Ashley Cooper and Carmen Agrusti. (Photo by Michael Hallisey/TheSpot518)
TROY — Ashley Cooper and Carmen Agrusti are the most visible faces around these parts.
The 27-year-old proprietors of AMC Jewelry and Decor are regulars at Troy’s Flea, Albany’s Alive at Five, and nearly every outdoor festival selling their custom-crafted jewelry and art. They are constantly on the go. Pitching the tent, setting up displays, selling to the people who stop by. Then, they break it down and go on to the next.
Neither has gone to school for business, but both have shown enough savvy and hard work to succeed. Cooper is the yin to Agrusti’s yang. She is the artist. He has the business mind. The business venture started three years ago, shortly after the two started dating.
“She’s been artsy her whole life,” said Agrusti. “She’s been into different crafts and different types of art. Paints. Photography. Anything creative.”
Cooper said it’s something she picked up from her mother.
“My mom’s super creative,” she said. “Every week, she comes up with a new hobby. Stained glass. Reclaimed artwork, candles — I’ve always gotten that from her. Rather than buying it —she would never buy anything— she’d go out and make it.
Cooper started making jewelry as a means of grabbing enough cash to make it to the next music festival. “When I was a teenager, I’d go from music festival to music festival, I’d make [jewelry], sell it, and go to the next one,” she said. Hemp braids and decorative glass beads that she could make at home, bring with her, and sell on the go. She said she enjoyed the process. But, through the years, she pushed it to the side and started to bartend. One day, she found a box full of them under her bed. Agrusti simply asked, why don’t you pick it up again? “I started doing it more, and he turned it into a business,” she said, with a smile.
AMC Jewelry and Decor started with a website. But, the hard work was only just about to begin. Starting a website is simple enough today. According to an article published by TekEye, a technology web magazine, there are more than 100 million website active on the internet. Making your website stand out enough to bring in customers, is the hard part.
Agrusti is not one to shy away from work, or an idea, no matter the obstacle. He’s been working since he was 16. One of his first business ventures was
running a kiosk in the mall, something he describes as a “Spencer’s on wheels.” He laughs now because, the first problem was having to compete against the Spencers Gifts already in the mall. But, he observes, learns and moves on.
Website business was generated from two fronts. First, there was the face-to-face interaction. Naturally, the first stand they set up was at a concert outside of Albany’s Washington Avenue Armory in 2014. The moment is captured on their Facebook page. It would be the first of many stops that take them throughout the Capital District, from Troy, Schenectady, Saratoga, and to as far as West Stockbridge. Next front, was social media, where Cooper picks up her Nikon DSLR and snaps photos of the product and displays them on Instagram. The image-centric medium serves as a perfect conduit to flow customers to the website. Sometimes the jewelry is shown alone on a display worthy of a big box catalog store. Other posts include testimonials, with pictures of customers wearing their favorite AMC Jewelry piece, with a watermark splashed across the picture to advertise the business. And, then there’s professional looking video announcing where their next stand will be — like a good neighbor, showing off the scope of both the event, and their own display. In three years, their Instagram account has garnered nearly 11,000 followers. And, this past winter, AMC Jewelry established a storefront on Troy’s Second Street, a shared space with another business that reclaims wood from refurbished properties in the Collar City.
The two are workaholics. As often as they are setting up stands at outdoor markets, there is the occasional weekend that they set aside for themselves, and the promise that neither one will speak of work. A peaceful drive to the Berkshires helps reset the mind. But, Cooper said, they both break each other’s promise immediately pulling away from their home. And, as they hike through the trails, it’s not long before someone is inspired by the scenery. A picture here, or a stone there, makes its way back home for another project to being.
Cooper has moved on from hemp and glass, to silver, gold and gemstones. Each piece is personally designed and often conveys a Zen-like spirit. Cooper said it’s a way to connect back to nature. That same tranquility is displayed in the artwork she now sells, too. Another cathartic process that allows her to turn on music, sit at home, and let the paint take her where it’s going to go.
“I never thought something like this could become a career for both of us,” said Cooper. “But, it’s taken off. The following we’ve built is absolutely phenomenal. Troy, alone, has been great to us. … We’ve created such a good following of people that it’s fantastic.”
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.