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Students used Instagram to sell face masks and other merchandise during pandemic

Youth unemployment has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, prompting some entrepreneurial students to turn to the scrambling to make ends meet.

Youth unemployment (in the 16-24 age group) peaked at 27.4% in April 2020, or nearly one in three unemployed people.

Meanwhile, Etsy reported that the number of sellers on its platform has nearly doubled to 4.4 million by the end of 2020. They don’t break it down by age group, but Etsy reports that the The average age of its sellers is normally 39, but last year when creators started selling goods during the pandemic, the average age dropped to 33. That said, a lot of young people were looking to Etsy for a source of income.

Face masks, disinfection kits, homemade household items, care packages and even virtual hugs were side-trade students created during the pandemic. They sold them on e-commerce sites like Etsy but also directly on social media platforms like Instagram.

Instagram says 90% of its users follow a business. And 50% of users surveyed by Facebook (Instagram’s parent company) said they were more interested in a brand when they saw ads for it on Instagram.

Madison Klimchak, a 20-year-old rising senior at the University of South Carolina majoring in finance, risk management and insurance, has sold personalized reusable masks to sororities and other organizations. She promoted them on Instagram and her typical order was 150 to 400 masks at the height of the pandemic in March. She sold them for around $ 10 each and a portion of the proceeds was donated to the Emotional PPE Project, which connects healthcare workers with mental health services.

Klimchak said she chose Instagram because she already had an following and it was easier to promote on her personal accounts.

When business started to slow down as mask mandates eased, university entrepreneurs like Klimchak had a decision to make: do you turn to another type of business or shut it down. you ? In the end, she decided to go out of business and focus on her career and get her Graduate Record Examinations (GRE).

“I’ll be thinking about going back, but for now I’m going to focus on my studies for my GRE,” Klimchak said. She noted that this experience helped her understand the business world and gain skills for her future.

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Jacqueline Cabrera, a 23-year-old former student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, also sold masks during the pandemic. She sold them in upscale Manhattan neighborhoods, both through her personal Instagram account and the one she used to showcase her portfolio of fashion designers.

Cabrera said she chose Instagram because she already had an following.

“I already had an Instagram page / website for my fashion design portfolio where I occasionally showcased some of my work, so that’s where I started selling my face masks,” Cabrera said. “I also promoted it on my personal Instagram, where I had more followers, which definitely helped me get more attention to my business.”

Cabrera’s business lasted 8 months successfully and was able to achieve sales of $ 2,000 to $ 3,000. But, as the number of mask sellers increased and sales declined, she finally decided to return to her career in styling.

“The market for them became very saturated during the pandemic once it went from no one selling them to everyone selling them,” Cabrera said.

“The fashion industry is where I aspired to grow as a professional, so I thought to myself: Why not put my skills to good use and follow the lead of the industry I wanted to be in? ? Cabrera explained. “I was able to land my first full-time position in the fashion industry as an assistant designer.”

Cabrera said she had certainly thought about returning to her business one day, focusing on clothing or accessories.

For other students who had previously had secondary hardships when Covid struck, like Grace Williams, 22, the pandemic has in fact forced a pivot.

Williams graduated from Farmingdale State College with a bachelor’s degree in business management in the midst of the pandemic in 2020. She had created a freshman year of college in the slime business – several years before the pandemic. She has advertised on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, which has allowed her to connect with followers and develop relationships. She has also attended in-person slime conventions across the United States, selling in person to thousands of ticket holders.

“It was great that my product was handmade because the costs were low and I was in control. But it had its downside once the pandemic hit and everyone was nervous about the germs.” , she said.

Sales have started to fall.

So Williams pivoted: she started creating content on TikTok and researched brands that were looking to promote their products. This move had many benefits: She no longer had to create physical products and manage inventory, and she could work remotely from anywhere.

“It was then that I completely transformed my hands-on activity into a hands-off one, relying on technology and creating content from my phone,” she said.

“I’ve always had a passion for creating content and making others smile through my videos,” Williams said. “It allows me to work remotely from anywhere in the world and influence others in a positive way.”

Starting a business when the economy is suffering may be far from easy, but these young entrepreneurs have reflected on their experience and have some tips for students who might consider starting a side business.

“Plan and learn to manage your time,” Cabrera said. “I would recommend having inventory instead of ‘made to order’ products.”

Klimchak says not to be afraid of failure.

“Create a plan and put it into action by being open to new ideas and innovations, and watch it turn into something you never imagined possible,” Klimchak said.

CNBC “College Voices″ Is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money, and launching their careers in these extraordinary times. Jessica coacci is a student at Stony Brook University, pursuing a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is an intern at CNBC’s breaking news office. His mentor is Clifford Cat. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

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