What started out as making a birthday gift quickly turned into a booming jewelry business. Clara Johsen ‘19 found clay earrings expensive — so she decided to make some of her own. 70 pairs later, and Johsens is devoting time and money outside her full-time job to sell earrings off her Instagram page.
“Particularly now, earrings are something I’ve really enjoyed making because the only time we see people is over Facetime, so [you only see] the top half of your face with bad lighting,” Johsens said. “It’s something I can put on and feel put together over Facetime.”
Johsens majored in French and History while at Hillsdale and now works in fundraising. In addition to gift-giving, making earrings is an outlet for Johsen’s passion for art and her desire to use her hands.
“I love receiving jewelry as gifts because it’s more special to me than something that sits in your house,” she said. “I love doing something with my hands while I’m doing other things, especially during lockdown. I like having something to do while I’m watching TV or reading.”
Johsens uses Sculpey Polymer Clay, which can be baked in the oven. She molds, shapes, bakes, sands and occasionally glazes all the earrings herself. The average cost of a pair is around $20 which includes shipping. Each batch of earrings takes five to six hours to make.
Johsens and her husband, Nainoa, live in Washington D.C., and they both began working remotely when lockdown began in April.
Johsens has always had a knack for crafting and decorating. Before college, she would regularly visit the thrift store to find things she could repurpose. Since the normal outlets have been closed to her, the business has been a way for her to spend her time at home well.
“I always have a bug for redecorating or making something,” she said. “It’s a nice way to have a creative outlet when we’re in a very small apartment.”
Gretchen Wellenmeyer ‘18 bought several pairs of earrings from Johsen’s Instagram page. Wellenmeyer said she has recommended them to friends and family because they are very lightweight, despite being made of clay.
“What struck me, and what I tell other people, is how cool I think it is that she wasn’t even looking to start this business — it was by accident,” she said. “When I got my first pair, I took a picture and posted it on my story. I suggested everyone go follow her page and said they were handmade.”
Johsens said she is considering whether to make this a small business or continue making smaller batches.
“It’s been a ton of learning as I go, especially when it comes to tax purposes,” she said. “In a normal world I would go to a farmer’s market, but now I’m trying to make Instagram and other online platforms work.”
Johsens’ husband handles the logistics of the project, from printing labels, buying stamps, and mailing the packages. Nainao said his wife is well suited for this work because she has “endless creative energy.”
“She will think of new designs and make a sample in one night, then make 20 pairs the next day,” he said. “When she has an idea she stops at nothing to realize it.”
Nainao said he notices a difference in Johsens when she has a project.
“Clara is much more energized when she has a project to work on,” he said. “She is visibly excited by having a distraction from her day to day routine, and making earrings provides her many creative challenges.”