With many out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic, some Ontarians have turned their hobbies into “side hustles”.
These hobbies act as a supplemental source of income and as a creative outlet. From mask-sewing, to jewelry making, almost any creative hobby can find a customer base online.
Etsy Canada, a popular online marketplace, saw shop openings increase more than 250 percentage points during its recent quarter. That was compared to the same period last year.
In contrast, there has been an 8.3 per cent drop in active businesses since the pandemic’s start. Statistics Canada reported an estimated 25,614 Ontario businesses have closed since February 2020.
Coral Itzchaki’s business began with blending two types of cookies together.
Itzchaki’s hours at her HR administrator position had been reduced when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020. Her company was struggling to stay afloat and was being temporarily subsidized by the Canadian government’s work sharing program.
With her salary also minimized, Itzchaki decided to start her side business ‘Coral’s Cookies’.
Coral’s Cookies was born out of her passion for baking. “[I’ve loved] baking ever since I put on an apron for the first time when I was seven,” said Itzchaki.
Throughout her childhood she said she spent time learning her family’s secret recipes in the kitchen alongside her mom.
“I’ve always wanted to work for myself, so this was my opportunity to test it out”, said Itzchaki. “When I was younger, my mom and I made a pact. If I didn’t go to university, we would open a bakery together. So it’s always been something I’ve wanted to explore.”
Itzchaki started testing a variety of recipes inspired by what she saw on social media. “I saw an Instagram post of a cookie stuffed with an Oreo and knew I had to try it,” she said.
Itzchaki grabbed her ingredients and got baking. Twenty minutes after they cooled, her family devoured them.
Since the cookies were such a hit, she baked them for a few friends to try.
“All of a sudden I had friends…messaging me saying they wanted to try my cookies,” Itzchaki said. “A few people said they were so good that I should start a business selling them.”
Itzchaki decided to start Coral’s Cookies in June 2020.
The first cookie Itzchaki created was “The OG”: her signature cookie dough wrapped around an Oreo cookie.
Once the business launched, she said she received a massive amount of orders.
“I thought I would be lucky to receive even five orders,” Itzchaki said. “Before I knew it, I was baking 120 cookies in one night. It was exhausting and overwhelming but so rewarding.”
Itzchaki said she had moments of gratitude that her side business was succeeding while so many businesses were suffering.
Things were especially difficult for Coral’s Cookies when supply for certain ingredients was low.
“It seemed like everyone was baking, so large bags of flour or baking supplies were hard to find,” Itzchaki said. She added that even ordering boxes and labels for her cookies was difficult at times with long shipping delays.
After finding success with her original recipe, Itzchaki began expanding and experimenting with different flavours.
“I take custom orders, so I can add anything from Kit-Kat to Reese’s to white chocolate,” she said. “I even began expanding with cookie dough jars using raw vegan cookie dough. I also have made a few custom giant cookies, like a Harry Styles design for my friends’ birthday.”
As the pandemic continued, Itzchaki said she’s done a few socially-distanced pop-up locations for her business. She’s also delivered to customers across the GTA and even received orders from the US.
A real estate company also approached Izchaki to include her cookies in their ‘thank you’ packages.
Itzchaki said she would eventually like to pursue her side business full time.
Kiss My Art
Michelle Jacobs also pursued her passion and turned it into a business during the pandemic. She started Kiss My Art in the summer of 2020, printing custom designs on clothing and accessories.
The 23-year-old graduate student suddenly had an abundance of time to pursue her art. Before the pandemic, she usually only had time during weekends in the summer to work on painting and drawings.
She began experimenting with digital drawings on her iPad and her family encouraged her to accept commissions.
“I watched a bunch of TikToks of other people like me creating a business out of their hobbies,” Jacobs said. “I thought to myself, why the heck can’t I do that?”
Jacobs started doing research on what was popular, how to start a business and sell products.
Like many other entrepreneurs, Jacobs used Etsy to sell her products. Her products include original prints, laptop stickers, magnets, clothing, bookmarks, digital portraits, custom painted wood ornaments and holiday cards.
“I really wanted my pieces to be affordable for students on a budget,” said Jacobs. She added that she also wanted her products “to be attainable for all communities,” LGBTQ2S+ and Jewish communities in particular.
Jacobs tries to infuse her Jewish and Queer identities into her art. “I try to put a bit of myself and others into all my work,” she said.
Before pursuing her masters in occupational therapy, Jacobs studied psychology, and art history at the University of Guelph. This gave her the history, passion, inspiration and skill behind the work she was creating. Many of the products contain LGBTQ2S+ themes and imagery after she noticed a lack of representation in art history.
“Big companies…tended to only notice or care about the LGBTQ2S+ community during Pride Month… which was not good enough,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs said she has “countless ideas on how to fill the gap for those markets,” the business being one of them.
At first, Jacobs worked on a few sticker designs. Once she was confident in her creations, she went ahead and made 10 stickers of each design. She wanted to see if they would get any interest and to her surprise, they did.
Jacobs said she sold her first products, Pride wood hangings, very quickly. At the time, she said she didn’t have the proper materials to make the packaging memorable and clean. She then had to research how everything worked.
“I created a logo and ordered business cards, packing cards, shipping labels, stickers, envelopes, and the works. There was endless trial and error,” said Jacobs.
Unlike Itzchaki, Jacobs said she would like to keep this business as just a side business for now.
“I have an 8-4 p.m. job for my master’s program placement,” she said. “I want to continue helping others medically, and continue my passions for art at night and on weekends.”
Jacobs added that she loves seeing her business grow. She said she’s also happy about the art she’s released into the world during COVID-19.
Jacobs was aware her business could fail. Yet she said “as horrible and as scary as the times were, I wanted to make something positive come from it.”