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'Essential part of my life': Senior Marina Fela-Castillo runs handmade gift business


UNC senior Marina Fela-Castillo is the founder of Pintamar, a company that sells handmade stickers, earrings and tote bags.

For Marina Carolina Fela-Castillo, it all began in October of 2019 when she decorated a shot glass for a friend of hers that was turning 21. 

The present was a hit, and many people at the party asked her where she got it. When she told them she had made it herself, she began to get requests to make custom shot glasses and mugs.

Fela-Castillo is the founder of Pintamar, a company that sells handmade gifts like stickers, earrings and tote bags.

When Fela-Castillo first started taking commissions, she just saw them as a way to make money. Over time, it became her side hustle, until March of 2020 when the coronavirus hit and the University moved to remote learning.

“Lockdown happened, and I hit a very low point in my life where all I was doing was going to class and then lying in bed,” she said. “It was awful, so I turned to my artistic side again and I started making things.”

Fela-Castillo realized that creating and selling her art was what brought her joy and got her out of bed in the morning, especially during a tumultuous time in the world.

She decided to create a website and begin shipping out her products. Pintamar officially launched on June 10, 2020. 

It took a month to decide on a name for her company, and it was her dad who finally came up with Pintamar.

“He put ‘pintar,’ which is painting in Spanish, and the first three letters of my name which is ‘mar’ and put it together,” she said. “I just had this feeling that this is the name I want my business to be called.”

Art has always been a part of Fela-Castillo’s life, but it wasn’t until college that she saw it as a talent or an escape. 

Pintamar is a one-woman company, so she designs, creates, packages and ships products all on her own. She said it is often difficult to balance the company with her schoolwork.

Fela-Castillo uses Pintamar to support herself, and some of her earnings go toward supporting her extended family in Venezuela, where she lived until the age of 8 when she and her parents moved to the United States.

Odalys Aleman, a junior studying economics and psychology, commissioned Fela-Castillo to create a shot glass for her brother’s 21st birthday when the business was just starting out.

Since then, Aleman said she has bought earrings, stickers and, most recently, a Valentine’s Day surprise box from Fela-Castillo.

“She does a very nice job of making her products really good quality,” Aleman said. “Ever since I got that first shot glass I was amazed at how beautiful it came out and I just loved it.” 

Being a full-time student and running your own business can be a challenge, but Sekou Bermiss, an associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the Kenan-Flagler Business School, believes college campuses are a great place to experiment with and launch new business ideas.

“Some of the greatest businesses have been launched from dorms,” Bermiss said. "It’s a really great time because you’re together with your friends, you’re thinking and experimenting with new ideas."

He said some issues student entrepreneurs might face are a lack of capital and formalized knowledge when it comes to business plans and marketing. 

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In the coming months, Fela-Castillo hopes Pintamar will reach its goal of 1,000 orders by its one year anniversary. 

She said after graduation, she plans to commit all of her time to growing her business for at least a year.

“I’m going to move back in with my parents and just dedicate 100% of my time to Pintamar, seeing if I see any exponential growth during that time,” she said. “If I see that it really pops off, it’s consistent enough, I will then declare myself as a full-time business owner.”

Fela-Castillo said she puts her love and soul into her work to create authentic products.

“I let that radiate and attract the people that do see the hard work, do fall in love with Pintamar and just let them support me,” she said. 

“I’m glad that I was able to figure out that art was such an essential part of my life because for a long time I denied myself of that.”