Recently, Etsy launched Etsy.org, a pilot for a new type of social entrepreneurial education program. Here’s a look at Niambi Cacchiolo, one of the entrepreneurs in the first cohort and the founder of Bloomsbury Sq., a two-year-old Jersey City, NJ, maker and seller of plant-based skincare.

Growing up in Kentucky in the 70′s, Cacchiolo had a hard time finding skincare products made for women of color. So she took to making stuff on her own and continued to do so while getting a Ph.D. in Mideastern studies in London, relocating to Paris with her husband and finally moving back to the States, teaching Sociology at Rutgers University.

A few years after settling in Jersey City in 2008,  she started running DIY gatherings at a local boutique, making simple items like bath salts, always using essential oils. She discovered the women who attended loved spending time together and, especially, taking an hour out of their frantic schedule for a pause. But the sessions also happened in the evenings, and that overlapped uncomfortably with Cacchiolo’s usual family time with her two kids and husband. “I needed to find a way to share my expertise and keep that sense of community, while also making money and spending time with my family,” she says.

She started making products from her house and selling through pop-ups. At the same time, Cacchiolo teamed up with a natural tea-maker she knew from her DIY socials. They had like-minded goals and needs–for example, a manufacturing space that had to be dry. Then, after a long search, they found an 862-square foot storefront in Jersey City owned by a helpful landlord interested in their dream of opening a space that could also act as a social hub. They pooled their money and, with significant financial and other help from the landlord, did a major renovation. The result: an open, comfortable inviting environment serving as studio and retail space.

It’s all about creating what she calls “an urban haven.” In the front is a retail area; in the back, is her production space, so anyone who enters the location can see her making her products. They also use the space to host community events and collaborate with neighboring businesses. Her original partners in the space, Do You Tea And WHOS Gluten Free, are relocating. Next month, she’s going to start sharing the space with Chock-O-Pain, a French bakery and cafe.  

Cacchiolo heard about the the Etsy program at a BALLE conference she spoke at last year.  So far, the Etsy experience, she says, has just about helped her to “relaunch the business”, boosting sales and increasing her social media response, in the process. That’s for many reasons, including helping her to pinpoint and fine-tune her basic concept, along with making such changes as a revamping of her packaging and online presence to reflect that mission. “Now it says what I’m about, restoring busy people through our urban haven experience,” says Cacchiolo.

An example: In November, she was a vendor at the holiday pop-up store in Manhattan’s busy Chelsea Market. With the lessons learned, she designed her space to exude the comforting, lush vibe she thinks underscores her mission. And she made sure her salespeople took time with customers, chatting about their lives. She exceeded sales projections by 12%, she says.

Now she’s considering the “micro-shop” model, increasing production and hiring more salespeople. Plus, she continues, “I’ve been having the most fun of my life.”

This article was written by Anne Field from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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