Having the guts to kick butt in college requires determination, creativity, resilience – and money. Any aspiring college student must eventually face these truths. For me, I had determination, creativity and resilience in the bag. I was a straight-A high school student and remember proudly and confidently telling my mother that I was applying to one college university, and that obvs I would get it in and totally rock it. My mother’s reply: You absolutely will rock it sweetheart, but just so you know if you go, there’s not much I can do to help you pay for it.
You see, the money part is where I panicked.
I indeed solely applied to the University of South Carolina (USC) after falling in love-at-first-college-sight with the journalism program, the campus, and the fact that in-state tuition was significantly more affordable for a young African-American first-generation female student like me. USC stole my heart like a sunny Carolina spring day, but even with residency, it was by no means cheap. I grew up in South Carolina, but college was this beautiful unexplored academic world, and academics is where I thrived. It’s where I felt my truest self. I never had to worry that I wasn’t popular or pretty enough, because I had brains, and I quickly learned that in a society where you can be unaccepted for so many things, intelligence could help you rise above. At university, my colleagues and friends were happy with being smart kids and took strong pride in being self-titled creative nerds (even amidst teases and taunts that our creativity and love for library and gardening and music and art and knitting and being unathletic somehow made us uncool.) I personally took pride in being a smart black girl on a campus where there simply were not a lot of other black girls enrolled. USC was founded in 1801 and by 1877, a student of my race was still unable to register. Thanks to three students of color that pushed for change, the university’s integration would happen in 1963. Fifty-seven years later in 2020, however, the racial diversity for undergraduate enrollment at USC is still heavily disproportionate. (Less than 10% enrollment for African-Americans and less than 8% for all other minority races), stats that have not much changed since my mid-2000s enrollment. And while I could have optionally applied to and attended a historical black college and university (HBCU) down the street in a much lower socio-economic neighborhood, I wanted to impact diversity at USC. I wanted to be diversity at USC. This was a walk my great-grandmothers, grandmothers, aunts, and mother had never taken before. This was a walk my grandfathers, uncles and father had never taken before. This was a walk my older sister had attempted five years before me, but did not complete, as the trials, tribulation and lack of racial diversity at the college she applied to, just 2 hours from my campus, for her felt too heavy a burden to bear. Don’t mess this up, we’re counting on you, I remember my older sister telling me the first day I moved into my dorm room. She never walked across a college stage and I felt both a heavy pride and equally heavy weight to do so for her, for me, for my entire family, particularly for my two younger sisters who would attend college after me. For me college wasn’t just about simply wanting to succeed, I needed to succeed. College was my cross, but I knew it would take more than prayer to carry it. My first day of freshman orientation in the campus auditorium gave me those first date butterflies. Walking a half mile across campus to my first financial aid office meeting hit my stomach too, but more like the kind where you’re dropping fast on a scary rollercoaster. Getting into college felt easy. I quickly realized that paying for it was a much larger challenge and at 17 years old, college taught me my first lesson in financial angst.
It was also my first real love story.
I spent 1,643 days, nearly 40,000 hours, and well over $100,000 pursuing this academic love story, my love for college.
Along the way, I discovered anxiety and overthinking, at times depression even. I discovered fatigue and hunger (I was on scholarship but had to maintain no less than a 3.5 GPA to keep them intact, so each semester I worked diligently to cushion myself by maintaining no less than a 4.0, often foregoing eating to study). I discovered what crying and hyperventilating felt like (my mom would tell me to breathe and drink a glass of water to gather my thoughts), because as tuition increased so did my need for loans. Study. Intern. Work. Eat. Sleep. Wake up. Apply for Scholarships - this cycle became my norm. The more I achieved, the lonelier and more overwhelmed I sometimes felt. Even though I had eventually found my stride as an upperclassman in socializing, dating and studying, my balance still felt unsteady. By my third year in college, I was seeing a therapist. He told me I was ‘okay’ and to maybe go to a party for once. My fellow dorm mates gave me some better advice: attend the knit night in our dorm. And just like that, like finding the perfect pattern at the perfect time, I discovered something that would forever shape and impact my world – yarn and knitting. I would spend the rest of my college career both ambitiously studying and formidably teaching myself how to knit. Both would shift the trajectory of my life and my love story. I ended up graduating from the University of South Carolina cum laude, and an expert in knitting garter stitch scarves. In between my studies, I became an ambassador and president of the enrollment committee for my dorm, where I led a team of about 20 to shift the diversity rates. About 100 students lived in my dorm and as a freshman student less than 40% were minority. By the time I completed my leadership tenure, even with overall low campus minority enrollment rates, my side of the yard would mirror just over 50% minority in my dorm, an accomplishment I helped to achieve in two years. Race aside, we all had this sort of beans for brains mindset.
Being a part of the enrollment committee, being an ambassador, creating lifelong friends that embraced diversity, inclusion and love for academics was an experience that impacted me in a profound way. Yes, I trailblazed across stage, turned my tassel from right to left, tossed my graduation cap and walked away from the USC campus helping so many others, but in many ways, college helped and saved my own life on vast and grand levels. I eventually went on to graduate school in Chicago (where I found another love story and met my now fiancé!), as well as post-graduation founding and launching Northknits and Our Maker Life (OML). But USC will always have a place in my heart. I became alumni there, and like the sunniest spring day, discovered a deep first love to make the world I wanted to see.
I know so many of us have our own academic love stories, our love for college. On campus, in our dorms, in the classroom, and alas in financial aid is where so many of us discover who we are and who we’re called to be. And many of us who look to succeed in college are also makers who love to knit, crochet, weave, yarn dye, etc., while equally paying the bills. I know that passion, I’ve felt that passion. Laura Zander, CEO at Jimmy Beans Wool, knows that passion as well. It’s led her to trailblaze so many things in life, including the Beans for Brains scholarship program. Jimmy Beans Wool, a yarn and accessories store in Reno, has awarded more than $50,000 through its Beans for Brains scholarship program so far. The money is for deserving students with an interest in creating. There are six scholarships worth $2,500 each. For 2020, Laura and her team have relaunched the program and I am honored to be sitting as a board member on the scholarship committee.
So, what is your story? We are waiting to hear your voice because we have no doubt that it has the capability to shift our world. Whether you are first generation, or one of many in your family to attend college; whether you are white or minority, have a rich history or a poor one, if you have a heart to learn and a heart to make, this is your time to share, your time to shine.
Remember, having the guts to kick butt in college requires determination, creativity, resilience – and money. Any aspiring college student must eventually face these truths.
But it also takes heart.
Let it beat and thrive with success – you absolutely will rock it sweetheart.
For more information, including applications that must be submitted between April 1 through April 30, visit Jimmy Beans Wool 2020 Beans For Brains Scholarship Program.
The immense devastation in New South Wales, and so many other parts of Australia as a result of the wild fire is hard to comprehend. There seem to be no words to truly describe the crisis or the sadness. This devastation has resulted in the loss of over a billion animals, enormous areas of wildlife habitat, and has pushed entire species to the brink of extinction. Additionally, the human toll continues to rise as families and entire communities lose their homes, their land, and their peace of mind as these fires ravage the continent. As I stared at the news, I felt completely helpless as so many of us do during periods of large scale crisis.
As a proud Canadian, who has spent a large portion of my life in rural and northern communities and as a proud daughter of someone in the Ministry of Natural Resources, the threat of forest fires was always real, but never as enormous or overwhelming. The humanitarian and environmental crisis that has erupted during this years fire season, is something we all need to be aware of.
When we started our family sheep farm the first promise I made to myself as the new steward to 120 acres, was that I will always care for the land, love it, nurture it, make it fruitful, and devote the time required to do those things. My grandfather instilled the concept of being a “steward of our land” in me at a young age and maybe this notion can help all of us be stewards to more than our own land, but also to the entire planet. I’ve spent several days soul searching and trying to find some way that we can help, how I can help, and how we as a fiber community can make an impact. I walked along a beach until I figured out what small contribution I could make to this crisis.
That’s when I created the ‘Australia Collection’.
In today's world, everyone can have a brand. Everyone is a brand for that matter. With social media, blogging, and more and more opportunities for individuals to sell nothing but themselves and their taste in clothing, home decor, beauty products, etc in order to make a profit, understanding how to create a distinct and visually appealing brand is becoming increasingly important. And as makers, we are no different. We might be sitting on the couch with season after season of the Gilmore Girls or the latest serial killer documentary on in the background while we knit and crochet in stretchy pants all day, but we are still business owners with brands to market. If you want to turn your hobby into a career, you have to treat it as such, and that involves affirming that what you're doing is a real job with the same needs as any other.
I'm totally guilty of downplaying what I do and not feeling brave enough to proudly state my job (why!?), so know that this is a process and we are all growing and no one has it totally figured out. It's only recently that I've felt comfortable saying "I'm a knitwear designer" when someone asks me what I do (and I still have a tendency to follow that up with "but for like, hand knitting and crochet, not like real fashion"). It's so dumb. But behind the scenes you better believe I'm working my butt off, much more so than most people I know who have "real" jobs, to keep my brand going and carve out a space for myself in the fiber industry. And today I'll be sharing my strategy for brand development with all of you so you can get started on building your empires too!
I've always wanted a strong brand identity. The best compliment I can receive is when someone says "I immediately knew that was Two of Wands when I saw it." But in a world where there are only so many ways to knit a hat, how do you stand out in the crowd? I can tell you that if you're coming up with your own ideas, and making or designing things that match your own personal style, your brand will naturally have a mood and cohesive feel to it. So my biggest piece of advice here is to make sure you don't get caught up in what everyone else is doing. It's important to follow trends, but trying to keep up with every other maker and model your brand after another is not only going to be exhausting and unfulfilling, it will not give you a strong brand identity. If anything, trying to emulate another maker or designer is the best way to fail because it's the differentiating factors and what sets you apart from the rest that will make your brand shine and build customer loyalty and trust.
But what makes one brand different from another? Everything from the colors you use, the way you style and edit your photos, the audience you're targeting, the types of items you're selling, and even your price point will shape and define your brand. Even some of those things that don't seem like visual aspects of your brand still influence the choices you make in your marketing and thus become part of the aesthetic. So the first step in creating a brand is to develop it using these factors. I think the easiest way to do this is to answer the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY, and HOW of your brand. Then each time you're making a decision when it comes to your brand, you can check it against these defining factors to make sure it is aligned. So let's get started!
Happy 2020! It's that time of year again! Resolutions, new goal setting, and outlining hopes and dreams! The OML team receives many questions on advice for tips and tricks about elevating your brand and reaching wider audiences. A common tool for both of these end goals is YouTube! Now we know what you're thinking YouTube is scary, right? Well, lucky for you - Anja from Peony and Thyme is sharing her tips and tricks to demystify YouTube for makers!
The Why and How of YouTube
Anja takes the time to outline the 'Why?' and 'How?' of YouTube for marketing, brand recognition, and audience outreach! She outlines helpful products to create videos and even lets you in on how much revenue she receives through YouTube alone!
Watch her video below, we so hope you enjoy it! Remember to share and tag us @ourmakerlife and @peonyandthyme
ps - Anja is taking over our OML IG on Tuesday January 7 to answer all of your Q's. See, YT is feeling less and less scary already, right?
Happy Making, and YouTubing!
Jake, OML Team