Kids often stop playing with clay after primary school. But today, creative entrepreneurs have returned to this mushy medium to sculpt a tidy profit out of their artistic inclinations.
Polymer clay is a non-toxic, rubbery, pliable material that may be molded into various shapes before being cured or hardened at 130 degrees Celsius. The material, which is imported from sources abroad, is sold locally at around P85 for a 50g bar. With a toaster oven, a bit of skill, and a lot of creativity, one can churn out as many figurines, beads, earrings, pendants, key chains, toys, picture frames, and other baubles as they have designs to dream up.
Reana Bacosa, an incoming senior at St. James Academy in Malabon, first encountered polymer clay as the cute, ready-made accessories that she liked to buy. A little online research in 2009 made her realize that she could do these herself, and a workshop quickly put the idea of a business into her head. Today, Reana’s Clay Creations Co. sells Ms. Bacosa’s own designs online and in local bazaars, produces made-to-order pieces for special occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries, and even trains other would-be sculptors.
The young craftsmaker occasionally gets the help of a sister or a cousin, and her brother has been giving her lessons in bookkeeping. Still, the 15-year-old somehow manages to do the bulk of the work herself, balancing the business and up to 10 orders a month with her studies. “I focus on school first because that’s what’s important to me. It sometimes reaches the point where I don’t sleep just to complete all the pieces, so I schedule my activities,” she said. The reward for burning the midnight oil is considerable, ranging from P2,500 to P15,000 a month.
The same year Ms. Bacosa formalized her venture into polymer clay, hobbyist Peach Alvarez was pregnant and looking for something to keep herself busy. She started crocheting baby’s clothes but soon diverted more attention to clay, which she found easier and more enjoyable for her hands. She began chronicling her attempts on a blog, The Joyful Crafter, and within a year, the largely self-taught sculptor was receiving inquiries from friends and readers who wanted to purchase her creations. Somewhere along the way, she also became a supplier and seller of the Nendo brand of clay.
Rather than produce batches of her own designs, however, Ms. Alvarez decided to accept only orders in small quantities—and at first, only from acquaintances she had trouble turning down. She still had to juggle raising her new family and her day job with her new hobby, after all.
On a typical day, she does not start working on her current project until late at night, after her daughter is asleep. “But, I have decided to challenge myself with made-to-order ones, so that my creations will have a place with people who will be happy because of them, instead of piling the projects up in my closet [only to be] put to waste,” she said in an e-mail.
The Joyful Crafter gets commissioned for necklaces with chibis or miniature look-alikes, bookmark canes with clay charms, event souvenirs, boxes and tin cans with polymer clay decorations, and personalized locket necklaces. Prices range from P45 for bulk orders of the bookmarks to as much as P350 for a locket. Ms. Alvarez also plans to sell cake toppers for P650 to P1,500.
According to Ms. Bacosa, chibis and food miniatures such as tiny cookies and coffee containers are popular among her buyers. Production, she stressed, is only as labor-intensive as the design is complicated; for example, three pairs of simple earrings may be done within an hour, but the same quantity of a more difficult request may take up to a whole day. In other cases, size proves to be an obstacle. “I had one request for a lighthouse that was a bit tall. It was easy to do, but difficult to bake,” she said.
The young entrepreneur also sells polymer clay starter kits, supplies, and manuals in her online shop. Given how easy it had been for her to master basic molding techniques, she seems unperturbed by the possibility of enabling future competition. “I just have to find more designs and be more creative with my work,” Ms. Bacosa said. Craftsmanship and attention to detail, she added, was also important. “I’ve seen other clay work that is rougher. I also had a type of client who, after seeing just a small indentation, didn’t want [my project] anymore.”
She has registered her business with the Securities and Exchange Commission, giving potential customers assurance of her credibility while making it easier for her to participate in bazaars.
While she has no plans of going into business full-time once she has finished school, she hopes to maintain Reana’s Clay as a sideline for as long as she can. Ms. Alvarez, on the other hand, would like to take the plunge but said that she would require more capital. Both sculptors intend to polish their craft.
“I’m not very good with chibis, so I’ll try to improve that. I’d also like to try scented clays,” Ms. Bacosa said. “I don’t have that much time to experiment at the moment because I have a lot of other orders.”
“I am planning to hone my skills more so I can get into teaching, conducting one-on-one or group workshops,” said Ms. Alvarez. “As for my creations, I am looking for stores where I can consign my items and make more one-of-a-kind ones for special occasions.”
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