by Jacina Hollins-Borges ‘21 (she/her)
Seemingly unending pandemics don’t tend to treat the anxious very well. I learned this difficult lesson over winter break. I was trapped (in the Deep South, no less) and isolated, with paralyzing anxiety kicking in just in time for Christmas, and about $2.92 in my bank account. It was also at this time that I realized that I’m probably addicted to shopping. In this time of what feels like mental deterioration, the thing I can focus on, the thing that distracts me from myself, is being in a store and shopping. Like a magpie, I just flit between different shiny objects and use them to build my coping nest. However, my debit card begged to disagree with me on my “shopping equals only joy left” conclusion.
Too anxious to sleep one night, I broke down in my mother’s room, telling her that I, a twenty-one-year-old woman, was too scared to call my old job and ask if they have positions open, even knowing that they would probably say yes. I think this was the first time my mother really saw my anxiety and how badly it affected me, so she offered me a compromise: I still had to make money over break, but she offered to give me a bit of money to build up a stock of items to sell online while I delivered groceries on the side. Relieved, I started down the road of the “yes-I-sell-products-on-Instagram” phase of my life, getting lost in and spending hours in the same few aisles of household items in the Goodwills, Value Villages, and independent thrift stores near my house. Every time I went out, I felt like an explorer looking for a fabled magic diamond.
Aesthetically, I tried to build what I now realize I was craving at the time: a feeling of actual calm. Optimism. Softness. Gentleness. For the first promotional video I made, I edited a glittery, softening filter over the footage and added light music; I created this dreamy world that I could live in for a significant amount of the day and feel better. I had something to do and something that I enjoyed doing. Scarily, it seemed to be the last thing I enjoyed doing. And so was born ASTRIS. Through Instagram and Depop, ASTRIS sells handpicked, secondhand home goods that are meant to have a calming, but still eclectic, quirky vibe. I try to hunt for unique items and make sure that they are as one of a kind as possible (which really means checking for a Target label on the bottom). I put a lot of work into it, and I love doing it. My initial idea was to pick up whatever items I saw that I “thought were just kinda rad” and sell them because if I like them, someone else will as well, right? With this eclectic, yet ultimately still calming store vision in mind, I bought silky fabrics to use as the backdrop for product photos. I added little anecdotes to most of the product listings, raving about how much I loved the items so that potential customers could see their value like I did.
Building ASTRIS was also a way for me to generate income and work on my own hours. If I was having a bad mental health day, most things for ASTRIS could be put off for when I was better. I stopped feeling trapped. I felt less isolated as I chatted with cashiers at the checkout about how cute the mirror I bought was. I felt in control in a way that I hadn’t in a long time. And then my mom told me she loved my store. And then my friends told me they loved the videos that I was making. And then I had other friends tell me that the listings actually looked good and that the things I sold were actually cool pieces. And then I made sales. As my store gained followers online, I was distracted from the anxiety, for at least a few hours a day. The (very moderate) success and overarching approval I enjoyed felt like a triumph. I started feeling like I was accomplishing something that I didn’t, in my mind, “have” to accomplish (at least, not in the same way as graduating high school, going to college, writing my capstone, etc.). It was mine, and it was separate, and I was able to do it all on my own.
So, now that we’re over talking about my mental health, let me describe what I sell, in a bit more detail: I sell things that look unique, but still can be classy. I try to go for vintage items, but anything that’s rad is fair game. Much of the merchandise fits into the “cottagecore” trend, which is currently popular with Gen Z. This allows me to incorporate another one of my addictions into my business venture — pop culture. I have always felt strange about feeling so passionate and involved with current pop culture because it never felt useful. Other students are passionate about stem cell research, but I’m obsessed with Trisha Paytas’ constant conflict with David Dobrik even though I don’t consume any of their content. Now, I see that it is useful. I’m more-or-less hyperaware of trends and changing tastes, at least with people my age, who, to my luck, almost exclusively shop online (very often through platforms such as Depop and Instagram). I was also lucky that people were simultaneously realizing the importance of supporting not only small businesses, but small, Black businesses. It all fell into place at the same time and I realized my own worth at twenty-one years old. I realized that I do have skills, I am intelligent, I am intuitive, and I can survive successfully in this world.
Jacina Hollins-Borges ‘21 (she/her) is a History major from Alpharetta, GA. She can be reached for comment at email@example.com