We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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Photo ofKat Etheridge

My brother has always been the one to tell me I can't do something. One time at a church gathering there was this candy jar and if you guessed the right amount of candy inside the candy jar, you could win it. So, I get out a piece of paper to write an amount and my brother says, “there is no way you can win that.” There really was such a small chance I could win, but I put the number in anyway. Ironically, about a week later I come home from school and there's this huge candy jar sitting on our dinner table. My brother was so mad that I had won despite what he said. This is the point where I thought, why should I let what other people say dictate my life? Why should I let them hold me back? It’s always had a reverse psychology effect on me when people tell me I can't do things. It's always made me push limits. A couple of years later we started attending the Festival of the Little Hills. It was so much fun as an artist: there were art stands everywhere. I thought this is what I want to do, this is my dream. A few years later, we moved to Kansas City and went to the Parkville Farmers Market. I saw a stand called “Thelma and Louise” with all kinds of handsewn goods, and my mind was made up to open my own stand. My brother thought differently, making sure I knew he had very little faith in me. I joined the market, paying the membership dues with chore money. My first year, I sold everything from wreaths to paintings and scarves. I earned enough money to start buying specific materials and to make set products for my second year, which was so exciting. Though I was discouraged by many people, I learned, nonetheless, hard lessons about people, money, business, and my own craft. I had many people come up to me and tell me, “this is awful,” “this is crap,” and “you should go do something else.” That was really discouraging, but I had to find a way to convert that into a learning experience: to think and realize that people aren't going to buy things from you because you're cute. They're going to buy things because it's something they need, or it's a good product. This was a big realization for me, so I started making things that were specifically kitchen items, and things that people would need, and grocery shopping items, and all kinds of things that were related to the market. In my third year, the COVID Pandemic hit, and I became non-essential. Subsequently, I started selling face masks. I had orders left and right, but I had some come back telling me that the mask was very dissatisfying, and they didn't like it. Many times, I would fix the mask free of charge and give a discount. After some fixes to the mask in general, it became more popular and people were even coming back and buying more of them, and telling me they loved them, and they couldn't find anything like them anywhere else. That was amazing. I had finally made something that people loved and needed, and so I learned so much. My third year was the first year I really made any money. I made $3,100 over six months, and I was there twenty-seven total Saturdays, 135 hours of talking to people (which is a very difficult thing as an introvert), and countless hours at home creating my products. It has been such a learning experience. Starting a business, growing it, and learning along the way, is amazing and something that others could learn so much from. And last thing. To my brother, I want to say, ha! joke's on you. I did it.

© Kat Etheridge. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.