‘It Changed a Lot': Chicago Jeweler on How Pandemic Forced Her to Reimagine Her Business

NBCUniversal Media, LLC

For Alicia Goodwin and her jewelry business, the coronavirus pandemic meant reimagining in more ways than one.

"Before the pandemic was me flying every five seconds, traveling a lot, doing a lot of shows, carrying 200 pounds of luggage by myself to different cities, setting up for a two day or three day show, breaking down after the show, flying to another city, doing the same thing, packing, you know, also coming back to Chicago for like a few days, fulfilling online orders and then flying back out and then also making new stuff for the next show," Goodwin, founder of Lingua Nigra told NBC Chicago.

But during the pandemic, a travel shutdown left Goodwin with a new lifestyle and no shortage of orders.

"It changed a lot of at home," she said. "And I was very... I am still very scared out of my mind to travel, but I am getting a little bit better with my short short flights. I can't I can't imagine traveling internationally."

Goodwin said the start of the pandemic quickly changed everything for her business.

“The beginning of that business around the beginning of the pandemic was scary,” she said. “You just got all these emails about all your favorite [art] shows stopping or, you know, people not knowing what to do because we didn't know anything about what was going on. So then you see that and then you see people canceling little by little. And then all the emails where the show was canceled until 2021. And when you already have your income projected for the year, it's very scary. You don't have any income.”

But surprisingly, Goodwin’s sales quickly saw unexpected growth, despite the loss of her largest source of income – art shows, conventions and craft fairs.

Being a Black, female-owned business, Lingua Nigra was in high demand as a social justice movement saw many around the country seeking to elevate and support minority-owned businesses.

“I saw a significant increase in orders after the murder of George Floyd. The week, I think the day after a lot of influencers and brands decided to mute themselves, they also decided to promote Black businesses because then we realized that the algorithm was biased and was kind of hiding us because I've always been here,” she said. “So I saw an increase. I think I had like 9,000 followers. I got maybe 1,000 followers every day for a week. It was… it was insane.”

But the growth was bittersweet for Goodwin, who is the only employee at her business and was battling more orders than she could handle.

“I'll be honest, it was really traumatic getting going like hearing that cha-ching every two seconds because people wanted their stuff then and fast and then the whole post office thing,” Goodwin said.

Sales after the summer slowly started to drop, picking up again ahead of the holiday season, but Goodwin said the future now seems even more unpredictable.

“I can’t imagine getting that, the increases I did last year,” she said. “But I'm still just really trying to maintain just having a business.”

Now, as reopening continues across the country with vaccinations rising, Goodwin says she's returning to some trusted business tactics- like photo shoots.

"It was needed because last year I didn't do any photo shoots because there was a pandemic and I only do photo shoots once a year," Goodwin said. "So I was able to shoot all of the things that I made in like late 2019, all of 2020 and like the beginning of this year."

But just as the coronavirus pandemic forced her to reimagine her business strategy, Goodwin said the power of good photography can also help customers reimagine her products on themselves.

"When you see it on a model and you see how it's styled, people started wearing my jewelry for weddings because I styled it kind of in a bridal as you know, formal way," she said. "And that's what I want. You can you can wear any way you want, but sometimes you do need you need to show people that extra little push."

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