When the words ‘lockdown’ and ‘business’ have appeared in a sentence this year, they are usually followed by ‘bankrupt’. But students at the University of Manchester are disrupting this narrative by turning lockdown woes into entrepreneurial wins.
The pandemic has forced us all to adapt and accept a ‘new normal’. Unemployment rates have hit a record high, and we now attend university through Zoom. But this year has been about surviving. So, while some of us perfected our TikTok dances, others found relief in creating.
From upcycled jewellery and clothes, to artistic prints, students donned their entrepreneurial hats when they turned their creative outlets into successful student start-ups.
Rhiannon Ingle, a third-year student studying English Literature, started creating jewellery “just for fun.” Before the lockdown, she “had no interest in it” as a business, but wanted to fill the copious amounts of free time. “It’s therapeutic, you have to focus so much so your brain shuts off.”
Jewellery making soon presented itself as a business opportunity for her when people started asking, “can you make this for me?”
“In Manchester, everyone has a side hustle.”
After being furloughed, Rhiannon – like many students – found herself in a difficult financial situation. She still had to pay rent and realised her hobby offered an alternative income, as well as a connection to other creatives in the city. “It’s important to remain in the community of local small artists,” she explains.
For her, lockdown was also marked by the killing of George Floyd. To pay homage and “put [her] money where [her] mouth is,” she is donating a percentage of her profits to the charity Black Lives Matter UK. She can be found on Instagram @itscheriejewellery.
“It’s so important to think before you shop,” Rhiannon says. With small businesses, creators don’t have to sacrifice their values for the sake of profit or mass production. Sellers are able to make the products when needed, and can upcycle old and unloved materials.
This is exactly what second-year students Nina Fahey (Fashion, Buying and Merchandising) and Rosheen O’Hanlon (Drama and English) did.
Nina created a business offering made-to-measure clothing to escape the mundane lockdown life: “I was just doing things to take my mind off [the pandemic]. I decided I’m going to use my student loan and buy a sewing machine.”
So, armed with sewing skills learnt on TikTok and “using mainly deadstock or rejected fabrics,” she established @co_ordinary.
Rosheen O’Hanlon similarly creates earrings by recycling broken and unloved jewellery, @rosheensbeads. Each order is unique and repurposed, which made the experience rewarding for her as she could, “give back something that someone [had] loved.”
She described the process as “laidback,” since she didn’t set out with the intention of starting a business. It was important to Rosheen that she kept her business as eco-friendly as possible, so she urged students to do the same.
“Shop small. It’s so important to think before you shop.”
Christmas is fast approaching and shoppers can put this into practice. Rosheen’s claims are true: Fast fashion certainly isn’t personalised.
“I was just losing my marbles”
Students often cited the positive effect keeping busy during lockdown had on their mental health.
Josh Lord, a fourth-year student studying French, started a sustainable vintage clothing brand and community during lockdown to give his days purpose: “[We] wanted to stay busy to keep our sanity this lockdown.”
He recognised that not all students had the opportunity to stay busy, and credited the joint effort that went into establishing the business. Josh saw the business as a way to build a student network and community in what has otherwise been an isolating first-year experience.
“Student mental health is so important, our main idea was to build a community.”
The business has grown exponentially and Josh hopes to keep up this momentum into the new year. They will be hosting more pop-up shops in collaboration with Fallowfield bar and venue Haus, and can be found on Instagram at @fallowgarms and Depop.
Michelle Lavelle, a third-year Fashion and Promotion student, also found that creating gave her the mental headspace a cramped lockdown couldn’t physically offer:
“I was just losing my marbles. I wanted to let loose in my head.”
She creates custom collages; customers choose images that Michelle then photoshops and arranges them into elaborate prints. She joked that if Paris Hilton can rock a photomontage of her face, then so can we.
Lavelle perfectly described her process as, “a brain dump of random stuff.” Her prints can be found @shellers__, and she has a website pending.
It has been an undeniably challenging year but, if these burgeoning student start-ups are anything to go by, the gloom of the pandemic might also be responsible for breeding a new wave of entrepreneurs.