By Kristen Hunt
Hobbies are a way for students to focus on the things that bring them joy. Whether students like to express themselves through writing, music, or even crafting, hobbies play a key role in motivation, mental health and happiness.
Sarah Maes, owner of the Instagram shop Sweatshirts by Sarah and a freshman mechanical engineering major, works alongside her embroidery machine to create custom sweatshirts, crewnecks, and T-shirts for college students both on and off campus.
Embroidery began as a hobby for Maes. She has always enjoyed making art — gaining an interest in embroidery after watching people sew on social media. She bought her embroidery machine in August of 2020 and has been creating ever since.
“It actually happened in quarantine when I was looking on TikTok,” said Maes. “I saw a bunch of videos of people with embroidery machines and I was like, that’s cool. I wanna buy everything they’re making.”
Embroidery was at first a way for Maes to keep busy and became a creative outlet during a scary time.
“It was a good thing to pass time when you really couldn’t do anything else,” said Maes.
As far as her most popular designs, Maes was inspired to make her customizable letter apparel after playing around with the different settings on her machine.
“I was trying to figure out all of the different things my machine could do, and I found out that it could do fabric applique,” said Maes. “And the TCNJ sweatshirt that I bought for myself when I got accepted had letters like that but it was just, like, navy and grey, and it was kinda boring.”
She decided to make a sweatshirt from the College into something creative and colorful. “I thought that was really fun and I haven’t seen anything like that,” she said.
Now, her products range from college apparel to pop culture-themed items.
While Sweatshirts by Sarah serves as a creative outlet for Maes, running a business doesn’t come without challenges — especially as a college freshman. The student says that keeping up with orders on top of her school work has been a “learning curve,” but she’s learned with experience how to keep school and business separate. Since Maes is currently living on campus in a single room, she dedicates one side of her room to her studies and the other side to managing Sweatshirts by Sarah.
“I mostly do school in the morning before I can start working because my machine’s kind of loud, so I need to wait until people are awake so it’s acceptable,” said Maes. “But as long as you manage your time it kind of works.”
The mechanical engineering major also discussed how she utilizes the skills she gains from her major to run the business.
“In engineering, it’s really important that you have a plan and you know what steps to do, and what order to do it in so that you don’t get everything mixed up,” Maes said. “So I guess that it helps me stay organized more.”
Another student-run business, Jenna Hartman’s Etsy shop has been up and running since July of 2019. “Jenna Autumn Crafts” honors its slogan, “Glitter. Paint. Create.” Whether it’s a sparkly wine glass, a fun sticker or a dog bandana, the shop sells an array of products that are skillfully handcrafted, drawn or painted by the graduate student.
“I’ve been drawing and painting since I was little and I had always dreamed of having my own Etsy shop,” said Hartman, a graduate student at the College’s five year Urban Education and iSTEM program. “My room doubles as my crafting space and over time it just kept getting more and more filled so I decided to start making things for friends and family!”
Hartman talked about her creative process and said that she likes to focus a lot of attention on creating things for her loved ones.
“A lot of what I make doesn’t even end up on Etsy because they are personal pieces that my family has asked me to make or that I make for people,” Hartman said.
Despite the fun she has had with Jenna Autumn Crafts, the business aspect of the company is not always easy to manage. It can be difficult for Hartman to get her products noticed by a wider audience. But this has only motivated her to work harder.
“In July of 2019 I opened my shop and I didn’t get my first sale until February of 2020,” Hartman said. “It’s definitely been a challenge to get my products seen and purchased, but I hit my goal of 50 sales in 2020 and I expanded into stickers in 2021.”
Like Maes, Hartman says her major helps her to stay inspired and focused while running the Etsy shop.
“Being an education major helps me to be creative and multitask; I have to make sure everything has time to be worked on and that everything is shipping when it needs to be,” said Hartman. “My iSTEM side helps me to see all the new ways that a project could be done and really approach ideas from a new perspective.”
Hartman has been working on promoting Jenna Autumn Crafts on social media, as well as making more of her more popular products. She aspires to move her business out of the digital space when it’s safe to do so.
“I would like to make some more college-themed wine glasses and possibly a TCNJ inspired one!” said Hartman.
While running a business comes with challenges for these students at the College, they see their shop as more than just a way to make money. Their businesses fuel their creativity, teach organization and make others happy. For students with the desire to create a business of their own, Hartman says that owning a business isn’t easy, but is worth the challenge.
“Keep going even when it gets tough, and know your value. It’s going to be difficult at times and there are so many things I had to learn,” said Hartman. “Knowing that someone else gets excited about my work and wants to buy it makes it all worth it.”