Cortney Hicks Cortney Hicks, Collat alumna and owner of Without UUAB alumna Cortney Hicks admits she’s not a crafty person. But when she saw a listing for polymer clay earrings while shopping online one afternoon, she thought, “I can do that.”

Hicks, a 2016 medical industrial distribution alum, was told by friends and family throughout her life that she should run her own business. With that encouragement in mind, she began researching how to create the earrings she admired. She didn’t know much at that point, she says, but she wanted to give it a shot.

In March, she began to experiment with polymer clay, forming the clay into colorful geometric pieces and baking them in her Morris, Ala., studio on her lunch breaks. Some would turn out – most didn’t. But as she perfected her technique, her designs started taking shape.

“My first few batches were pretty ugly,” she recounts. “But I created a few batches I actually liked.” Word spread, and soon Hicks was selling her designs to friends, family and women in her small community.

Now, four months later, Hicks has amassed more than 250 sales on her Etsy shop and her work is sold at Ashley Mercantile, a boutique in Cullman, Ala.

Her shop name, “Without U,” is a clever play on Hicks’s first name, Cortney, a non-traditional respelling of “Courtney.” As of July, the shop offers 34 earring selections, all designed and created by Hicks in modern, trendy colorways of gold, pinks, black and bold, bright colors.

Her favorite part of owning her own small business is seeing firsthand how her earrings impact the women who buy them. Her earrings, named after women in her life and community, are often purchased by and for women with the same name.

“I have an earring named ‘Hannah,’ and some buyers will leave a note on the gift reading, ‘This made me think of you,’” she says.

Rita earrings"Rita" earrings named after Collat Career Services Director, Rita Stewart-HamptonSome of the earrings have a deeper story. Frankie, a speckled white earring with tassels, is named after Hicks’s late grandmother. “My grandmother Frankie loved jewelry, but she liked being casual. She was bold but she loved everyone.”

As a sole proprietor, Hicks is responsible for designing, creating, photographing and packaging her products. Although this can be challenging, she says she loves being in control of her business and gets satisfaction seeing orders come through, especially from other areas of the United States. “I’ve had an order from California,” she says. “California!”

The coronavirus pandemic has shuttered many businesses and forced many employees to work from home; Hicks has used it as an opportunity to pivot and build her own business. A new mother, Hicks juggles her new business with taking care of her son, Everett.

She says she appreciates the encouragement she receives from family and mentors. She says Collat Career Center Director Rita Stewart-Hampton has been strong a role model. “Rita is my college mom, and she’s helped guide me and encourage me as I start this business.”

As her business gains traction, Hicks is eyeing her next steps. She is currently negotiating with second boutique to carry her jewelry and planning to add product lines such as clothing, jewelry dishes, trinkets and more.

Hicks has some advice for students and alumni contemplating entrepreneurship. She points out that she entered an already saturated market, but she is persevering. Like many entrepreneurs, she battled self-doubt and a voice in her head that said, “There’s no space for you.”

“There is room for you. My advice is to just do it,” she says. “Sure, it’s not easy starting your business, and you’ll have hiccups, but you’ll grow and learn along the way.”