To reshape her 2020 “blahs and feelings,” social media lifestyle influencer Annie Austen picked up a pair of pliers. She’d been collecting jewelry-making kits for years — but never committed to putting the jump rings, clasps, charms, and other pieces together.
An Etsy shop launched with her younger brother, Matthew, changed everything, as the two began channeling their creative energy to craft and sell stylish chains to attach to face masks.
“Making little mask chains was just such a cute way to feel a little bit more like myself during a very strange time,” Austen said of the origins behind Shop Annie Austen, a tarnish and hypoallergenic jewelry and accessories business.
Austen built her experience in social media and influencer marketing through a personal blog and freelance projects — initially a side hustle after graduating from University of Central Missouri in 2013 with degrees in psychology and sociology, and working for six years at Cerner.
Subconsciously, Austen said, she had been embedding herself in Kansas City’s maker scene all along. Years ago, she attended the indie craft fair, Strawberry Swing, to cover it on her blog and Instagram. Her efforts caught founder Katie van Dieren’s attention, and Austen said she was asked to do her first Instagram takeover for the show.
“My god, did I feel like I had made it,” Austen said.
Another formative experience for Austen was partnering with EB and Co.’s Emily Bordner, who she met through previous social media projects. Austen designed her own line of jewelry for the boutique, and through the process, learned more about how small product businesses operate on top of what she already knew about making money as an influencer.
Since launching the Etsy shop in November 2020, Austen has stepped more away from her own Instagram to immerse herself into the jewelry business with her brother. Matthew is an expert at stringing pearls and seed beads and making her ideas a reality, she said. Her other family members play important roles as well: her sister, who has sensitive ears, helps test every piece, and her husband makes displays, manages finances, and experiments with new jewelry designs.
“I enjoy focusing my energy into making things that people are going to wear,” Austen said. But she added, it hasn’t sunk in yet that she’s inspiring other people’s style. “The coolest thing is going somewhere and running into somebody who came to a pop-up or who bought something and they’re like, ‘Oh, I’m wearing your necklace.’ It’s totally wild to me.”
Click here to shop Annie Austen.
Still in the early stages of building the business, Austen and her brother are planning for future growth. They want to do more community-focused projects, such as the Cafe Cà Phê collection that raised money for the Vietnamese coffee shop’s brick-and-mortar location. And attending events — like the Strawberry Swing and Holiday Boutique — is also a mainstay because they can build brand awareness by selling their styles, meeting fans, and fixing people’s jewelry on the spot.
Between spending time with her husband, four cats, and two dogs, listening to Dungeons & Dragons podcasts, beating Nintendo games, hiking around the city, picking cherries with her mom, and fishing with her uncle, Austen is committed this time to the jewelry craft.
“When things start clicking into place like this all has, you kind of just have to lean into it,” Austen said. “I feel so much more satisfied with what I’m doing now and I feel a lot more at ease since I’ve started going with the flow and taking opportunities as they come.”
Aside from on the website, a selection of Annie Austen’s jewelry is available at Shop Local KC, the brand new Babe Standard shop on the Plaza, and First Friday weekends at Bella Patina in the West Bottoms.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.