When her cousin graduated from high school in 2017, Laniaya Jenkins made her a pin adorned with her photo and the words “senior” and “2017.”
Two weeks later, Jenkins, a sophomore early childhood education major, sold 30 more pins to seniors at her high school, Barack Obama Academy of International Studies in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
While she continued to sell the pins for fun, Jenkins officially opened Cariñosa Creations, a small business that sells customizable items like plaques, signs, budget binders, water bottles and wine and shot glasses, in May 2020. She has completed more than 170 orders to date, using Instagram and Facebook, she said.
“I really didn’t see it as a business,” Jenkins said. “I just saw it as like me loving to do crafts and me just wanting to just do something I love for fun.”
Jenkins creates the design for her products and uses a Cricut printer to cut out the personalized vinyl design and apply it to the glasses, plaques or material she’s selling.
Her business began when Jenkins created a plaque adorned with her last name in bold text and her family members’ names in cursive underneath, she said.
She posted a photo of the plaque on her personal Instagram and Facebook. Her family members shared the photo, and people she didn’t know reached out to her with interest in buying a plaque of their own, Jenkins said.
“I probably had like 30 messages about people wanting to buy one of the plaques,” she added. “From there, I was talking to my mom and we said, ‘You should turn this into a business.’”
Jenkins is a member of a Facebook craft group with older women who have given her tips and answered her questions about crafting, she said. Jenkins also watches YouTube videos, which help her learn how to use graphic design apps, she added.
Trinity Johns, a sophomore business major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, ordered items from Jenkins, like water bottles, ornaments and plaques after seeing Jenkins post her plaque on Instagram.
She gave some of the products to others as gifts, but kept two water bottles and a plaque with her last name and the name of her family members underneath for herself, Johns added.
“She was making things that I thought were personal and I had wanted some customized, personal things with my name on it and my family members’ names on it,” she said. “Hers were really nice.”
Johns enjoyed that Jenkins regularly adds new products to her inventory on Instagram, she said.
“There’s always something new to get, and she always had her own spin on it,” Johns said.
For Jenkins, one of the most rewarding parts of being a small business owner is “making other people’s day.” During the past year, she decorated champagne glasses for her aunt’s wedding, created music plaques to mimic the screen interface of the Spotify app and created memorial plaques for people who’d lost loved ones, she said.
“I’ve made like, a lot of people cry because they didn’t expect for it to come out so beautifully,” Jenkins added. “Being able to be a part of someone’s special day and being able to make the other person smile honestly just has to be the best part.”
Annabelle McCombs, a senior biology and Spanish major, also went to Barack Obama Academy. McCombs purchased a customizable desk plaque for her mom with her mom’s name and empowering adjectives and nouns like “beautiful” and “boss” written on it.
McCombs looks up to Jenkins and admires that she’s able to successfully run a business while in college, she said.
“With [Jenkins], she’s like the perfect person to be doing this, not only because of how smart and how successful her products are, but because of how she treats her customers,” McCombs added.
Jenkins is looking for ways to expand her business moving forward, she said.
“My small business won’t be small for long,” she added. “I’ve been in the business for a year yet, and I already have so many different visions that I want to see my business grow.”