Students launch, grow side hustles into businesses during pandemic

Media Credit: Zach Brien | Staff Photographer

Juniors Camila De La Cruz and Katherine Whiteside have started a podcast called "Fireballing Through College" where they talk about topics they find meaningful, sensitive or funny.

While most students are using their childhood bedrooms to take online classes, others are running their own businesses.

Seven students said they turned their personal passions and hobbies, like self-care and bracelet making, into businesses and social media pages, which they’ve worked to maintain during the COVID-19 pandemic. The students said their businesses, which sell items ranging from painted shoes to knitted clothes, have given them a break from other commitments like schoolwork while remote learning continues.

‘Comfyskin’
Sophomore Nicole Baylock promotes Korean skin care products through social media accounts, like YouTube, Instagram and TikTok. Her brand, which she launched in 2018, is fittingly called “Comfyskin.”

While she doesn’t sell anything specific, Baylock said brands like Then I Met You, Glass Skin Serum and Neogen sponsor her posts. She said she aims to use her skin care expertise as a licensed esthetician, her knowledge from talking and listening to dermatologists and her own personal experience with skin care products to address skin concerns, like acne. 

“The key to really feeling good about yourself is to see other people that represent you and what you look like and what you’re going through,” Baylock said. “It makes you feel better about what you’re going through, because you don’t feel so alone.”

‘Fireballing Through College’
Juniors Camila De La Cruz and Katherine Whiteside talk about “funny” or “meaningful” topics on their podcast, “Fireballing Through College,” which they launched last July. The duo said they also discuss stigmatized issues facing college students, particularly women, like masturbation, people pleasing and lack of confidence, in hopes of shedding light on “embarrassing” or taboo topics.

“We talk about sexual experiences, and how women are sort of ashamed for that transition during this period, and how all of those things intertwined together and how they help you grow,” the two said. “As women, a lot of times it’s easy to become embarrassed and doubt yourself. And if there’s no open dialogue, it’s easy to feel like you’re alone.”

The co-hosts, who prepare 25 minute to 30 minute episodes every week, said they enjoy hearing feedback from their listeners, many of whom are college-aged students dealing with similar experiences. De La Cruz and Whiteside said they work to “boost” the confidence of their viewers through their conversations about everything from spring break to mental health on the podcast. 

‘Morganne’s Knots’

Sophomore Morganne Halpin said she started her bracelet business last summer as a “creative outlet” to make some money while she wasn’t working during quarantine. She said she originally sold handmade friendship bracelets, which range from $4 to $10, to just her friends, but as she began growing her Instagram page, she received order requests from people across the country and thrift accounts.

Halpin said her business can be challenging to manage while at school, since each bracelet order can take up hours of her time to make. But she said if she becomes too “stressed” with schoolwork, she will turn to making bracelets and fulfilling orders as a way to wind down.

“It will give me a break from my classes, especially because I’m a STEM major, so I have stuff all the time to do,” Halpin said. “It’ll kind of give me a separation from my super hard classes to just do something mindless and a way to calm down my brain a little bit.”

‘KnitterzAnonymous’
Freshman Jessica Zhao said she opened her Etsy shop, KnitterzAnonymous, last December after developing her knitting skills in high school and knitting custom gifts, like scarves with respective collegiate colors for her friends going off to college. She said through her shop, she hopes to use her knitting skills to launch a full business.

“This is a perfect way for me to highlight my hobbies but also try to learn about business and more real world businesses, so I can actually maybe learn something from my hobby,” Zhao said.

Zhao said she sells knit pillows, blankets, scarves and crochet bucket hats on her Etsy store, with prices ranging from $18 to $60. She said she tests out her new ideas by buying sample yarn from the art store Michael’s and creating “swatches” to find the best size, color and feel to the product before crafting the actual article.

‘Kicks and canvas’
Junior Sarah Burch said she sells personalized shoes, with designs based on specific colleges, cartoon characters and whatever else her customers want on their shoes. 

She said her business began as a hobby in high school of painting collegiate designs on seashells she collected at the beach for her friends, but she only got into painting shoes when the pandemic sent her home with time to spare. She added that her crafts have given her an “excuse” to paint more often.

“My favorite part is just being able to put my vision into what people want,” Burch said. “And then also, just seeing how much people actually enjoy the thing that I make, because sometimes it’s nerve-racking when you’re making something from your own mind and someone’s purchasing it from you for money.”

‘Miraya by Yasmine’
Sophomore Yasmine Belarbi said she started her arts and crafts business last fall on Etsy, featuring handmade resin jewelry and etched mirrors, primarily to raise money for UNICEF Yemen. She said half of the proceeds made from her business go to UNICEF Yemen, which she said is her way of aiding the country’s humanitarian crisis.

Belbari said she grappled with finding confidence in her shop, but as she continued fleshing out new ideas and posting online, her business was able to get off the ground. She added that the pandemic has given her more free time to grow her business.

“It’s all part of the learning process,” Belbari said. “And ultimately, I learned how to just not let things affect me too much and not let them knock me down – just to keep persevering.”

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