Even Rachel Ourada ’05 sounds a bit surprised by what she does for a living. “I make fabric buttons,” she says. “This is a real career.”
The jewelry artist, who turns those buttons into earrings, necklaces, rings, hairpins and cufflinks, is not being defensive, however. She’s just pleased that she created a successful business out of something she started doing for fun.
Before she entered the world of self-employment in early 2013, Ourada had worked for several small, art-based businesses. “I saw the struggles, and I saw all the difficult things,” the 32-year-old says. “I knew it was hard. I didn’t want that for myself.”
Still, those jobs taught her a lot about “the intricacies of how a small business is run,” and the MBA she earned from the University of Nebraska Omaha in 2012 added to that knowledge. But moving from selling her art as a side business while she held a full-time job to focusing full time on the company she named RachelO’s Fabulous Whimsy was an emotional leap.
“I really had to psych myself up into believing it was possible,” she says.
Soon after etsy.com, a marketplace for handmade items, featured one of Ourada’s designs, customers flocked to her online store and the possible became reality. Today her work is carried in more than 25 galleries and boutiques across America. Her etsy shop remains popular, and its reviews are uniformly positive: “Love, love, LOVE! Thank you for the wonderful earrings and fast shipment,” one of her thousands of satisfied customers wrote.
The CEO can’t afford to be a dilettante. “It was a lot of hard work,” Ourada says of building her inventory, “but it was absolutely worth it.” The work continues, as she ships more than 1,000 pieces a month. Earrings are her most popular sellers, and she offers at least 200 designs, from a striking hot air balloon to a cute-as-a-button hedgehog.
“It’s difficult to make something that’s that small and also round,” she says from the Omaha home she shares with her husband and cat. Although she digitally designs her own fabric, she notes that otherwise the “fabric-covered button technology hasn’t progressed much since the 1800s. . . . I spend a lot of time cutting fabric and assembling each button by hand.”
As a business owner, however, Ourada is firmly in this century. She’s active in social media (her blog is at RachelO.co), attends local art/craft fairs as a form of market research (“People come up with ideas when I talk to them at shows”) and participates in the Art-o-mat project (old cigarette vending machines are repurposed to dispense art).
Ourada so far has managed to avoid some of the struggles faced by entrepreneurs, a benefit she credits to her hometown. “Omaha has a great handmade and local community,” she says. “Artists and local businesses are really supportive of one another. I love living here.”
Carol Schaal is managing editor of this magazine.