My Pandemic Pastime? Making Cash.


Jenny Eisler learned to knit in first grade and was good at it. She has also spent time as a Girl Scout, which has given her an admirable can-do spirit.

When New York City was locked down last spring to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and Ms. Eisler (25) was stuck in her studio apartment in NoLIta without doing much, she impulsively ordered some embroidery frames, needles and threads from Amazon, right on it Bet a creditable chain stitch was just a couple of YouTube tutorials away.

“The first thing I did was embroider the word ‘quarantine’ in green thread on my gray hoodie,” says Ms. Eisler, who works for an online fashion retailer. “I’ve embroidered all of my clothes,” she continued. “And then when I ran out of my own things to embroider, I started embroidering things for my sister.”

Ms. Eisler set off to her parents’ home in Scarsdale with her handicraft gear when the pandemic broke out, began documenting her progress on Instagram, and lo and behold, people started sending her direct messages to place orders – 100 in the first few weeks – for tie – dyed, custom embroidered sweatshirts. “It just happened,” said Ms. Eisler. “My friends wanted them all because everyone was home and wore sweaty clothes.”

The coronavirus produced an army of diary keepers, sourdough seekers, bakers, cooks, weavers, painters, gardeners and bird watchers. For many, such hobbies were a way to relieve boredom and stress, to give shape to informal days. Ms. Eisler is one of the professionals who turn her pandemic pastime into an income-generating endeavor.

According to a recent survey by LendingTree, the online loan marketplace, nearly 6 in 10 of 1,000 respondents started a hobby during the pandemic; almost half of them made money and made it a sideline.

For some, it’s a pretty respectable number. Ms. Eisler, who named her company Just by Jeanie (a tip of the hat for her plush rabbit), said she has made $ 20,000 to date from a line of products that has expanded from sweatshirts to sweatpants, socks, baby blankets, and onesies ( Short and long sleeve models).

Meanwhile, Lan Ngo, a pharmacist, makes $ 3,000 to $ 4,000 a month selling the dollhouse furniture she makes in the guest room of her rental apartment in Clovis, California. And Jeff Neal, a project appraiser for an industrial painting company, collects $ 2,000 a month. He breeds crickets, cockroaches and other so-called food insects, which he sells to amphibian and reptile owners primarily through his website The Critter Depot.

Online barbecuing is a result of the hobby Mr. Neal began in the garage of his colonial home in central Pennsylvania just before the pandemic, both to pay for the costs of feeding the family’s very hungry bearded dragon, Monica the interests of his three little daughters. (For the record, Mr. Neal’s wife is VERY grateful that this is a detached garage.)

“On reptile forums, people said their local pet stores were closed because of Covid and they were looking for food insects,” said Neal, who estimates that at the height of the pandemic, he had an average of 10-15 orders per day and up to $ 5,000 net per month . (Critter Depot ships throughout the continental United States, providing instructions to customers on what to expect when receiving crickets in the mail.)

Futurist Faith Popcorn sees all of these companies as examples of several of the trends she has codified over the past few decades, including “down aging” (nostalgia for your younger creative self); “Truth to Power” (coming out with your own thing and maybe not going back to the office) and “Pleasure Revenge”. “In that case,” Ms. Popcorn said, “it would mean really getting into a hobby and thinking, ‘I can do this. I can – and someone bought it on Etsy. “”

Just as the pandemic broke out, Adam Sarkis, a Chicago-based entrepreneur, left a failed startup.

“When I was younger I started thinking about things I did as hobbies, things I hadn’t had time for in years,” said Mr. Sarkis, 35, who didn’t draw in notebooks, played basketball or play as a kid watched basketball. “I decided to combine these passions and see what it looked like on screen.”

With acrylic paint, sponge brushes, and sharpies, Mr. Sarkis crouched at the dining table in his South Loop rental shop and began painting the heads and shoulders of carefully selected NBA players. These included Latrell Sprewell “because he was one of the first to wear dreadlocks hanging over his back,” and Dennis Rodman, “because he was one of the first to rock a lot of tattoos,” said Mr. Sarkis, who characterizes his style as a mixture of Keith Haring and Jean Dubuffet.

Posting some of his early efforts on Instagram, he was surprised and pleased to discover there was considerable interest in the prospect of owning an original sarki: “I was asked about players like Ben Wallace, Steve Nash and Allen Iverson. It just snowed. ”So far, Mr. Sarkis said, he has sold more than 100 paintings.

But the will of the people forced him to downsize both the canvas (from 32 x 32 inches to 8 x 11) and the price (from 300 to 50 $). Still, “I definitely made more money than I put into it,” said Sarkis. “I understand prices and overheads.”

There is much to be said for a tolerant family. “I definitely messed up the whole house,” says Ms. Eisler, who found a willing and capable helper in her mother, Denise. “We put on old clothes, turn on the music, and go out on deck to work,” she said.

When Tiffany Riffer, a Washington product liability attorney, started making soap as a pandemic pastime, she reached out to her husband, Steve, a cybersecurity advisor, for help with the lye and essential oils in the kitchen. Tiffany Riffer Soap in scents such as lavender, eucalyptus, and vanilla is now available online and in some Washington and Virginia stores. Ms. Riffer hopes to break even by the end of the year.

Another soap maker, Mary Duque, 14, has taken over the dining room in her parents’ home in Cape Cod, Easton, Connecticut. There she stores ingredients and packaging material and makes soaps for two to five hours every week. Sugar scrubs, lotions and lip balms, all of which include their Honey Bunny Soaps & Stuff collections. Next up: sunscreen. “I’m pretty good at tidying up behind me,” says Ms. Duque, who is about to move to the basement. Meanwhile, the food is in the kitchen.

The involvement of her family was one of the reasons Ms. Ngo started making dollhouse furniture in the first place. She also wanted to start her with a hobby. “My father and sisters had plenty of time during the pandemic,” she said. “I was afraid that if you stay home and do nothing, you would get depressed.”

The thing about a hobby, of course, is that you can spend as much or as little time doing it as you want. No problem if you don’t feel like painting, drawing or embroidering today. But the calculation changes, and with it sometimes the need for special equipment, when the pastime becomes a business.

Ms. Eisler works full-time from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., often switching to Just by Jeanie tasks for an hour. The weekends are entirely dedicated to batik, an extremely labor-intensive activity.

Ms. Ngo spends at least a day every weekend making the tiny dining tables, chairs, doors, stoves, and refrigerators she sells on Etsy. Eventually, she bought a Glowforge 3D laser printer (prices start at nearly $ 3,000) after inevitably coming to the conclusion that what she’d done by hand with popsicles and cardboard was both labor-intensive and not was ripe for prime time. Her family works about 20 hours a week, and when Ms. Ngo is trying to get a big job done, her fiancé helps too.

For his part, Mr Neal, the cricket breeder who works up to 60 hours a week in his “real” job, is up at 4:30 a.m. every day to take orders and answer e-mails. “I am exhausted most of the time,” he said.

Regardless of fatigue, there is something nice about developing new skills. “It opened my eyes to dip my toe into entrepreneurship,” said Neal. “I had to solve customers’ problems, I had to do packaging and create a website. I found it really rewarding to cut through and make it possible without causing a disaster. “

Ms. Riffer, who had not previously seen herself as artistic and imaginative, is now rethinking. “Making soap,” she said, “was a way for me to be creative and make a useful product.”

And of course there is something very satisfying when people not only admire what you are doing, but admire it enough to part with some money.

“It’s positive reinforcement,” said Gail Saltz, a clinical associate professor of psychiatry at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.

“The overarching driver during Covid has been the need to find a place to play, soak in something pleasant when we are stuck at home with a lot of stress and no outside distractions,” said Dr. Saltz. “You are starting a hobby. And then, when people appreciate your hobby and say that it is worth something – those are bonus points. “

Occasionally, the hobby that turns into a sideline becomes a job. When Covid met, David Angelov, a carpenter, was eager to find a pastime “that had nothing to do with others,” he said.

His mother is an experienced and dedicated gardener. Given their example, Mr. Angelov, 24, decided to start clearing the vines and scrub that surround the modern three bedroom home he shares with his father in Swampscott, Massachusetts. “I have an appreciation for nature and what it was like” here long before us, “he said.

One thing led to another: Mr. Angelov began researching plants in his region and the techniques for caring for shrubs. He built a raised bed and planted vegetables, collected compost to improve the soil, pruned spirea and holly, and distributed wildflower seeds – all with very good results. “I realized I could make some money out of it,” Angelov said.

Last winter he created a business plan for his company PlantParenthood, now looks after 12 properties per week and complements a number of individual projects. The ramp-up is slow, he added, “but gardening turns out to be more lucrative than carpentry.”

Still, for most, the hobby will remain the hobby. “At the moment I like to have embroidery as a sideline,” said Ms. Eisler. “I enjoy my full-time job very much and I was able to balance the two well.”

Ms. Duque, a freshman in high school, is keeping her options open. She sells themed gift bags on Facebook and Instagram, and her grapefruit-rosemary lotion and scrub coffee soap do good ones at Greiser’s, an Easton market that just placed an order for rosemary-mint and cucumber-melon soap Business dealings. Ms. Duque worked at a loss for a while because of some onerous research and development costs, “but I’m up about $ 320 now,” she said.

“It would be great to have a bigger business,” Ms. Duque continued. “I don’t expect it to be like Dove or anything, but the fact that I started something is very cool.”

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