In spite of the pandemic, student-run businesses at Hopkins have continued to grow and thrive. In interviews with The News-Letter, two students and one team of students described the process of creating their own businesses and what they’ve gained from their ventures.
Sophomore Alex Snyder, founder of Alex’s Innovations, spoke about the creation of her handmade and customizable friendship-bracelet business. She had her start making friendship bracelets at summer camp and found the creative activity to be a helpful coping skill as she grew up.
“I started my business when I was 13, but I had been making friendship bracelets kind of since I was seven or eight in summer camp,” she said. “I started struggling a little bit with anxiety, and instead of doing more self-destructive behaviors, I started making friendship bracelets. I don't suffer from those things anymore, but it's still a really nice way to spend time... It really helps me do some repetitive behavior.”
COURTESY OF ALEX’S INNOVATIONS
Snyder particularly enjoys receiving special requests.
“I don’t have a specific favorite memory, but I love when I work with customers to make custom bracelets and it's a really meaningful bracelet. Simple moments like that or like when I’m replicating a bracelet from a loved one or a lost loved one are really rewarding,” she said. “Just something little that I can do that might not mean that much to me, but I know it's gonna mean the world to someone else.”
Snyder also spoke about how she feels calling herself a small-business owner and the challenges of shipping her products.
“Maybe it's just important to distinguish because it's kind of a weird thing to call it a business. While I definitely consider it a business, I'm a little bit privileged in that I'm not doing this for the money,” she said. “I have to weigh how much I'm comfortable making versus how much someone would be comfortable paying.”
Taara Projects was founded in 2018 and is built on principles of sustainability and ethical fashion. Its first line of clothing came out in April 2021.
Founder and CEO of Taara Projects Shanthi Ramakrishna, a junior, developed the business idea during high school and brought together a team at Hopkins during her sophomore year to develop it further. She discussed the challenges of launching the business during the pandemic.
“I definitely think founding Taara Projects was a very gradual process. Its life officially began at Hopkins,” she said. “The process was not very linear at all. But just throughout the pandemic, we had a bunch of [the] right people come together, the right pieces falling in place, and it kind of just turned into what it is today.”
She added that the biggest challenge was creating a team while working remotely.
Director of Outreach and Communications Keerti Soundappan spoke about the challenges of first expanding Taara Projects in the spring of 2020.
“I don't think any of us have a serious business background because we're all undergraduate students, so it was difficult to figure out exactly how we would run a business,” she said. “On top of that, figuring out Zoom meetings and grant applications, marketing ourselves — virtually all that was a challenge. That's the great thing about us being college students... We know how to adapt.”
COURTESY OF TAARA PROJECTS
Soundappan discussed how its mission of sustainability is central to the business model of Taara Projects.
“We try, in every aspect of what we do... to be as sustainable as possible. Our mission itself speaks to ethicality, which is to empower artisans to get living wages, because every human deserves to be able to provide for themselves,” she said. “That's what we're doing, not only in India but now in Baltimore as well. That should be something that all businesses do.”
She cited how the business’s first line used deadstock material, which is surplus-produced material which would be thrown out, and sustainably made string, bead and buttons.
Director of Marketing Michelle Tu discussed her hopes for the business.
“Going forward, I'm most excited for Taara to just expand and grow as a business. I think right now a lot of Hopkins students know about us and I'll walk around campus and see people wearing our pants or our masks,” she said. “I'm really excited for us to just grow beyond the Hopkins community and for people to know us... as a fashion business in general.”
Ramakrishna spoke the upcoming fall launch and its roots in Baltimore.
“Keerti and I just visited our manufacturer this past week to pick up our first prototype for our fall launch. They work in a studio on North Calvert Street, and the factory where they're gonna be producing our eventual products is also based in Baltimore,“ she said. “Being able to interact with these artisans in these business who are based in Baltimore was such an out-of-body experience — to meet in person, feel your products in person before [they are] actually released.”
Manis by Mani
Senior Jordan Jenkins took up nail art as a pandemic hobby, and has since turned the skill into a business.
“I started practicing nails on myself and my sister last summer, peak quarantine time, because I didn't really have a hobby, so I just tried it,” she said. “I started working on other people in about November  and I made my Instagram page in January. At first it was a little slow, but it's been picking up. It's pretty good.”
COURTESY OF JORDAN JENKINS
Jenkins spoke about some of the difficulties of working in the ever-evolving beauty landscape.
“[One] challenge is the time it takes to do nails and keeping up with new trends and new techniques,” she said. “Once I master one thing, that thing is kind of old. Then I have to move on to something else.”
Jenkins enjoys bringing her clients’ ideas to life, and shared her favorite nail set to date.
“I think a lot of people really like nudes or whites, so I recently did a nude set with sparkly crystals and pixies on it, and it was like a French set. That was really my favorite,” she said.