Despite COVID-19 complications, student entrepreneurs are still making the most of it
While the global pandemic has stripped society of many little pleasures quite a few of us have had time to take a step back from this weariless world and spend time with ourselves. This has led many of us to embark on a journey of self-introspection or find a new hobby.
For some students, this pandemic really struck a creative chord. Many were inspired to transform their passion into a lucrative business venture, as well as developing essential time management skills.
Luna Cardenas-Ibarra, a second-year conflict studies and human rights student at the University of Ottawa, runs a small part-time jewelry business called STELLALUNA Jewelry. She sells her handmade silver crystal jewelry and ethically sourced hair accessories through the e-commerce platform, Etsy.
“I officially started my business in May of 2020 [but] It actually wasn’t something I had planned,” said Cardenas-Ibarra. “My original plans for the summer were to go to Quebec and study French. Then the pandemic hit and I was forced to reconsider my options.”
While starting a business has its uphill battles, especially during a pandemic, applying to the Ontario Summer Company Program helped Cardenas-Ibarra start her journey.
“I decided to apply at the last minute and got in. The grant gave me the means and resources to turn my jewelry-making hobby into a profitable business.”
This young artisan’s business mission is to “share some of [her] craft — crystal knowledge — and to bring attention to ethical/eco-friendly consumerism.”
According to Cardenas-Ibarra, operating during a pandemic and a province-wide lockdown has been less difficult than expected. With more people shopping online than before, she can order more materials and offer better products to customers.
Having the extra time on her hands due to the pandemic has also helped her expand the business.
“[Before] COVID-19, I would have spent my spare time socializing, going outside or watching Netflix,” she said. “Now [I] devote myself to working on new products, packaging, advertising [like] on social media platforms, such as Instagram and Tik Tok. I have absolutely no regrets!”
She has already completed over 500 orders nationwide. Cardenas-Ibarra shares that she does everything herself, aside from asking her sister to help package orders.
“I want to continue expanding my handmade jewelry items as well as fair-trade products! It would also be amazing if one day I could sell my items either in person at markets or through local Ottawa [or] Toronto vendors,” said Cardenas-Ibarra.
“I have invested a lot of money, time and love into my business so it is definitely something I want to see pan out. I don’t necessarily plan on turning it into a lucrative career, but I am definitely hoping to carry it through my studies.”
Faith Mumba, a third-year sociology student at the U of O, is another student working on expanding her side business during the pandemic.
“This is my area of focus mainly because I have always been passionate about people’s rights and standing up for the injustices within society,” Mumba said. “[On the side] I am also an artist, and I run a business selling pieces, which mostly have to do with empowering Black people and representing Black culture.”
“My grandparents were artists, so I have always been into art and the business of art in general, I started selling as young as elementary school, which was mostly encouraged by my friends, family, and teachers, who all motivated me to believe I could make a business out of art since a lot of people took an interest in my art,” shared the native Zambian student.
Her business’s mission is “to create and provide art that inspires, empowers, and illuminates positivity into the lives of those who experience it.”
In order to promote her business, Mumba uses social media ranging from Facebook to Instagram and Clubhouse. Additionally, she also has a YouTube channel where she talks about various topics; ranging from fashion to art and lifestyle.
“Creating art during the pandemic has been very freeing as I’ve used it as an outlet to express my feelings about what’s been going on in our world. It also helps to take my mind off, and it has helped me be more relaxed in these times of stress and disorder,” said Mumba.
While she has been in the art industry for a while, she noticed a large number of new artists using the extra down time from the pandemic to promote their own work.
“I have noticed a lot of others have turned to art also, as a way to deal with our current societal situation, so it has almost built a community of people also interested in art online.”
The rise in small business profiles has been a benefit.
“More people have been more supportive of my art because of the increase of people supporting small businesses, which I’ve truly appreciated.”
Mumba manages to balance her online student life with her side business by “focus[ing] on being extremely organized, which helps [her] manage both school and art well.”
Looking at the long term, she plans on “reaching more people to inspire and motivate, (potentially world-wide) through art.”
“I do [see myself doing this long-term] since it’s something I’ve been doing from when I was just a little child, even before I could walk,” she said.
“It is something I’ve always enjoyed and makes me happy. So as long as it continues to make me happy (and others as well), I will continue to do it, even as a career.”