I recently met Benh while we were both participating in missfits fest and was immediately drawn to her warmth and friendliness. After learning about her corporate background and how it ultimately led her to start her own business, YEAR 901, I was excited to share her story on Movers + Makers.
Below, Benh shares how and why she began making jewelry, takes us through a typical day in the life, and shares where she finds inspiration for her designs.
Tell us about your background. What were you doing before YEAR 901, and what led you to start the business?
Before YEAR 901, I worked in marketing for a software company and then for an IT consulting company. Making jewelry became my creative outlet during this time but it was mostly for myself or as gifts. Slowly I started taking orders from my personal instagram and decided to make it more official by putting together a website, which led to vending at shows and wholesale accounts. I didn’t have the intention of taking on YEAR 901 full-time but I’m so grateful that it was the natural progression of things.
Once you decided to pursue YEAR 901 full time, what were some of the first steps you took to get started?
I took a 7 week trip to Vietnam and Thailand. I almost talked myself out of this trip many times. I told myself that it’d be crazy and irresponsible to take such a long trip; I should be working and hustling. But my parents encouraged me to go and see their home country of Vietnam. They said something along the lines of, “You have your whole life to work. Just work when you get back.” As simple as that and it was all the push I needed to go.
During this trip, I thought a lot about my transition from being someone that had their dream job in the corporate world to someone that was leaving that behind for the unknown and unstable. Because I spent all of my 20s building a career I was leaving, it was necessary for me to go through this thought process in order for me to welcome the next part of my journey.
What has been the most unexpected part about working for yourself?
The unexpected friendships I’ve made with my customers, and other makers/creatives. Working for yourself can be lonely and isolating but it doesn’t always have to be. The creative entrepreneurs around you are going through the same or similar struggles and it feels therapeutic to share our stories. Community over competition, always.
You recently moved to Austin – welcome! What did you consider when moving your business to a new city?
Thank you! Happy to be here! The idea of moving my business away from the community and connections I’ve made was a scary and daunting decision. I mulled over all the scenarios for almost a year before actually taking the leap. I visited a few times before I moved and looked into the creative community in Austin to get a feel for what the transition might be like. Ultimately, there’s only so much planning and prepping you can do. It just felt like the right time and opportunity to make the change. It’s scary but also very exciting!
Take us through a typical day in the life. Do you have any routines or schedules that you like to stick to?
I’m sure you’ve heard it before but every day is different. I try to start the day with leftover to-do items from the day before and then tackle any time sensitive tasks. I do every aspect of this business so I constantly switch from taking and editing photos, packaging and shipping orders, supply runs, admin tasks, as well as making all the jewelry. I tend to design new items late at night when it’s quiet and I can sit there for hours without distractions.
As a designer, where do you go for inspiration? What does your creative process look like?
Currently I’ve been visiting thrift stores, book stores and local art exhibits for inspiration. I try to get my eyeballs on as many things as possible and take notice to what shapes, colors and patterns I’m drawn towards.
My creative process is all over the place. I’m a natural night owl so it’s common for my creative juices to kick in at midnight. If I’m working on something that isn’t quite right, I leave it be for a few days or even weeks and then come back to it with fresh eyes.
Is there anything you’ve read or listened to that’s been an inspiration for you or your business?
Right now I’m really digging The Ground Up podcast by Matt D’Avella. He talks about creative entrepreneurship, intentional living, and slowing down.
What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a creative business?
I would recommend taking a little bit of time to define what your motivations and intentions are for your business. There might come a time where no one gets what you’re doing, no one is buying your stuff or it feels like a never ending uphill battle. In those rough moments, you might need your motivations and intentions to push you further.
Images courtesy of YEAR 901.