Hillsdale’s Own: Small Business Edition

Written by Katie Kolm

Since quarantine began, and even beforehand, many Hillsdale students and alumni have sparked their own creativity and used their skills to help others by building their own small businesses. From Redbubble, Instagram, Etsy, and other avenues, students and alumni are sharing a myriad of their talents with those around them. Here are a few of those students, and former students, and where to find their awesome goods and services:

1. Designs by Clare IG: @designs_by_clare
Clare Nalepa, ’21, is spending her summer making resin earrings and soon venturing into bracelets and necklaces. She loves personal gifts that have thought behind them and aren’t mass produced and wants to bring that joy to those around her. Clare loves designing her own marketing strategies and graphics, including the learning curve of running a small business, which began in March after she found she had a lot of free time on her hands. Between dealing with profit and loss statements, pricing out products, shipping orders, and designing her jewelry, Clare’s appreciation for other small businesses has grown immensely. She recently expanded to an Etsy shop.

2. Marzipen Cards IG: @marzi.pen
Penny Heipel, ’22, and her younger sister, Mary, are creating vintage-inspired greeting cards and bookmarks with sweet paintings, punny phrases, and pressed flowers. After receiving generic greeting cards, people often end up throwing them away, but Marzipen wants to bring a long-lasting joy to the recipient. Starting in mid-April, Marzipen’s primary goal is to bring back the art of handwritten letters. Penny says, “Because our cards are unique and different, we believe that people will not only pick their card with intention, but focus on writing a beautiful note.” They created bookmarks in order to encourage people to read more, as having a beautiful, wildflower bookmark can add to the overall experience and joy of reading. Mary enjoys pressing the flowers for their bookmarks, while Penny enjoys reading through all the supportive messages from customers. Keep your eyes peeled! Marzipen plans to release other products very soon.

3. Clara Johsens IG: @clara_joh
Clara Johsens, ’19, makes polymer clay jewelry, with earrings and hair clips being her primary creations. She enjoys these because they are lightweight and can be made to look like just about anything: marble, water color, animal print, or cool geometric designs. Clara’s sister asked for a pair of clay earrings for her birthday back in February, but Clara soon realized how expensive they are. Instead of paying $40 for one pair, she decided to make over 25 at a fraction of the cost. As someone who loves trying to make things herself instead of buying them, Clara started her DIY Instagram to show her projects and crafts. After some people inquired about buying her earrings, she decided to start selling them (especially because they don’t take up too much space in a tiny apartment). Her main goal is to keep making things that she thinks are beautiful and to bring a little bit of joy to the people who order from her. From bridesmaids gifts to custom pieces, she enjoys having a side job that she can fit to her own schedule. She has even gotten her pieces into a shop in Hawaii.

4. AK Daley IG: @akdaley
AK, ’21, creates adorable, minimalist stickers that include Hillsdale College designs, Christian quotes, and Greek letters for the sororities on campus. Her designs, since they are sold through RedBubble, can be made into shirts, stickers, notebooks, water bottles, or even shower curtains! As a graphic design minor, AK decided to use her talents as a fun, creative outlet that could generate a little bit of extra cash. She offers her encouragement to anyone considering starting their own small business, especially those utilizing their gifts and giving to others: “Bite the bullet and try it! What is the worst that could happen?”


5. Evan Gage IG: @gagegoods
Evan Gage, ’14, primarily sells Persian and Turkish rugs, sourced from both estate sales and abroad. Evan also focuses on education surrounding the rugs he sells. The journey to his passion, and now small business, began in 2013 when he went on an honors trip to Turkey. After falling in love with the country, Evan applied, and won, a Fulbright scholarship, which allowed him to spend a life-changing year among people who fed, housed, and loved him, even when he was an outsider. After travelling home, his Turkish rug, which he bought in memory of his experience, became a centerpiece for conversation, dinner parties, and fellowship. Eventually, Evan accumulated more and more rugs and turned his hobby into a business in the fall of 2019. His education at Hillsdale blossomed through this form of art. He says, “You have an object that encapsulates a personal presence that reflects its maker. There is space for the artist and the region all in one piece.” Beauty is a universal language, and Evan has found a concrete way to facilitate moments of beauty and cultural understanding to others.
Picture Credit: Sally O’Donnell

6. Hannah Cheng IG: @cinnamoninkpen
Hannah Cheng, ’23, is a freelance illustrator and graphic designer. She does a variety of commissions, from a custom D&D character portrait to posters for community theatre. Hannah recently started a series of greeting cards to practice painting and calligraphy skills. If all goes well, you should be able to spot her and her work at Maker’s Market this fall. She’s enjoyed making personal cards for a long time, noting, “I actually can’t recall the last time I bought a greeting card.” From children’s books to cards, Hannah adores how hand-drawn art brings words to life so personally. Right now, selling art is a way to show people what she can do and build connections. During her time at Hillsdale, Hannah hopes to refine her artistic technique and build a solid portfolio. Though she hasn’t yet decided whether she wants to pursue illustration or graphic design—or even some combination of both, like wedding invitations—she’ll be selling random projects and staying open for opportunities like commissions and whatever else might come her way. Hannah also has a RedBubble page where she sells a beautiful painted sticker of Central Hall.


7. Same Day Sharpening
Jeremiah Tiews, ’22, has a same-day knife and tool sharpening business in Tulsa, Oklahoma, that he runs out of his parents’ garage. He picks up tools from kitchen knives to mower blades, sharpens them, and returns them in under two hours. His business began back in 2016 when he was looking for a way to raise funds for his Eagle project, but now he sharpens full-time whenever he’s home from school. His goal is to hire other people to do the sharpening once he graduates.

8. Art Mart IG: @hillsdaleartmart
Made up of a group of Hillsdale alumni and staff who love to host monthly craft nights, Hillsdale Art Mart does it all. Mostly operating out of their booth at the Hillsdale Farmers Market, they sell a variety of handcrafted homegoods, spanning from handpainted, punny greeting cards and custom calligraphy items, to trendy earrings, macrame plant hangers and coasters, and plant babies. In June 2019, Ashlyn and Alex (who plan all our awesome events from the Student Activities Office) and Becky (who helps us all in the pre-summer panic to find internships at the Career Center) decided to use their monthly craft nights as a way to pursue even greater goals: exploring their hobbies through a creative outlet and connecting with the Hillsdale community as a whole. May 2020 came with the addition of Zoe Tracey (the assistant coach of our all-star aquachargies) and, from time to time, Brock Lutz, the counselor who knows how to home-roast some incredible coffee beans. The team loves the local market family, meeting new people, and reconnecting with students and alumni, even from a distance. The farmers market is only open May through August, so be sure to check out their Instagram page above until you can be at the market from 9 to 1 on Saturday mornings.



Katie Kolm, ’21, studies economics and serves as the president of the Lutheran Society. When she’s not at Penny’s working on homework and sipping coffee, you can probably find her in a different coffee shop working on homework and sipping coffee.

Published in August, 2020