You don’t need a grand plan of what you want to do with your life. Sometimes, your path just falls into your lap (like that great idea you thought of in the shower). You may not even realize when your summer side hustle becomes the thing that fuels you every day. Sarah of Viv Jewelry started making her pieces in the summer of 2019 – as she wrapped up 3 years in OCAD’s illustration program. In less than a year, she has over 200 sales on Etsy Canada alone and over 1000 fans on Instagram buying her polymer clay jewelry. How does she do it?
Since most of her university days were filled with art and constant creation, she found summertime to be a stark contrast to that so she picked up air-dried clay as a fun project. Having made her first “ugly” piece, Sarah found the material was not quite what she was looking for. A little research later, she discovered polymer clay and became obsessed.
STEP 1: Experimentation
With each passing day, she took the time to experiment with the material and try different things. This period of experimentation was crucial to finding her style and figuring out how to use the clay and make the jewelry last.
“If I hadn’t done those experiments, I would have made the earrings wrong. I would bake them for 20 minutes and you’re supposed to bake them for an hour, so they’re bendy.”
STEP 2: Find Your Niche
Having a niche and sticking to it is key. It defines your brand and makes it recognizable. For polymer clay jewelry, there are a number of people turning this side hustle into a business. Sarah had the advantage of starting before the hype, establishing her style and perfecting the art. Whether you choose to have a very clean contemporary style like Hello Ashto or a fun quirky style like Sarah’s it’s important to stick to it.
STEP 3: Market Yourself And Your Brand
During this period of finding her style, Sarah set up her Instagram profile, posting regularly so early fans could see the process and how she was growing. The platform helps you reach people interested in your product provided you put in the work. From there, things just start snowballing.
“In general, I’m a very crazy person. I like to be happy and put that in my work. Before, when I thought about a pattern, it used to be I want to draw that but now it’s I want to make earrings out of that.”
Showcasing the process involves people in what you’re doing. Since the beginning, Sarah has been using Instagram Stories and posts to show short videos of how the designs are made. Recently, she also incorporated TikTok in the mix to appeal to a different demographic and show her personality. Syncing the process videos to music and text showcase her spunky side which people appreciate.
The videos also allow people to see the amount of time and love that goes into each piece. People are more inclined to love a brand when the creator is passionate about what they do. Sarah also incorporates personal aspects of her life which people find relatable and want to follow her journey.
STEP 4: Meet People IRL
With a couple of followers in hand, Sarah’s friends encouraged her to set up a table and sell on the street. In fact, that’s where I found her! I was in the middle of an ice-cream crawl along Queen West in Toronto, when I took a double-take and walked back to admire her pieces. Finding a unique but popular spot where she could sell her pieces and not have to buy space was the ideal situation. Also drawing people in with music helped.
This is a great idea if you want to save money but also get exposure. If you have the means in the beginning or once you’ve gained some supporters, invest in participating in a few local markets throughout the year. This will really help bring your brand to a completely new audience who is already interested in handcrafted local products.
You can grow your audience and in turn make this a lucrative side hustle by working with retailers to carry your collection. Sarah is working hard to create stock to set-up her mini-store at the Arts Market (yay!).
STEP 5: Slowly Invest In Your Brand
As time goes on, find ways to invest in your brand. That could be in equipment or professional assistance. One month, Sarah bought a pasta machine to help perfect the skill of creating polymer clay jewelry. Polymer clay is sold in blocks or bricks and to get it to a workable state – supple, flexible, smooth – it must be conditioned. With a pasta machine, this process becomes easier than kneading the clay by hand and using a rolling pin to flatten.
Taking good quality photos with a cohesive look is important to establish your brand. Sarah created a faux marble backdrop using contact paper which served its purpose but she is soon going to be working with a professional photographer to take photos she can use on her upcoming website.
STEP 6: Branch Out But Remain True To Your Roots
Once you’re known in the business, it’s good to branch out and try other projects with polymer clay or the medium you are using. This will encourage your fans to shop again from you. Sarah has incorporated a few wall hangings to her collection with a similar style to the earrings. You can expect to see more home décor items in the coming months. This is especially great right now as people are working from home and want to make their spaces more liveable.