Emma Behrens learned how to make friendship bracelets in elementary school — a time when bracelets were traded like currency and students adorned their arms with rows of colorful bands. Ten years later, she turned that childhood skill into a business.

The senior English and sociology major has been to the Farmers Market five times this year as a student vendor. At her stand in Tawes Plaza, BearHandsBracelets, she sells knotted friendship bracelets and keychains as well as knit goods, including knitted monsters.

BearHandsBracelets was a COVID-19 project. Like many, Behrens used quarantine to revisit an old hobby. She first learned how to knit and make friendship bracelets around age 8, but it wasn’t until 18 that she took her designs from a shoebox in her room to the wrists of people around the nation, Behrens said.

Behrens has sold her products to customers in 24 states and Canada after just a few years operating her Etsy business. While her products connect people across state and country lines, they also provide personal benefits.

“[Bracelet making] actually helps me focus a lot,” Behrens said. “Generally if I’m on a Zoom meeting and my camera’s off, I’m probably making a friendship bracelet.”

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Since she returned to making friendship bracelets during the pandemic, Behrens has found an internet community of people who share the same love for the craft. Her designs have allowed her to make friendships both virtually and in person — one of which started right in Tawes Plaza.

Freshman marketing major Katie Gough and Behrens became friends early in the semester after bonding over living in the same dorm room a few years apart and, of course, friendship bracelets. Gough bought from Behrens’ business, and the two have been friends since.

Students joined the Farmers Market as vendors for the first time last semester, according to Larry Tumlin, dining services manager at this university.

“It’s a good thing to see that they’re able to do it, to get out there and get that little bit of experience,” Tumlin, who oversees that Farmers Market, said. “Because you’re at a university of course, you’re here for experience.”

Each week, the Farmers Market is flooded with students and professors from this university. For students like Gough, spending money at the Farmers Market is worthwhile because it supports people like her — college students. 

“I like feeling people’s ability to create and their passions, so I really like supporting UMD businesses,” Gough said.