Students and alumni create virtual businesses in quarantine


(From left to right) two of Eryes’ homemade cakes: a vanilla cake with chocolate buttercream and chocolate chip cookies, and a Mini Monster Triple Chocolate Oreo cake.

By Afsoon Movahed

A global pandemic can bring panic, disorientation, unemployment and frustration, but for some Whitman students, it brought opportunity. In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, students and alumni have taken advantage of the lengthy quarantine to construct virtual businesses that give back to their communities. 

After school was first cancelled due to the pandemic in March, sophomore Cassidy Eyres found herself struggling to be productive, she said. In light of recent cries for social justice, Eyres felt as if she could better contribute to the conversation. 

“I had a lot of free time, but I felt like I wasn’t doing enough for movements like Black Lives Matter,” Eyres said. “That’s when I came up with the idea to start a business, so I would always be donating to some type of organization.”

Eyres soon began looking for inspiration in her hobbies and interests. For years, she had been baking birthday cakes for her friends and family. Such celebrations allowed Eyres to hone her craft and find genuine enjoyment in the baking process, she said. 

Combining her interest in entrepreneurship with her passion for cake making, Eyres founded “Cakes by Cass,” a small business which produces homemade baked goods and sends a third of all its proceeds to rotating charities. 

“I think it’s so important to contribute to these movements, especially now that people are finally beginning to see all of these things that are happening.” Eyres said. “It’s kind of the best time and since it’s not the safest to go out to the protests, donating is the second best option.” 

Eyres formulated her business plan early on — she wanted to do her own research, from ingredient pricing to constructing a charity shortlist. If Eyres was going to run a business, she said, she needed to personally approve of all its operations.

Eyres loves what she has been able to achieve with Cakes by Cass, she said.

“It has been a very cool experience so far,” she said. “I get to do something I have always loved to do. Sharing my love for baking with the community has been an incredible feeling.” 

Cakes by Cass thrives on the customers’ involvement. Eyres uses her social media platforms to raise awareness about business operations and share images of her confectionary creations. On Instagram, Eyres encourages her followers to message flavor combinations that pique their interest. She provides customers with her email if they want to know “a sweet way to support a good cause,” she said. 

Eyres is currently directing her earnings to the Okra Project, a grassroots organization that provides meals and resources to the Black transgender community. 

“I thought the cause was really cool, and I hadn’t seen any other organizations that did anything like this,” Eyres said. 

Whitman alumni who have been unable to attend college in person have also pursued entrepreneurial opportunities. 

Eva Ginns (‘20), a freshman at University of Maryland, realized that with an all-virtual first semester of school, she has both the time and energy to build her own company from the ground up. 

“Creating a business has always been a goal of mine,” Ginns said. ”With the pandemic, I was like, ‘Oh, I have all this extra time,’ and it seemed like the right time to do it.” 

In the early months of the pandemic, Ginns founded “Quilled by Eva,” which sells paper-quilled jewelry and pins. She utilizes her Instagram account to promote her business, as well as a website she created with the web-development company, Wix. As a computer science major, Ginns plans to create her own website as the business progresses, she said.

Originally, Ginns had hoped to score a summer job, but the pandemic made work hard to come by. Instead, Quilled by Eva has helped her earn some money to pay for college supplies, such as textbooks. 

Ginns’ business treats every new artwork as a creative showcase; each piece is unique and handmade. That isn’t to say that the process is easy, Ginns said. Quilling is tedious: pieces require close to 4 hours each to craft — not including drying time —  and take progressively longer as designs become more intricate. 

“I put in the time and my business is growing slowly as I get more orders,” Ginns said. “I love sharing what I am doing and it makes me really happy knowing that people like my work.” 

Even though the pandemic will eventually pass and students will resume their typical, work-filled lives,  these new business owners have expressed that they don’t plan to close shops after quarantine ends.

While being a business owner is an added effort to students’ already busy lives, the students’ businesses have profited them in both experience and spirit; and their developments overall have been positive. 

“I remember the first delivery I made was for this elderly couple. They had ordered a vanilla bean cake with chocolate frosting and emailed me after saying ‘This is so good. We are eating this day and night!”’ Eyres said. “They have ordered again a few times and it just makes me so happy.”