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Students run small businesses during the pandemic

Instead of spending the spring semester studying in Cape Town, South Africa, Ithaca College senior Brontë Cook found herself home in mid-March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than sit at home for four months, she decided to turn her newfound free time into an opportunity.

In March, she started Ladyface Boutique, an earring shop on Etsy. Cook said she has always loved wearing jewelry, and after volunteering last fall at the Makerspace in the Tompkins County library, she grew to love making it.

“I remember one of my coworkers, one time I was making a bunch of earrings and she was like oh, you could totally start a business,” Cook said.

Cook said she started her business earlier than she originally planned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My plan was to go back to Minneapolis for the summer and try to start a jewelry business and see if I could get that off the ground instead of doing an internship,” Cook said. “I just want time to do creative stuff.”

The “Taylor” earrings, designed by Brontë Cook and sold on her Etsy shop: Ladyface Boutique

Cook said she was concerned about starting a business during the pandemic.

“People are already so financially strapped right now so who is going to spend money on earrings when we aren’t even going out,” Cook said.

Cook said she got a positive response from her earrings and a decent amount of sales. As of Dec. 7, Cook has made 159 sales on Etsy and additional sales on her businesses Instagram page, which has over 900 followers.

“My sales really started picking up in July and I think that probably had to do with the fact that people started to forget that COVID existed,” Cook said. “In the summer, people were hoping that things would go back to normal and I think that hopefulness had people shopping a little bit more.”

Cook is not the only student at Ithaca College with a small earring business. Carly Hough, a senior, runs GaudyGarbage on Etsy, which sells “quirky jewelry for fun-loving folks.”

Two packages from Gaudy Garbage Inc., run by Carly Hough.

Hough said they started making earrings during their sophomore year. They initially made earrings out of unique items found at craft stores, like mini plastic babies or bones, but recently started making earrings at the Ithaca Generator, a not-for-profit organization that provides people with creative tools “regardless of age of background.”

“My roommate is on the board and she taught me how to use the laser machines,” Hough said. “So now I make earrings on a laser and make them out of acrylic for the most part and it’s really fun.”

Hough said creating things has always been an outlet for them and found joy in making earrings.

“I just love fun and quirky little things like that,” Hough said.

Hough said that they also enjoy the business side of running an Etsy shop. As of Dec. 7, Hough has made 336 sales on Etsy and also has an Instagram page with over 200 followers.

“It’s a nice way to make a little bit of money and also be doing something that’s not a soul sucking job,” Hough said. “I’m just doing it for myself and it is really fun to see them out in the world and see people post stuff wearing my earrings.”

Cook also said she enjoys the community that has come out of starting a business. She said she has gotten a lot of support from her friends at Ithaca College, but also from people around the country.

“It feels so awesome to just have random people compliment my earrings and receive reviews on my Etsy shop from people I don’t even know,” Cook said.

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