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Atlas, A Local Enterprise, Sells Jewelry Made From Actual Insect Parts

Penelope Wilkins of Iowa City makes iridescent and lifelike handmade jewelry, accessories, and home decor out of sustainably sourced butterfly and moth wings. The local business atlas sells jewelry made with real insect parts.

Johnny K.
Johnny K.
Sep 07, 20232.4K Shares107.9K Views
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  1. Celebrating Sustainable Artistry And Resilience

Penelope Wilkins of Iowa City makes iridescent and lifelike handmade jewelry, accessories, and home decor out of sustainably sourced butterfly and moth wings.

The local businessatlas sells jewelry made with real insect parts.

Celebrating Sustainable Artistry And Resilience

“I’ve had a garden for about as long as I can remember. Growing flowers and working with plants has been one of the few things that has brought me peace since I was little,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins, a graduate of Iowa City High School, launched their first firm, Floral Envy, in the summer of 2020. Wilkins said:

I started experimenting with how to preserve the flowers I grew so that I could keep a little piece of my garden with me throughout the winter. I created my own process for preservation and taught myself how to turn the pieces into jewelry, which I then brought to a few markets here and there to sell.- Wilkins

Wilkins sells their jewelry at Iowa City flea and farmer's markets, which highlight local artists, creatives, and companies.

Iowa City Flea hosts a market on the lawn of Public Space One's Close House every second or third Sunday of the month, with additional market pop-ups during the month, including Heim's Magical Market, which includes over two dozen local companies in each event.

Wilkins shared that they've had a great experience running a small business, particularly in Iowa City's close-knit, artistic environment.

“Having a job where I get to talk to people all day about my special interests could not be more perfect for me. I’ve been lucky enough to meet thousands of the loveliest people that stop by at markets,” Wilkins said. “And I’m even luckier that so many of them have chosen to spend their moneyon my art. If I didn’t have their support, I wouldn’t be where I am now.”

Wilkins has expanded her business to include farmer's markets, flea markets, and art fairs. Since the beginning of June, they have taken part in over 15 markets and events.

However, as an LGBTQ+, neurodivergent artist, their journey as a small business owner has not been without difficulties.

Even after all this time, I still get extremely anxious before every event I do. I feel much more comfortable at markets where I’m surrounded by other queer and neurodivergent artists that have a similar crowd, which is why events like [Heim’s Magical Market] are so special.- Wilkins

Wilkins was diagnosed with autism at the time their mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“[The diagnosis] was a huge turning point for me. I realized that there wasn’t something inherently wrong with me, and there was a reason I struggled to manage ‘normal’ jobs.”

Wilkins is candid about their autism diagnosis and the role it played in the formation of their company. Their little business became a method for them to support themselves and their mother through a tough period, while also changing Wilkins' relationship with work after years of trying to find a job they enjoy.

I was so overwhelmed with my job and responsibilities that the solution seemed obvious: drop out, quit my job, and go back to working for myself.- Wilkins

They have gone full-time with their business since the beginning of 2023, participating in multiple events each month in addition to maintaining their online storefront, but they are able to accommodate themselves and their demands properly.

The success of Atlas has inspired the Iowa City community, particularly LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent people, who are sometimes excluded from standard careeroptions due to their identity, but Wilkins highlighted that they have a place in Atlas.

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