A Walk On The Beach Can Turn Into A Full Time Job

June 13, 2018

In Santa Cruz it is pretty typical to know someone who works a normal day-to-day job while also working on their side hustle. Whether that side hustle is based out of passion or necessity, we often find that's where the purest form of creativity is grown in our community. 

For Suzie Thomas, she built a side hustle making sea glass jewelry from a new hobby she literally "picked up" from walking the beach every day when she moved to Santa Cruz while working full time as a marketing and public relations professional. Over time she was able to grow her creative side gig into a self-sustaining home-based business. 

As Suzie describes it, "When we moved to Santa Cruz, we moved to East Cliff and 26th, so we were literally on the beach. I was beach combing, but not intentionally, just walking the beach every morning and every night, and I started picking up pieces of sea glass. And the colors just kept getting better and better, so I just kept collecting. And then it became a little hobby of mine, a purpose as I'm strolling the beach in the evenings and in the mornings." 

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After collecting more and more sea glass of various colors she felt the urge to make something with it – to be able to wear it instead of just collecting it. Her friends began showing her different sea glass jewelry at stores but none of the examples were really her style so she took the next step and started designing her own. 

"I started playing with different designs, and ultimately came up with combining all the little pieces together. I realized that sea glass really looks best when it's not just one color, but a bunch of them stacked together. So I started experimenting with different colorways and started producing those on the side while I was still working full-time in marketing over the hill."

Unfortunately, Suzie unexpectedly lost her marketing job, but what was a stressful situation quickly turned into a blessing in disguise. She was able to pick up a few part-time marketing jobs in Santa Cruz and Aptos and with the extra time she had started working closer to home she was able to refocus again on making jewelry. More time to make jewelry led to her playing with the idea of creating an Etsy store to build an actual business instead of just selling or giving her jewelry away as gifts to friends and family. With her online store set up she also looked into opportunities to get her jewelry into brick and mortar stores and other online retailers. 

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"I put together a spreadsheet of all the different places that I would like to see my jewelry sold, and just started pitching all the different stores. At the same time, I continued to work on my jewelry, and as my sales started coming in on Etsy, I started to pay close attention to what was selling. And what I could tell was selling was all the blue sea glass, and not the green or the brown, which unfortunately is what most of us have access to. So at one point, I just cleared out my shop of everything green and brown, and decided from then on, I wasn't going to feature any of those common colors. I was going to focus on different colors people typically don't see, and I was gonna try my hardest to find those colors." 

One store she made her pitch to was Uncommon Goods, an online and catalog retailer described as the go to place for "cool and unusual gifts for any occasion." They liked the photos she sent and wanted to put in an order for 30 pieces of jewelry. 

'The whole time I was speaking with them, I was so nervous because I kept thinking, "What if this takes off? How could I even come up with 100 pieces of sea glass in six different colors?" Because I had six little pieces of sea glass in my pendant. And they told me, "No, no, no, we always start small, so don't worry."' 

Her first order sold out in one day and Uncommon Goods came back with another order for 60 necklaces and listed her jewelry as back ordered. Those 60 sold out again and they came back for 100 more. At that point Suzie realized this was really taking off and she would need to start thinking about how she was going to balance this side gig that was doing really well in addition to her full time marketing job.

"So at that point, I had to decide how I wanted to spend my time. Do I want to work for somebody else? Or would I rather be doing this? So I chose to make sea glass jewelry and see if I could make that into a real business and replace that marketing income. So that's what I did."

Once Suzie took the plunge into making sea glass jewelry full time she discovered a whole network of fellow sea glass collectors, jewelry makers, and teachers in Santa Cruz that have all helped her grow her business. She began collecting sea glass six days a week and met fellow collectors that taught her where and when to find the best glass. She also connected with collectors who had glass she could buy in order to fill the Uncommon Goods orders, which were now coming in the thousands. She also learned about classes she could take to master her craft and started taking classes in the metal arts program at Cabrillo College and classes from Jewelry Toolery at the Tannery Arts Center

She is currently working at a pace of about 100 necklaces a week and treats her wholesale work as a traditional 8am-5pm schedule. In the evenings she puts away the drill and brings out her silver-smith equipment to work on custom and more personalized pieces.  

Suzie's jewelry is stocked locally at Artisans Gallery, the UC Santa Cruz Arboretum Gift Shop, Seymour Marine Discovery Center gift shop, Marine Sanctuary Exploration Center gift shop, Crow's Nest Beach Market, Aquarium of the Bay at Pier 39, and Zinnia's in Scotts Valley. She chose these stores for their commitment to local artists and their ocean-minded focus. She has also been expanding her reach into other stores on the East Coast and Midwest with plans to get into the Pacific Northwest as well. 

"10 years ago, 20 years ago, this did not exist. I could not have done this. Build a brand from a home office? There's no way that could have happened, and I realize that the opportunity had to exist. Everything has to line up. But it's definitely taught me to work harder than I've ever worked."

This Tiny Ocean is the perfect embodiment of where work and culture converge in Santa Cruz. Our community presents a unique launching pad for a creative entrepreneur to connect together recycled glass from the natural environment and years of skills developed in the marketing and PR world to produce beautiful jewelry that is sought after nationwide. 

To learn more about This Tiny Ocean and see her jewelry store online visit You can also read her feature on

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