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Campus creatives start small businesses on social media

Student artists venture into entrepreneurship

From Dalgona coffee and sourdough starters to crocheting and rug making, creative trends have found new life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Social media platforms like TikTok and Instagram have lent these trends unprecedented access to the national mainstream and have helped to alleviate some of the darkness that comes with a nation in lockdown.

But creativity during the pandemic hasn’t been limited to one-off crafts for members of the Brown community. Many student artists have created and sustained small businesses, honing in on passions discovered both before and after COVID-19 struck and using social media to turn a profit off their work.



For Bintou Diarra ’23 MD ’27, braiding hair has always been a part of life. When her mother first immigrated to the United States, she began doing protective hairstyles in salons “to make money and survive.”

“As I got older, she would ask for help” doing hair to get out of the salon faster, Diarra said. “So, I would help her finish braids and things like that. That’s kind of how I learned – out of necessity.”

When Diarra arrived at Brown her freshman year, she did her own hair to save time and money. She gradually expanded to doing braids for her friends and, eventually, for students across campus.

Today, Diarra has created a business doing hair for members of the Brown community. Filled with pictures of her own work, Diarra’s Instagram account helps create exposure with potential clients. Generally, students message her on Instagram, and then she refers them to an online calendar showing her availability to book appointments, she said.

While due to public health concerns, Diarra is currently only serving the Brown community, she hopes to eventually expand beyond campus. In the meantime, getting to do hair on Brown’s campus has also meant “meeting new people,” she said.

“I target specific students on Brown’s campus, and that is Black people,” Diarra said. “The thing that I’m noticing most since I started is I do have more of a sense of community … because (braiding hair) is our art form.”




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In the early stages of the pandemic, Keely Thompson ’23 found herself scrolling through Instagram watching craft videos when she stumbled upon an art form that caught her eye — resin art.

A naturally-gifted artist, Thompson knew she had to try it out for herself, buying her first resin kit off of the internet and using it late one night in her boyfriend’s garage.

The kits Thompson uses come in two parts: the liquid resin and the hardener. She mixes these with paints or glitter to create sleek designs that solidify and burst with vibrant colors.

“I started out doing trays,” Thompson said. “You can really do this on any surface that will hold” the resin. Lately, Thompson has been experimenting with molds, creating new shapes for products, including coasters.

Studying remotely from Hawai’i this semester, Thompson has primarily served a local clientele through Instagram direct messages, while sending the occasional package of art to the mainland United States.

“At first I wasn’t really thinking of selling it,” Thompson said. “But then I realized I have these trays, I have the opportunity to (make a business), so why not?”

“Honestly, it’s taught me a lot more about business than it’s taught me about art-making,” she added. “It’s just been super cool to see people even be interested in something I made.”



With the surge of Black Lives Matter protests across the country in 2020, Allie Lee ’23 thought that selling her handmade clothes could be a good way to raise money for organizations supporting the movement for Black lives.

“I’ve been making clothes since I was little, so it’s always been a hobby of mine,” Lee said. “Because of the pandemic, I had a lot more time to get into it.”

Lee began to share her work on social media and found a “surprising amount of people were interested in buying” her items, she said.

From there, she began to sell her products and donate her money to organizations serving the Black community and working toward racial justice. “I figured that there was a good way to combine this interest in my products with what’s going on in the world,” she said.

Since then, Lee’s business has only grown. Currently taking orders through Instagram direct messages, she hopes to eventually create her own website to sell products.

“Making my own clothes has taught me a lot about the fashion industry that I wouldn’t have known before,” Lee said. “It’s shown me exactly why we pay so much for clothes; it’s not because of the materials … you’re paying for the labor cost.”

“Paying a lot of money for clothes is not necessarily bad if you know what you’re paying for, but I think the problem in the fast fashion industry is the money is not going where you think it is,” she added.

All in all, experience in managing orders and selling her products has given Lee insight into the work required to run a business. “I have a greater appreciation for small businesses and how they run their livelihoods, and I have a lot of respect for small business owners that I maybe wouldn’t have” had before selling products of her own, she said.




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“I’ve always really liked hoop earrings,” Shauny Bryan ’23 said. “I’d see my mom wearing them, and they just seemed like a staple in our community.”

Then, one day, she asked herself: “‘Why not start making them?’”

Nearly two years ago, Bryan first began experimenting with wire, a material commonly used in hoop earrings. She made new shapes and designs for friends, giving earrings away as gifts with “no intentions of even running a business.”

But as her friends continued to encourage her to explore her art, she began sharing her creations on social media. Receiving support from a virtual audience, Bryan then got the idea to turn her work into a business.

Social media “plays a really big role” in her business, Bryan said. She takes orders from Instagram direct messages and depends on traffic from social media.

“I learned that it’s not only about selling my products, but also content creating,” Bryan said. “When people would ... post a picture of (themself) wearing my earrings onto their story, that would really have an impact on the amount of (orders) that we’d get the next day.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has only furthered the importance of a social media presence for Bryan’s business. During quarantine, “there wasn’t much to do, so I got a lot of orders,” she said. “Plus, during the summer we were all very active on social media,” which helped her gain a new platform for clients.

COVID-19 “definitely had a positive impact, interestingly, on the business,” Bryan said. 

Navigating business ownership alongside a rigorous school schedule, Bryan has put her business on pause until the summer. But she has learned a lot from running her business so far, she said.

“It reminds me that I have a really good support system,” Bryan said, including “people I know and love and then people that I also don’t really know.”

“I think the best thing for me has been seeing people wear my creations and post it on Instagram,” she added. “It just makes me super happy.”


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On her mother’s side, Miriam Rice ’23 is the descendant of artists; on her father’s, she comes from a lineage of writers. Rice credits her passion for art to her family, and draws inspiration from an identity of “in-betweenness” she has inherited from them.

“So many aspects of identity — my name, my culture, my nationality — embody convergence. Perhaps it is by nature of existing between two countries, two languages, two histories, that my art is a blend of two disciplines,” Rice wrote in an email to The Herald.

Rice creates a variety of art forms, recently taking on “an exploration of the complexity of modern identity and a deconstruction of dualism through a fusion of painting and poems.”

Rice’s artwork has long been entrepreneurial. In middle school, she sold things in school like silk-screen t-shirts and portraits of her peers drawn in colored pencil.

Today, Rice sells her artwork online. She primarily does freelance work through Instagram, including ideas for commissioned collaborative projects such as tattoos and murals. Additionally, she draws a “passive income” from other artistic ventures, including a self-published poetry book.

She has “had a range of clientele, from restaurant owners to indie bands,” she wrote. “My most recent project was a collaboration with Mellowpunk, a band from Boulder, CO, to design an album cover for their latest release” that comes out on Friday, March 26. Rice works with fellow Brown students, as well.

“I'm grateful for the opportunity to sell my art online and generate a little income doing something I love,” Rice wrote. “Engaging and creating art, after all, is not only a mode of self-expression, but a practice of humanizing one another and bettering our communities.”

With additional reporting by Lívia Gimenes

Jack Walker

Jack Walker served as senior editor of multimedia, social media and post- magazine for The Herald’s 132nd Editorial Board. Jack is an archaeology and literary arts concentrator from Thurmont, Maryland who previously covered the Grad School and staff and student labor beats.

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