Rhody Maker: Olena Kagui of Oddity Cart
Kagui crafts earrings for every occasion, taking silly accessories seriously.
Rhode Island Monthly: What made you want to make jewelry and accessories?
Olena Kagui: I became obsessed with earrings at a young age and began collecting them in middle school. I’m one of those people who liked everything to match, so I started collecting earrings to match different occasions. It wasn’t easy to find, for example, sushi earrings to wear out on a sushi date. So I bought miniature toy sushi pieces meant for dollhouses and turned them into earrings! I got so many compliments and requests wearing them, so I began making them for other people as well. Having an earring store helps me channel my love for earrings, although having 50,000+ earrings in the house at a time can be a little crazy!
RIM: How and why did you start your own business?
OK: I have always loved crafting. In addition to making things out of felt, I have made dream catchers, jewelry, Cricut crafts, and all sorts of weird sculptures out of recycled items and discarded items found on the side of the road. Everyone always told me to start a store, but I didn’t think I had that particular drive that it took to run a business. So, after several successful craft fairs, I bit the bullet and opened an Etsy store and now an independent store through Shopify. The first year, I sold maybe ten pairs. The second year, I sold 1,000. In the past year, I sold almost 10,000 pairs of earrings, and it keeps growing! This year I even created a national holiday and registered it with the National Day Archives. It is called National Silly Earring Day and is celebrated on April 13th.
RIM: What are some sources of inspiration for you? How do you come up with your ideas?
OK: I get my inspiration in the most unlikely places. When the pandemic started, I knew I had to have mask earrings. One time on a drive, I saw a beautiful traffic cone and thought, “Oh no, I don’t have any traffic-themed earrings!” As an avid traveler, I get to see a lot of the world, and the more I explore, the more ideas I have. Plus, I like to follow local trends, so when The Queen’s Gambitcame out, I bought a bunch of chess pieces and turned them into earrings! Now that there are several popular Van Gogh exhibits, I’m selling various famous painting earrings. Whenever a customer asks about something I don’t have, I start thinking of ways to make it happen, even if it means making a mess of resin in my craft room again.
RIM: What’s the process like in making your products?
OK: Since I am more of a transformer than a crafter, most of my process consists of drilling, attaching fish eye hooks, and testing the earrings for sturdiness. My husband Isaac helps me with the drilling. I like to say that I’m the brains and he’s the brawn. We make quite the earring-making team together! One of my favorite parts of creating a new earring is taking photos to feature them. I have an extensive collection of miniature furniture and colorful paper to design beautiful setups. I like to photograph my food-themed earrings in the miniature kitchen, but I’ll also venture out and take photos ‘in the wild.’ For example, I found a spooky spider web in the woods for an authentic spider earrings photoshoot. I also went foraging to get the perfect shot for my mushroom listings!
RIM: Do you have any personal favorites of your products?
OK: My favorite earrings often change, which is how all this started in the first place! Right now, I like to explore vineyards and breweries in my free time, so I love to wear my wine or beer bottle earrings. There is also a special place in my heart for my rubber ducky earrings. I have even worn them in the bath once or twice. One of my flaws is that I assume that everyone else has the same thought process and interests. Of course, I have discovered that this isn’t always the case, but selling earrings has connected me with thousands of like-minded people. It also inspired me to start an earring subscription through Cratejoy called Monthly Earring Mania. There are currently 35 subscribers, and it keeps growing every month!
RIM: You say you’re taking your store on a road trip. What’s in store for that?
OK: My husband and I are going on an 11-day road trip to get to Seattle, where we will hop on a plane and fly to our new home in Hawaii. We have a nine-year-old dog, Smiley, who will be safer and happier on a short, direct flight. We hope to sponsor the entire trip with our store, so we are packing almost 1,000 pounds of pendants, hundreds of envelopes, and our label printer into our car. Since our car is electric, we will need to stop frequently to charge, and we hope to spend this time filling orders. To make things more exciting for our customers, we hope to tell them about the road trip and send stamps or other souvenirs from the state we are in at the time. We also added several road trip-themed earrings and all 50 states to our collection! It will be a little crazy to run the store from a car, but we’re up for the challenge!
RIM: What part of Rhode Island are you from?
OK: So I am a Ukrainian-born Czech and have only been in Rhode Island for two years. I moved here because my husband, Isaac, is a native. He isn’t just my husband; he is also my business partner and is very involved in our store, doing most of the manual labor. Plus, since he has photographic memory, he is in charge of organizing and finding all the ordered pendants.
Isaac was born in Providence and has lived all over the state. However, he considers Block Island his first home. We still visit often as his dad and younger sister live on the island. His late grandmother also lived there, in the beloved yellow house on Lakeside Drive. We’ve loved living in Warwick, right by Oakland Beach. However, in a crazy turn of events, we decided to move to Maui, Hawaii, for the foreseeable future. We are stoked to move there with what we jokingly refer to as our “earring empire.”
RIM: What’s on the horizon for you?
OK: I am constantly thinking of new ways to expand the business. In the past year, I started the monthly subscription, registered a national earring holiday, had two ads made for the store, and created what I believe is the world’s first earring Advent calendar. On top of that, I have sold over 11,000 pairs of earrings and gotten almost 4,000 five-star reviews, which motivates me to do even more! I want to add more accessories, like bags, sunglasses, and maybe even dresses, to the store; I want people to shop for entire matching outfits all in one place. On the other hand, I want to do even more with just the earrings. I hope to have 1,000 unique listings by the end of the year, and I’m looking into selling them in a vending machine. I’m also shopping for a 3D printer to be able to create new designs and unique items. I also hope to partner up with some physical stores to sell my earrings “IRL” as well as online. My friend Rosa is notorious for filling my brain with fantastic ideas, and the only thing stopping me from doing them all is time.