With plans for the future to travel and teach internationally, Elon University sophomore Caroline Durham took her passion for making handmade jewelry and turned it into her own small business, The Travelin’ Teacher.
Durham spent her last two years of high school in Costa Rica, where she began selling her handmade jewelry pieces at a small boutique in her free time. With more time on her hands due to the coronavirus pandemic, Durham dove deeper into her business and made it into a reality by selling her handmade items.
“I have loved making jewelry for as long as I can remember,” Durham said. “During quarantine, I had a ton of time on my hands, so I taught myself a bunch of new skills and started making too much jewelry.”
Due to the pandemic, Durham was unable to return to Costa Rica, and with inventory piling up in her room, she was encouraged by her mom and friends to open her small business to the public. The Travelin’ Teacher Etsy page started in October 2020.
Durham, an elementary education and Spanish double major with a minor in TESOL — teaching English to speakers of other languages — has worked in schools in Peru, Ecuador and Mexico, where she said she discovered her love for traveling and teaching, which is reflected in the name of her business.
“A lot of my work is inspired by my travels, so it was a way to include that as part of my passion and inspiration in the jewelry,” Durham said. “I’ve been lucky enough to travel to and live in such beautiful places that there is plenty of inspiration out there.”
The creation of each piece can be time consuming for the small business owner, but she said good quality is an important factor in helping her business thrive. While still being a full-time student and running her business on the side, she uses her dorm room at Elon as her only work space.
“I weave the beads on one by one, so some of the pieces can take upwards of two to three hours for just one pair of earrings,” Durham said. “They’re all really durable because each bead is individually stitched on.”
Durham said the materials used to design her original pieces come from other small businesses. She believes collaborating with other creators makes The Travelin’ Teacher special. The metal pieces used for her jewelry come from other Etsy pages and companies within the U.S.
Durham has an Instagram page to display her work, @thetravelinteacher, but Elon students can also find the jewelry at monthly Marketplace Under the Oaks pop-ups and in the Fountain Market display cases in Clohan Dining Hall. Other occasional Elon pop-ups are located outside of McEwen Dining Hall.
The Travelin’ Teacher’s largest customer base includes adults and students who buy gifts for friends and family members, according to Durham. Her busiest time of the year so far was during Christmastime, and she said she has experienced an outpouring of support from the Elon community, including from her own education professors.
“There is a fantastic number of teachers who are supporting other teachers, which is a really fun community to be a part of,” Durham said.
Sophomore Abby Saracino, a regular customer of The Travelin’ Teacher, saw Durham offered unique styles for everyone, prompting her to buy Christmas gifts for her family.
“I was especially drawn to a pair that had black fringe on a gold frame,” Saracino said. “They instantly made me think of my aunt, which is how I got the idea to go to the Travelin’ Teacher for my cousins and mom too. I also loved the cute snowmen earrings she made and so did my 9-year-old cousin.”
All of Durham’s designs are original, which makes The Travelin’ Teacher that much more exciting for her. Prices vary from $10 to $30 depending on the time the product takes to make and the materials that are used, Durham said.
“Some people like the pieces but want different colors, so I’ll do a custom order for them,” Durham said. “It’s something fun for me as well.”
Looking to the future, Durham said she is excited for The Travelin’ Teacher to get new designs for customers and a growing audience on social media. Durham’s most memorable experience since starting her small business was being able to create a custom order for a special person, something that puts her creative palette to work.
“The plan is to keep selling as I am and keep making new designs as inspiration strikes and hopefully continue to grow my business, especially on social media,” Durham said.