Handmade hustle: small artists adjust to a changing business

Elizabeth+Walton%2C+junior%2C+works+in+the+at-home+studio+she+has+set+up+to+continue+her+business+even+during+the+COVID-19+pandemic.+September+8%2C+2020.

Kara Haselton

Elizabeth Walton, junior, works in the at-home studio she has set up to continue her business even during the COVID-19 pandemic. September 8, 2020.

Ansley Puckett, A&C Editor

Within Boone’s local business community are several small artists offering patrons personalized, handmade, unique products. Like normal businesses, these small artists had to adapt to a global pandemic, changing the way they create, package and interact with customers.

According to calligraphy artist Inaya Mack, who creates and sells home decor and wedding signs out of her home, the pandemic hit some parts of her business harder than others.

“There haven’t been many weddings, so I haven’t had signs from there,” Mack said. “But I am grateful to not have been super negatively impacted by the pandemic because I know other people have.”

Mack mainly relies on Instagram, word of mouth and Etsy to sell her products, but with larger orders comes shipping difficulties and safety concerns.

“A lot of people come to my home as well, especially with wedding signs because it’s hard to ship these really large plexiglass signs and so I’m not able to do that right now,” Mack said.

Artist Inaya Mack with a sign for her calligraphy business, Letters of Grace. (Courtesy of Inaya Mack)

Similar to traditional businesses, artists who create and sell their products must sanitize their inventory and take precautions to protect themselves and customers from infection. 

Elizabeth Walton, who has been selling her handmade jewelry since the age of 8, has also taken safety into account when selling products.

“I’ve been intentional (sic) to wear a mask going to the post office for everyone’s safety, and I try to go in the morning when it’s less busy just so I’m around less people,” Walton said. 

However, across the state, shipping delays caused by COVID-19 have affected delivery dates, and local artists like Walton and Mack have had to rush to keep up. 

 “I’m having to definitely adjust my schedule and how quickly I can get things done, but also not charging them extra because of all of this that is happening,” Mack said. “It’s hard because sometimes it does negatively affect me and how I’m making money off of it.”

Walton has relied more on selling jewelry from in-store locations that house her products rather than dealing with long shipping delays.

“In some instances, if I’m worried about someone getting something, then I will just try to avoid shipping, and they can go to an in-store location,” Walton said. 

Despite its challenges, the artists believe the pandemic’s effects on their businesses haven’t been completely negative.

Local artist Rachel O’Hare, who has been making and selling her creations since the eighth grade, sells earrings and stationery online and in local stores. 

O’Hare said she hadn’t been making her business a priority until quarantine, where she was able to refocus on it by selling products relevant to the pandemic.

Recently, O’Hare has been creating personalized stationery for teachers to send to students during their time away from school. She hopes that her stationery will let students know “that there’s someone rooting for them, and that’s their teacher.”

“So, just knowing that there’s a really personal tie for whoever is ordering those things and whatever that is for them in this season, is something special,” O’Hare said.

Artist Rachel O’Hare sells custom stationery online and in local stores. (Courtesy of Rachel O’Hare)

Walton said she also took the extra free time during quarantine to work on her business. 

“My website was not in great shape before COVID, and then COVID happened, and a lot of my plans got canceled, so I was like, wait I have all this time, this is the perfect time to organize my business,” Walton said. “I think at this point, my business is probably the most organized that it has ever been.”

Although many traditional businesses have struggled to stay open in the wake of the pandemic, extra free time and the safety of online shopping have pushed more users online, and calligraphy artist Mack has seen an increase in orders.

  “I think people are just trying to find new ways to decorate their homes because they can’t really do much else, and so I’ve gotten a pr etty good amount of orders since March, but in the wedding aspect, I have seen less,” Mack said.

For O’Hare, creating her products gives her the chance to give back during a time of confusion and pain.

“You have to pivot in this kind of season, and you have to build the narrative around that pivot,” O’Hare said.