Becoming a Nomadic Business Owner: What I've Learned in 14 Days of #Vanlife

Topaz and pearl modern boho chic jewelry nomadic jewelry designer van life


My name is Julia and I'm the owner, maker, and solo-preneur behind Topaz & Pearl jewelry. Two weeks ago, I started traveling full-time while operating my business from my tiny home on wheels (a Ram Promaster self-converted into an RV).



I've been in business since 2017 and been through many phases: working out of a spare bedroom in my house, to taking over BOTH spare bedrooms, to hosting a pop-up shop, to opening my own studio/retail location. Then, 2020 changed everything and like most people, I reexamined my life and adapted to the curveballs we were dealt. For me personally and professionally, 2020 was a cocoon that led to growth and ultimately, the newest phase of my business: operating my handmade jewelry business nomadically while traveling the United States.


van life promaster sunset


Life on the road isn't foreign to me. In fact, I once road-tripped solo for eight months and it's what led me to my calling of making jewelry! But this time around, there are several changes. I've got a home-on-wheels instead of a Camry, companions (Mark and our pup Squirt), and, of course, I've brought Topaz & Pearl along!
Running a business from the road is a very alternative lifestyle that I don't think many people could imagine (unless you've done it)! Lucky for me, in today's world it's easier than ever to become a digital nomad. There's cell service and wifi (usually) easily accessible, post offices and shipping services galore, and creative services that allow me to connect with my customers from anywhere! So far, I've made orders from our van parked beside a lake, in the shade of oak trees, and beside the beach.


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So, what's it like to make jewelry and ship orders from a van?

 

Ram promaster 3500 ext van conversion nomadic business owner working space
This is my working space. I store all of my supplies in the "garage" (that's what we call the storage area under the loft bed, mostly accessible from the back of the van). I love being able to open up our big side door and look out into nature while working!

  • Organization is KEY - It's a big difference from having a stationary studio with space to spread out. When I work, everything has to be brought out and put away again. I thought about how I'd organize my business stuff for months before we packed a single thing inside Bertha (that's the name of our van BTW!). I organized all of my supplies by task and what is frequently used together. This saves me so much time and the hassle of opening every single one of our storage bins looking for a tool!
  • Weather impacts ability - Luckily for me, I haven't had any issues yet but I can see how a streak of bad weather could be difficult. I'm on a schedule of shipping orders 2-3 days per week, and each time I need to open up our back doors to retrieve my supplies, bring them around to the side door where I can easily move in and out of the van and use my counter space for working. If it were to be raining or anything that prevented me from working in this semi-outdoors environment, I'd have to put off my work until the weather improved.
  • Inventory matters - I keep a mix of ready-made and made-to-order inventory. This will be different for every business, but I've found that there are certain things that just don't make sense for me to make-to-order. I have to be conscious that I don't make too many of those where I run out of space, but enough that I can ship them regularly for several months before making another big batch. Other items (like my custom birthstone necklaces) must be made to order every time.
  • Widdle it down - Speaking of inventory, have I told you that a van is a TINY space to live in, let alone run a business out of? I have to be super careful with my inventory which includes finished products and raw materials. I keep a smaller amount of materials on hand than I used to in my studio, and in turn, have made my designs more focused on using a common core of materials. This might sound limiting but in fact has been great for my business. I've made my designs more cohesive and retired some pieces that no longer fit with my vision moving forward. K.I.S.S. method!


promaster van life south carolina live oak spanish moss travel journal


I plan to write a lot more about life on the road, including how it affects my business. For now, this was the quick-and-dirty that I've learned in my first two weeks being new to the van life movement.


Living in a tiny, mobile home doesn't mean you have to give up the things you love, and I definitely wasn't going to give up Topaz & Pearl. Running a product-based business from Bertha has been a unique challenge, but I'm glad to take it on. This lifestyle is teeming with adventure, activity, and inspiration which is great for a creative entrepreneur. So if you're considering van life, I hope this helps you see that it is truly possible to break away from the societal mold and create the life you dream of. No lifestyle or life is free of challenges, so choose which challenges you want to tackle.


Here are a few more photos from our first two weeks on the road:



promaster van life modern nomadic handmade jewelry business owner

Above: A snapshot of Bertha parked in downtown Savannah, GA


magnolia blossoms nature inspired jewelry travel van life south carolinadreamcatcher modern boho chic handmade personalized jewelry

Left: Magnolia blossoms blooming at the University of South Carolina (my alma mater). It was so fun to show Mark my old campus!
Right: Our dream catcher that hangs near the side door brings great energy to the van and hangs over me while I ship jewelry orders.


southern cooking van life adventures nomadic handmade business owner traveling jewelry designer

Of course, we had to eat at my favorite restaurant, Poogan's Porch in Charleston, SC. Chicken + Waffles and Shrimp + Grits... ooooooh y'all it's good!


For more #vanlife content and updates on my handmade jewelry, make sure you're following me on Instagram!