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Students string together jewelry-making businesses on campus

Jewelry made by Sophomore Emma Wieber for her business The Dainty Daffodil. Photo courtesy of Emma Wieber.

UNC senior Ryan Christiano spent many hours of her childhood drawing with pencil and paper. But last year she realized the art was no longer bringing her the joy she'd always associated with it. 

She decided to shift her creative outlet to metal work and beading. Now, she owns her own jewelry business, Onyx Ornamentum.

Christiano is one of several students on campus who balances school work and extracurriculars while running a small jewelry-making business. Many of them sell their items through social media accounts and organizations like Student-Made UNC, which sells and promotes items made by student entrepreneurs.

On Onyx Ornamentum's Instagram page, the jewelry is marketed  with photos of fictional characters, music and art that have inspired the creation of the piece. 

“I mostly just make things that are related to the media that I consume that keeps me happy, and I try to challenge myself to turn something that is a completely different style of media into something that is in a jewelry format,” Christiano said

For the color scheme of the specific piece, she typically draws from a character’s hair, eye or outfit colors and adds in charms that represent iconography associated with the characters. For example, when she made a necklace inspired by the Dungeons & Dragons-obsessed guitar player Eddie Munson from Stranger Things, she included a dragon and a guitar.

Over the last year of making jewelry, Christiano said she has learned to value handmade items over mass produced pieces found at fast-fashion stores.

Sophomore Wrene Every, owner of Wrene Beads, sources most of the beads they use for their jewelry from The Scrap Exchange, a Durham thrift store..

At the store, Every digs through a table of broken jewelry to find glass beads with eclectic designs, takes them back home, washes them and creates new piece of art. 

“It’s a really good way to reuse,” Every said. “I feel better about recycling things and reusing them rather than always buying new stuff.” 

Liz Vaughan, a junior and the owner of Snowlux Steampunk, said making their jewelry was a learning process. Their pieces are made of resin, which starts out in a liquid form in two separate components that get mixed together, often with dyes and glitter.

“The first couple batches of resin that I did were definitely not as high quality as the ones I can make now,” Vaughan said. “It’s definitely just learning as you go, as with any discipline or form.” 

Every said the most difficult part of running a small jewelry business is learning how to promote their work in a way that will get the attention of people outside of their circle. 

Without a storefront, they said that many small businesses often struggle to sell products. Every said that social media sites, like Instagram, constantly change their algorithm and prefer aesthetically pleasing content, which can be hard to create in a limited space like a dorm room. 

Sophomore Emma Wieber, owner of jewelry shop The Dainty Daffodilsaid it’s been a challenge to balance running a business, participating in extracurriculars and being a full-time student at UNC. However, she said that Student-Made UNC has been a huge help in this process.

The organization has given her, and many other creators, a platform to sell their products to other students and the general public. Student-Made UNC is student-run organization — Wieber is the social media manager and Christiano is the events and partnerships manager.

“If you take any business or entrepreneurship class, they will tell you this a billion times, but I find it to be so true in practice — to have an idea of your target market,” Wieber said.

She said she often tries to think about who might wear her jewelry as she makes it. She tends to market toward young college students and professionals looking for simple, refined and unique jewelry. 

“It was just really cool to see somebody pick out something of mine and be like, ‘Oh my gosh I really want this. This was made for me,’” she said.

@dthlifestyle |

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