When SESP sophomores Claire Koster and Cate Durudogan met during Wildcat Welcome, Koster was impressed by Durudogan’s large collection of statement earrings. Almost two years later, the pair run the Etsy shop Friends Who Earring. Their colorful, bold pieces include picture strings of large, glittery stars, bright orange flower-shaped hoops and neon planets. The two donate their proceeds to a new nonprofit every month. And through the process of making and selling earrings, they became best friends.
During the Spring Break of their freshman year, months after Koster and Durudogan met, Koster attempted to make wire earrings with a friend from home.
“I poked myself and started bleeding everywhere, so I was like… I can’t do this. This isn’t my calling,” Koster said.
However, she decided to give making earrings another go — this time with polymer clay. It was a success. Since she knew about Durudogan’s love of earrings, Koster suggested that they make earrings together after returning to campus.
“I was in one of those places where I was like ‘I don’t wanna go back to school. I am dreading it,’” Durudogan said. “I had to list all the things I was looking forward to, and that was at the top of my list.”
Koster and Durudogan, both self-proclaimed homebodies, started making earrings as an alternative to going out. They would roll out the clay, then form the earring shapes. Koster, who prefers making flat geometric styles, used shape cutters. Meanwhile, Durudogan found a knack for twisting coils into whimsical swirls, snakes and rainbows. They would bake and sand the earrings, then assemble them with jump rings and hooks. According to Durudogan, the creative process enabled the two to hold unfiltered conversations.
“I would just blurt out everything that was in my head, and she would be a sounding board and give me really good advice,” Durudogan said. “Then, it kind of became a mutual exchange. That’s why we say in our bio that we ‘make earrings and talk about life.’”
The pair started amassing bags full of earrings and selling some to friends. Koster created an Instagram page to market their creations, though at this point it was still a casual endeavor. Their earrings, with names like “Purple Pancakes” and “Ziggy Stardust,” could be picked up at SMQ.
In June 2019, Durudogan’s co-workers urged her to sell themed earrings for Pride Month. Durudogan and Koster liked the idea but were uncomfortable with the idea of selling the earrings for a profit.
“There’s this capitalist part of Pride Month where companies will just put rainbows on their stuff and not do anything but just be like, ‘We support it,’” Durudogan said. “But what’s the point of that? This is a marginalized community with a very long history.”
Durudogan suggested that they donate their proceeds to the National Queer and Trans Therapists of Color Network. Both Durudogan’s and Koster’s families matched the amount raised in sales. In two weeks, the pair raised $300.The donations were such a success that Koster suggested they pick a new organization to donate to each month.
After their success during Pride Month gave them a newfound mission, the next order of business was to decide on the name for their shop. The shop went through many name changes. First came "Claire’s Ear Party," then "Smiling Ear Party," but neither stuck. Durudogan recalled walking on campus when she received a call from her brother.
“I’m close with both my siblings, but my brother and I don’t talk on the phone when I’m at school, so I’m like, ‘Is he okay?’ I pick it up and he goes, ‘These earrings are very good, and if you want to sell them, you have to change the name. It’s a horrible name.’”
Thus, Friends Who Earring was born.
Running the Etsy shop has always been a source of pride for Koster and Durudogan because it makes donating accessible to young people with various sources of income.
However, in social isolation, making and selling earrings provides them with additional comfort.
“Doing things with my hands has been so therapeutic,” Koster said. “There’s so much struggle happening right now, so having a space that brings people joy and donates money to organizations that’ll do good things with it gives me a sense of control that’s really healing. It’s also really wonderful to be doing something that feels productive but isn’t school.”
Durudogan said that the process makes her hopeful. She likes imagining scenarios when people can wear the earrings with loved ones once everyone is together again. The shop also gives her a sense of connection.
“I’ll take over the living room when packing orders and even just seeing everyone’s names makes me feel like the world is bigger than my household.”