Many have tried to create something in place of buying it, but it takes an extra step to turn these creations into a business.
Some University of Wisconsin-Madison students have turned their do-it-yourself passion projects into their own businesses, fueling a locally focused economy in the process.
Ashley-Grace Dureke, a recent graduate from UW-Madison, sells a variety of beaded jewelry and crocheted accessories. She started her company, Madewithgracebyag, two years ago and continues to produce and sell her work.
“I started two years ago mainly out of boredom, but also because my mom makes jewelry and I watched her do that as a child,” Dureke said. “It was just a hobby, and then my friends wanted to buy pieces from me, so that’s when I started selling them.”
Dureke said her products are valuable to student customers because they are customizable, making each purchase one-of-a-kind.
“My work is just another form of self-expression, and I feel like that’s something that’s invaluable on a huge campus like UW-Madison,” Dureke said. “No two pieces are the same, just like no two people are the same. There’s a connectedness with my pieces and brand as a whole, but it’s the people who own the pieces who shine and create that impact I strive for.”
Matthew Horester, a senior at UW-Madison majoring in graphic design, creates clothing and accessories out of his bedroom and basement for his clothing company, Threadlock. He mainly makes t-shirts and sweatshirts with dimensional, hand-stitched elements.
“The MakerSpace near Union South planted the idea of clothing design in my head all the way back in my freshman year,” Horester said. “Since then, students have been the most supportive customers and professors have been the most helpful advisors for various projects. I really am grateful for the university’s creative resources and for Madison’s encouragement of their artist communities.”
Horester said much of his inspiration comes from the city of Madison, and he has worked to apply this to his designs.
“Madison is unlike anywhere else I’ve lived to make things,” Horester said. “Madison’s soul can be so youthful and artistic and inspiring, but it can also be dark, solitary and brooding. While living and working here, I have attempted to convert these hues into something physical. A lot of the products on ‘Threadlock’ do encapsulate the creative, childlike, tactile side of Madison, but I would be lying if I said Madison’s more mysterious side hadn’t inspired some of my favorite garments on the site.”
Lindsey Swiggum, a 2023 UW-Madison graduate, started her company, Loop.d.loppz, to sell a variety of crocheted items. Students often believe they lack time to pursue DIY passions, she said.
Swiggum doesn’t buy that.
“I would always meet students who tell me about their passion for creating art that is unique to them. But when I ask if they have considered selling, I hear the usual, ‘I don’t have time,’” Swiggum said. “With the confidence in my own work that has grown over the years, these are now some of my favorite topics to debate and debunk. I love to share resources with others to help them find a space where they can create, or a space to sell their work.”
Swiggum always dreamed of selling her own art, but she says turning a passion into a hobby has its ups and downs.”
“On one hand, it can be exciting to share my passion with others and make money off of something I enjoy doing. On the other hand, something called the overjustification effect can occur,” she said. “There have been times when I have no way to decompress after a hard day because crocheting — a previously calming and rewarding activity — feels like a draining and tiring activity.”
Swiggum attributes much of her success and confidence to the art community around her.
“The local art community in Madison is huge and so welcoming,” Swiggum said. “Me and my small business would not be where I am today without this community.”
Another UW-Madison alumni, Alex Lutz, started her own gameday wear company called Recess Apparel in 2017 during her sophomore year.
Lutz said she was often displeased with limited women’s clothing options while getting ready for Badger game days.
She decided to take matters into her own hands.
“At the time, there really weren't any companies or products out there that were really geared towards women or really geared towards trends,” Lutz said. “I would go to the bookstore to find my gameday apparel, and it was all unisex sweatshirts or just the same repetitive design. So I started making my own clothing for myself, and I’d buy patches from the bookstore and use those to kind of revamp my clothing or upcycle some old sweatshirts I had.”
Lutz has since turned this hobby into her full-time job and has expanded beyond UW-Madison. During this expansion, she recognized she would need to work with students at other campuses to get their opinions.
“The campus rep program is a huge aspect of our business and how we have been able to grow, Lutz said. “That was the biggest thing when we decided to take it to the next level, finding people who could essentially be a sales rep, a brand ambassador, and who actually wanted to wear these products. They were helping sell the products and promoting them on campus to their friends.”
For Horester noted the overall satisfaction he feels when students find a unique piece to showcase their personalities.
“I have always felt that a particular garment can completely alter someone’s confidence and demeanor," Horester said. “I love giving my peers the opportunity to own and wear something they can truly call theirs, some article they can feel special wearing and can be confident is just as unique and unreproducible as they are themselves.”