The Jeweler in the Woods by Henna La Plante, Henna’s Happy Hemp Jewelry – turning your hobby into a business after retirement while living off the grid.
Have you ever wished you could learn a craft for fun and sell enough to support the hobby? I have always admired my grandmothers that could quilt, sew, crochet, and knit. About two years ago, I retired from 25 years working the corporate grind.
My veteran husband and I decided we wanted to live in a tiny cabin in the woods. Within two months we moved from Dallas to our new land in the middle of winter with our 6-month-old and a 20ft camper trailer. Crazy right?
I had no idea what I was getting into. The homestead was off-grid with a 240 sq ft cabin, an energetic 2.5-year-old, 10 chickens, and 2 dogs on 25 acres of undeveloped forest in the Ozarks of Arkansas. In addition to my husband opening a non-profit Survival School for underprivileged youth, I wanted something fun for me to do and I thought it would be too hard for me to start a hobby without proper storage space or other basic comforts for a home business, such as the internet, power, and running water. I didn’t know where to start.
Jumping in head first seemed like the only logical thing to do for a spontaneous city girl. I invested $25 on a beginner hemp book, a roll of hemp and a few natural wood beads and hematite from a hobby store.
It was January 28, 2014, and I tried a simple bracelet pattern from the book first. By accident, I made a helix knot instead of a square knot because there were typos in the book.
From that moment, I have been self-taught. So now it was time to try the coyote teeth and I got grossed out at first. The thought of handling a dead animal’s teeth was very strange to me. Sometimes remembering I lived so long in the city, I have to snap out of it and realize I am a country girl now. Once I began the design process, it got easier. Then I became very selective with the quality and consistency of the teeth chosen for the necklace. Our friend loved the necklace so much, he ordered a tooth anklet for his wife, two pink tooth anklets for his twin girls, and another tooth necklace in black for a teenage daughter. His necklace is still a popular portfolio starting point for my customers.
In February 2014, “Henna’s Happy Hemp Jewelry” was launched from a local library computer and became The Jeweler in the Woods. I wasn’t going to let technology stand in my way of success. Photography was our next hurdle. I take pictures of each design before it’s assembled and upon completion. I started using coyote hides for the background and that took some patience because full sunlight was required. As each design gets better and each photo is taken, I really focus on using natural props and backgrounds. It’s good when you live in the woods for materials, really bad when I am begging the sun to come out. I use an app to improve brightness in each photo and add the logo. When cell signal permits, I post new pictures on all of our social avenues. Social Media is a great way to advertise and there are many online support groups to help get started in any craft. Each online avenue brings worldwide customers from 3-year-old city girl pink bracelets to 80-year-old countryman hunter’s trophy necklace.
In March 2014, I opened our first jewelry booth in public. We took 13 custom orders at the local main street festival in the rain with only 3 other vendors. We were hooked and started doing booths every weekend for 4 months. I called weekly coordinators a few days before the event asking if they needed more vendors because of cancellations or low registration. Sometimes we set up for free. It’s fun to do craft booths and keep- ing your setup and breakdown simple is key. I keep my loading to three trips alone and display at 30 minutes to set up. Public interaction really helped us get our feet wet and grow our fan base. With feedback from attendees, my husband now does leatherworking and flint knapping to handmake points for pendants. With such a competitive market, I am researching silversmithing and Native American horsehair jewelry.
There are limitless materials available for jewelry making. Sadly, many of us suffer from mental allergies like me. It has been a challenge to create wearable, durable jewelry that is allergy-friendly, nickel-free, and lead-free. I decided if I can’t wear it, then I don’t make it. Quality is my first priority in selling anything handmade. We live in thick, brushy woods and my jewelry is worn every day to test the durability of new products. You need to know your products and their limitations in order to sell them.
After signing the agreement, we were on display for 4 months then canceled. Our products were coming up missing and not represented with the vision I wanted. I will do more boutiques in the future, but I prefer to be face to face with each customer and their needs.
Living in the woods always gives me peace, even on my phone. There is no internet and no service for calls or texting. It allows me to focus on reading, writing, and family. Staying organized in a 240 sq ft house with two home-based businesses is a challenge. I live without power, so prioritizing tasks that need full light are done during daylight, like dishes, sweeping, and cooking.
I make jewelry by headlamp, so it’s flexible to do anytime. I keep my business in a binder with sheet protectors to easily find orders and notes. I keep all my beads in clear tray-lidded containers that stack and my tools in a pencil box. I store my hemp and larger items in clear zipper bags. My craft table doubles as our bookshelf when it’s not toted to a craft show. I keep all my business receipts taped in a composition book and tally weekly, monthly, and quarterly for tax-deductible categories. I use carbonless general-purpose receipt books for every order for giveaways, discounts, trades, and sales. These are available from most grocery stores.
I keep my entire business in one waterproof clear tub with fold-over locking handles. If I have a work in progress, I use a small lidded container to hold beads and place everything I need in a large zipper bag to go. I use a composition book for writing design plans down before I start with measurements, materials, and quantity in case of spills or long breaks. I do a lot to keep our tiny cabin as home sweet home and not a crazy home-based jeweler’s studio.
Every design is special to me and I put my heart and hands into every knot. Handmade Jewelry is an art and takes time to develop skills. I spend hours sorting, designing, and assembling unique works of wearables. It takes dedication, patience, and passion. When you design handmade items, remember to include the labor in your costs. That means every minute from the hand selection of beads to the handwriting of tags. I love what I do and it shows. This favor to a friend turned into a happy, flexible, lightweight, and inexpensive hobby. Soon I’ll have instructional galleries on our website for beginners. Being the Jeweler in the Woods didn’t come naturally, but with a little nudge and practice, anything is possible.
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