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Student-run business Hooked by Helen shares handcrafted crochet creations

Helen Nguyen sits and smiles as she wears her crocheted pieces. Nguyen, a third-year biology student, said her business Hooked by Helen began as a hobby during the start of the pandemic. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

By Alexis Shenkiryk

May 23, 2022 2:59 p.m.

This post was updated May 25 at 11:35 p.m.

Helen Nguyen is putting her crochet hooks to work.

The third-year biology student said she began her business, Hooked by Helen, to sell her crochet creations at in-person markets and on social media. As a result of the time she spent indoors because of the pandemic, Nguyen said she began crocheting to curtail the ingrained habit of being on her phone during online lectures. She said she was inspired by the craftiness of other quarantine crocheters on social media to pick up her own set of crochet hooks.

“Seeing everyone be so creative – I love art and fashion, (so) I just wanted to also hop on the train,” Nguyen said. “And so I started painting, drawing and also crochet.”

After her first failed attempts at learning how to crochet a bucket hat, Nguyen said the hobby soon evolved into a passion and business to pay for school tuition. A plethora of bucket hat iterations later, she said she decided to post pictures on her secondary Instagram account to see if anyone would purchase them. She said she also attempted to sell her pieces on Depop and Etsy, but fees prevented her from making a higher profit. However, Nguyen said her end goal was always to sell in person.

[Related: UCLA student crafts knitting business as way of giving back to the community]

This past summer, Nguyen said she was inspired to open her first market booth when a stranger complimented her bag and encouraged her to sell handmade products at local markets. At her first booth at the SoCo Market in Sonoma County, Nguyen said she showcased a hand-painted sign with her brand logo as the sole decoration. It took several market displays and marketing tactics, such as customized business cards and IKEA racks, to display her pieces and boost revenue, she said.

(Courtesy of Helen Nguyen)
Nguyen’s vibrant pieces are displayed at a booth. Nguyen began selling her creations in person at the SoCo Market in Sonoma County last summer, she said. (Courtesy of Helen Nguyen)

Having helped Nguyen set up past booths, Nguyen’s friend Noah Abrams said Nguyen was able to find her niche at markets by selling homemade versions of current knit trends. In order to discover her exact target consumers, Nguyen said she visits the market beforehand to scope out the crowd of customers and tweak her inventory accordingly – whether it be sweater vests in the winter or reusable shopping bags for suburban parents. Owen Siden, another friend of Nguyen, said the advantage of Nguyen selling at local markets is the connection she is able to foster with her customers.

“She (Nguyen) is able to show off her personality,” Siden said. “She’s so welcoming. Anytime anyone walks by she’s willing to talk to them. She’s always smiling and asking questions about people, so I think that draws them in for sure.”

When Nguyen moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, she said she found it challenging to rebuild her following outside of her Northern California bubble. She is on hiatus from market selling until after her finals, but Nguyen said she still takes on individual commissions while in school. With each handcrafted item taking hours or days to produce depending on its size, she said she finds herself crocheting in every moment of spare time she can, including on the bus or in between classes.

(Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)
Nguyen displays one of her crocheted pieces with a colorful pattern. One of Nguyen’s goals is to retain her originality by never selling the same piece twice, she said. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)

[Related: Student unwinds, displays creativity through Instagram-based jewelry business]

In the future, Nguyen said she plans to take a gap year before medical school to grow her business, with the ultimate aspiration of getting her pieces on store shelves. Abrams said it is both her immediately recognizable patterns as well as the sheer attention to detail that goes into each crochet product that make Hooked by Helen a successful venture. Even though she has a larger vision of expanding Hooked by Helen, Nguyen said she will stay true to her pledge of not making the same piece twice, specifically by adjusting the color scheme to ensure originality.

“I think it’s really rewarding to see all my hard work pay off in (the sense that) I am going to school (with the money I make) … off my crochet business,” Nguyen said. “It was a lot of long hours and overnights. … It was really rewarding to see not only the physical finished piece in my inventory but in the end how I was able to (get) here.”

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Alexis Shenkiryk
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