In a society where an undergraduate education at a public university can cost upwards of $40,000, it is common for students to work while pursuing their degree. According to a report by Georgetown University, close to 70% of college students in the United States also work a job.

Many students hold customer service or other minimum wage jobs that, while not the most engaging, at least help them cover tuition or other life expenses. Being able to combine work and passion can feel out of reach for many, but some students make it happen by turning their interests into businesses.

Running a business requires a huge amount of organization, passion and time, especially when combined with school. Here are five UO students who are making it work.

Something for the curvy girls

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Jayli Smith runs a business dedicated to creating custom swimwear that prides itself on being inclusive. (Ali Watson/Emerald)

Growing up, Jayli Smith heard the message that no one makes money doing art. Now, a fourth year psychology major, Smith said she is satisfied that she is proving otherwise.

She started her business, “Sunkissed and Glowing,” creating reversible swimsuits in April 2021. Each piece is custom made to fit her customer’s body.

“I did it for the busty women,” Smith said. “It’s hard for us to find something that’s beautiful and makes us feel beautiful.”

Since starting her business, Smith has received countless orders and so much positive feedback on the final product, she said. She currently only has one pattern because of how busy she is, but she hopes to branch out into lingerie as well.

Starting “Sunkissed and Glowing” gave Smith the freedom to control her own work hours and create space to be artistic. She’s also made enough money to quit her other job and still support her own needs, she said. She has always been interested in art and, before making swimsuits, painted custom sneakers.

Smith’s passion shines through in her work, and the people who used to tell her she could not make money doing art are now the ones telling her how proud they are, she said.

“I want everybody of all sizes to be able to say, ‘Okay, this was made for me.’ That’s what motivated me to make bathing suits,” Smith said.

Valuing your art

Fourth year architecture major Natalie Price has a passion for painting and “spontaneous art projects.” In March 2019, she started her Instagram page dirtgirlpaints. Her friend runs an art space, so Price decided to sell some of her crafts.

Originally, she sold a mixture of different crafts: embroidered pins, hand painted patches and paintings. But she soon realized that making so much by hand was time consuming, and she could not make enough money to justify her time and effort, she said. She switched to just painting, starting with pet portraits.

“Knowing how to value yourself and your time is really hard,” Price said.

The amount of art that Price sells ebbs and flows, depending on the amount of time she has to put into it. In the end, the business evolves with her, she said.

Currently, Price mostly creates paintings and hand paints objects she finds at thrift stores. She has dreams to eventually renovate old furniture as well. Price said she is always thinking of inspiration for her next creations, and she sees it everywhere — walking down the aisle at Goodwill or browsing the bins at MECCA are two of her favorite spots to find inspiration.

“My business is, at the moment, just kind of an expression of me and my interest,” Price said.

From basketball courts to cameras 

In her final year of high school, Josie Williamson injured her back, prompting her to take a break from basketball and pick up a camera. Having never taken a photography class before, Williamson said she is completely self taught. Now a fourth year advertising major, Williamson runs her own photography business.

Williamson does sports photography for Oregon Women's Basketball, and her business, Josie Leigh Photography, provides wedding, family and senior photos. She has grown her business through Instagram and word of mouth. 

On top of being an incoming senior and running a photography business, Williamson is an assistant coach for Springfield High School’s women’s varsity basketball team and manages the UO women’s basketball team. Managing the women’s team pays for part of Williamson’s tuition, and she is able to cover the rest of her financial needs with her photography business, Williamson said.

“I could spend 24/7 on my business if I wasn’t disciplined,” Williamson said. “I would probably fail out of college if I didn’t learn how to time manage.”

A bad experience getting her high school senior photos taken inspired Williamson to create positive experiences for her clients. Her goal is to make everyone feel comfortable, she said.

“I am more drawn to capture a person and their personality 一 the beauty of that person,” Williamson said.

Post graduation, Williamson hopes to continue Josie Leigh Photography and shooting sports. 

Making mom proud

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Last Christmas, fourth year advertising major Bella Dentler made jewelry to give to her friends. A month ago, she went public and started selling her jewelry via her Instagram, “bhelluhz.” Dentler has sold about 20 pairs of earrings so far, and everything she posted on Instagram all sold out within a day, she said.

Dentler sells solely earrings at the moment. Her process starts with scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration. She then creates a design, decides on the colors and uses a mason jar to roll out the polymer clay. She usually makes the jewelry while binging TV shows like “Broad City.”

Her favorite part is “when people slide up [on Instagram] and are like ‘Those are so cool,’” Dentler said. “Having people actually validating my art means a lot.”

Dentler’s family immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines, and there was a pressure to be a doctor in a family where “everyone is a pharmacist,” she said.

“Taking a creative route is not very validated in my family,” Dentler said. “So getting to hear other people be excited about the things I do makes me really excited.”

Her mom recently told Dentler about a proud moment she had explaining to a friend that her daughter is an artist. She even helps Dentler buy clay and wants her own pair of earrings, Dentler said.

Empowerment through photography

As a child, Charlotte Moerel loved being in front of the camera, especially when her grandma was taking the pictures. Now a third year advertising major, Moerel hates being in front of the camera, she said, but loves being the one snapping photos. She runs Charlotte Moerel Photography, providing headshots, graduation photo shoots and other photo packages.

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“A big part of my brand is finding the beauty within yourself,” Moerel said. “I have a big rule of not photoshopping anyone’s bodies or photoshopping anything that would not change within a week.”

With over ten years of experience taking photos, Moerel is in the process of building her business and growing her Instagram following. As an international student from the Netherlands, she hopes to get a working visa post graduation to continue working as a photographer in the United States.

She currently does about one photo shoot a week, often with friends, and always has at least nine photos queued up for Instagram in order to keep her feed fresh. If she gets a work visa, Moerel hopes to shoot mostly weddings and maternity shoots, always with a lens of empowerment.

“I’m all about empowering people to feel comfortable and feel beautiful and be in front of that camera,” Moerel said.

Nika is a writer at the Arts & Culture desk. Send her an email if you know of any local artists or events that should be featured!