By LIZZY LAWRENCE, The Baltimore Sun
BALTIMORE (AP) — Myla Robinson has always “made stuff.” Whether it’s Shrinky Dink plastic or cicada wings, she can find a way to craft with anything.
“Myla is someone that is so creative and humble,” said CiCi Flanagan, Robinson’s friend and customer. “She doesn’t like when you say it’s art, she wants to call it stuff.”
The 24-year-old’s lifelong love of crafting grew into Myla Makes Stuff — a jewelry business that, as of this month, is Robinson’s full-time job.
Robinson, who lives in the Patterson Park neighborhood, launched the project on Instagram last June, amid protests against anti-Black racism and the pandemic. She had wanted to help people in the long-term; not just with a one-off donation.
Then, an idea occurred to her. What if she started selling some of the stuff she had made and donated a portion to an organization of her choice? She gathered the pairs of earrings she’d made by pressing dried flowers in resin, and posted them on Instagram.
She sold out within an hour.
Since moving to Baltimore four years ago from Chicago, Robinson had worked as a teacher at the Baltimore Montessori Public Charter School. She continued working there remotely through the pandemic while also taking general studies classes at the Community College of Baltimore County, nannying and running Myla Makes Stuff. By October, she realized something had to give, so she quit her teaching job and stopped taking classes. In May, she stopped nannying to focus on Myla Makes Stuff full time.
Her process begins with scavenging for flowers and pairing them with the various earring frames she has. After Robinson pairs the frames with the flowers, she pours resin over them and waits for it to harden. She sells 150-200 pairs every few weeks via Instagram and her website.
Robinson prioritized Black mental health in her first few collections, donating to nonprofit organizations such as The Loveland Foundation and Sad Girls Club. Eventually she transitioned to donating almost exclusively to mutual aid hubs, which connect people in need with money and resources, including Abell & Charles Village Mutual Aid.
“The amount of donations that I had were so inconsequential to a nonprofit,” Robinson said. “I was looking at ways to maximize the donations that I could make. And I had a few followers talk to me about mutual aid.”
Flanagan said the community-oriented aspect of Robinson’s business is what she admires the most.
“Myla is really responsive to the community needs,” Flanagan said. “She doesn’t always donate the 20% to the same cause. Where can these funds be used the most efficiently at the time?”
Superior Murphy, a 21-year-old activist based in Milwaukee, connected with Robinson in June through mutual friends. Murphy runs “Mutual Aid Mondays,” during which they collect money from people and redistribute it to individuals in need as well as other mutual aid organizers.
“We were both, as Black people, sort of figuring out what the pandemic meant, what all the uprisings and protests meant for us,” Murphy said.
Since then, the two have struck up a partnership. Murphy helps Robinson decide where to send her donations. Robinson recently switched to donating 10% rather than 20% of her profits so she can better support herself, but she holds raffles and auctions in addition.
The money, typically around $900 a month, not only goes to mutual aid hubs in Baltimore, but also to areas in the Midwest and across the country. Robinson helped one family in Richmond, Virginia, pay their motel bills so they could focus on finding a house.
Deciding where to send her proceeds is difficult, Robinson said. In general, she aims to meet immediate community needs rather than solely focus on causes that trend online.
“What felt kind of gross to me was Black tragedy trending, that felt awful to me,” Robinson said. “While I do still donate to things that have maybe gone viral, I still look more towards what’s going on here. That money goes further, because it goes directly to somebody.”
In the future, Robinson hopes to attend more in-person markets and community events where she can sell her work. But her core clientele is online. She had around 300 followers when she started posting, and now has 4,890.
Robinson hasn’t had as much time to craft for herself — one drawback of turning her passion into a business. But she’s found time to create custom, thoughtful work for her loved ones.
Murphy had a difficult time processing the killing of Breonna Taylor, a Black medical worker who was shot and killed by Louisville police officers in March 2020. For Murphy’s birthday, Robinson made custom Breonna Taylor earrings with “say her name” inscribed on them.
“I broke down into tears,” Murphy said. “It’s been, you know, a year. And knowing that no one else would have the ability to buy anything like this, and that it was not being profited off of in any way, and Myla intentionally making them and thinking of me was very beautiful.”
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