Turning Crafts into Cash

Student owners of small businesses share the behind-the-scenes happenings of their profitable ventures.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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By Malka Lubelski

Poorly-taped flyers line the hallways. Artsy promotions crowd your Instagram feed. Merchandise appears on makeshift booths around school. In your time at Stuyvesant, you have likely come across student-run businesses at some point. While the purchasing process is usually as simple as filling out a quick online form and picking up the product, the entrepreneurs behind Stuyvesant’s small businesses invest immense amounts of time and energy into marketing their crafts.

Often, students center their businesses around a personal hobby they can profit from. Sophomore Malka Lubelski owns TheVeryCoolShoppe, an Etsy shop that sells handmade jewelry. “I made the shop because I learned how to make jewelry over quarantine and I really liked doing that. And my friends, a bunch of them convinced me because I just wanted to give people jewelry, but they said that I should sell it so I could make a profit and not go broke,” Lubelski said.

Sophomore Rebecca Pereira sells chocolate chip and oatmeal cookies through her Instagram account, @bybecca0604. Similar to Lubelski, she founded her business in order to profit from an activity she enjoyed, but only after her classmates convinced her to turn her passion for baking into cash. “I made a lot of cookies and I went back upstairs to my AIS for AP Biology and I had this bag of cookies. And so I was like, ‘Who wants cookies?’ And everyone wanted cookies,” Pereira explained. “And then [someone] messaged me that night and he was like, ‘I’ll buy your cookies,’” Pereira elaborated. “And that was the first time. But then I started [selling more] because he messaged it in the AP Bio group chat, and then so other people saw, and then I got other orders as well.” Since student-led businesses do not often have the funds to afford formal advertising, other methods of promotion, such as social media and word of mouth, are vital to their success.

Maintaining a business requires careful time management, as it can be difficult to balance production with the demanding schedule of a Stuyvesant student. “Normally, whenever someone orders a product from me during the week, I’ll tell them that I can get it to them [...] by Monday so that I have the weekend to work on it. Because during the school week, a lot of time I can't, like last night I had this bulk order for someone and I went to bed really late,” Lubelski explained. “I probably spend like three hours a week on jewelry making. [And] when I package products, that takes me a while cause I try to make it cute.”

Pereira also plans her production schedule according to the demands of her academic one. “The reason why I choose Fridays [to distribute the cookies] is because I tend to have less tests on Fridays,” Pereira explained. However, even on days when she has a lighter workload, running the business remains a challenge. “It’s a little bit exhausting, especially on Friday, the day of selling cookies, because there’s like this nausea from [staying up] the night before,” acknowledged Pereira.

Passions aside, the primary reason that many students start businesses is simple: profit. Like Lubelski, junior Cassandra Anderson owns a small business where she sells her handcrafted jewelry, although hers is based on Instagram (@rose.ravioli.jewelry). Her decision to start a business was precipitated by a sudden loss of money. “We [had] spent too much money at Comic-Con, and the plan was to make that money back by selling jewelry on Instagram,” Anderson admitted.

Fortunately, many of these entrepreneurial undertakings become successful. “I’ve made a good amount of money,” said Lubelski. Still, she has to reinvest a portion of her profits into her business. “I also spend a lot of it on getting more supplies,” Lubelski explained. Naturally, even student-run businesses must meet certain production quotas. For Lubelski, these expenditures often consist of stocking materials for incoming orders.

Pereira is also unable to keep all of her sales earnings, as she needs to restock ingredients for the dozens of cookies she makes each week. “I went to Target and had to bring home 30 pounds [of] sugar and flour,” Pereira recalled. Pereira also frequently donates a fraction of her revenue. “A portion goes to charity every single week,” Pereira said. The charity she chooses varies monthly. In the past, she has donated to the Chinatown Food Fridge.

Lubelski echoed the importance of using her business to give back to the community. She sold her jewelry at the Stuyvesant Animal Association’s recent fundraiser for endangered sea turtles. “One of my friends is one of the owners of the club, [and] she reached out to me and asked me to make some sea turtle jewelry because I sell some bracelets with turtles on them. It was really exciting for me ‘cause I don’t usually get assigned projects to do. So I enjoyed this one,” Lubelski expressed. “And definitely any prospective people who wanna reach out to me about the same stuff, I enjoy doing it.”

For other students looking to start their own businesses, Pereira noted that the most important trait to have is discipline. “Discipline is very crucial and I think my discipline has increased,” Pereira said.

Lubelski added that being able to work with a variety of people is important for running a business. “I have to communicate with [clients] in the best, easiest way possible,” Lubelski explained.

Pereira revealed that this can be difficult: “You have to be nice to everyone. [...] It’s a lot of work to keep up with people.” Pereira also advised that for a business to last, the owner needs to enjoy running it. “Don’t invest yourself into something you’re not passionate about,” Pereira warned. “If you don’t want to do it next year, then don’t start it.”

Anderson, who also founded her business on a beloved hobby, echoed this warning of assessing your intentions before launching a commercial venture. “Do not create a business with your sole expectation to be making money off it. If you start out that way, you’re just gonna find yourself miserable so fast,” Anderson advised.

Lubelski agreed that students who enjoy what they do can often reap more benefits from running a small business. “For any hobby that you like doing, it’s really cool to see your talents appreciated,” Lubelski said. Lubelski added that she would love if more students started their own businesses: “[For] everyone who wants to start a small business—I always love to encourage you to do it […] I would love for there to be like a whole small business thing at Stuy. If we had flea markets at Stuy, I feel like that’d be really cool.”

Running a small business may not be easy, but its rewards are tremendous. Giving back to the community, gaining important life skills, and achieving financial independence are all opportunities that await ambitious, business-minded students looking to test the waters of commerce. Small student-run businesses are a defining fixture of Stuyvesant culture, but they only exist when students take the initiative to start them—students like you.