Self-Made Success Stories in Manufacturing and Design

So many of us dream of starting a business. The people featured here took their passion and found ways to monetize their dream. Their stories are more than inspiring; they are practical and realistic examples of how you can start your own business.

dune jewelry

Holly Christensen: CEO of Dune Jewelry

Holly Christensen grew up in Cape Cod and always loved the beaches around her house. A good friend of hers made ornaments with beach sand as mementos for visitors and locals — and this inspired Christensen. She’d always wanted to be a jewelry maker and thought maybe sand could be her way in.

The jewelry market was already saturated, so Christensen’s idea was a major gamble. She wanted to make cost-effective jewelry whose value would lie in what it represented, not the stones used to make it. Could sand be a major seller?

“When I first evaluated the marketplace and what was popular in the jewelry industry at that moment in 2007, I could not find anyone who was doing it,” she explained to “I thought, “Well that’s either because it’s a dumb idea or I’m brilliant.”

Despite some pushback from the jewelry community, she forged ahead, taking classes at studios and seeking out mentors.

Then, she went for the sand.

“So, I went and collected maybe 25 different beach sands and tried to figure out if they behave differently from one another and what they looked like when they were encased in certain resins. As soon as I started making the jewelry, though, showing it to people and seeing people’s reactions, then the sky was the limit.”

Today, Dune Jewelry makes a profit of over three million a year. Christensen is proof that it’s essential to have faith in yourself: If you love your idea, others will, too.

Neil Lassen: T-shirt Entrepreneur

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Neil Lassen of Wisconsin found himself without a degree and stuck in a terrible summer job back in 2015. He spent his days pushing carts outside a Target in the hot sun, wincing at the way people treated him. He earned $8 an hour and barely cleared $2,000 by the end of the season. It was time to do something else.

“Little did I know,” Lassen said in a 2015 interview with CNBC, “taking this job was the best thing that would ever happen to me. I was so fed up with the way I was treated, I decided to do something about it. One night after a particularly long shift in the scorching summer sun, I got back to my place and started researching.”

Lassen did his homework and found an online platform that would let him produce and sell his own merchandise. He ordered some t-shirts in bulk, taught himself Photoshop, and started designing.

Instead of guessing what customers might buy, Lassen researched which designs were already doing well and used them as inspiration for his own. He didn’t hire anyone to work on his visuals until he had some profit under his belt. Once he could afford it, he outsourced the designs.

Lassen attributes his success to the fact that he didn’t hesitate when a new business platform became available. He wanted to help other sellers and developed a new software that makes analyzing merchandise and creating potential new products much easier.

Lassen eventually sold one of his t shirt businesses, but he kept the other one for extra income while he continues to work on software. His shirts bring in over $150,000 a year while his software has made him an internet hero. He’s very open about his humble beginnings in hopes that others will follow in his footsteps.


The Polder Family: Old World Market

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While many makers and business owners start with the internet, the members of the Polder family initially bristled at the market’s shift to online sales. Loran Polder — or Dad — wanted his clan to work together and stay away from the digital world.

So he decided they would be farmers.

Starting with a small plot of land and a plan to make additional money at small markets, the family focused on old-world skills. Canning relishes and jams, potting seedlings to sell and learning to work leather for additional products, the Polders tried everything.

“We just went for it cold turkey,” Dad Loran explained in an interview with the Shopify blog. “We certainly weren’t getting rich doing it, but it was fun to do as a family. It was moving in the direction of our dreams. We started developing some brand ideas. We called it Old World Market.”

It wasn’t until Loran began carving and selling wooden spoons that the Polders found their niche. People couldn’t get enough of their gorgeous, curvy ladles, spatulas and tongs. Selling in the farmers’ market gave the family access to constant feedback. They expanded to door-to-door sales that garnered even more feedback and revenue .

Finally, it was time to move to an online platform.

“[The spoons] started selling really well, and people were asking us, ‘Do you have a website? You really need a website.’” Loran recalls. “We knew absolutely nothing about selling online. We knew nothing about marketing. It just seemed to us, sheltered as we were, that you put up a website and people got to it somehow. Of course, we learned that that was not the case at all.”

Much as they had picked up farming and carving, the Polders learned about online and social media marketing and started using better photos and copy to promote their products. They kept their production small to reflect their values: homemade, artisanal crafts that celebrated tradition.

Smaller output meant they had to raise their prices to maintain profits, a move that made them sweat. Would people pay a premium price for wooden spoons?

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The market responded with a resounding yes. Old World Market now offers several beautiful products that allow customers to be nostalgic, celebrate tradition and slow down for some homemade goodness in an automated world.


So Who’s Next?

If you have an idea for something new you want to see in the market, now is the time to go for it. Remember to be true to yourself, that you deserve a good price for your product and that a lack of knowledge can be an opportunity, not a hindrance.

Are you the next fabulous entrepreneur? Don’t wait — start researching, planning and creating, today.

Rhonda Burgess is a self-employed digital marketer. She helps small business owners discover their brand voice, optimize their sites, and address their marketing needs holistically. Recently she started blogging as a way to share my knowledge, lessons learned, and connect with other digital marketers