Section: Arts

Creative student-run businesses flourish during pandemic

Creative student-run businesses flourish during pandemic

McManus’ jewelry is a hit online. | COURTESY OF GRACE MCMANUS

As many students begin to settle back into their routines on campus, they are bringing previously off-campus pastimes to Gambier. 

In recent months, an array of small, student-run businesses have gained footing in the Kenyon community and beyond. Students selling a variety of handmade products — ranging from jewelry and crocheted creations to visual art in a variety of mediums — have found success in marketing their passion projects to a wide audience. 

Grace McManus ’22, a suburban Chicago native, ventured in the direction of the Lake Michigan shoreline for her accessory-based project. From March 2020 until her arrival on campus, she spent an hour each day scouring local beaches for small pieces of sea glass. Inspired by the commonalities between different fragments, her self-proclaimed “hunt for treasure” quickly became a drive to create distinctive jewelry.  

McManus’s colorful sea glass earrings have been in high demand for some time, amassing her a small wealth, a portion of which she donated to a Chicago organization providing social services to its LGBTQ+ community. “With this, the joy I have from spreading my work to people’s jewelry boxes all over the country, as well as the genuine fun and pride I have in making [creations] out of things I found myself, this little business was probably the best part of 2020 for me,” she said. “[It is] absolutely something I’ll keep doing for a while.”

Becca Blank ’22 has also embarked on an artistic business venture, selling customized, crocheted plushies. Ellie Roman ’22, meanwhile, takes commissions for two-dimensional visual art. Both enjoy working with customers to craft unique products, incorporating their own flair into recreations of beloved characters, animals, portraits and a range of other concepts. 

Roman cites the pandemic as a catalyst for consistent artistic practice and business inspiration. “I drew pretty much nonstop last summer, since art was something almost meditative I could do to distract myself without breaking from isolation,” she said. “COVID gave me a hard push to monetize my art, but also time to improve to the point where I felt okay about doing it.”

McManus, Blank and Roman all emphasize the joy their work brings them and the artistic growth and confidence it inspires. “I love making products and then getting messages [from buyers] saying how much they are enjoying them really does make me happy,” said Blank. 

“Knowing that other people value this uniqueness helps me be there for my own art,” Roman said. 

Innovative online marketplaces such as Etsy, in addition to social media platforms like Instagram, have allowed creators to showcase and share their work at a time when virtual businesses are most widely accessible. McManus, Blank and Roman’s distinct and carefully constructed pieces have found homes both in Kenyon residences and across the country. They encourage customers to reach out to them at their Instagram accounts — @gracedglass, @illuminatecraftstore and @elliegraceart — with any inquiries.



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