Ever since her mom set up craft stations for her as a child, graphic communications senior Mia Lew has loved getting creative through DIY projects, whether it be selling duct tape wallets or painting custom shoe designs. Then, two years ago, Lew began experimenting with jewelry making and during the COVID-19 pandemic, she started an Instagram account and became “Mia Makes Ice.”
“It kind of just took off from there. I grinded on it and made a website and was taking pictures every day –– making jewelry every single day,” Lew said. “Now we’re here almost two years later, and it’s still going strong.”
From bloody dagger resin earrings to brightly colored beaded necklaces, Lew said she sells to a mostly “artsy and queer” audience. Through her passion for the arts and as an event planning and experience management minor, Lew has put on three “Bitchin’ DIY Pop-up” events — craft sales for local and student creators to share their handmade items — since the spring of 2021.
The pop-up shops are a way for Lew to give back to the community, she said. At each event she holds donation drives for various causes, such as toiletries for the local homeless community and holiday gifts for underprivileged children.
“I started [the events] with the goal to be able to raise money and at least use the platform to help some people, because I know that I have immense privilege,” Lew said.
Lew also said she loves watching people become “homies” and bond over their crafts at the events.
Fellow crafter Alex Kandarian, otherwise known as Lizard Muse, has sold his jewelry, art and clothing at all three of the pop-up shops. Kandarian said the event’s interactive booths and setup amazed him.
“Especially as queer folks and artists, it’s somewhere to be safe and happy and enjoy community,” he said. “[Lew] has really brought together so many people and made such an impact on me personally.”
Recreation, parks and tourism administration junior Phoebe Saul first became aware of the large and “legit” crafting community in SLO after sharing a class with Lew, she said. Her first and most successful sale was at a Bitchin’ DIY Pop-up shop.
Saul started her DIY journey by selling paintings and collages on Instagram. When she received several requests from friends for custom necklaces, Saul archived old art posts and invented Phee’s Beads.
Saul began with a set of beads she had collected while growing up and developed a love for the creative process behind jewelry making, especially picking out colors and styles for custom pieces.
“It’s really huge just having a creative outlet in college,” Saul said. “I’ve really enjoyed becoming a part of this little niche community in SLO.”
Although it can be frustrating to make something she likes and not have it sold, Saul said it is a great feeling knowing she has made something a customer loves. She is working on refining her “cottagecore” style and expanding her sales to sites like Depop and Etsy.
For graphic communications sophomore Sadie Curdts and business administration senior Pablo Acosta, their small business — Conozco Crafts — is centered around their relationship. They create pieces inspired by inside jokes as well as personal gifts they have made for each other.
One of their best sellers is a pair of earrings sporting characters from the stop-motion comedy series “Wallace and Gromit” and was first gifted to Curdts by Acosta for Christmas. Their Conozco Crafts logo was even inspired by a pair of pink glasses worn on the couple’s second date, according to Curdts.
At home, Acosta said his friends tease him for making jewelry, but he doesn’t let that phase him. Not only is it a way for him to bond with his girlfriend, but it is also a means to express himself freely.
“I get to be who I really am when I’m in SLO and I think that’s an outlet for me, and what pushed me to get out there with [Curdts] and just not be ashamed,” he said.
Curdts said the crafting community is welcoming, supportive and different from the “mostly conservative” presence she has encountered on campus.
This close-knit community is what 2020 journalism graduate Charlotte Ross said makes her jewelry making experience meaningful.
“[My business] just evolved into something that has been so beautiful with other artists and other females,” Ross said. “There’s so many women in SLO that have their own small businesses and make art and jewelry and all these awesome things that I never even knew existed.”
What started as a way to keep busy during the first COVID-19 lockdown, turned into Ross’ own business: Lobos Earrings.
Ross’ love for the outdoors and disco inspired her “boho-funk, earthy” style. Her business grew to attract a large crowd, including indie-pop artist Goth Babe.
As a long-time lover of his music, Ross went to see Goth Babe when he came to the Fremont theater in October. After the show, Ross waited to meet the musician and give him a beanie she knitted him. Several weeks later, Goth Babe posted a photo of him wearing the beanie on his Instagram story, according to Ross.
“I kept acting like it was no big deal but I could hardly look at my phone, I was so excited,” she said. “It was super rad to see someone whose music and life inspires me so much rocking one of my beanies.”
Looking to the future, Ross said she is ready to move away from SLO. However scary it may be, she has made countless connections and friendships through the crafting community that are sure to follow her wherever she goes.
Emily Tobiason is a content writer and DJ trainee for KCPR. This article originally appeared in the January print edition of Mustang News.