Published September 8, 2011, in MSUM’s, The Advocate
Three sisters, originally from Pelican Rapids, Minn., share more than DNA.
Kaija, Chelsea and Lexie Thorson share a passion for designing and creating unique jewelry, and Etsy, a website based on the inventiveness of individual sellers, provides the perfect opportunity to showcase their creations.
Etsy, founded in Brooklyn in 2005, has become an internet hub for hobbyists and a creative cove for connoisseurs of all things arts and crafts. The do-it-yourself mentality has evolved into a sell-it-yourself business plan for millions of crafty entrepreneurs.
Etsy has made it possible, in an easy and efficient manner, to reach thousands of new customers without having to spend big bucks on advertising.
The eldest of the three sisters, Kaija Thorson was the first to begin her jewelry-making journey. A 2006 graduate of MSUM, she earned a degree in university studies and is a full-time graphic designer for Scheels All Sports. Kaija is also a freelance illustrator on the side.
Inspired by her mother’s handmade jewelry business in the ’80s, Kaija turned to jewelry as a means of additional income during her college career.
“I started making jewelry after my freshman year of college as a way to help pay for school expenses,” Kaija said.
“Being an art student, this seemed like a perfect way to have fun and make money.”
Kaija’s site, Greenfinch Studio, provides shoppers with an array of vintage-inspired pieces.
“I like to recycle old pieces of jewelry and make collages – especially using anything vintage,” she said.
This year, Kaija said she revamped the appearance of her online shop and made a few changes in jewelry design. The makeover has proven to be profitable.
“It all just depends on how much work you put into it,” Kaija said.
Before starting her Etsy account in April 2009, Kaija sold her pieces to gift shops, at craft fairs and consignment galleries. It was during the Fargo Street Fair that she and her sister Chelsea began selling hand-crafted jewelry together. The two sold side-by-side for awhile, but soon realized their creations were too different to share the same name.
It was then that Chelsea Thorson created Raine Design, her own brand-name jewelry and home accessory line which utilizes urban materials to woo customers. A barista by trade, the 24-year-old architectural design graduate of NDSU has been working at various Atomic Coffee locations for more than three years.
When she isn’t catering to people in need of a quick caffeine fix, she experiments with materials such as concrete and reflective construction tape.
Many of her latest creations are concrete rings, necklaces, earrings and even mini-concrete villages. She uses whatever interesting materials she can find. Moss, metals and other recycled matter have been used on various crafting occasions, as well.
An Etsy member since January 2011, Chelsea began catching the eye of intrigued shoppers after only a few weeks of creating her virtual shop.
Raine Design continued to create quite a buzz in the Etsy circle. She was eventually featured in one of their email newsletters, which are sent out to thousands of other Etsy members. She even managed to captivate buyers from boutiques in Los Angeles and Miami, who have bought more than 60 of her pieces so far.
Well-known businesses have been known to graze Etsy in hopes of finding new merchandise for their stores. This keeps Etsians on their toes.
“It’s such a big thing that you can be pretty much found by Urban Outfitters – they’ll do that – or Anthropologie, and they’ll find someone and ask them, ‘Will you make a thousand of these?’ You can have so many opportunities,” Chelsea said.
It may seem like the Thorson girls have hit it big-time with the attention they’ve received, but Chelsea warns current and potential Etsy sellers that, “It’s not as easy as it seems, and it’s not as lucrative as it seems. It’s 20 dollars here and there.” She continued, adding, “For people who want to do Etsy, definitely don’t do it if you just are looking to make money. You don’t make that much money.”
Though a sale is made every two days, Chelsea is happy if she breaks even. “It’s more of doing something you love to do, and that’s your hobby, and selling it for fun. It’s slow but steady. It’s like the equivalent of my tip jar at Atomic. It’s not like a paycheck, but it’s nice.”
Nice is right. Especially when you don’t have to worry about spending money on advertising.
“It’s so awesome,” Chelsea said, “because you don’t have to market yourself. For me, it’s sort of hands off – here’s my product. I design it. I don’t really care who likes it, but if you do, here it is. That’s what I love about it. You don’t really have to force it down people’s throats. Put it up and leave it. It does its own work.”
This “hands off” mentality is exactly what many find so attractive about the way Etsy is set up. The cost to post each item is only 20 cents, and sellers earn most of what they sell. A small percentage of the commission goes to Etsy and PayPal, but the majority of the earnings go to the seller.
Lexie Thorson, 21, a former MSUM student, utilizes materials such as feathers, recycled metals and other used finds for her pieces on Salvaged Designs. Practicality was the reason she began her jewelry making.
“Honestly, things in stores are really expensive. And maybe I’m just really cheap, but I look at necklaces and I’m like, ‘Really? I could make that.’ So, I started making things for myself,” she said.
While sporting one of her own hand-made necklaces, a woman strolling through the mall approached Lexie and complimented her on the adornment. The woman liked it so much Lexie sold it to her for $10.
That was the start of something salvaged, something recycled, and something new – the materials she would use to make her Salvaged Designs jewelry line.
Lexie mainly deals with feathers and metals, but she stretched her limits for a contest held by West Acres Shopping Center in Fargo, which focused on creating environmentally friendly accessories.
In their “Design Green, Win Green” contest, she won third prize – a check for $250 – by creating shoes, a necklace, bracelets and earrings made from recycling the popped inner tube of a bike.
Needless to say, these women do not lack innovative and artistic talent. The three sisters have all gained attention for their stylish pieces, but they each have their own distinctive spin on crafting. Kaija’s vintage flare differs greatly with Chelsea’s urban designs and Lexie’s earthy, natural creations.
However, for many Etsy crafters – if not most – products go unnoticed and sales go unsold. The key is to be creative enough with the products they design and make.
“There’s a big difference between buying and selling on Etsy,” Lexie noted. “You need to find something that no one else is doing.”
Photography and presentation go a long way as well. The Thorsons photograph their own items, but each piece is presented and modeled in a professional fashion.
Descriptions are also crucial. Adding personality and professionalism will complement an already unique product and gain favor with the targeted audience of buyers.
With Etsy providing a simpler way to get noticed, more success is sure to follow.
BY MEGHAN FEIR