How Isa Beniston Turned Her Side Hustle into a Career
Gentle Thrills is one of those side hustle success stories. The wacky brand created by artist Isa Beniston has grown from handmade buttons with glued-on googly eyes to an entire line of wearable art. And what was once a side gig has grown into a full time job for its creator.
Two years after graduating from UCLA's School of the Arts and Architecture, Isa was wearing herself thin between three part-time jobs. But even with the workload, she managed to find time to use her button maker, a graduate gift, to create handcrafted buttons. “I used it to make tons of buttons for local holiday pop-ups and gifts for friends,” Isa said.
It was her parents, who Isa credits as enormous influences on her art and business practices, who suggested monetizing some of the buttons and other art objects she was creating. With their encouragement and a small inventory of products, Isa left her jobs and the colorful Gentle Thrills brand was born.
Since then Gentle Thrills has grown into a full line of clothing, accessories and home goods. But Isa says buttons have always been a staple of her brand. “Early on, when I started doing craft shows, I would look at which products grossed the most money,” Isa said. “Buttons were always at the top of the list in spite of (or maybe because of) the fact that they're only $1 or $2!”
Isa suspects buttons are popular because they are fun and affordable. “I think it has something to do with their magical combination of affordability (they cost less than parking!) and the fact that they're a souvenir of wherever it is you're buying them from,” she says.
Plus, her button designs are so unique. Isa makes use of Busy Beaver’s special finishes and personalizes the buttons herself with googly eyes and gem decals. “I always imagine that my more wacky buttons act as a smile-generator if not a conversation starter, and that’s about the best thing I could hope for as an artist or brand,” Isa explains.
Isa’s advice to anyone else wanting to take the leap from side hustle to full-time? Stay humble! “Staying open-minded has been really important to me as I continue to grow my business – I always have more to learn,” she says.
She also suggests surrounding yourself with other hard working creatives. “I've been lucky to meet so many amazing people,” Isa says. “Lacey and Philip of Big Bud Press, Jen and Chris Uphues of Shop Beautiful Days, Jordan Sondler, and so many other small business owners and freelance artists who have been generous with their insight.”
Going from a secure paycheck into the unknown of owning your own business can be terrifying, but Isa says she’s glad she did. “I am grateful every day that I took that leap,” Isa says. Because of that risk, you can now find Gentle Thrills merchandise in shops all over the country.
Get inspiration for your own wacky buttons. Check out Gentle Thrills online at gentlethrills.com.