5 Questions with Rachel Calhoun of Wind Blown Jewelry

A staple of the Triangle pop-up market scene, this jewelry designer started her company as a side hustle.
by Shelbi Polk

Anyone wondering how to turn a side hustle into a full-time career could talk to Rachel Calhoun—and chances are, she’ll be happy to take you up a coffee date. Calhoun started selling jewelry as a child and picked it back up a few years ago as a way to unwind in the evenings. Today, Wind Blown is her full-time job and a staple of the Triangle pop-up market scene. We caught up with Calhoun to talk about her business, community and being an entrepreneur in the face of uncertainty.

How did you get started with Wind Blown?

I actually started making jewelry when I was in middle school. My mom was a physical therapist, and I’d make my jewelry and sell it to people in her office or her patients. It’s funny, as I matured in the business, at some points I had to tap into my younger self to be like, “Hey, you used to do this without fear!” I dreamed of one day being able to run a cash register, so I’m happy to say I have accomplished all of my dreams. Really making it in the world!

Fast forward, I lived in Wilmington for a while and worked at a boutique there. I saw the jewelry we were selling, and I thought, “I could make this!” Since I worked there, I was able to put out whatever I made, and the response was awesome. I got to see what people liked, what they didn’t. That went really really well, but it was still kind of a side gig. I always thought “I’d love for this to be my full-time job,” and it’s so cool to see that it really is now. Even if I look back at myself now, I’m like… that does seem kind of unrealistic. But we made it!

Sola Coffee Cafe was kind of on the forefront of the pop-up scene here. They have a really great following, and they did a market in 2013 when I first moved to Wake Forest. They put out a call for artists, and I brought all my jewelry stuff back out. I remember spreading it all over the kitchen table and saying to my roommate, “I feel alive!” I had missed it, and I didn’t realize how much I did. So I went to the pop-up, and I had a whole plethora of things. People were very gracious. I would say I’ve honed my craft and branding since that point, but I’m proud of myself for just getting out there.

That kind of kicked off a big part of our business. We do 50% of our sales through pop-up markets, and then almost 50% online. Pop-up markets have been so fun, and they’ve been a really great way to build community. There’s a lot of talent around! So now we have three people on the team, as well as a partnership with two refugee women that helped make the jewelry.

How did you connect with refugee women?

Some ladies who go to the same church that I do started Hope Threads, an educational workforce program, and they connected me. They were just out in the community doing ESL classes, and they met some women and thought, “We could provide them with more.” You can imagine being in a country where it’s not your first language, you don’t have transportation to just get to the grocery store, figuring out the culture and all of this. So they seek to provide fair wages and job skills, help with English, and just provide friendship. Right now at least, it’s not this huge income for these women, but it is connection and community. Hope Threads gathers on Tuesday afternoons at a church, and offers working hours and child care, so that’s when we would go make. The first time I went, it felt like, “Oh my gosh, this is a magic women’s club.” 

Were there any growing pains moving from a side hustle into a full business?

Definitely. I feel like I have growing pains every day. There’s something so fun and really good about having something be a side hustle for a while, because you know you have to love something enough to want to do it when you’re finished with your 9 to 5. I worked at an after-school care program and a coffee shop, and then I would come home and be like, “Yes! Now I get to make jewelry.” All of that is so formative. So I always encourage people who are in the side hustle stage that this is a very good thing and you should keep doing that.

But a side hustle definitely takes a lot out of you. You’re having to provide a real income some other way and really put yourself out there. It can be very vulnerable. You’re like, “I made this, and I think it’s great… what do you think?”

What does 20/20 look like if you can’t do pop-ups for a little while?

Who the heck knows? What Corona has done for us is made me really home in on what is essential and what is not. What do we need to move the needle in our business, and what is actually not necessary as we’re trying to be wise with finances and all of that.

We actually just recently did a warehouse sale that went so well. It was bonkers. People were putting things in their cart and before they could check, out somebody else had gotten them. We were almost sold out in 12 minutes. I was just frozen. If I can say anything, it’s thank you so much to the community, because they’re the reason I’ve been able to grow this business, and employ women and do what we’ve done. I’m just so thankful for them.

I don’t want to say we haven’t been phased, because things have definitely changed. But I feel really hopeful about what we have coming, and I believe in our community. 

You’ve talked a lot about community, and I’m curious how you go about building that when you don’t have a brick-and-mortar location?

I mean community in a few ways. I would say with our customers, the pop-up markets have just been invaluable. It really provided that face-to-face interaction that is so great. Also, I try to utilize Instagram a lot. I love stories, because it allows you to have a real peek into somebody’s life, more than just posting itself.

And then there’s the maker community. In the past, we’ve done monthly meetups . But every time I get together with  another maker, I’m so inspired and encouraged. The other day, I had a Zoom call for makers, for anybody who wanted to join in. That was really encouraging, because we got to talk about where we are and just encourage each other. That’s something that’s been on my heart too this year is trying to host more maker meetups. It’s so important. People are just so generous in this community, and I think it’s because they really understand that it takes a lot to get where you are.