Sophia Keys started her ceramics business, Apricity Ceramics, five years ago. But it wasn’t until a global pandemic forced everyone to sign on at home and Screen Time Report Scaries became a thing that her business really took off. She had never been active on social media, but decided to create relaxing videos of pottery throwing as a type of craft-ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response videos that provide relaxation with a sedative, tingling sensation for some) early in the pandemic. These videos gained traction and Keys started building a community. A couple months into the pandemic, when she had more finished pieces than she knew what to do with, she posted about the sale on her Instagram page. She sold out. She now has over 21K followers and her ceramics sell out in hours. Amidst the chaos of 2020, here’s how Sophia expanded her woman-owned online business, found her own confidence on social media, and built a community around her handmade products.
How would you describe your business?
It’s a ceramics business. But I think the most encompassing and honest answer I can give is explaining where the name came from. Apricity is an old Latin word that’s not in use anymore. It’s the feeling of warmth on a cold winter’s day. And it’s so nice, right? That’s really the feeling that I want everyone to have when they either look at my work or use my work.
When did you start Apricity Ceramics? And was there a moment where you started to see the company grow?
Three years ago, when I adopted the Apricity name, is when the business really found itself. I’ve been doing this business for five years, but when I put the name out there, it very much felt like, okay, now I know what I’m doing. But things started really picking up in August of 2020.
Wow. August is a surprising time for things to really pick up. Do you think it is because five to six months into the pandemic people were ready to invest in their homes?
I think around July and August, people were looking at their houses, and thinking, ‘I don’t like anything in here. I need to get all new things.’ But also in August, I had an Insta Sale, which is one of the fun things I was doing last year. I had a bunch of stuff, and I thought I’m never going to sell this. But then I sold almost all of it. I was taken aback.
A year ago, almost to the day, our worlds shifted and became screen-first in a whole new way. How did this impact you or your company?
A couple months prior, I [went through] a divorce, and my whole life kind of changed. So before going into isolation, my life was in flux, so I wasn’t going from a routine to chaos. I was going from chaos into a new type of chaos.
I’ve always worked from home. So the idea of being at home 24/7 is not new. Honestly, the only thing that came to mind was how do I help? How do I calm people down? I had a very tiny platform then. But you know, if I’ve got five people who will listen to me, I want to help those five people. I started posting a lot of pottery throwing videos, because people say those videos are very calming. And that’s kind of where it spiraled up and the audience started growing.
You have a really active Instagram audience — that has clearly grown a lot in a short time. How do you build or continue to engage with this online community?
It’s really wild, it happened very organically. My audience growth happened in parallel to my emotional state and how comfortable I felt with social media. I’m not a big social media person. I don’t think I’ve ever actually made a Facebook for myself. My friends made me one in high school. So it was very much when I felt more comfortable seeing my face on Instagram and more comfortable with showing myself working people started engaging with me. When I started talking to them they started talking to me, which makes sense.
Before I did any spoken things on Instagram stories, I spent a month talking, recording, and listening to myself. I had to do it for a month before I got used to it and posted. I had to get really secure in myself before I let myself out. Because if any critique comes back, I can always rest on ‘Well, that’s not me. That’s not my version of me. So that’s not going to affect me.’ I think before it affected me too much. And I was too afraid.
As your presence gets larger as your business grows, do you ever worry about your privacy or your safety online? Or being too dependent on social media?
At the beginning of quarantine I was on TikTok. And it was really not a place that I liked being on. I got a lot of inappropriate messages and things like that. If something like that happens, I’m out. I don’t really talk about my friends or family often on my Instagram, I don’t show pictures unless I have their approval. Plus, I am really conscious of not oversharing about my personal life. I think I started with really healthy boundaries. I think that was key. And I really feel for the [social media] addiction that’s happening right now. I definitely get it. I’m also spending a lot more time on Instagram nowadays. But it’s really helpful for me to go outside, take a walk, take videos of bees, and reset.
So how do you balance, being creative and creating and also having to market and respond to people online?
I think the biggest thing I do is that I turn off my ringer during the day, so I don’t get any notifications. I have to be very intentional with checking to see if anything has happened. Just so the constant pings don’t take me out of my work.
Growing up, did you think that you can make your living as an artist?
I did. My grandmother is a stained glass artist. I grew up in this life. Growing up knowing that this is an actual avenue of making money and supporting a family.
That’s amazing. That’s really lucky that you got to grow up knowing it was a viable option.
Very lucky, very lucky. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. But I knew it was feasible.
What is another woman or women who are inspiring you right now?
I want to give you a person who everyone knows, but the women that are the most inspiring to me are the women in my family. I live with my mom. My mom and my aunt talk to each other every morning. And, of course, my grandmother. I look to her for inspiration all the time because she has already paved the way for me as an artist. It’s really great to be able to see people at their lowest and also see people at their highest. It’s not just you idolizing people, they’re real people. And, you know, they go through ups and downs and look at them still killing it out there.
You kind of touched on this before, but what did you learn in 2020 that you want to carry with you into 2021?
I definitely want to be more secure with showing myself off to the Instagram universe, and I definitely want to work on my imposter syndrome. I still have it even though people ask me all the time, ‘Why? What’s wrong with you?’ But I’m still that little girl who’s trying to convince people to buy my stuff. That’s still so deeply ingrained in me, because that’s how it had been for so long.
Where do you want to take Apricity Ceramics in 2021? And what do you want your 2021 to look like personally and professionally?
I want to take Apricity Ceramics to the moon. I definitely want to expand it — want it to double in size and I want it to expand into textiles. That’s a really big exciting thing that I’m looking forward to.
I would love to go to a spa. That would make me very happy. That would make my body very happy. The idea of the world opening back up, it almost feels crazy. I’m really excited about it. Like, my life hasn’t really changed too much other than I can’t go to bars and I can’t go to restaurants. But having that option again soon, it feels crazy exciting.
Let’s shift gears into some quick response questions.
What is your typical breakfast?
We’ve jumped on the sourdough train. And so I have a big piece of sourdough toast with a bunch of Kerrygold butter.
Cats or dogs?
Cats, for sure. For sure. I’m a little allergic to dogs. So it’s not totally their fault.
Car, bus, bike or walk?
I would prefer to walk everywhere. But I mean, I don’t live in a place where I can walk everywhere. So car when I can’t walk.
Where do you get your news?
Normally NPR or The New York Times.
What is an internet gem that you’d like to share? Something online you love or brings your joy.
Right now I’m all about The Try Guys. I just found them. It’s four guys and they just try everything. There are some really great videos that combat toxic masculinity, and it’s really emotional and very sweet. But then there are some where they’re just hilarious and light-hearted.
Finally, what’s something about yourself that people will be surprised to know?
Well, every 10,000 Instagram followers I get I put out three fun facts about me. So I have to really dig deep for this one. But I went to four different colleges. College was not my jam. I had a really tough time. But I had all the experiences in college. I started school off at St. Andrews in Scotland. That didn’t work out as it was during the recession. I came home and went to Georgia Southern because it was the only school in Georgia that would accept my credits from Scotland. That’s not a good reason to choose a college, so I transferred to Georgia State. I then went to University of Georgia, and ended up going back to Georgia State. I got the royal university experience, the rural university experience, and the college town university experience.
This year for Women’s History Month, Mozilla is talking to women business owners who created online businesses or adapted their online businesses during the pandemic. A year after the United States went into lockdown, Mozilla spoke to the women behind five businesses on the celebrations and challenges of having an online business in 2020. Check back each Monday in March for a new interview.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.