Editor’s Note: Juvenescence is a new monthly column focusing on area youth. Readers with suggestions for future stories can reach the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quarantine, lockdown, and the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic has been highly characterized by loss. The simple pleasures of eating at restaurants and attending concerts have disappeared, alongside the more important protectants of job security and community health. For teens of the Pioneer Valley like myself, the pandemic has swallowed up our in-person high school and college experiences and spat out almost a year of remote learning.
Within this reality, however, several young people have taken advantage of their newfound circumstances to explore the world of entrepreneurship. I watched online as my Amherst peers launched small businesses, a happenstance I never observed under “normal” circumstances. Intrigued by their go-getting attitudes, I reached out to a few of the young women to learn about their business details.
Crowned By Cage Hair Braiding
Monica Cage, Amherst Regional High School senior, began her hair braiding business, Crowned by Cage, before COVID hit, hair styling in her own living room despite her parents’ skepticism. After lockdown, however, she was offered a place to work and grow her brand at Final Touch Barber Shop in Springfield.
“[The owner] told me that if I was fast enough and the work was good enough I’d be hired on the spot,” said Cage. Now, she finds herself at the shop every Saturday.
Cage is entirely self-taught, having started braiding her own hair in middle school. “My dad’s black and my mom’s Laotian. Neither of them have my hair texture. So, my dad would either bring me to someone else to get my hair braided when I was younger or my mom would try to do it herself.
Rings By Arianna
Arianna Roeder-Fabos, also an ARHS senior, began her business more recently, this past October. Under the name Rings by Arianna, Roeder-Fabos has been designing and selling jewelry online and delivering to customers in the area. Her products include wired rings, earrings, and necklaces.
Grace Farnham Photography
Grace Farnham, a graduate of ARHS and sophomore at UMass, launched Grace Farnham Photography in May 2020. She described finding a camera she had bought while cleaning her room, and using her free time in early quarantine to research photography online.
“Even on my phone, I just always am taking photos and wanting photos of people, because I think they’re such a good way to capture the moment, without sounding too cliche.” said Farnham. Now, she finds herself at two to four shoots a week, each which require six or more hours of editing time.
Common Experiences During The Pandemic
Although their businesses vary, the girls share some common experiences, including the nuances of online learning. I was curious as to what extent going remote had impacted their ability to dedicate time to entrepreneurship. The common answer was: significantly.
“Before COVID, everything was so fast-paced and you were always on the go,” said Farnham. “It was school, and then extracurricular activities, and then my regular job. There was no downtime to think about: am I even happy doing what I’m doing?”
Both Cage and Roeder-Fabos addressed their experiences during typical school years, in which neither felt especially supported to pursue business. If not for the lack of time and energy, the absence of money management education discouraged the ability to grow a business as a high schooler.
“I feel like if I had learned how to manage money better in school, I would have been way better off,” said Cage.
Alongside the flexibility of online learning came a new level of creative liberty that young business owners were quick to take advantage of. “I just feel like I’ve gotten so much inspiration from being at home bored. So that’s definitely helped,” said Roeder-Fabos. For her, this wasn’t her first time experiencing that kind of freedom. “When I had Lyme disease, and couldn’t do school, I was just doing so many creative things and it changed my life,” she said.
Given the isolation associated with the pandemic, teens are turning to social media platforms for a sense of connection. Cage, Roeder-Fabos, and Farnham have all taken advantage of this presence by posting content online.
“When I have time to set up my camera and do a time lapse I’ll do that. Or, sometimes I’ll just snap a picture of what I did if I was proud of it,” said Cage.
Managing social media requires significant time dedication, said Farnham.
“When you’re such a small business, [you’re] constantly trying to think of something to post, and how to interact with your followers,” she said. “I’m always thinking of a way to engage with them, or new trends to hop on. Now there’s [Instagram] reels and TikTok, and you have to try to go through all those platforms to gain a following or at least get your brand out there.”
Yet another commonality: navigating the world of price negotiation. Cage, who first began practicing hair braiding on her friends, found it difficult to start charging them once the business began. “I’m not only making money, I have to reinvest in myself. I know I’ll make it back, but it’s a full cycle,” she said. She eventually wants to charge professional prices, once she gets a professional license.
Farnham emphasized the importance of valuing her own self and time by raising prices, a decision that ultimately benefited the business. “I started getting clients who wanted to be there [every step] of the way and have a dream and vision for their photos, so they’ll pay the money to get those dream photos because they’re just more invested in it,” she said. She also mentioned her newfound appreciation for all small business owners alongside a personal understanding of the dedication it takes to keep one running.
Though the businesses arose due to COVID-related reasons, the girls have had to work within strict safety precautions, including sanitation, mask-wearing, and limited clients. Being so young, they’ve notably also been working with financial safety nets unavailable to many small local businesses.
As for the future of these businesses, nothing is certain yet. Cage is grateful to have started young enough that she has a job to fall back on, even if she doesn’t continue braiding forever, she said.
“[Amherst doesn’t] have that many braiders or stylists for curly or natural hair, things like that, so that kind of motivated me. You know, I used to get my hair braided in the barber shop that I now work at,” she said.
Roeder-Fabos is optimistic about the potential of growing her jewelry business. “I’ve always wanted to get to the point where I can live off of it, maybe just for a little bit,” she said. “I’ve always had this dream to live in a van, and be able to have a job while also traveling, and being able to make and sell jewelry.”
Farnham plans to pursue photography professionally, ideally as a wedding and elopement photographer.
“I wanted to find a job that allowed me to have my own schedule and to be my own boss,” she said. “There’s always gonna be people who think it’s just a hobby and you can’t actually make a living off of it, but you can if you actually try.”
As vaccinations are gradually becoming available across the nation, the notion of normalcy is seeming more and more tangible. When we eventually transition back to in-person learning and typical extracurricular activities, I am curious as to whether small teen businesses will continue to emerge — or if they are a product of a rare period of creative liberty.
Crowned by Cage can be found on Instagram @crownedbycage
Rings by Arianna can be found on Instagram @rings.by.arianna
Grace Farnham Photography can be found on instagram @gracefarnhamphotography and on her website www.gracefarnhamphotography.mypixieset.com
Annalise Peterson is a senior at Amherst Regional High School, where she can be found running cross country, stage managing, and playing ultimate. Her writing has appeared in ARHS’s The Graphic, the New England High School Journalism Collaborative’s The Vanguard, and the Amherst Indy.