Tuesday nights, for most students in Oxford, are spent bent over a laptop cram studying for tomorrow’s midterm, or partaking in Taco Tuesday at one of the many Mexican restaurants in town.
On this Tuesday night, Jenay Brewster chats with a friend perched on her bed while yelling over the whir of her mini sewing machine. She finishes one item in minutes, takes a break to contribute to the conversation, then hits a button and returns to stitching her unique hairpieces.
Brewster, 21, doesn’t sell her creations in brick and mortar stores or door to door. Instead, she promotes her products on the VSCO app and on her Instagram account @the4mouseketeersco, her Etsy store FourMouseketeersCo and Snapchat.
Brewster is just one example of many Mississippi entrepreneurs who use Instagram to market their merchandise. Instagram and other social media sites have become a new marketplace for small businesses.
The junior hospitality management major at the University of Mississippi also works full-time as the manager of Oxford’s newest ice cream joint, the Oxford Creamery. She is also a marketing intern for Ole Miss Dining Services, a full-time student, and she runs her small business.
With The Four Mouseketeers Co., Brewster creates and sells hair scrunchies and zippered bags. If you’re not familiar with scrunchies, they were a fad in the 1980s that have returned as a token accessory of the “VSCO girl.”
VSCO is a photo editing and sharing app that high school students are infatuated with, and a VSCO girl is a specific type of teenage girl decked in baggy shirts, scrunchies, and messy buns.
“I wanted to make them for myself, and I realized there was profit in this new VSCO girl trend,” Brewster said.
While Brewster would like her social media business to grow, she is focused on finishing school and making profit. Her advice to students and entrepreneurs: “Seriously sit down and think about it first. Know that you’re gonna struggle for a very long time. You don’t start to see a profit for a while.”
Brewster’s close friend, Sydnee Davidson, has been around since the beginning of Four Mouseketeers Co. “When I first met her,” Davidson said, “she would do one or two, and now she has an order of like 20-something to do.”
Brewster hopes her business will grow past the 20 orders she is working to fill, but she also wants to finish school. Davidson said social media has impacted Brewster’s business.
“It’s such a big thing now,” Davidson said. “She can sell things easier without having all that overhead of a storefront, so she makes more of a profit.”
Brewster said she uses social media because it’s easy to reach different platforms. Social media allows businesses like Brewster’s to reach hundreds, if not thousands, more potential customers than a standard storefront, and apps like CashApp and Venmo allow her to accept payments from all over the world.
Scroll any day on Instagram under the shop icon, and boom. You can find numerous clothing items in local boutiques. Fashion is big part of Instagram. The pictures are perfect, hashtags are important, and millennials love to follow the newest trends.
Jamie Carpenter, manager of Frock, an Oxford boutique, said Instagram is the store’s most useful media platform. “It allows customers to see when we have new arrivals and keeps them connected,” she said.
Indigo’s, another local store, also uses social media. “When we get new items, we just want to take pictures and post on our Stories so our friends can see,” said Emily Anne Sewell, an employee and social media contributor for Indigo’s Instagram page. “It’s really exciting.”
This allows customers to message the boutique about merchandise they would like to purchase or order without coming to the store. It also keeps customers involved with the store even if they are not physically there.
Both boutiques rely on Instagram for advertising. “We have been in around three local magazines, but social media has the biggest impact on Frock,” said Carpenter, who said social media “gets people in the door.”
Consumers are lured by posts or what other customers who shopped there share and tag on their social media accounts.
Social media enables the business to reach customers outside of Oxford. Customers are not just local, or even state residents, but national. They can call the store and order an item they’ve seen on Instagram.
Boutiques like Frock and Indigo’s stay in business, in part, because of college students’ social media habits.