Even though the COVID-19 pandemic severely limited celebration options, Glencoe resident Lilia Barba still wanted to make sure that her child’s birthday was special last spring.
While they did not have an actual gathering, the family hosted a drive-by party and Barba gave out a unique favor: custom-made miniature pinatas in the shape of a mask-wearing emoji.
Proud of her work, Barba posted a picture of the pinata on her Facebook page, and then it was shared, and shared, and shared some more, until it reached a reporter at The New York Times.
“She was doing a story about people who were doing a positive thing during the pandemic,” Barba said.
Barba wasn’t expecting much from the interview, but as a result, Telemundo Chicago called and featured an episode on her work.
After The New York Times and Telemundo stories were published, she said business “took off.”
Barba said the demand for mini pinatas became so high after the stories ran that creating them with her business Craftophologie became her main focus during the pandemic
“Now everything has become a little bit more than a hobby,” Barba said.
The hobby is now Barba’s full-time job, complete with a new home office and even seasonal employees when the demand calls for it.
“This is the first time in the 10 years that I’ve been doing this that I have my own space with my own machines, my own papers and all of my things in one spot,” Barba said. “Every time I open the [office] doors, it’s triumphant.”
She is not just proud of herself as an entrepreneur but also as an example of an immigrant success story.
Barba grew up and attended university in Mexico and has been living in the United States full-time for the past 18 years. She said making pinatas was a way to teach her culture to her children.
When her Telemundo episode aired, Barba received “so many” messages from strangers saying they were proud of her success.
“I can’t believe that people that I didn’t know would tell me that,” Barba said. “It’s amazing.”
Barba began by making decorations for her kids. When her daughter was turning 5, she made birthday decorations for her, and when a friend introduced her to e-commerce, she began to think that she could sell her creations.
Although it’s only recently become a full-time job for her, Barba is not new to making decorations.
Since 2012, she’s operated an Etsy store, for which she sold party decorations, including banners, cake toppers and party favors based on cartoons that customers couldn’t find anywhere else.
She took, and continues to take, custom orders through her Etsy shop, Craftophologie, where she’s completed more than 2,000 orders.
When she first began creating, she only took custom orders and never had an inventory of her own designs. She has made miniature pinatas for a few years, but said that they weren’t as popular on her Etsy store because of the higher shipping costs associated with them.
Now, it’s a different story.
For almost the past year, Barba has solely focused on the mini pinatas because of the high demand, and many of her most successful pinatas are her own designs.
“I love that my job is so fun; it’s something I adore doing every day,” Barba said.
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Erin is a freelance journalist based in the Chicago area. She most recently served as the editor of The Highland Park Landmark. Her work has also been featured in Chowhound, Choose Chicago, Eat This Not That, MSN and the Lake County News Sun.