Almost everyone has a box of sparkling old buttons from
Grandma's sewing chest to marvel at, or set of dominoes,
checkers or mahjongg pieces rescued from a flea market. Maybe
they have a partial Scrabble game and perhaps even a collection
of colorful, fifty-one-to-a-deck playing cards purchased at an
antique store tucked away in a drawer. Gather your treasures
together and start earning extra income now! Strap those buttons
on a piece of elastic to create eye-catching bangle bracelets.
Glue the dominoes, checkers, and Scrabble pieces onto earrings
or pin backs for guys and gals. Whatever the material, mount
your artwork on one-of-a-kind playing cards for good money in a
rewarding home jewelry business.
In addition to having the satisfaction of creating fun gifts for
family and friends out of "heirloom" materials, once the word is
out, relatives will often send along their extra buttons and
collectibles. This helps build your inventory, resulting in a
minimal investment for supplies. The season for successful
jewelry selling is year-round, since the pieces make wonderful
birthday and Christmas gifts, as well as fun wardrobe
accessories anytime. Men, women, and children can wear these
buttons, domino, and checker pins and earrings, so the sky is
the limit for profits. And this business can be worked out of
your home part or full-time.
Bev Rice is one designer who not only models what she sells, but
delights in the pleasure others have in purchasing her sporty
art. She and her husband Jim started a home business called
"Sport in Life" ten years ago with one imperfect mahjongg set
originally bought as a present for a friend. In the past five
years "Sport in Life" has evolved from marketing craft-fair
products to bona fide antique buttons sold at more expensive
retail-quality level. With mostly word-of-mouth advertising,
their jewelry has captured creative awards, been featured in the
Image section of her local Sunday newspaper, displayed for sale
in clothing and curio boutiques, and sold at jewelry parties.
GETTING STARTED AND BUSINESS SAVVY
Like most business entrepreneurs, Bev started out "needing to
make a living," and she wanted to combine her love of going to
flea markets with creative, artistic urges. She also had a
curiosity about the ability to manufacture interesting game
pieces. While she comes up with her signature creations, Jim
perfects ever-sturdier ways of fastening pieces together and
drills holes in the mahjongg tiles for Bev to thread with
elastic to make bracelets or neck amulets. She took her first
product, a "rigger" domino with a tell-tale crack, to her
husband, who polished the domino to sheen and bolted it to a pin
Earrings and pins can be made without drilling, however. Just
purchase an inexpensive glue gun from the neighborhood hardware
store, or sturdy "glue dot" stickers, as well as earring and pin
backs, available wholesale. "What's more, anyone can do this,"
INVESTMENT. Bev estimates start-up costs can be less than $500
because of "miracles and mitzvahs." Don't underestimate the
value of trading services or receiving supplies when starting
out. "People were inspired to gift us," she says. An artist
friend created a simple but effective domino logo, and another
friend who was teaching a printing class made up 500 business
cards as a gift. While Bev did read a couple of start-up books,
such as Working From Home, and Small-Time Operator, (similar
books can be obtained from the library) she advocates getting a
business license from City Hall (if your area requires one) and
an invoice book from a stationery store. Then just start-up.
The jewelry maker recommends that once you are in business, get
a sales tax resale number from your state's taxation bureau to
make quantity purchases at jewelry supply stores giving
wholesale discounts. You will also be able to legitimately write
off business expenses at tax time. Initially, Bev spent $100 per
month on supplies. That included game pieces, pin and earring
backs, and glue. She notes that "the most interesting pieces can
be found at thrift stores, flea markets, and garage sales."
BUYING SUPPLIES. Finding supplies can be time-consuming at
first, says Bev, but all supplies can be bought in one's own
neighborhood or ordered from supply catalogs. Her inventory is
now built up, but when she first started out she went to stores
three or four times a day to be the first person there and check
on items arriving during the day. With vigilance and luck,
"finds" can be snapped up as they get put on the shelves. Also,
friends who peddle their wares at flea markets might bring her a
mahjongg set because they know exactly the kinds of things she
While Bev's first mahjongg tiles cost 50 cents, and were sold
loose in a plastic bag, now sets might run $300 in a big city
where the game is popular.
To record money earned and money spent, and to keep track of
what pieces are on consignment or out for a jewelry party, Bev
recommends keeping an inventory sales book.
FULL OR PART-TIME SALES
The person who wants to make jewelry and sell their wearable art
can make a part-time or full-time living at it. Bev Rice reports
that generating $10,000 per year part-time is possible, while
she estimates $30,000 to $40,000 could be made full-time,
depending on effort and expertise. The qualities of integrity,
flexibility and enthusiasm are personal attributes that will
make for better business, but being an artist is not a
requirement. In fact, Bev remarks that a little business sense
can really make or break profits. "I think I would succeed
better as less of an artist," she muses, "and more of a
Anyone who wants to get into this business has an intuitive
sense that they can put pieces together uniquely. Or talents can
be combined with a partner's help. Fortunately, Bev has a
husband with a natural inclination to use a drill press, which
can be purchased for under $100. Meanwhile Bev says she has
become a pro with a glue gun. Both are able to fill order for a
variety of styles quickly.
BUILDING A NICHE. The designer has built a niche for herself by
making pins out of the buttons and old mahjongg betting sticks
she loves. She enjoys making pins because "they are pieces I can
do myself-drill holes, find buttons, and put them together." Bev
relates that while she did not enjoy working for other people,
she loves her current work, loves the jewelry pieces, and says
that it has given her a personal sense of identity. "It is
gratifying to build a business from a broken set of dominoes.
Anybody can do it who has a set of buttons."
Most people have "secret stashes" of buttons, according to Bev,
and should be encouraged to be creative.
She recalls that her mother had a beautiful set of buttons and
her grandmother had lovely pieces of mahjongg set. And jewelry
making "is a nice way to keep those collections alive." But if
one is not ready to part with treasures, then items can be
purchased at flea markets. Buttons of quality range form a penny
to $8 or $10. The old glass and semi-precious stone buttons can
be considered a study in texture from a jeweler's point of view.
But ordinary plastic buttons, which comes in all shapes and
sizes, make perfectly creative and whimsical materials, too.
WHAT TO CHARGE. Jewelry prices depend on time, materials, and
what the market will bear. Simple Scrabble pins make great
holiday stocking stuffers or children's birthday party favors
and sell for $1.50. Antique button pins that look wonderful on a
blazer lapel can start at $25 and well-made button bracelets can
retail for between $25 and $50, depending on quality. Domino
earrings and pins can run from $16 to $26. Vintage collectible
mahjongg and bamboo bracelets may wholesale from $88 to $250.
JEWELRY PARTIES. Although there is a variety of ways to sell
jewelry, from craft fairs and festivals, at gift and clothing
boutiques, on consignment or by personal referrals, the best
methods really depend on individual preferences. There are
benefits and pitfalls to each. For those starting out, Bev
highly recommends holding jewelry parties as a fun,
tried-and-true way to sell. Better yet, ask friends to hold them
at their homes, serve a little something to eat and drink, and
invite a group of about six to twelve people. In her experience,
earnings of approximately $300 to $400 can be made from a home
NETWORKING. Another method is to network with a friend to find
trustworthy places that will take a chance on your work. This
includes consignment at clothing or gift boutiques and possibly
museums or art gallery gift stores, where a percentage of the
profits are kept by the store upon sale.
"Most rewarding," says Bev, "is when stores buy outright,
because it keeps your cash flow going." She has refined her
product line to where she can market it almost exclusively at
the high-end retail level. But Bev avoids the large chain stores
because, she says, "it can be heaven or hell." Mostly it takes a
long time to get paid and a big store buyers can cancel on a
whim an order that has been rushed into production.
CRAFT FAIRS. Craft fair profits are tied into the costs of entry
fees, booth space rental, and transportation to the fair. Some
fairs require the artist to be present to sell their work.
Depending on regulations, this can pose problems for the jewelry
maker who has hired a sales representative. Sales generally
depend on the ability of the individual seller and the quality
of the neighborhood crafts to help draw customers. Sometimes a
percentage of sales goes for a worthy fund-raiser. Also, many
artists really enjoy displaying their wares in a festival
atmosphere where they get a chance to meet and learn from each
FESTIVALS. "Game pieces make people smile," says Bev, "and are
made to be touched." Unique designs, together with the
touchables and playful qualities of the jewelry, are the
strongest selling points at festivals and craft fairs. Although
she now shies away from what she terms "the stress and the rat
race," a small show may only charge a $50 entry fee and net
profit of $200 out of $400 gross sales is possible. "People like
a chance to meet the artist," says Bev, which can help sales.
For the person trying to get established, she notes that this
venue - the chance to talk to other artists, trade, and barter
back and forth - can be more lucrative than dollars and cents.
FASHION SHOWS. Bev is occasionally invited to display her
jewelry as part of vintage fashion shows where a friend is
already selling and the artists dress up in appropriate period
costumes. Or she might do a weekend show where she is given
space to set up in a clothing boutique where a sale has been
advertised. The store often sends out postcards notifying
customers of the sale and perhaps a flyer noting an artist
appearance. Bev says that she enjoys these, but points out that
the store claims 30 percent of her sales. Also, selling all
weekend can be very demanding.
PERSONAL REFERRALS. Since Bev has been in business ten years and
knows her market, she understands how her pieces sell best, and
certainly what is cost-effective for her business. Personal
referrals now account for 30 to 50 percent of Sport in Life
sales, and 30 percent in repeat business. Someone starting out
may need to try all avenues to see what kind of customers are
attracted to a particular jewelry style.. Besides word-of-mouth
referrals by friends, and boosting sales by wearing the jewelry,
a jewelry representative can bring up the bottom line of profit.
Bev estimates that referrals from a rep who worked for her
several years ago added another 10 percent to sales. "If you can
find one who likes you and you like them - they can be a buffer
zone between you and the public," says Bev. "That individual
becomes the Mary Kay of jewelry."
Because Bev now handles the business herself, she advises taking
it "one step at a time." She would like to teach people to gain
self-esteem from their work and says she feels it is important
for people not to underprice or undersell themselves.
"Otherwise," she says, "they could just go get a job!" Because
people are always buying. Bev remarks that the business is
becoming more competitive. But she sees this as a good sign, one
that breeds well-made designs, those made using good, non-toxic
glues which are made to last. But don't be afraid to develop a
niche, since every bracelet and necklace will be different by
virtue of the material. "This is fun," enthuse Bev. "Buttons are
really unusual and unique, and it feels good to make these
For example, just four stacked buttons can make an interesting
earring Bev explains. "I was the kind of person who threw out
earrings if they were broken and didn't know how to fix things."
She remarks that making jewelry is wonderfully therapeutic and
can be a way to teach children creativity by stringing elastic
through buttons as a birthday party game.
In addition to belts, her new product includes a few glitzy
patent leather handbags also festooned with buttons. A bag might
retail for $50 to $125, according to the buying market. A
developing product line is as individual as the person, and the
artistic preferences will certainly add distinction. Bev states
that she would like to inspire other people to start feeling
creative. But working with buttons is not limited to women. Bev
says she knows of one man who "makes fantastic bolo ties out of
old buttons and belt buckles." "Whatever the material, her best
advice is, "Only do it if it's fun: Sport in Life!"