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Students turn their creative hobbies into small businesses

As college gets more expensive, student artists have begun selling their work

Green-beaded hoop earrings made by Lila Jensen. She made these in her dorm room at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Jan. 16, 2023. // Photo courtesy of Lila Jensen

Amongst the usual dorm items in first-year Western student Lila Jensen’s room are bits of wire, beads and flower charms molded from clay, waiting to be taken home to fire on the next school break. 

She slips a necklace and some candy into a packing envelope. She adds the shipping label before beginning the trip to the Viking Union at Western Washington University to ship the package.

Jensen opened her online jewelry shop four years ago. Although she had other forms of income before college, making jewelry became the only thing she could do from her dorm.

Jensen makes all the jewelry by hand. She finds materials anywhere she can, from gifted charms to thrift shop beads.

“I'll take apart bracelets, necklaces and stuff that are obviously not going to be used anymore or that are falling apart," Jensen said. "And then I'll reuse the beads."

Jensen’s inspiration for starting her jewelry business was her mom, who is a professional jewelry maker, and some leftover clay. Jewelry making is still a passion project despite the business aspects, Jensen said.

“I still think it very much is an outlet and almost, in a way, it feels better because you know that people like what you're putting out enough to buy it,” Jensen said.

More people are drawn to the idea of running a small business because it allows them the flexibility of being their own boss, said Asche Rider, a business adviser from Western’s Small Business Development Center.

Students who want to open a small business should consider how much time they can put into it.

“With anything in life, where you put your attention and energy is where you’ll see movement,” Rider said. “If someone is genuinely interested in starting a business, be consistent about putting time into it, make it a priority and the results will come faster than they would have otherwise.”


Blue and red beaded earrings made by Lila Jensen. She made these in her dorm room at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Wash., on Feb. 1, 2023. // Photo courtesy of Lila Jensen

Bellingham is home to a thriving local art scene, and many artists attend markets where they can sell their work. One of these is the Whatcom Art Market in Bellingham, Wash.

James Williamson is an artist that has been selling his art at the market since it opened 12 years ago.

Young artists who want to sell their art should focus on the business side just as much as the creative side, Williamson said.

“I'll sit around and say, ‘Well, tomorrow I'm going to do business stuff,’” Williamson said. “I'm not going to do any art that day because I'm in a different part of my brain. Then I'll go ‘OK, tomorrow I'm gonna paint.’”

As online markets like Etsy and Depop continue to gain popularity, it’s becoming more and more common for artists to sell their work online. Although these platforms make it easier for artists to get exposure, it also creates new problems.

Depop fees have caused Jensen to increase prices in order to make a profit. She tries to keep costs affordable by offering cheaper prices for customers willing to pick up orders, Jensen said.

“Anything that you sell on is going to be super expensive because they charge the seller,” Jensen said. “They charge you shipping fees, handling fees, packaging fees, printing out shipping label fees. It's all ridiculous.”

Western’s Art Drop Mini program offers another way for artists to gain exposure for their work. This program sells small art pieces for $1 from gumball machines around campus.

Its goal is to raise money for the art program, but any artist can donate their art.

“We tell people you should put your artist name or your Instagram or whatever platform you use to show your art,” said Rose Nielson, a fourth-year Western student who works with the program. “It gives artists the opportunity to get commissions.” 

Finding time for creative pursuits and school can be challenging. You need to ask yourself what is important, said Alicia Gomez, a fourth-year Western student who also works with the program.

“What's my priorities? What do I need to get done? And just like balancing out your schedule," Gomez said. "It's not easy, but it's worth it."

Jenna Millikan

Jenna Millikan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year student majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. When not reporting, she enjoys cheesy movies, reading and drinking too much coffee. 

You can reach her 

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