When the COVID-19 pandemic began and life seemingly came to a halt, Olivia Chiaravalli didn’t put her life on pause.
Instead, she pulled out her grandmother’s old sewing machine from her basement and spent her sudden free time learning to sew.
“I didn’t think it would really become anything, I just learned how to make masks and posted on my story to see if anyone would want them,” said Chiaravalli, a junior communication studies major.
Like Chiaravalli, students found motivation to pick up new hobbies while staying home. For some, these hobbies became more a simple way to pass time, but a small side business from their bedrooms, creating and selling masks, bags, embroidered clothes and digital designs.
“That’s just one of the silver linings of COVID,” Chiaravalli said. “People have been able to use their creative outlet to like, bring some positivity to their lives.”
In November 2020, Chiaravalli created FruitClub and began selling handmade accessories like masks, bags, hats and wallets. Chiaravalli hopes to add crocheted products to her bright, patterned accessories.
Abby Misbin, a senior marketing major, spent the pandemic learning to make custom cowboy hats covered in glitter and modeled after alcohol brands for parties.
“I originally just did it for me and my friends to wear, and then more people started asking for them,” Misbin said.
In early August 2020, Misbin created her online Etsy page, TrendingByAbby, which received 3,000 visitors by September 2020, she said. In October 2020, she created an Instagram page for her business, where she posts pictures and pricing information for the hats.
Tori Steger, a sophomore communication studies major, began selling custom-made digital products, like social media advertisements, logos and business cards, through her Instagram page, Tori Steger Creations.
After receiving 235 likes on a post she created for the Klein College of Media and Communication communication studies media team about how to celebrate Halloween during the pandemic, Steger realized she had a talent and a passion for content creation.
Steger used her extra time from online classes to focus more on advertising and promoting her business, she said.
“Putting yourself out there is like the best thing to do when you have a small business,” Steger said.
Maria Nguyen, a third-year pharmaceutical sciences student, learned to embroider by watching YouTube videos in October 2020 after seeing an Instagram post of a whimsical flower embroidery, she said.
Her first products were embroidery hoop Christmas ornaments, which she initially sold on Instagram, later creating an Etsy shop called Threaded Creations.
Nguyen expanded to creating custom designs for quarter zips, sweaters and sewn scrunchies. Although the scrunchies are currently only available in solid colors and satin material, Nguyen plans to add different patterns and materials in the future.
Nguyen’s business allowed her to overcome her introverted nature to advertise her business, she said.
“I have to do social media, I have to advertise around on Facebook, I have to get the word out to my friends,” she said. “It’s a one-woman team.”
People who want to start small businesses should get started, even if not everything is perfect and they feel unsure of themselves, Nguyen said.
“Try something new, whether it be for themselves or for profit, it’s definitely a worthwhile thing,” Nguyen said. “It can get your mind off the stresses of the world.”