Meet the new era of entrepreneurs.
In August 2020, Chandler King bought her first sewing machine. She had no idea yet what she’d be doing with it but she was eager to learn something new to occupy her time. The first piece she would make on her new machine would be a bikini. Like King, many people stuck at home picked up new quarantine hobbies during the pandemic, motivated by their desires to learn something new, find joy in crafting and art, pursue once-ignored passions, and even in hopes of getting additional income following the financial loss the pandemic had wrought. Creating something with their own two hands was a comforting distraction when the world was out of control.
A study revealed that at least 6 in 10 Americans had invested in new hobbies since March 2020 when the pandemic started. While some quickly abandoned their attempts to knit or garden, for others, picking up jewelry-making or crocheting has actually led to a fruitful side hustle or even a new career. But, after a year spent honing their crafts, these entrepreneurs are having to reevaluate the best way to balance their businesses and their lives outside. Some were able to give up their day jobs while others plan to scale back their work now that they’re leaving the house more frequently. Below, hear from four Covid-19 crafters about how they built their brands and what they plan to do next.
Chandler King, Busybdy
In April 2021, as 650,000 retail workers – the highest number to quit en masse in 2 decades – quit their jobs, King decided it was time to leave her role at Dover Street Market to focus on designing full time. “I decided to launch my fashion brand Busybdy during the pandemic because I didn't want to be at my retail job anymore and knew that I wanted to work for myself,” she tells TZR. Since launching last August, her brand has slowly garnered followers drawn to designs like her Lettuce pants and Very Special tank, giving her the confidence to switch to creating full time.
While reports showed that many workers who quit their retail jobs were unhappy, for King the story wasn’t quite the same. It was interacting with designers at work that motivated her to take the leap. “[Working at Dover Street Market] was such a huge inspiration for me. Seeing these young designers with such unique pieces at the store made me see just how far I could go with BusyBdy if I’d just start.”
After her first bikini, King began to test out designs on friends and family, sharing the results on Instagram. Soon after, with favorable reception and feedback from her circle, she launched a website allowing customers to shop her handmade pieces. “Right now, designing and running the business are my job,” she adds. “It's just me so I do everything from marketing, running the online store, shooting the product, and sewing each piece that gets sent out. I definitely work way more now than I did when I had a retail job, but I love every second of it.”
After her initial success, King’s goal is to grow the brand enough to eventually expand beyond her one-person operation. “Building a team that I trust is super important to me because, just like raising a kid, it takes a village and BusyBdy is my kid for sure.”
Aidan Macaluso, Zany Chains
Last summer, Aidan Macaluso kept running into the same problem: she couldn’t find her face mask. Macaluso returned to her family home during the pandemic, spending time with her mother who was a longtime crafter. She borrowed some beads and under her mom’s “very patient tutelage” got to work making playful chains to attach to her new and necessary accessory.
As it turned out, Macaluso wasn’t the only one who was hopelessly losing her mask. “People kept asking me if they could purchase these chains from me once I started posting them,” she explains. “Pushing the imposter syndrome aside, I decided to launch my own online store and sell them for real.”
As she got to work, Macaluso found an unexpected benefit to launching Zany Chains: it helped her to feel less isolated during the pandemic. Seeing strangers from across the country buy her designs and post pictures smiling in them gave her a sense of connectedness. “It also gave me the confidence to learn new skills. I think so often they seem too daunting, or we’re subconsciously worried we may fail so we don’t even try. I like to think launching Zany Chains has something to do with me deciding to finally revisit Spanish after some failed High School attempts.”
Still, building a business has its growing pains, especially when it’s a side gig. “I have always had a full-time job, which means I’m often beading in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. I think I now know the closing hours of just about every Post Office in Manhattan, and I’m often sprinting down the sidewalk to make the final drop-off. While I sometimes wish I had more time, it makes the time I do have feel a bit more sacred.”
But, despite the success, the designer has no intentions right now to make crafting a career. “ I consider it a side hustle,” she says “I think that’s what makes it so nice. It’s something that’s uniquely mine, apart from other areas of my life. It’s become a really therapeutic outlet that’s also creatively fulfilling.”
Rayne Schloss, OnlyMade
The idea for Only Made came to Rayne Schloss during the pandemic, inspired by her teenage hobby. “I first started crafting jewelry when I was in high school,” she tells TZR. “At that time I was making jewelry with supplies I got at Home Depot. They were mainly bracelets made out of heavy-duty rope, bolts, and carabiners.”
But far from her high school aesthetic, Only Made is more refined, with pearls and 24 karat gold links. Schloss’ designs are inspired by her own struggle to find specific jewelry she wanted to wear: playful pieces that still fit a classic aesthetic at a fair price point.
She got to work learning how to make jewelry from online videos and soon had pieces she felt matched what she had been looking for and could offer others affordably. “My intention was always to start a business,” she explains. “There is pressure I place on myself and that’s mainly to constantly innovate and create an interest in the brand. I really believe in what I’m creating and I want to make sure that’s translated to the consumer.”
Schloss was able to use her background in social media to grow interest in the brand using Instagram. From her days running her now-folded blog Broke in Brooklyn, she gained the trust of people who looked to her for design and style advice that married luxury with a much lower cost. But, she still plans to keep her day job, for now. “I am very fortunate to work for a brand that allows me to have a flexible schedule and an understanding team,” she says. “We’re all creative and we all have other projects we work on outside of our day job so there’s been no conflict. Ultimately, I would love to make Only Made my full-time job and I will when the timing is right.”
In the meantime, the designer is sketching other ideas beyond jewelry that she hopes to execute soon. “I picked the name Only Made specifically because it was noncommittal to any one product. It represents something being made and crafted by an individual rather than mass-produced. I started off with jewelry but I want to expand to leather goods, homewares, and furniture,” Schloss shares of Only Made’s future.
Kira Margolis, Kira Margolis Designs
Being immunocompromised meant Kira Margolis had few options for life outside her home during the pandemic. She was in her last year of high school when the pandemic began and upon graduation decided the best option given the state of the world was to take a gap year before college. With ample free time and lots of inspiration from TikTok craft videos, Margolis felt it was time to pursue a family tradition of crafting.
“The women in my father’s family loved to craft and on my mother’s side, we had Holocaust survivors for whom crafting was sacred,” she tells TZR. “It was something that was passed down from my great grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, and finally to me.”
But beyond maintaining family traditions, Margolis shares that “crafting gave me an outlet to channel the stress that comes from my anxiety and autoimmune disease. Having something that I could make and feel satisfaction with was wonderful and affirming.”
Luckily for Margolis, as with many Gen Zers, she opened a Depop shop right before the pandemic hit to sell off the clothes she knew she had no plans to take to college. She would tap into this audience to test out her original cross-stitching designs on tote bags and sell them.
But she soon had an idea for something else, she had learned to knit in elementary school when she would make scarves and donate to kids with cancer via a school program. She brushed up on those skills and made her first Picnic bag, a crocheted gingham purse perfect for summer, which would quickly become her best selling item for Kira Margolis Designs, her eponymous brand.
With over 100 pieces sold now, the designer says her plan for the future is to keep crafting, keeping in line with the legacy of crafters in her family, but in a more balanced way. “Selling my first piece was exhilarating. It proved to me that there were people out there who appreciated labor, craft, and the love that goes into these products. While I plan to keep crafting for the rest of my life, it will be in a much-reduced capacity as I eventually set out to college to pursue my career,” Margolis says.