From Vinyl to Vision: The Inspirational Journey of Kreativity by Kenz

Meet Mckenzie, the creative force behind Kreativity by Kenz, a unique fusion of art, music, and sustainability. Starting as a passion project on Etsy in 2018, Mckenzie’s love for vinyl records and environmental consciousness led her to transform damaged records into stunning works of art. Her journey from launching her Etsy shop to collaborating with big names like Disney Channel and Free People reflects her dedication and entrepreneurial spirit. Despite managing a full-time job as a Research Associate and navigating the challenges of Crohn’s Disease, Mckenzie has found a harmonious balance, sharing valuable insights into creativity, sustainability, and the art of managing multiple responsibilities. Join us as we delve into her inspiring story and discover the secrets behind Kreativity by Kenz.

What inspired you to combine your love for music, art, and sustainability into Kreativity by Kenz?

Kreativity by Kenz started in 2018 when I launched my Etsy shop officially. I was a student at Penn State and had just started my summer break when my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to use the summer to create art and casually list the items on Etsy to try it out.

 I’ve been creating, painting, and making art since I was little but I honestly didn’t believe in myself and my work enough to think anyone would buy it, but his encouragement was a fresh perspective and I figured why not give it a try?

When it came to what I wanted to sell, I knew I wanted my art to not only be unique and really stand out, but also make a difference in the world (even if it was small) and that’s where the damaged records came in.

I was and still am a vinyl record collector, and huge classic rock fan. There’s just nothing like listening to your favorite song on a record. I really disliked when I came across records with scratches, dents, warping, etc that made them no longer able to be played. The issue is, you have to throw them out as they can’t be recycled under most conditions. Instead of letting them pile up in landfills, I started to use them as my canvases. My hand-painted designs would allow people to look past the imperfections in the record and see something new- it offered a fresh perspective. It still pays homage to the record itself being something old, damaged, forgotten that’s been brought back to life with a modern twist. So for me, painting the records was something I felt personally connected to being able to upcycle them into sustainable decor. 

Can you share a bit about your journey from launching your Etsy shop to working with big names like Disney Channel and Free People?

  • 2018 launched my Etsy shop, everything was one of a kind and listed and shipped out
  • 2019 Started offering Custom Painted Records on Etsy, changed to made to order style to use my time more wisely
  • 2020 Disney Channel. The set director for Sydney to the Max, a Disney Channel show, found me on Etsy and messaged me( I legit thought it was a scam message at first). She purchased some records and had me sign a release. It wasn’t until the season aired that I finally got to see one of my records on the main character’s wall. I grew up watching Disney Channel so it was definitely a full circle moment. Without Etsy, I wouldn’t have had this amazing opportunity. 
  • 2022 Started selling at craft events and shows in addition to Etsy
  • 2022 Art Installation in Hotel. An art consulting firm found me on Etsy and had me paint some records for a New Orleans hotel renovation that was music themed.
  • Spring 2023 Started selling in a gift shop in my hometown, Baldwin’s Dream, on main street. It’s amazing being able to sell my work year-round in a more relaxed manner. As I have time to create original designs and paintings, I drop them off and it helps create additional income. 
  • Fall 2023 Free People- A creative director for Free People found my Etsy shop and approached me about selling on their FP Mart online marketplace for small businesses as there was an emphasis on wanting more sustainable products and brands like mine. I’ve only been on the platform for about 6 months now and have enjoyed it. A brand that large has huge marketing capabilities and reach. Although the brand, like many others, has a long way to go towards being more sustainable and ethical, I truly appreciate seeing them working on taking steps in the right direction.  
  • 2024 More Market and Craft events planned, including my first local music festival.
    • I still operate my Etsy shop, the organic traffic has been great and manageable without ever paying for additional ads or Etsy promotions. 
    • Still do pop-up events in my community and surrounding areas
    • Looking into starting my own website in the near future
  • To date I have almost 800 sales on Etsy and have hand-painted close to 950 records, saving them from landfills! I’m very proud (and shocked) that I hand-painted that many records!

What challenges did you face in balancing your full-time job as a Research Associate, managing Kreativity by Kenz as a side hustle, and dealing with your Crohn’s Disease diagnosis?

I knew when starting Kreativity by Kenz that it would always stay my side hustle/small business and never be a full-time career. Having a stable income and good benefits was always essential to me initially, and more importantly because of my health now. 

For those that don’t know, Crohn’s is a chronic disease that falls under the umbrella term IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease). It’s a gastrointestinal disease that has an uncertain cause and no cure. The goal is to get the symptoms to where they are manageable and the body is in “remission”. The symptoms can extend well beyond the GI tract and can affect the whole body which was something I really didn’t know at first.

It took a lot of time learning in the beginning how to balance it all.

  • 2018-2020 it was just my small business, a part time job, and college I balanced as I hadn’t developed Crohn’s until early 2020. I used my art as a way to relax and de-stress after my challenging STEM courses. For me art is therapeutic and calming. This way I got a few years to get used to balancing a more full-time workload with my side hustle. 
  • I had recently graduated Fall 2019 and then the Covid pandemic started March 2020. I started rapidly showing symptoms of Crohn’s in early 2020 and wasn’t diagnosed until the very end of the year. I wasn’t able to eat or drink anything, was in tremendous pain, and lost around 50 pounds in a few months. It was so bad that there was only one photo taken of me in all of 2020. So that was a time where I really focused on myself and the uncertainty surrounding my health.
  • I started my first job and temporary treatments at the end of 2020, while still battling my symptoms. All during this time, thankfully with the uncertainty of the pandemic, caused Etsy sales to slow down tremendously during the year. This gave me time to really focus on my health, and when I felt better, worked on new record designs. I started my official treatment in December 2020 and have been on it since. By the time my Etsy sales started up again early 2021, my Crohn’s was getting more manageable. 
  • From 2021 on I have been managing my side hustle, my illness, and my full time job. I recently moved home and changed jobs 6 months ago to my current role to be closer to my GI doctor. Throughout these years I really started to learn how to recognize symptoms and react early to prevent them from getting worse. 

    Challenges with balancing it all:
  • Making sure to not get burnt out and overwhelmed as it leads to stress build up, which causes my symptoms to flare. Recognizing the signs early and putting measures in place to prevent getting overwhelmed has helped immensely. Things like capping Etsy orders, making processing times a day or two extra to allow for rest days, etc.
  • Understanding that it’s okay to not always feel okay. I don’t need to be creating after work every single day. Rest days between orders and creating is okay and skipping them only hurts me in the end. Putting myself first is not being selfish, it’s necessary to keep my health in check. 
  • I was in denial for a while following my diagnosis. When times were bad I really thought my Crohn’s was going to lead me to give up my side hustle and passion. Taking it one day at a time, even though cliche, really helped. I’ve learned that my disease doesn’t define me, if anything it’s encouraged me to use it as motivation to not let it brign me down.
  • There’s only so many hours in a day. Juggling how to use those hours and knowing that after working an 8 hour day, you don’t have to push yourself to work on your side hustle every single night. Even working on social media posts, editing Etsy listings, etc. still helps your side hustle without physically creating

How has your experience with Crohn’s Disease influenced your approach to managing stress and maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

  • **The spoon theory is the best metaphor for living with a chronic illness and one I live by. Think of it as you have a set number of spoons each day and they represent the total amount of energy you can use. You have to choose wisely how to distribute and spend your spoons as you need to make them last the whole day. I’ll use most of my spoons on my full time job and some days I may feel that I have a few extra left to use on my side hustle. Other days it takes more spoons to get through the day and I have to save the spoons I have left for myself. 
  • A big adjustment has been my approach to work with both my full-time job and side hustle. Before my diagnosis, I used to crank out orders several at a time and back to back. After my diagnosis, working an 8 hour day, most days after work I’m drained. I need to rest here and there. I found that building rest days in between orders has helped immensely and is reflected in my processing times. I also only take 2-3 custom orders at one time to make it manageable, I then push processing times out for all orders so that customers know that I need more time to take new orders on. Managing and balancing orders to find the sweet spot has been a big challenge and learning process.
  • This helps me re-charge and handle stress that can happen with too many orders. Stress makes my symptoms worse so balancing that is key. Over time, my treatment has started to reduce my symptom severity, allowing me to shift my focus ever so slightly back towards more orders, creating, and managing my side hustle. It’s never perfect as my symptoms can quickly shift so it’s a very flexible and fluid balancing process I’m still working on to this day.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you’ve learned as an artist and entrepreneur throughout your journey?

  • People will not love every design you make, product you create, and thing you post. It’s okay. As long as you love what you have produced or made, that’s what matters most.
  • Authenticity is so important. Being unique and creating products because it brings you genuine joy and you feel personally connected to it is what it’s about
  • It takes lots of trial and error over time to find what works best for you and your side hustle or brand. Testing out new craft shows or markets, social media tips/tricks, products, branding, collaborations, etc. all takes time. Everyone has different niches, markets, target audiences and customers. No two businesses are the same so what works for some may not work for you.
  • Take every opportunity that you get offered or exposed to after researching it. Especially with craft shows, events, marketplaces, etc. read the fine print and do research into it to ensure it’s the right fit for you before signing on. Not every marketplace has the creator in mind, some can take your designs.
  • Step outside your comfort zone and try new things. You never know where the connections may lead or what doors it may open for you. You never know if your product or design will be your next hit if you don’t create and offer it in the first place.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other businesses. With social media it can seem hard to look past follower count, engagement, orders, etc. when other small businesses fill your feeds with their success. Your business does not have to compete with them, use their successes as motivation or inspiration but don’t use it to assign worth to your small business. There’s room for everyone in the small business community.

Can you share some insights into the process of upcycling damaged vinyl records into unique pieces of art?

  • I keep a journal nearby with pre-drawn circles and sketch out designs as they pop into my head. That way I have a stock of ideas to paint from when I’m ready to release a new record design. It helps save me time in the long run so I don’t get into a creative rut so to speak. It helps with managing my time as well if I have designs ready to paint. The records are then cleaned and background painted if needed, then I then use acrylic paint and paint the designs onto the record. 
  • Almost all of my record designs are made to order. I do offer custom painted records where the customer can request whatever they’d like painted on the record.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists and entrepreneurs who are passionate about sustainability and creating unique products?

  • I implore artists and creators to try to reduce waste and find ways to use existing items as their canvases. There are so many items that can be found second-hand and honestly, they have more character than regular canvases from the craft store. They already exist so you aren’t creating additional waste with your art. Your upcycling items and creating a sustainable practice that can help the environment. Besides damaged records I also use second hand picture frames, bowls, and other items as my canvas.
  • Finding a unique approach and meaning for your art will really help set you apart from others, especially online. Take Etsy, there are about 7.5 million sellers on the platform. In order for your products to be found, you need to be authentically unique and create something with a purpose.

How do you stay motivated and creative while juggling multiple responsibilities and health challenges?

The excitement and joy my customers express when buying my art in-person or purchasing online is incredibly motivational for me. The fact that people are willing to spend their money on my art and put it in their homes, offices, etc. is mind-blowing to me. It keeps me focused on wanting to create more joy for others. Honestly though, there are still days where I don’t feel creative at all and just need a day to relax after work and rest so that I can reset for the next day. It motivates me to focus on my health and what I can do to get myself to a point where I feel well enough to create. It can be hard to put me first before others but that’s vital when battling a chronic illness.

What role has social media played in promoting your business, and do you have any tips for leveraging social media effectively?

Social media is still a beast I like many other small businesses are still learning. I’ve found that being authentic, sharing yourself more and being genuine goes a lot further for promoting my business. I think having a variety of platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Threads, Tiktok, etc. is great to diversify your follower types and such

Looking ahead, what are your goals and aspirations for Kreativity by Kenz in the future?

My goal by the end of the year is to offer some in-person record painting classes in my town. I’d love to share my passion for sustainability with others so they can create their own pieces of upcycled art.

I’d love to get it to where I can Take my side hustle full time as a career. It is very far from that but every year my income from it increases, which has been my goal. Finding ways to increase revenue such as with more in-person events, releasing more products/designs, selling in more small stores, online marketplaces, etc.

I’d love to continue working with Free People as long as I can manage the orders with my existing Etsy shop and in-person sales.

My goal within the next year is to launch my own website and eventually phase Etsy out if fees increase or other drastic changes occur. Investing in myself is something I’ve really wanted to do. 

I’d love to see my community grow and be able to connect more with upcycling and sustainable artists and engage with them. I’d love to do collaborations and work with some smaller brands and businesses like my own. Us small guys need to stick together!

Etsy: Kreativitybykenz.etsy.com

by Harness Editor

Harness believes that freedom of expression equals female empowerment. The truth? We’re a badass authentic community of fierce women, and we exist to help your voice be heard. Harness is here to be your safe haven. A place to shed the competition, the insecurities. This is a place to rise by lifting others. This is who we are.


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