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Clara Johsen creates ear­rings and sells them on Instagram. Courtesy | Clara Johsen

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.”