Note: The following article was originally written in December 2021, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The familiar melodic beeps of facetime ring for a few moments before the screen is joined by a masked covered face. She’s wearing a vibrant necklace of reds, oranges, and yellows to reveal a trio of beaded sunflowers. Her eyes crinkle in a smile and she offers a small wave.
The audio crackles as she gets herself situated. She excuses herself for a moment and rejoins the frame with an attentive and friendly gaze.
After graduating from California State University, Northridge in 2019, Cassandra Suarez, 25, started Nanaka Sapichu Crafts to cope with the pandemic and changing job market.
With a degree in Computer Science, and limited knowledge, going into the jewelry-making business was something she never saw herself pursuing.
“I’ve never been a very artistic person. But for some reason, I was very good at beading. I am in love with my culture. That’s when I decided to share a piece of it with the world”, Suarez said”.
For Suarez, her Mexican heritage has been the driving force behind her business. She has indigenous roots from her mother’s side of the family which also serves as inspiration. She highlights a few items decorating her studio apartment. A multi-colored sarape (Mexican blanket) hangs from the wall and a few other knick-knacks from her trips to Mexico.
A quick look at her Etsy page, and you are met with a wide variety of brightly colored beaded work. From necklaces and bracelets to earrings and keychains, and the occasional custom pieces.
The inspiration for her work originates from classic indigenous jewelry that is mainly found in Mexico, and rarely found in the United States. The name of her shop is based on an indigenous word that she fondly remembers from childhood.
“The only word I can remember my grandmother calling me was Nanaka Sapichu which means girl. It’s not super creative but something special to me”, Suarez said.
For the past two years, building up her clientele and managing products on her Etsy account has become routine.
A typical day starts at 8 am. Suarez wakes up and checks to see if she has any new orders. Answers any questions potential buyers may ask and then start working on the pieces that should be shipped out soon. She usually tries to finish up by 4 pm but each piece varies.
“It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 days”, Suarez said. “With custom orders, they could take up to a week. But that is mostly due to some back and forth between customer and I”, Suarez said.
From there, she heads to the post office, then works on some more pieces until bedtime.
With every business, comes its list of issues. Whether it be shipping issues or material shortages, Suarez has learned to deal with them in stride.
“I sometimes have had to deal with people who have wanted me to lower prices. Unfortunately, some people have been very understanding in that regard”, Suarez said.
Although she started this business venture during the pandemic, and it has come with negative effects, she gives credit to it for helping her come up with the idea.
“COVID is the reason I decided to start my business. I think it is the reason it is so successful since people couldn’t go shopping and were dependent on online shopping”, Suarez added.
Speaking of online, beginning a following has become a learning experience as she navigates the world of social media and its contribution to her business.
“I use Instagram and TikTok. Instagram has been the most useful so far since I can pay for advertising”, Suarez said. “ It will share any of my posts to different users around the country or globe if I wanted to”.
With 623 sales and an outpouring of positive reviews, Suarez plans to do this for as long as she can, and hopes to set up a physical shop in the near future.
“I’m hoping to sell at a flea market in the future. Depending on how the COVID situation changes, I would like to completely move from online to flea markets”, Suarez said.