Life can get madly busy for Ava Miller, as it does for so many undergraduates at Northern Arizona University. School, work, social obligations – the usual stuff.
Sometimes everything can get a little overwhelming, which is why Miller sometimes likes to retreat to a converted shed in the backyard of the place she shares with her boyfriend and another roommate. There, with his big mutt Bella at his feet, Miller digs himself in for hours and tinkers with crafts, throws up artistic ideas, his head and hands working in tandem to create beautiful objects from common materials.
“I’m going to sit there and do random things all day,” Miller said, “and maybe an earring will come out of it.”
But making earrings from recycled bicycle inner tubes, initially a simple therapeutic hobby for a 22-year-old who wanted to become a special education teacher, has now grown into a booming side business for Miller. .
She also seems surprised that anyone her jewelry, provocatively titled “Velo in a Jar”, has taken off and been word of mouth in Flagstaff and the surrounding area. Her designs are sold in several local retail stores – The HeArt Box, Babbitt’s Backcountry Outfitters, Fool’s Gold – and she has had great deals at festivals across the region. One recent weekend, she sold 48 earrings at Roam Bike Fest, a women’s mountain biking festival in Sedona.
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Miller insists she never wanted to be an entrepreneur – she’s in the middle of her internship before teaching students, after all – but the earrings she makes in the shed to relieve the stress have proven to be popular.
This side activity combines two of Miller’s passions: bike racing and art.
Growing up in Wisconsin on the shores of Lake Michigan, she spent her young days collecting glass on the shore and making art from it. She also spent afternoons in her father’s workshop creating parts from scrap metal using her power tools. When she wasn’t busy in the basement, Miller rode her bike, picking up her dad, Todd, a professional road racer.
Years later, all of these interests would eventually intersect when Miller, her mountain biker, and her boyfriend arrived in Flagstaff. Miller studied hard as an elementary school major, worked at Babbitt to pay rent, and let off steam by bombing Flagstaff’s vast trail system.
Yet that was not enough. She needed an artistic outlet.
“Where I live we all mountain bike, so we had bike parts all over the house,” Miller said. “And I had made art out of bicycle parts before. I made a big bike with chains and all that, but I had never made delicate objects, you know. So I did. started playing with it. I started cutting tubes into loops and hooking them in. I kept carrying them all over the place and people were like, “This is so cool, awesome.” They wanted that. I do more.
The process, of course, is much more involved and complex than Miller suggests.
First, she gets her gear from discarded bike tubes that the mechanics at Flagstaff Bike Revolution throw in a box for her.
“I could probably make 100 earrings from one tube,” she said. “I like the idea of using recycled stuff. I’m going to go home and cut the tubes, right at the top of the circle (of the tube) so that it’s flat. The inside of the tube has this weird powdery white substance, so I have to wash it off. Then I take out scissors, exacto blades and a leather awl.
Using these materials, she sculpts delicate patterns that result in styles that are both utilitarian and sublime. Miller makes earrings as simple as stripes hanging from hoops, or feathered rods, or a rainbow curl, or just a stack of square tubes that look like some sort of cairn, but she creates also elaborate patterns.
One is called “Ripples,” a rippling series of overlapping bands of tubing that sort of resembles a mountain biker descending switchbacks. Another is a pair of dragonfly wings, yet another a piece called “Alien Invasion”, a multi-tentacle creature that loves a tarantula.
Miller does not follow any business plan for his earrings; she just does them when people ask for them. And, in fact, he had to be asked to have them posted to begin with.
“My manager at Babbitt’s said to me, ‘Why don’t you sell them in the store? »», She declared. “Before that it was, if anybody liked them, I was like ‘Oh, let me make you a pair.’ I was in it for fun. I said to my manager, ‘I don’t need to make any money, I just want to see if people are going to buy them.’ He said it was ridiculous.
“So they put them on a little turnstile on the counter and I would come to work and see a few pairs had been sold.”
Sales have skyrocketed recently. Last month at the Sedona Women’s Mountain Bike Festival, Miller was shocked by the popularity of the earrings.
“I emailed (the organizers) and then said, ‘I know I’m not a normal seller, can’t afford the 500’ fee, so they put me in a little corner, ”she said. “I ended up selling 48 pairs of earrings in three days. I was constantly making earrings this weekend trying to keep a stock, staying up late, then getting up at 5am to get back down.
Thrilled as she was, Miller felt a little pressure to produce. She was only supposed to get into jewelry making, without it becoming another stressor in her life.
“I guess if I put the effort into it I could make it my job, but I want it to stay organic. I think it would be fun to travel and go to more festivals to sell it, but I don’t want that to be work for me. School is the most important thing, and I love it. It’s just a little thing to do when I can’t fall asleep at night.
Sam McManis can be reached at [email protected] or (928) 556-2248.