beads Sept. print

UA freshman Audrey Kim sits at her dorm room workspace, where she crafts custom jewelry pieces for her small business, Beads by Dree. She is wearing several of her own hand-crafted necklaces, bracelets and rings.

For one UA freshman, a passion that began as a high school hobby has grown into a thriving online business that helps her fund her education.

As freshman Audrey Kim has matriculated to the UofA, she has brought with her her jewelry company Beads by Dree. Kim began selling handmade jewelry via Instagram to friends in her hometown of Denton, Texas, during her sophomore year of high school, and her business has been growing ever since. She now uses the proceeds to help cover her costs of attendance at the UofA.

Beads by Dree, which is still Instagram-based, offers bracelets, necklaces, keychains, anklets, and rings, all handmade by Kim. She uses sterling silver wire and regular beading wire for typical orders and offers water-resistant options for an additional $5. The items range from $3 for rings to $20 for water-resistant necklaces.

Kim stocks a variety of premade pieces, including a few named after influential people in her life, like her aunt and cousin.

“All of those [pieces] have a little bit of myself in them,” Kim said.

Kim’s specialty, though, is custom-made jewelry. She caters to the customers’ individual tastes, while always trying to create a positive and personable experience for her buyers, she said.

“Audrey let me, a customer, have full creative control over my jewelry,” Emma Garnier, a UA freshman and Kim’s first customer from high school said. “She has a general look for each piece but also lets the customer decide the color, bead size and overall look of the jewelry.”

After five years of experience selling her homemade jewelry, Kim has the process down to a science, but her hobby-based business started small. Kim said she first hatched the idea of selling her items during her freshman year of high school.

She started out selling $1 necklaces to her friends, before other students at her high school began asking for her items. She became even more motivated to grow her business during her sophomore year, after considering her future college costs

“I’m going out of state and I wanted to be proactive in making money, but I also wanted to have fun with it,” Kim said.

Beads by Dree now receives around 20 orders on “a good week,” depending on how active Kim stays on Instagram. Kim said she has received about 120 orders since she started her business.

In the early stages of her business, the usual customer wait time for orders was one week, Kim said. With the increased demand for her pieces and her attendance at the UofA, the estimated wait time is now about two weeks. Each order can take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours to prepare, depending on the size.

Kim had to make some drastic changes to accommodate her move from Texas to Fayetteville and her transition to being a full-time college student, she said. She condensed the amount of jewelry-making material she keeps to fit inside her dorm room. She also scheduled no classes on Fridays so she could have a three-day weekend to complete each week's orders and study as needed.

Kim said the main challenge she has experienced with her business is time management, but the support she receives from her family makes it easier.

“It doesn’t go without the help of my family, '' she said. “My mom always keeps me accountable.”

Despite the challenges of running a business in college, Kim loves how personal her interactions are with her customers, and her main goal is to “create a community,” she said.

“It’s super fun for me because I’ll make great conversations with these people,” she said. “I’ve gotten to connect with people in Florida, California and Seattle.”

Maria Alivas, a Beads by Dree customer, ordered the Daisy necklace, which features bright colors and pearls. Alivas likes to layer gold necklaces with her Daisy necklace to “give it a more elevated look,” she said. Her favorite thing about her personalized pieces is that she can “dress them up or down,” Alivas said.

Kim loves making custom pieces and said her goal is to never give each customer the same item.

“It’s so cool when I see somebody wearing something I made and no one else has that piece,” Kim said. “It’s always what the customer wants.”

A catalogue of Kim’s offerings and information on ordering is available on the Beads by Dree Instagram, @beadsbydree.

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