V?ctor and Ana Chupina began to produce handmade products 16 years ago when V?ctor decided to start his own business.
After working for 20 years as a maintenance mechanic, V?ctor decided he had enough.
“I wanted to start my own business,” said the 55 year old. “I didn’t want anybody telling me what to do, especially when I knew more than that person.”
Tired of taking orders, V?ctor left a secure paycheck and benefits to start his own traveling business.
True Colors, the Chupinas’ business, is one of 33 vendors displaying their colorful products for students, staff and faculty during the annual Spring Vendor Fair on West Magnolia Walk.
Selling everything from handmade bags to knockoff sunglasses, the fair provides an opportunity for anyone with a little bit of free time and cash to enjoy the outdoors.
“The fair is here to bring something different to students,” said Carole Degroppes-Brown, program coordinator at the University Student Union, which organized the fair.
With more than one hundred bags in 35 different designs, the Chupinas’ booth is the most colorful one.
Designing a different pattern is always the hardest thing to do, V?ctor said.
“It takes us anywhere from one to two months trying to come up with a pattern,” said the Guatemala native.
It was almost time to pack up the booth, and V?ctor had only made about $200.
“Like in any other business, sometimes the income is not that great,” he said. “Sometimes we make more than we put in, sometimes we break even,” he said. “A lot of the time, however, we lose money.”
In October 2005, at a vendor fair in Chicago, V?ctor’s business suffered a big loss.
“The gas prices being what they are, plus all of the expenses,” V?ctor said. “We lost a lot of money.”
The Chupinas travel all over the states participating in various street fairs, arts and crafts shows and vendor fairs like this one.
V?ctor said students at college campuses generally complain about the prices.
“Students say ‘I’m a poor student.’ I tell them ‘Hey I’m poor, too,’ ” V?ctor said.
He said he understands that students have other expenses. V?ctor also said True Colors, however, has something to fit everyone’s budget, ranging from $2-$80, so that everyone can afford a handmade product.
The couple makes most of their income at arts and crafts events.
Unlike college students on campus, the merchants in an arts and crafts event appreciate the time and effort vendors put into making the artifacts, V?ctor said.
“They know they are getting something handmade and original,” he said. “So they know that the prices are fair.”
Kristen Johnson, religious studies major, agreed.
“The stuff here is unique,” Johnson said. “I can’t find a purse like this anywhere else.”
Johnson, who also makes her own jewelry, said he knows what it takes to create something like this.
“I look forward to the handmade things,” said Johnson. “I usually don’t buy anything unless it’s handmade.”
Making a stop at True Colors, Johnson immediately fell in love with a bright blue purse.
“The minute I saw the brightness of the purse, I couldn’t put it down,” Johnson said.
It was not the first time Johnson has purchased from the Chupinas.
“I often buy their stuff for gifts,” Johnson said. “People love them, it’s a very unique gift.”
Like Johnson, Grelia Vegas was looking around the fair during her break.
“I just love the fair,” said Vegas, senior political science major. “It’s a distraction from school work.”
Because the fair occurs on campus, it is convenient for students to enjoy looking around between classes, she said.
A handmade tie-dyed blue and green shirt in one booth at the fair walkway was what caught Vegas’ eye.
“I love the colors,” Vegas said. “They really complement each other, you really don’t find these type of color mixes anywhere else.”
Like V?ctor, Suzy Black, owner of Hardwear Jewelry Design, also sells handmade products. She said her handmade tie-dye shirts and jewelry are a hit.
Black began her business a year ago as a way to showcase her jewelry, and so far, she says it has been a good one.
“I wanted to see how people reacted to my work,” Black said. “And so far people like it.”
Black said she knows college students don’t really have a lot of money, but she loves bringing her work to college campuses.
“I know college students aren’t really here to shop, they are here to go to school,” Black said. “College students are not necessarily the same type of costumer you would see at a fair where people go to shop.”
Black and the Chupinas said they love what they do, and that people like their handmade work.
None of V?ctor’s five grandchildren and only one of his four children has followed in his footsteps, due to the difference in culture.
“Having been born here, they don’t really take a liking for this kind of stuff,” V?ctor said.
V?ctor said that when he was younger his father taught him how to work dough in hopes that he would follow in his footsteps.
“My father was a baker, and he wanted me to learn how to be a baker,” V?ctor said. “But I didn’t like my father’s skill. I can understand that not all of my children will follow my skill.”
V?ctor said, however, that he loves doing this type of work.
“I’m happy with what I do,” V?ctor said. “It’s a way of promoting my culture.”
Carol Morales can be reached at email@example.com