Last summer, Louisville Forward announced a partnership with online marketplace provider Etsy to launch the Craft Entrepreneurship Program. The three-week free program provides craftspeople training in business to help them sell their products online and in new markets.
Louisville Forward reached out to Etsy for help finding an instructor; among the candidates Esty identified was Jordan Kavuma, who has run a successful Etsy shop, Thistle and Thread Design, with her husband, Paul, for two years. Kavuma, for whom Etsy is a full-time job, enthusiastically filled out the application, went through the interview process, and was selected by Louisville Forward.
Once Louisville Forward chose Kavuma, Etsy sent her the curriculum and teacher-training manual. She also had a handful of conference calls with trainers at Etsy.
Kavuma is a graduate of Boyce College at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where she majored in counseling. After graduating from college, she worked for a mission in Uganda, which is where she met Paul.
When she returned to the United States, they lived apart for a full year. And that’s when she set up her Etsy store — to keep her occupied.
Last year, Kavuma returned to Uganda for eight weeks to wait with Paul as he tried to get his U.S. visa so they could marry. She brought her sewing materials for the custom needlework and embroidery she sells on Thistle and Thread. To pass the time, she taught Paul how to sew — his mother was a seamstress, so he took to it quickly. Now he produces around half the crafts bought at Thistle and Thread.
The first round of classes attracted 19 students, but Kavuma quickly realized that number was too high. Since then, the class has been capped at 1o. There were sessions in August and November, and starting this month, there will be a session each of the next three months. The classes meet twice a week for three weeks for a couple hours a night.
According to Kavuma, students learn “all the basic skills you need to open an Etsy shop.” She said she teaches students how to use the resources Etsy provides for crafters, and other things she parlays include search engine optimization, how to protect yourself as a seller, shipping policies, pricing formulas, profit margins and how to reinvest in your company. Two of the sessions are devoted to photography and photo editing.
“This program reinforces the holistic approach Louisville Forward takes to business development, from micro-businesses and sole proprietors to medium-sized enterprise expansions,” said Mary Ellen Wiederwohl, chief of Louisville Forward, in a news release. “Each one is vitally important to Louisville’s growing entrepreneurial ecosystem.”
Applicants must be over 18, have a handmade craft to sell, have access to a computer and a camera (or camera-enabled phone) and must commit to attending all six two-hour classes.
So far there has only been one male student; he made clay jewelry. Kavuma said a lot of the students are selling fine art and mixed-media pieces. Students also want to open shops for their handmade jewelry, leather goods, stationery, wreaths, children’s clothes, calligraphy and more. Students have ranged from 19-60-something years old.
According to Kavuma, so far, around seven students have active stores now making sales, but most of the others are somewhere in the process of getting their stores off the ground. Kavuma remains available to graduates for advice and questions.
Barbara Boles is a graduate. Her BB Wind Horse Designs store sells handcrafted jewelry in clay, stone and wire. She currently has 12 items for sale from $26-$179.
Oak and Acorn Studios is a store that sells graduate Taye Spinks’ unique leather accessories, including beverage sleeves and leather visors. So far everything is listed as $25.
Another graduate’s store Wonderful Marlee applied and was fully funded for a Kiva Zip loan dispersed earlier this month.
Louisville Forward economic development manager Christy Jarboe told IL, “We continue to get lots of folks registering for classes, so it looks like we’ll continue providing them as long as people are interested.”
As for her own store, Kavuma said when she and Paul focus on sewing, they can complete five pieces or so a day. Holiday runs aside, the store averages a sale a day. She said 30 percent of her time on the business is spent communicating with clients.
This past Christmas season, their design “I love you more than tacos,” embroidered with a picture of two tacos in a small wooden ring, was featured on Etsy’s recommended list for gifts. Sales of that item took off.
Kavuma had other ideas for workshops, including a continuing education class for the current graduates. She and other local Etsy sellers have talked about giving photography classes together.
You can apply to the Craft Entrepreneurship program online. The next classes start in March.