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Tina’s Tinys: Rice senior sells masks and earrings to support movement for racial justice

Tina Liu, a Sid Richardson College senior, wears a handmade mask. Over the summer, Liu started selling masks and other accessories to raise money for social justice organizations. (Channing Wang/Thresher)

By Maham Sewani     10/27/20 10:15pm

Over the summer, face masks became the hottest accessory — and a required safety measure, depending on where you live. Along with the COVID-19 pandemic, this summer was filled with protests that swept across the country against anti-Black racism and police brutality. While she was at home this summer, Sid Richardson College senior Tina Liu found a way to aid both causes. 

Toward the end of May, Liu set up a small business called Tina’s Tinys on Instagram, through which she sells handmade face masks, jewelry and tote bags, and donates the profits to organizations seeking racial and social justice. 

Tina’s Tinys was born from masks Liu made for her parents at the very beginning of the pandemic. 

“I was already making masks for my dad, [because] both my parents work in the hospital and they had [personal protective equipment] shortages,” Liu said. “That’s kind of how it all started. At that time, I wanted to start making earrings as well. It was something me and my sister-in-law were eyeballing.”

Over the summer, Tina’s Tinys evolved into something bigger than Liu could have ever imagined, she said. Starting with the first batch of products sold, sales went through the roof, and by the end of the summer, she was able to donate over $20,000 from profits to national and local organizations focused on racial justice issues. 

“When I first started Tinys, I set my goal at $500. That was the extent of what I thought I was going to make and I was really excited when I even hit $200,” Liu said. “I never expected it to snowball into what it is now.”

Liu works with Christina Tan (Duncan ’20) on products for Tina’s Tinys. Earrings, masks, tote bags and more are sold over the store’s Instagram. Photo by Christina Tan

In its first month, Tina’s Tinys generated around $1,000 in profit and entered a donation matching program with Estée Lauder. At the end of that month, Liu donated around $5,000 to two national organizations, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Equal Justice Initiative. The success Tinys saw in the first month more than doubled in the second month. 

“For that second release, it was even bigger than the first release, which was crazy to me,” Liu said. “We went through a match donation again, and we ended up donating a bunch of money to more local organizations, like Restoring Justice or the Afiya Center ... It was really important to me to be able to donate on a national level and a local level.”

Through this success, Liu was able to expand the scope of her impact. One of her goals was to increase exposure for Black-owned small businesses and showcase Black authors and artists. Working toward this goal, Liu began creating care packages with items from Black-owned small businesses such as chocolates and candles to sell through Tina’s Tinys. 

“We had a lot of great feedback about it,” Liu said. “Many [Black-owned small businesses] had really great quality items, but just weren’t as popular as their white counterparts ... I think a lot of people were also really impressed with the amount of small Black businesses that existed that a lot of people just didn’t know about.”

About half of Tina’s Tinys customers are fellow Rice students, Liu said. Nia Prince, a Sid senior, has purchased face masks, earrings and a care package from Tina’s Tinys, she said.

“I have a few masks from Tina's Tinys and I wear them all regularly,” Prince said. “I definitely appreciate having both a product that I like and that benefits the community around me.”

Emani Brown, a senior at Jones College, also said she appreciates that the money she spent on Tina’s Tinys products is going to a good cause.

“I absolutely loved the package I received,” Brown said. “From the handwritten note to the beautiful bookmark, it felt so special.”

In addition to contributing to the movement for racial equity, an important aspect of Tina’s Tinys is sustainability. To minimize the effect that Tina’s Tinys has on the environment, Liu reuses scrap fabric and leftover clay.

“It's always fun to think of new ways to use fabric scraps,” Liu said. “Over the summer, I made tote bags out of them. This release, I had less fabric than the summer, so I turned them into patchwork masks.”

She also incorporates sustainability into the jewelry side of the business by saving leftover clay, marbling it together into different patterns, and creating unique earring sets from them. Although she doesn’t always sell these sets, you might catch her sporting her inventive and sustainable creations around campus.   

Another facet of sustainability for Liu is keeping up the momentum of her business and of the greater racial justice movement. Tina’s Tinys has created an avenue for Liu to have a lasting impact. 

“Being able to use something that I know I like to do and I think that I’m good at turns into something more sustainable than something that’s a one-time effort for me,” Liu said. “Even though those are important, I wanted something where I could continue through a very long-term period.”

Through the fall semester, Liu has continued to create new products and support racial equality organizations. The biggest change is that Liu has scaled down the volume of products she is creating, to make the workload a bit more manageable, she said. Tina’s Tinys has also transitioned from a preorder system to one where Liu puts out a certain amount of products for customers to buy. 

“Over the summer, as much as I loved doing it, there were a ton of orders and it got kind of overwhelming at some points,” Liu said. “Through the school year … I wanted to reel it back into something I enjoyed doing as more of a hobby rather than an actual business.”

Looking toward the future, Liu plans to keep her existing business model, creating and selling items in small batches. She is excited to experiment with new materials and creative designs for her products. 

“Now, I’m just having more fun with experimenting and turning [Tina’s Tinys] from a business where I’m catering to my perceived customers back to an art form that benefits a movement,” Liu said. 

Disclaimer: Tina Liu is the Thresher’s art director.

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