This week’s Campus Celebrity is a real gem. As young girls, we have all spent hours making friendship bracelets, but for Alyssa Kuchta, what started out as dabbling with beads in middle school has now evolved into the creation her own innovative line of jewelry called eff.Y.bee, short for “follow your bliss.”
Inspired at a young age by her grandmother, Alyssa Kuchta, a senior Psychology major at UD, chose to follow her bliss and pursue her passion for jewelry. Alyssa says “eff.y.bee is about more than just jewelry, but the concept that you should always follow what you love and pursue your passions in life.” The company that Alyssa says initially “started on [her] bedroom floor” now features handmade costume jewelry, charity bracelets for Haiti, and customizable bracelets for events/party favors. Alyssa’s stunning collection of jewelry is available for purchase at www.effybee.com and Bloom (located on Main Street).
MP: How does it feel to be named a HerCampus Celebrity?!
AK: I’m really honored and excited!!!
MP: Have you always had a passion for jewelry/jewelry making?
AK: My infatuation with jewelry began in my toddler days. Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who had an incredible jewelry collection. Our playtime involved sitting together on her bed and going through her seemingly never-ending boxes of jewelry. Playing dress up with my grandmother’s jewels was magical to me and this definitely influenced my later interest and love for fashion and jewelry. I didn’t really get into jewelry making until college, although in middle school I often dabbled with beads and making friendship bracelets.
MP: What inspired the name eff.Y.bee?
AK: During the brainstorming process of coming up with a unique name for the line, my best friend Nelly suggested I name it eff.Y.bee for “follow your bliss”, a quote that has really been our go-to for whenever we’ve given each other advice. The name really grew on me and I fell in love with the idea of others having to decode the secret meaning behind the acronym. It also explains my philosophy in starting the line and the message I want to get across to others. Eff.Y.bee is about more than just jewelry, but the concept that you should always follow what you love and pursue your passions in life.
MP: What inspired you to go into the jewelry business?
AK: I’ve been inspired by multiple things in my life that led me to wanting to start my own business. My work experience has always been for small family owned businesses and entrepreneurs. I really admired the independence it gave them to make a living off their own creative vision and hard work, and how genuinely rewarding it was. What inspired me to go into the jewelry business specifically was my experience working at Bloom, a women’s boutique. At Bloom, we carry the work of over 60 successful handmade jewelry designers. I’ve learned so much about both the actual jewelry and the business of it. Working there inspired me to start making jewelry of my own and helped me realize it was something I wanted to pursue as a career.
MP: How did you go about creating your own business?
AK: Being a Psychology major, I really knew nothing about starting a business. I kind of just dove right in using the knowledge I had from my work experience and figured the rest out along the way with help from a few friends. Eff.Y.bee started on my bedroom floor. I initially used random odds and ends that I had collected over the years with recycled chains to make my first collection. I posted a few photos on facebook and when I saw a positive response I decided to really go for it. I photographed each piece individually, launched a website and a facebook fan page, registered for a business license, and used social media to help spread the word.
MP: Do you have plans to expand eff.Y.bee?
AK: Definitely. My mind is constantly exploding with ideas and ways to expand eff.Y.bee. Currently I have three separate branches I’m working on; handmade costume jewelry, charity bracelets for Haiti, and customizable bracelets for events/party favors. My jewelry collections are constantly changing and are in line with current trends and styles of the season. I wish to expand this part of my business by hopefully getting more press, boosting online sales, and eventually selling it in more retail locations. I plan to expand the charity product line, Bay Lavi, through collaborations with the staff at the St. Boniface hospital in Fond des Blancs Haiti, to employ people in the community by making the bracelets there (a project I recently discussed with staff at the hospital during my trip to Haiti over spring break). My third plan for my company’s expansion is to offer customizable bracelet tables and party favors for events such as birthday parties, bachelorette parties, sorority events, etc. This was something I initially did upon request from a PR agency for their client’s store opening event. The make-your-own bracelet table was a huge hit and I would really love to expand to offering this service. The possibilities are endless with jewelry and there is no limit to my vision, its constantly evolving.
MP: What is your favorite piece that you’ve created and why?
AK: It’s really hard for me to choose just one favorite! But here are three that are really special to me. The necklace on the left was one of the very first pieces I made. It’s created with wire wrapped Dalmation Jasper and a recycled chain, the necklace in the middle is one of my favorites from my newest collection, and the necklace on the left is made with a piece of solid turquoise I had collected from when I was little and a key to my old jewelry box.
MP: Can you tell me more about the Bay Lavi bracelet line? How has it helped to benefit those struggling in Haiti?
AK: Bay Lavi, which is Haitian Creole for “give life”, is my charity line of bracelets that benefits Students for Haiti, an organization at UD that has recently obtained national 501 (c)3 nonprofit status. Students for Haiti aims to raise money for sustainable projects in Haiti involving healthcare and education through partnership with the St. Boniface Foundation. SFH's new mission, after completing the goal of raising $70,000 to help rebuild Villa Clinic (commencing early Summer 2012), is to raise money for the education of children in the Fond des Blancs region of southern Haiti where primary school enrollment is less than 50%.
I joined Students for Haiti in the fall of my junior year. I was drawn in by the passion I saw in the members and their incredible accomplishments. Everyone in the club was working on amazing fundraising endeavors including book drives, music festivals, and art shows, so I wanted to start my own fundraising project using skills and talents that I could contribute. I came up with the concept of designing and creating a unique and trendy bracelet that would function to raise awareness and money for the cause. I got the idea to use patterned fabric from being inspired by Greek Block lettered shirts and their popularity. My mom and I spent the summer purchasing fabric from warehouses, cutting them into strips, and sewing each by hand with our sewing machine. I decided to wire the bracelets with alphabet letters to spell out “kwe”, a phrase that means hope in Haitian. Having the phrase in Haitian was meant to inspire conversation and therefore awareness. The bracelets raised $1,300 within the first few months and the proceeds were donated directly to Students for Haiti.
A new project I hope to work on is to use Bay Lavi to create jobs by having them created in Haiti. My fellow executive board members and I traveled to Haiti for Spring break where we met with staff at the St. Boniface hospital in Fond des Blancs as well as people in the community. We learned that one of the biggest problems are the psycho-social-vocational aspects of assimilating patients who became disabled after the 2010 earthquake back into the community after they are discharged from the hospital. Many people suffered extensive damage and can no longer return to working their jobs that involve physical labor, meaning they can’t provide for their families and make a living. Through working with a few staff members at St. Boniface, I hope to organize a program that would help employ these people by engaging them in crafts such as sewing the bracelets and creating the packaging and then selling them in the U.S, creating a circular economy that filters a percentage of proceeds into funding sustainable projects in Haiti as well. I would also make sure their individual voices and stories are heard.
MP: What advice would you give girls your age that are trying to start their own businesses?
AK: Starting a business while you are young is by FAR the best thing you could possibly do for yourself. Not only is it incredibly rewarding and fun, but starting a business opens up worlds of possibility and opportunities. As a student, you have access to tons of free resources, networking ability, and people who are eager and willing to mentor you and give you advice, all of which is a lot harder to obtain once you graduate. Make short and long term goal lists, create a vision board with inspiration, and stay focused and determined. Once you truly believe in your success to the point you feel as if it's already real, things will begin to fall into place on their own, I promise.