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Students by day, entrepreneurs by night: how three wildcats run their own businesses

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A pair of sneakers that Gyselle Cuevas customized for her business, customsbygys. (Courtesy Gyselle Cuevas) 

The pandemic has encouraged some University of Arizona students to become their own bosses.

Apps like Depop and Instagram have helped students like Anastasia Castillo launch businesses.

Castillo, a freshman majoring in film and television, had only been on Depop as a customer, but recently in the past few months has begun selling under the Depop handle @chaoticneutralatbest

“Originally this started as me giving something that I didn’t need away," Castillo said. "At the time, we just started quarantine and I didn’t have a job so I just decided to sell a couple items and see if they sell for anything."

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Eventually, Castillo is interested in doing more with her store. 

“I want to expand it into something else,” Castillo said. “I will stick to Depop for selling anything I don’t want, but I want to start making my own stuff and selling it on Etsy.” 

Castillo went on to talk about the welcoming and helpful online store community. 

“Everyone there is super nice and always warns you about fake shops and scammers," Castillo said. "I’ve almost been scammed twice, but luckily I’ve picked up on their tricks,” Castillo said. 

Olivia Hocker, a freshman majoring in political science and minoring in film and television, has also noticed a positive experience with the community while running her store on Depop and advertising on Twitter. 

“I was kind of doing my own thing and then I saw a tweet about making an art group chat for people who do jewelry, so I joined and we have this group where we support each other, help retweet each other's stuff and ask for feedback on items we have made,” Hocker said. 

Hocker has been operating her online store since mid-August, selling handmade jewelry and the occasional upcycled clothes, her favorite item being her various earrings, including mini Tajín bottle earrings and her scissor earrings. 


Olivia Hocker's Depop storefront where she sells customized jewelry. (Courtesy Olivia Hocker)


“Sometimes it’s a little discouraging to see items similar to mine, so it feels good to make something really unique,” Hocker said. 

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Hocker cited a lot of her inspiration coming from the creations she sees on TikTok. The various designs and ideas users produce motivate her to try and learn new forms of art, expanding her store further. 

“My whole life I’ve loved doing all sorts of art. As a kid, I would always draw, paint and knit, but I’ve never done it as a business. It was always just more of a hobby, and while it is still a bit of a hobby, I’m now trying to at least make it into a business,” Hocker said.

Gyselle Cuevas, a sophomore majoring in film and television and minoring in theatre arts, had always been interested in art as well. Cuevas operates a custom hand-painted shoe store under Instagram handle @customsbygys, allowing customers to have their favorite brand pair of shoes have a completely unique shoe design. 

Cuevas has been painting her and her family members’ shoes for two years now, but it took being stuck in quarantine during the pandemic to truly bring her store to fruition. 

“When it first started I needed to spend my time on something. I started doing YouTube, that kind of didn’t work, and I started feeling very uninspired. But with painting shoes, I started to just feel that rush of adrenaline when I started to paint my first pair and I got a lot of compliments on it so it was very inspiring to see people be like ‘Hey, I would totally buy a pair from you if you started this,’” Cuevas said. 

As a full-time UA student, Cuevas keeps her days organized in order to balance coursework and running her business.

“I personally am an early morning person so I wake up really early and I get my day started with school first. School is obviously a priority, I'll always have everything second, but when it comes to having time for this I really plan it out carefully. I don't want to either miss something important in school or miss a customer. I literally have a calendar planning everything out and I'm very organized in that sense,” Cuevas said. 

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According to Cuevas, the most rewarding part of the process is her customers' feedback. 

“Their reaction is what really sets me forward and makes me really happy because I do spend a lot of time on each shoe, like not even the pair. I spend a lot of time on each and to have someone say, 'You did a really good job,' is so satisfying,” Cuevas said. 

Despite all the setbacks of the pandemic, students have been able to find other ways to grow and flourish at home. 

“We’re this generation that is always like ‘Support small businesses, I hate corporations,’ or like ‘This looks fun, I’m gonna teach myself to do this,’” Castillo said. “I feel like this is what this generation is all about is finding new ways to make things your own. We want to make our own stuff, we want to support others." 


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Updated December 1, 2020