Kelly Maust was fascinated by the jewelry that her mother-in-law used to send her from Ecuador. The stones were meticulously polished and shone in a variety of vibrant colors—except they weren’t stones; they were made from palm seeds.
cuadorians harvest the seeds, dry them out, and then colorize them with vibrant dyes. They then use the seeds to make lovely and eco-friendly beads, small toys, keychains, ornaments, and more.
Two years ago, when Maust and her husband were visiting his parents for Christmas, Maust had an idea.
“His mom would always send me that jewelry, I always liked it so much, and when we went to visit, I was like, ‘I want to see if I can make my own jewelry from it. So I went to a market and asked to buy a bag of beads, and I started making jewelry from that.”
She started selling the jewelry on her Etsy shop, The Spare Room, which she opened three years ago to sell paper home and party decor, such as banners, cake toppers, and cards, which she made on a Cricut machine. In addition to paper goods and jewelry, since becoming a member at theCO, Maust has started using the laser etcher to make wooden wall hangings.
Maust and her husband, a Spanish professor at Lane College, moved to Jackson from New Orleans last August.
“I didn’t know anything about Jackson,” she said. “We had to move because of my husband’s work, and I was so excited to find about things like theCO and everything that the Jackson Chamber of Commerce does. . . . It was a great surprise that there was the entrepreneurial, creative community that I was able to be a part of.”
On Saturday mornings, she started selling her products at the Farmers’ Market, which she described as an “accessible and affordable” venue. She learned about theCO during theCOtoberbest last October, an annual celebration of local artistic and entrepreneurial spirit. As Maust sold some of her goods during the West Tennessee Maker Exhibits as part of the festival, she learned about the CO.STARTERS program and quickly signed up.
“It was really helpful,” she said. “Some of it was the hard truths of owning your own business.”
The thing that Maust said the most valuable aspect of CO.STARTERS for her was learning about pricing.
“I had been pricing my stuff really low because I wanted it to sell,” she said. “But in the class about pricing, they were talking about all these things that you’re spending money on, but you may not have taken account for in the price of your product. One of them is your time, how long it takes you to make it, and you should be able to pay yourself an hourly rate for your work, and what is your Internet costing you, and all of these things that we don’t really think of as business expenses.”
Maust said she also learned about marketing and other practical aspects of business. But being a CO:member isn’t all business.
“Right now, I’m enjoying playing around in the makerspace, learning to use all these tools,” she said. “I’ve been making a lot of stuff with the laser cutter, and that’s like a $40,000 machine that I could never afford to ever use without something like theCO.”
For Maust, the community that theCO provides is one of its greatest assets. Not only are there several opportunities for professional networking, but the people she has met have personally inspired her to achieve more with her own work.
“Seeing Lisa [Garner, creator of Garner Blue] and Katie [Howerton, editor-in-chief of Our Jackson Home] and how they had successfully done this thing that I really want to do, I want to get to where they are,” Maust said. “I think it gave me the courage to make more of what I had been doing on Etsy and make it more of a local thing, because I saw how they were able to take all of their creativity and pour it into a small place.”
In New Orleans, she said that she felt barricaded by the costs of selling products downtown and the sheer number of competitive artisans. Here, she feels like she can be a participant in the creative community.
“I think some of these people might look at Jackson and think it’s just some nothing place, which is what I thought when I came here,” she said. “And then meeting people at theCO, I realized I was totally wrong. There is a really vibrant and creative community. You just have to look a little bit to find it.”
To learn more or purchase products, visit The Spare Room Etsy shop at www.etsy.com/shop/spareroomstationery or follow them on Instagram @the.spare.room.