmade clay earrings on her Etsy shop, called ShopKatieClay, in June. She said the pandemic played a role in her decision to start making earrings.

“I’ve always been a really crafty person,” Kolczun said. “I’m not a great artist or anything, but I always just like making things, or painting things, and I was like, ‘This can give me something to do.’”

She said that she started making earrings for herself after seeing ones she liked on Etsy that were too expensive for her. After initially making her earrings for herself, she realized she could sell them.

“I love jewelry, and I love statement pieces,” Kolczun said. “Earrings are my number one thing.”

Kolczun said she decided to use polymer clay for the earrings because it is lightweight and doesn’t irritate her sensitive ears, but still allows her to wear statement earrings.

She said she purchases materials online, from local craft stores or large retailers, like Michaels or Walmart.

To make the earrings, she runs the clay through a clay press, hand rolls or presses it into her desired shape for the earrings and places the earrings in the oven to set. Once fired in the oven, she sands the earrings, buffs out the edges and then assembles and decorates them.

Kolczun said she often takes inspiration from what she wears and hopes that other people will like the colors and design as well.

She said she is trying to nail down what her brand is and plans to transition her styles as fall approaches.

“I like bold, colorful earrings, and so, to bring that kind of light into the world is really fun and inspiring for me,” Kolczun said. “And also, seeing other people who are wearing my earrings, I’m like, ‘Whoa, I made that and you like that, whoa.’”

Pre-assembled polymer clay earrings for Kolczun’s newest collection, available on her Etsy shop.

Nicole Wiley, a junior in the School of International Service, initially sold her handmade clay earrings on the Instagram account she created in late June, then she opened her Etsy shop, called Sunshine and Splendor, on Aug. 3. She also sold a bulk set to an antique shop.

Wiley, who’s from Tennessee, said she strongly identifies with the South and wanted to express that through her creations. Wiley is in D.C. for the semester, and she said her earrings remind her of home.

“If I can make earrings that can remind me of people from home and the way that people dress and the way that people express themselves, then it’s kind of like I brought the South with me here,” Wiley said.

Since Wiley wasn’t able to get a summer job due to the pandemic, she decided to sell jewelry in order to make money. 

“A lot of people want to get back to things that people are hand-making,” Wiley said. “I thought that clay would be more sentimental for people because I'm making it with my hands. ... I feel like clay is so underrated with the creativity that you can do, that I feel like it’s kind of a subtle way to make things more personal and maybe less institutionalized.”

Nicole Wiley wearing a pair of her handmade polymer clay studs, available on her Etsy shop.

Like Kolczun, Wiley buys clay, shapes it and bakes it in the oven to make her earrings. For multi-colored earrings, she uses one base color and then molds the other colors in. She then drills a hole where she inserts jump rings, the metal chains used in jewelry making, with pliers.

“That came with a lot of trial and error,” said Wiley, about drilling the holes for inserting the jump rings. “My first entire batch of earrings actually completely shattered.”

Most of Wiley’s sales have not been through her Etsy shop, though, where she said she has had trouble breaking through.

“For Etsy to work, you have to pay for advertising, and I don't have the money to pay for the advertising right up front,” Wiley said. “The smaller, really tiny businesses that are just starting like me that have only had one sale, we’re paying no money, and it’s really just people clicking on a rabbit hole, and they just find mine eventually.”

Wiley’s parents own a Southern antique shop, and she sells earrings there as well.

“That was how I started selling them before I got enough money to make the Etsy,” Wiley said. “It’s a Southern antique shop/bait and tackle shop. It’s really like an all in one, and so my dad, at the front of his store, has worms and minnows and then my earrings sitting right beside it, so it’s the ‘countriest’ thing ever.”

Wiley said that the unlimited options in making jewelry keep her inspired.

“It's fun to see different techniques and different designs you can put on them,” Wiley said. “It just makes me feel accomplished, artistically, that I can do something creative that people enjoy.”

cmarkley@theeagleonline.com

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