Photo: Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
Since 2016, Cecille Wright, who lives in Spring, has been selling her handmade jewelry online. But ever since COVID-19 started to spread locally, she’s shifted her business to begin making a new product that responds to the needs of the pandemic.
Since March, Wright’s Etsy business, Fern Home And Fashion, slowed down considerably; no one was buying jewelry as they stayed home. But Wright was struck with inspiration when a friend asked for her help. After wearing a mask became mandatory at many local businesses, her friend needed a way to keep from losing or misplacing her mask.
Wright created a simple leather lanyard with jewelry clips on the ends that fastened easily to the elastic of a face mask. She sold the first batch in just a few days and quickly realized the new product could be in high demand. She credits part of her success to an Instagram influencer purchasing a lanyard and tagging her business in a post about it.
Before the pandemic, most of Wright’s business was done at local events like The Woodlands Pride Festival, corporate events and conferences. Now, the bulk of her lanyards are being sold through her Etsy shop. It took her almost five years to get to 2,000 orders on Etsy before the pandemic. Now she’s sold 1,500 orders online in just a few weeks since adding the lanyards to her shop.
“The last two weeks have been like ‘Am I dreaming?’” she said. “Because it went from so dead, seriously dead, to all of a sudden (selling) every day.”
As sales started coming in she ordered supplies online but knew they wouldn’t make it in time, so her husband went to multiple craft stores to stock up on all the things she needed. He even convinced one of them to order a little extra supplies when they restocked, just for her.
“My husband, he works from Austin, so that first week he went to every single craft store,” she said. “He went to San Marcos, to Austin, just to get me all the supplies that he could find.”
She started to expand the lanyard options for kids, with a breakaway clasp for safety. Her son inspired her to start making personalized options with kids’ names on them, to make them easier for kids to find and identify as their own. A friend of hers in the fashion industry asked for something more stylish, and she added chains with pearls and crystals to the collection. All of them are multi-functional and could be worn as just a necklace without the mask.
She has around 215 open orders, added over just a few days, and has been getting help from her sister-in-law, children and niece. But with the increased demand she’s considering hiring someone else to join the business.
Her marketing has been targeted to states that have mandatory mask orders, and since schools are starting to accept students again, many of her personalized orders have been for students, using their school colors. Several small private schools have ordered in bulk.
She plans on offering the lanyards for as long as there is a demand. She’s even started seeing some international sales to Canada, despite the steep price for first-class shipping. She will probably even expand the options even more depending on what she hears from her customers.
“Every time I get an idea, it’s from customers asking ‘Hey, can you do this?’” Wright said.