This post was updated on May 25 at 11:35 p.m.
Helen Nguyen puts her hooks to work.
The third-year biology student said she started her business, Hooked by Helen, to sell her crochet designs. in in-person markets and on social media. Due to the time she has been indoors due to the pandemic, Nguyen said she started crocheting to reduce the ingrained habit of being on the phone during online conferences. She said she was inspired by the trickery of other quarantine crocheters on social media to pick up her own set of crochet hooks.
“Seeing everyone being so creative – I love art and fashion, (so) I also wanted to jump on the bandwagon,” Nguyen said. “And so I started painting, drawing and also crocheting.”
After her first failed attempts to learn how to crochet a bob, Nguyen said the hobby quickly turned into a passion and a business to pay tuition. A plethora of bucket hat iterations later, she said she decided to post photos to her secondary Instagram account to see if anyone would buy them. She said she also attempted to sell her pieces on Depop and Etsy, but the fees prevented her from making a higher profit. However, Nguyen said his end goal was always to sell in person.
[Related: UCLA student crafts knitting business as way of giving back to the community]
Last summer, Nguyen said she was inspired to open her first market stall when a stranger complimented her bag and encouraged her to sell handmade goods at local markets. At its first stand at the SoCo Market in Sonoma County, Nguyen said she presented a hand-painted sign with her brand logo as the only decoration. It took several market presentations and marketing tactics, such as personalized business cards and IKEA shelving, to display her pieces and increase her income, she said.
After helping Nguyen set up past stalls, Nguyen’s friend Noah Abrams said Nguyen was able to find his footing in the markets by selling homemade versions of current knitwear trends. In order to find out her exact target consumers, Nguyen said she visits the market beforehand to assess the crowd of customers and adjust her inventory accordingly – whether it’s sweater vests in the winter or reusable shopping bags for suburban parents. Owen Siden, another friend of Nguyen, said the advantage of selling Nguyen in local markets is the connection she is able to nurture with her customers.
“She (Nguyen) is able to show her personality,” Siden said. “She is so welcoming. Whenever someone passes by, she is ready to talk to them. She always smiles and asks about people, so I think it attracts them for sure.
When Nguyen moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, she said she found it difficult to rebuild her following outside of her Northern California bubble. She’s on a break from selling in the market until her finals are over, but Nguyen said she’s still accepting one-on-one commissions while studying. With each handcrafted item taking hours or days to produce depending on its size, she said she finds herself crocheting in every moment of her free time, including on the bus or between classes.
[Related: Student unwinds, displays creativity through Instagram-based jewelry business]
Going forward, Nguyen said she plans to take a year off before medical school to grow her business, with the ultimate aspiration of get his pieces on store shelves. Abrams said it’s both her instantly recognizable patterns and the attention to detail in each crochet product that make Hooked by Helen a successful company. Although she has a broader vision for Hooked by Helen’s expansion, Nguyen said she will stay. true to his promise not to make the same piece twice, in particular by adjusting the color scheme to ensure originality.
“I think it’s really rewarding to see all of my hard work pay off. in (the sense of) I go to school (with the money I earn)… from my crochet business,” Nguyen said. “It was a lot of long hours and nights. … It was really rewarding to see not only the finished physical piece in my inventory, but in the end how I was able to (get) here.