“This Little Niche Community”: What Jewelry Making Means for Artisan and Creative Students

Ever since her mom set up craft stations for her as a kid, graphic communications manager Mia Lew has loved getting creative with DIY projects, whether it’s selling tape wallets or paint custom shoe designs. Then, two years ago, Lew started experimenting with jewelry making and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she opened an Instagram account and became “Mia Makes Ice”.

Mia makes ice cream at a local craft fair. Courtesy | Mia Lew

“It kind of took off from there. I worked on it and made a website and I was taking pictures every day — I was making jewelry every day,” Lew said. “Now we’re here almost two years later, and it’s still going strong.”

From bloody resin dagger earrings to brightly colored beaded necklaces, Lew said she sells to a primarily “artistic and queer” audience. Using her passion for the arts and as a minor in event planning and experience management, Lew hosted three “Bitchin’ DIY Pop-up” events – craft sales for local and student makers share their handmade items – since spring 2021.

The pop-up shops are a way for Lew to give back to the community, she said. At each event, she organizes fundraisers for various causes, such as toiletries for the local homeless community and holiday gifts for underprivileged children.

“I started [the events] in order to be able to raise funds and at least use the platform to help some people, because I know that I have a huge privilege,” said Lew.

Lew also said she loves watching people become “buddies” and bond around their craft at events.

Fellow artisan Alex Kandarian, also known as Lizard Muse, sold her jewelry, art and clothing at the three pop-up shops. Kandarian said the interactive booths and event setup amazed him.

“Especially as queer people and artists, it’s a place to be safe and happy and enjoy community,” he said. “[Lew] really brought so many people together and had such an impact on me personally.

Recreation, parks and tourism administration junior Phoebe Saul first became aware of SLO’s large and ‘legitimate’ artisan community after sharing a class with Lew, she said. declared. His first and most successful sale was at a Bitchin’ DIY Pop-up store.

Saul started his DIY journey by selling paintings and collages on Instagram. When she received several friend requests for personalized necklaces, Saul archived old art items and invented Phee beads.

Saul started with a set of beads she had collected growing up and developed a love for the creative process behind jewelry making, especially choosing colors and styles for custom pieces.

“It’s really huge to have a creative outlet in college,” Saul said. “I really enjoyed being part of this little niche community in SLO.”

While it can be frustrating to make something she loves and not sell it, Saul said it was a great feeling knowing she made something a customer liked. She’s been working on refining her “cottagecore” style and growing her sales on sites like Depop and Etsy.

Handmade beaded flower necklaces by Phee’s Beads. Courtesy | Phoebe Saul

For Sadie Curdts, a sophomore in graphic communications, and Pablo Acosta, senior in business administration, their small business — Conozco Crafts — is all about their relationship. They create pieces inspired by inside jokes as well as personal gifts they made for each other.

One of their bestsellers is a pair of earrings featuring characters from the stop-motion comedy series “Wallace and Gromit” and was first given to Curdts by Acosta for Christmas. Their Conozco Crafts logo was even inspired by a pair of rose-colored glasses worn on the couple’s second date, according to Curdts.

At home, Acosta said his friends tease him for making jewelry, but he doesn’t let that get him down. Not only is it a way for him to bond with his girlfriend, but it’s also a way to express himself freely.

“I can be who I really am when I’m in SLO and I think that’s an outlet for me, and what made me come out with [Curdts] and don’t be ashamed,” he said.

Curdts said the artisan community is welcoming, supportive, and different from the “mostly conservative” presence she encountered on campus.

Sun and moon wire earrings made by Acosta. Courtesy | Conozco Craftsmanship

This tight-knit community is what, according to Charlotte Ross, a 2020 journalism graduate, makes her jewelry-making experience meaningful.

“[My business] just evolved into something that’s been so beautiful with other artists and other women,” Ross said. “There are so many women in SLO who have their own little businesses and do art and jewelry and all of that awesome stuff that I didn’t even know existed.”

What started as a way to keep busy during the first COVID-19 lockdown, turned into Ross’ own business: Lobos Earrings.

Ross’ love of the outdoors and disco inspired his “boho-funk, earthy” style. His business has grown to attract a large crowd, including indie-pop artist Goth Babe.

A longtime lover of his music, Ross went to see Goth Babe when he came to the Fremont Theater in October. After the show, Ross waited to meet the musician and give him a beanie she had knitted for him. Several weeks later, Goth Babe posted a photo of himself wearing the beanie on his Instagram Story, according to Ross.

“I kept acting like it was no big deal, but I could barely look at my phone, I was so turned on,” she said. “It was super awesome to see someone whose music and life inspire me so much rocking one of my beanies.”

Looking to the future, Ross said she was ready to walk away from SLO. Scary as it may be, she has made countless connections and friendships through the artisan community that are sure to follow her wherever she goes.

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