Instead of watching television as a kid, Chloe Banning would make things. The same can be said of a lot of youngsters, but thanks to her early crafting days, the Colorado College junior is now running a small jewelry business on campus and online.
Banning’s jewelry—most notably her feather earrings—have recently become popular among CC girls, after over two years of sales. When the artist began making the pieces she would later sell, she said she never thought her product would grow to be so popular.
The daughter of an artist, Banning grew up stringing together beads and playing with her mom’s craft supplies. During her freshman year, a metalworking Arts & Crafts adjunct and a trip to California sparked the start of the later profitable business.
“One of my older cousins who lives in California started making feather earrings,” Banning said. “They were really awesome, and she taught me when I was out there visiting her once. From there, I branched off on my own, making my own types and finding my own style, even collecting my own feathers.”
Much to Banning’s surprise, her artist mom provided even more encouragement when she gifted her a box of feathers to begin her work. “I told my mom that I was going to start making feather earrings and she went into the basement and brought up this huge box of feathers from when she was in college and had used them for making art,” Banning said.
Turns out her mother’s feathers weren’t quite ideal for earring making—too stiff and small. Since the beginning, Banning has been purchasing the earring feathers at fly shops, or collecting them from the wild, if possible.
“My mom’s boyfriend is a hunter, and he just gave me a wild turkey, a pheasant, and a quail,” she said. “I have the whole birds hanging on the wall in my room. I’m hoping to pull those feathers apart and make something more decorative than I have been. I’ve been thinking of making a headdress, or some type of feather clothing. Maybe next year I’ll do it for the fashion show.”
Banning admits she never set out to start a jewelry business, but when her hobby landed her with more pairs of feather earrings than she ever needed for herself, she decided to put them up for sale. What began as a few sales to friends and patrons at the 2010 Annual Colorado College Arts and Crafts Fair became a sold-out page on Etsy, an online craft fair of sorts for buying and selling handmade goods, vintage items, and craft supplies.
“Before the Arts and Crafts Fair this winter, I had an Etsy page up,” Banning said. “The 2012 Fair was really successful, I sold all my inventory and had to take it all off my site. I also sell to friends and do custom orders. Right now, if someone wanted a pair of earrings it would be custom.”
This young businesswoman is always open to custom orders, but she is also a busy student. While she has considered advertising for custom orders on Etsy, she fears she won’t be able to fulfill custom orders in a timely manner, due to her busy schedule. The price for feather earrings can vary anywhere from $20 to $70. The price depends on the intricacy of design, amount of feathers, and most of all the time she will commit to the order.
“Some I can make in an hour or less, but some of them I’ve spent a total of 10 hours,” she said. “If it’s the first pair of a particular style, it takes a long time because I’m trying to figure out where they look best and where they hang and how to line them all up. Once I do the first pair, I can copy it to make the second pair. They can take a long time, people don’t realize.”
Banning works as the jewelry studio monitor in the Arts & Crafts department, finding plenty of time to work on her earring projects while on duty. With metal pieces and tools she’s acquired over years of jewelry making, Banning’s only supply expenses comes from her feather purchases. She has created a large and diverse bead and craft box over the years.
Banning considers herself an artist, but not quite a businesswoman headed for entrepreneurship. “My stuff is more of a side project that I like to do in my free time,” she said. “I’ll make art forever, and I’ll probably keep making jewelry on the side. Whenever I see some new and cool jewelry design, I don’t really consider buying it. I always think, ‘I could just make that’.”