Caitlin is the founder of beautiful, handmade earrings for Polymer Party - it's been a crazy six weeks for her selling more than 50 pairs already. We were lucky to catch her before she gets famous and hear how the journey has been so far.
Q. Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background?
Caitlin: I am 21 years old, I come from Hawkes Bay and moved down here (Wellington) in 2014 for university. I’ve decided the last couple of years to stay on here over the breaks with part time work that’s continued on. So I really feel like a Wellingtonian now and that I properly belong here which is really cool. I am doing law and arts at Victoria and I have a year and a half to go.
I work part time doing admin which is fun, I’ve got an amazing team to work with. I do about 10-12 hours a week in the weekdays which is great so I have my weekends free, I’m loving that.
Q. What is Polymer Party?
Caitlin: About a month and a half ago, I bought some earrings from a New Zealand seller online and they arrived and they were beautiful. I realised they were made out of polymer clay, though quite a different style to what I started making, and I thought actually, I could make some of these similar to this. So I rolled some clay into a ball and I put it on a pin, stuck it to some earrings - then I thought ‘these actually look really cool,’ so I wore them to university. A few friends asked me “where did you get your earrings from?” and I said I had made them. They asked me if I could make some for them, so I went and got more clay and made another six pairs, and sold them all on the first day. So I thought maybe I should get some more clay again, so it literally started from nowhere. I didn’t really have any direction with it, but I started an Instagram and I sold them through there. People messaged me about colour combinations that I posted online, which usually I would just make one of, and then post it online and see how people reacted, so the ones that I put up online are specially made for someone or made for me. Then I make the same colour combination for people who want them. Most of them are made to order which has been amazing because most people have been able to message me “I love this style but I would really like it with a bit of this colour, or bigger or smaller, two balls, three balls”. So it’s allowed me to be really flexible with what I make for people. I also started doing it that way to not risk making lots of earrings that wouldn’t sell. I have got a Facebook page now but not a website yet because to be honest I don’t know how far it’s going to go along. I don’t know whether it will fizzle out in a couple of months or whether it’s going to end up too big to work part time.
I really have no idea where it is going to go, so I’m just kind of cruising at the moment. I’ve sold about 50 pairs now in the last 6 weeks. It’s really taken off!
Q. What's been your favourite and hardest moment of your business journey?
Caitlin: My favourite part has definitely been seeing people wearing the earrings, it makes me so happy! It makes me also feel, this is going to sound weird, but also a little bit jealous. Ones I haven’t kept for myself and I see them on other people like damn, I really want to wear that colour combination. Other than that it’s been amazing, when people wear them, then get back to me and say that they’re really enjoying them - that’s definitely the coolest thing. I love making them, I really am still enjoying it.
Sometimes I do find myself getting a bit stressed because if I'm making them for people - if I’ve got to make a blue and white pair for this person, I get myself sometimes a bit worried because I think ‘oh no what if it doesn’t look right?’ But I just remind myself that, the first time that I sold any, I just made them based on some colours that I wanted to put together, and people bought them.
I just have to remember that people are still buying them because I’m making them, they aren’t going to be disappointed if the marble is different to the original pair. I just need to remember not to worry so much!
Jacinta: That’s really interesting because we are going to do a big piece on imposter syndrome and why you don’t feel worthy of your success because you kind of got that feeling?
Caitlin: Oh yeah, I feel like I don’t know women who don’t have that going on. I do have male friends that don’t though. Even when my female friends make something amazing and you give them a really nice compliment, they aren’t really sure of themselves, and I often feel that way. Another one of my favourite things is when people ask me where do you get your earrings from because they are really cool? And having to tell them I’m making them and I’ve got a business going, is one part, like, great and I love it, but the other part of me is feeling so cringy and feeling so self-promoting - which is stupid, because people have asked me about my earrings, and getting word out there is such a big part of expanding things. It's probably tied into a self-esteem thing, but I know that a lot of my female friends have it going on.
Q. What advice would you give to others wanting to starting a business?
Caitlin: Just do it! The internet makes things so easy. Everything that I’ve done online is free, I could sign up to something like felt which is an online crafty version of Trade Me or I could have sold them through Trademe or started a SquareSpace website, which I could do but right now I think ‘nope too expensive’. So going on Instagram and Facebook it's completely free, I promoted a couple of posts for $5 a pop, and the level of engagement I got, as a result, was through the roof. A couple of thousand people saw it and even though I know I didn’t get a couple of thousand orders, getting your business idea out there and having that exposure is great. I mean if your friends are telling you this is cool - they probably mean it, so just get out there! Even though it was all done through friends initially, having photos online and setting up the Instagram was important. So going online and getting it out there is more straightforward than I thought it would be.
Q. We've been really impressed with your marketing and images of your earrings and traction with your Instagram followers and engagement, can you tell us how you've made this a successful part of your business model?
Caitlin: It’s pretty much all of it, it is the basis for people buying the earrings in the first place, and seeing their friends wearing them. Taking a really nice photo of them was really what sparked my interest, like I could do something with this, I could put these online, people might buy these. The images are really important, in saying that, they were all taken on a phone, so I didn’t have to go out of my way to do anything special. I started off using flowers as a backdrop, again totally by accident.
My flatmate had been given some roses, on the day that I finished up all these earrings and I was like “hey can I use your roses to hang them on?”
So that was just luck and good timing, I mean normally you can’t afford to buy roses. It was good placement and people like flowers.
Q. What's the best part about working for yourself?
Caitlin: I think it’s really cool knowing I made them, mostly because I’m not very creative. I can’t draw, I can’t paint. I’m completely befuddled that I’ve got to this point because I‘ve never been creative. Because I have created something, on my own, obviously my friends have been amazing and wouldn’t have started without their support. But I am creating this thing and people are loving it, I think! I feel very empowered and very independent in a sense, but, like, I have no idea whether I have to pay tax or when I should start doing that. It’s a massive contrast to studying, and with admin it's kind of in between total independence and having the clear direction. This is that next step, I am really out there on my own which I love.
I feel very responsible for everything that is going on, it’s all me, which is amazing and kind of scary at the same time.
Jacinta: Do you think uni has helped?
Caitlin: I didn’t do any commerce or marketing papers. In the sense of getting a client base going it's been good. I go to uni with my earrings on and my friends do the same, so that gets the word out. In terms of actual university and my business, it probably wouldn't have made a difference whether I had gone or not. Maybe when I do tax law!
Jacinta: Yeah I agree. So the GST thing, it’s only if you turnover more than $60,000 in a year.
Caitlin: Oh phew! Because you think ‘what if I’m evading tax’ haha. Sweet.
Q. How do you manage your time between the business and your other commitments?
Caitlin: I certainly try to get everything done, but I know my time management skills have meant that sometimes my uni work suffers! I am fitting polymer party in, because I enjoy it so much it doesn’t feel like a chore yet. It's hard to know how long one pair of earrings takes to make, most of the time I’ll sit down to make some pairs for a few people, and once I’ve done those I’ll move on and try a few different styles and colours. So I end up taking much longer playing around, then you also have to cook the clay. So sometimes it can take up a whole evening, but I think because I like it I’m still prioritising it. So we will see, if I have to become more heavily committed to it, I’d probably have to rejig some stuff. Keeping my weekends free is probably one of the only reasons I’ve able to do this. I feel pretty busy - reflecting on all this, but it's good I’m enjoying it. I really enjoy polymer party.
Q. What are your next steps from here?
Caitlin: No idea! I really want to keep doing it and expand different styles. I started with the ball ones, mostly because it was simple to set up, the hardest part is getting the jewellery fittings to go together. I had seen through Instagram people selling similar things, and there was a big number of earrings with big disk with a stud attached. I had always wanted to try and make them but I felt like I was copying. I tried a couple of pairs and they’ve gone really well. I did them for the first time a week ago and I’ve sold maybe 8 pairs of them now - they’re popular and they feel lighter too. I do want to keep doing things that I come up with myself rather than following other people’s ideas, but the new stud-based style was just too fun not to try out, it's been fun! So doing more of that, and if I crack 100 pairs maybe I’ll start a website - assuming that I track on the same number per week it should be financially worth it. I think the next challenge is keeping it made to order or getting a stockpile of a few popular designs. If I keep going with it, it’s all going to change in the next six months to a year.
I feel that it’s either going to keep increasing and I’m going to end up with something big and really beautiful, or, it’s going to flop and that is fine.
This isn’t something that I see integral to who I am, so I don’t mind either way I guess, I’m just riding the wave! I’ll still make earrings for myself forever, now that I’ve figured it out!
Q. What do you love about Dignity?
Caitlin: I think it’s awesome, getting more sanitary items to more women is vital. I got a period for the first time in ages two weeks ago - the birth control I use usually suppresses menstruation. I realised I had nothing in the house and had to go out and spend some ridiculous amount of money for pads and tampons. For me, I’m not too financially constrained that I can’t buy them, but for so many women it wouldn’t be the same.
I can’t imagine being caught short regularly because that must suck. It’s the worst when you run out of supplies while out and about, and you have to use toilet paper - so I just can’t imagine how frustrating and uncomfortable it must be for people to not be able to access adequate sanitary items every month.
There’s also a big issue in that talking about periods isn’t super socially acceptable or part of a regular dialogue. Now that we’re at uni, we do talk about it more but still, you do bring your voice down if there’s a guy in the room, and it often feels like we can’t talk about being hormonal because of our periods, because it associates us with being ‘on the rag’ and irrational. I feel like I can’t express that I have PMS, even when I definitely do because I feel it undermines my choices and feelings. I know that’s not necessarily sensible but it’s still how I feel! I feel like Dignity is such an amazing initiative and I’m fully in support. So you’ve delivered your first lot to the business?
Jacinta: Yup so we’ve given our first package to the business and we are taking the equivalent give one to the school this week and I’m going to cry the whole day. When we made it up last weekend I was thinking, why isn’t this in every business do you know what I mean? Why isn’t this box everywhere?
Caitlin: Yeah I’m all for it! I feel like a big part is that it makes a difference to be involved in something that you’re passionate about, it must be really rewarding.
Jacinta: It does mean a lot.
Caitlin: That’s good, because it means you care, and an idea like that, you have to care about it. This isn’t just a business that’s going to make you money - it’s more than that.
Can’t wait to see the next chapter of Polymer Party, you can buy her earrings here.
Next week we talk to Chelsea founder of White Wardrobe who tells a surprising truth about her hardest moment - you won’t want to miss it.
Jacinta & Miranda