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A Life Change, the Search for Feedback, and the Power of
Reinvesting Turn Art Hobby Into Successful Business

Jackie Olaveson announced in 2nd grade that she would someday become an artist. It would take retirement, a newfound hobby during a health recovery, and the search for feedback for that prediction to be realized.

As life would go, Olaveson landed in the social work field after college. She continued in that work for a full career, including years at the University of Wyoming, when the time came for Olaveson to retire. But the day after retirement in 2010, she found out she had stage 4 cancer.

“I didn’t have a job,” says Olaveson. “And I didn’t have anything to do. So I started making paracord bracelets during my recovery, and one day decided to make earrings out of antlers for my friends.” She named her art business Windy Mountain Trading.

“I didn’t have business experience – my previous work was in social sciences – but I did know how to write grants from my UW work,” says Olaveson. “So I just researched everything in business and reached out to people when I needed help.”

As she got further and further into her craft and Windy Mountain Trading started to take shape, she found herself thankfully healthy again, and literally on the road to sell her wares. She began traveling to shows throughout the region, and then came upon the Works of Wyoming (WOW) store in Downtown Laramie – an opportunity to sell her art in retail.

“One day I was on 1st Street and saw the store there, which was the old Works of Wyoming location,” says Olaveson. “I decided to put my earrings there to sell, and it grew from there.” Olaveson says that the Manager of WOW at that time would tell her about new show opportunities, and about the Wyoming Women’s Business Center, the parent non-profit that began WOW as an artist development opportunity for Wyoming makers and artists. They spent hours talking about business ideas, and ways to diversify.

Olaveson says she discovered she could cut anything up to make earrings out of. She began expanding from earrings into bracelets, necklaces, decorative hair combs and rings, specializing in cutting old bullets to use for the jewelry. She also began carrying her jewelry in a fly store in Laramie, as well as expanding into Jackson retail.

When WOW moved to Laramie’s 2nd Street location in 2016, Olaveson was presented with an opportunity to not only sell her work at the store, but begin working in WOW as well. Lorena Patzer, the Retail & Store Manager at the new location, says that Olaveson has contributed to the overall success of WOW over the years because of her perspective as an artist and her openness to feedback.

“Windy Mountain Trading’s jewelry was a natural fit in WOW,” says Patzer. “But Jackie was also a natural fit as an employee because she provides great perspective to customers. She looks for feedback and is receptive to what the customer is looking for. That really makes her a champion for every artist represented in WOW.

That openness to critique has also helped Olaveson build her own business.

“Jackie is constantly looking for new ideas and ways to present her jewelry,” says Patzer. “She is never stagnant with her style. Jackie is always assessing if she needs to change to fit what customers want to see, and what the trends are.” Patzer says that Olaveson does a great job of monitoring her price points and knows what her customers will buy because of her awareness.

“I get a lot of opinions with how I might make a piece of jewelry,” says Olaveson. “And I make those corrections. I really try to listen to all the feedback I get and then adjust. Every bit helps, and that has boosted our income quite a bit.”

Windy Mountain Trading has, through the growth, continued to provide one part-time position – Jackie. But she is considering adding someone to help cut bullets as she gets busier and busier. She invests heavily in new tools as well, which she says makes it possible to do new things with her pieces. Olaveson says that although it’s hard to put the money toward tool investments, it’s what makes the difference.

“When I buy all these tools, like a lathe, a mini milling machine, and a 12-ton press, it lets me do more with the feedback I get from customers,” says Olaveson. “I purchase a few new tools each year to invest in my business.”

And it shows. Olaveson says she started out making $50 a year selling her jewelry, and last year in 2019 she was able to make $6,000.

In all, Olaveson’s ability to convert a hobby-turned-business into a substantial income contribution was not about luck or a childhood prediction. It was about her openness to see the potential in life’s changes, embrace feedback, and reinvest in what you believe in.

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