Student shop owners embrace ‘hustle culture’


Sacred Hearts Academy senior Kasey Le shows off clips she makes for face masks. She used her newly-found free time during the pandemic to start a business. Photo by Jillian Simpson.

Gen Z is the up-and-coming generation of leaders, innovators and entrepreneurs. They understand their audience’s needs, have a grasp on modern technology and embrace a businesslike mindset. While these skills set them apart from others, the pressure to be successful pushes them to hustle even harder.

This new wave of ingenuity is something that is seen in abundance at Sacred Hearts Academy. Students are inspired by the Academy’s ideals of women in leadership to create booming and inventive start-ups. The image of student businesses as small, old-school lemon stands have become a thing of the past. These girls put their drive and creativity into building successful and high-quality small businesses, and that should be celebrated.  


Finding creative solutions 

Before the coronavirus pandemic, student-lead businesses were a hit on campus. In-person transactions made these small mobile shops widely accessible, while most customers included classmates, other students and family members. Shop owners could cater to their customers’ specific needs and interests because of these close-knit relationships.

This can be seen through senior Lily Kahawai’s business, “Lily’s Lollies.” She noticed that students needed a midday “pick-me-up,” as she puts it. To fill that market, she created her business and began selling homemade li hing mui lollipops during school. This business wasn’t just a solution to the students’ sugar cravings; it was also a creative solution to an obstacle Kahawai faced in her own life.

“Since I started traveling for volleyball, I needed something to help pay for some of the costs,” said Kahawai, who saw two problems and solved both with sugar and a smile.

“My mom and I hand make the lollipops at home. We purchased the molds on Amazon, sourced materials and ingredients from Walmart and bought packaging from Daiso,” she said.

She usually sells two batches, about 80 lollipops, every week. Each batch takes her more than an hour to make and includes grinding up li hing mui, placing sticks in the molds and making the treat.

Her product is creative, well-produced and innovative in tackling a personal challenge. 


Grasping modern technology

However, with the pandemic came many obstacles for these young business owners. Now a screen blocked them from their main consumers. But this lack of in-person interactions didn’t stop them from continuing to pursue their passions. 

A recent survey by research firm ENGINE Insights shows that teens remain open to becoming an entrepreneur and starting a business despite the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. small businesses. The recent abundance of these teen-owned businesses is a really positive outcome from this pandemic. It shows that these students are motivated and willing to work hard for what they want. It also is a beautiful expression of creativity and compassion.

When asked about the status of her shop during the pandemic, Kahawai said, “Even though I’m not attending school in person, family members continue to reach out to me to make the sweet treats for birthday parties to be used as favors.” 

A few new hurdles arose for other small businesses, however, and the solution didn’t come as easily. Academy senior Taylor Kahaulelio owns “Treasures by Mahina,” a resin art business. She needed to figure out how she was going to sell her product when the state went on lockdown a few years ago.

“I needed to navigate the world of digital marketing,” she says. “Using third-party websites, like Depop or Etsy, to grow a following is super helpful, and when you’re just starting, consumers tend to trust these websites more than buying off an Instagram page.” 

Resin art and jewelry sold on senior Taylor Kahaulelio’s “Treasures By Mahina” website. The Academy student turned to digital marketing and selling when in-person transactions became limited. Photo courtesy of Kahaulelio.

Kahaulelio attributes a lot of her success to her understanding of modern social media, saying, “Having social media for your business is beyond helpful. Instagram ads can be fairly cheap, starting at $1 per day for six or seven days, and they help a lot.” 

According to American marketing developer HubSpot, social media statistics can be incredibly influential in marketing. “54% of Gen Z and 49% of Millenials say social media is their preferred channel for ad influence,” as stated in the article. 

Kahaulelio recognized and researched these statistics and used her understanding of the internet and the media space to expand her business further. She even did this while supporting other businesses and remaining sustainable. 

“I started buying my resin from Amazon but found that other resin artists are affiliates with resin brands, so I use their codes to buy directly from resin websites, which support other artists as well,” she said. “I buy, pick, grow and dry all my flowers by myself.” 

Her products, like jewelry trays and ashtrays, incorporate pressed flowers. Kahaulelio also makes necklaces, earrings and bookmark sets.

Her ability to adapt to new markets and her flexibility with the pandemic show the drive that she and many of these student business owners share for their hobbies and entrepreneurship. 


Turning passion into profit

The pandemic didn’t just affect the consumer market but also the lockdown that came with it. The time inside became a breeding ground for new hobbies that, for some, developed into profitable small businesses. Senior Kasey Le took advantage of her newly-found free time to start “Kasey’s Korner.” Le handmakes clips for face masks, our new everyday fashion and safety accessory. 

“These mask clips allowed me to have creative freedom,” she said. “It makes me feel proud and accomplished that people actually want to buy my merchandise.”

Le started the business alongside her mom during the summer of 2020. They committed about two to three hours a day working.

“I help with the design and marketing, (while my mom) helps out with some of the jewelry-making skills that require pliers and metal hooks,” Le said. “We make a good team, and it was definitely a way to spend time with one another.”  

While this craft was a hobby developed over quarantine, her passion for business started far before the pandemic. Her mother and grandmother participated in a network marketing business. At eight years old, Le attended every local and international meeting and conference.

Le continues with a story about what sparked her interest in entrepreneurship.

“I remember I went to a conference with the CEO (of the network) at around the age of eight, and instead of going on my iPad, I (took) notes during the whole presentation,” she said. “(The CEO) was impressed and said I took more notes than anyone else in the room. His wife even talked about me about a year later when I went to…Texas for (another) conference. It struck me that someone so important had remembered me. Ever since then, I knew that I wanted to have a business of my own when I grew up.” 

While still in high school, Le has already secured a job as a social media manager for Pacific Edge Magazine. Her insight gained from the job, on how to run a business, will help her with future goal of developing a brand of her own one day.


Hustle culture: The good and the bad  

This idea of Gen Z having entrepreneurship instilled in them at a young age isn’t new. Gen Z was born during the birth of the internet, the genesis of successful business created in garages and the beginning of social media harboring many potential careers. 

Gen Z has seen and lived through success stories. As we see through these students, these ideals can be motivating and part of a new phenomenon coined “hustle culture.”

Brittany Beringer, a journalist at Medium, defines hustle culture in an article titled, “The Threat of Hustle: How Gen Z and Millennials are Pressured to Praise Toxic Hustle Culture”: “Hustle culture refers to the firm belief that in order to attract true success in a career and life, the pursuit will involve having to work more, harder, and for longer. It causes people to feel enough pressure and urgency in their work environment to work constantly, even more than what’s asked for or anticipated. It’s the reason overtime and side hustles are so tantalizing to us, and why young girls, right out of high school or in their mid-twenties, have pulled doubles or worked two jobs during the holidays.” 

A global pandemic, in which students now have more free time to create products and learn how to sell and market that product virtually, was a push for many of these students to let their ideas become a reality. When asked where the profit of these businesses was going, many responded with college tuition. Some said they didn’t make enough profit, and the money went directly back into funding the hobby. 

For Academy junior Samantha Europa, the pandemic was actually the reason for her loss in motivation rather than her gain.

One of the many handmade products from Sew Simply Kawaii. Academy junior Samantha Europa initially made things for her family but turned her passion into a business. Photo courtesy of Europa.

“I started (my) business over COVID purely because I enjoy sewing,” Europa said. Her business Sew Simply Kawaii includes handmade pencil cases, bags, lanyard pouches, AirPod cases and masks. Europa initially made items for family members.

“Someone encouraged me to start selling what I made,” she said. “It seemed intimidating at first, but once I learned how to handle everything, it turned out to be fun.”

However, the stress of school and the ongoing pandemic became too overwhelming. Her onced-loved hobby was pushed to the side because it was now just another task on her list of to-do’s. 

“Talking about it now is making me really miss sewing,” she said. “I hope one day I can get back to it and maybe even start my business up again.”  

In a world where we foster the younger generations to be leaders, innovators and problem solvers, why do we make it so difficult for them in the process? With all of the wealth of potential these students have to excel in life, it is, in a way, somber to see that they have to work so hard just to get an education, play their dream sports or even simply to express themselves creatively. 

Do we want to raise the next generation to be hard workers for the wrong reason? Or do we prevent that from being the future for many of these impressionable young entrepreneurs? We teach them to be in it for the right reasons and to work hard, not because they feel societal pressure to do so, but because they want to do it for themselves, in a positive way.


Grabbing the reins to their futures

Ultimately, student small businesses are not inherently problematic. They showcase incredible attributes that Gen Z possesses and highlight the good qualities that we should be trying to instill in younger generations. 

When these entrepreneurs started a side hustle, they grabbed the reins to their futures and didn’t take a backseat to their lives. Not only did they, and so many other young business owners, manage to balance school, home life, work, mental and physical health, with their businesses, but they also managed to adapt and overcome challenges of a global pandemic that many did not have the answers to.

Their resilience and leadership skills are something that can’t be taken away from them and something that should be praised. Gen Z is strong, and hardships shouldn’t stop them from doing something they are passionate about. We should take inspiration from these students.

These shops are a reminder to continue to foster creativity and leadership in our youth without the stigma that they need to overwork themselves in order to do so. Gen Z is the future. We should raise them with qualities that allow them, and the future of our planet, to be successful, happy and healthy.