Jennifer Oncken Create and Sells Wreaths as a Side Job

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Credit to Avery Witherbee

Gesturing towards her wreaths, choir director Jennifer Oncken explains the process of creating them. Oncken works to customize her wreaths to fit her customers’ wants and aesthetics, but still includes her own personal preference of working with only natural-looking materials.

By Evan Becker

Whether it was going to the gym or binge-watching the newest season of Grey’s Anatomy, COVID-19 developed new passion projects. For Jennifer Oncken, the choir director at FHN, it began a renewal of a project she began about six years ago. Last year, Oncken experienced an influx of orders after posting to her social media, O’s Wreaths and Florals, that helped her push through. 

“With COVID I decided it was time for me to reclaim my personal life,” Oncken said. “I have a hard time sitting and I can’t have my hands be idle. It was a way for me to be creative while enjoying movies. I was able to unplug and decompress and have a creative artistic outlet.”  

It’s an intense project for her, she starts by doing research. She asks her customers what sorts of things they enjoy like colors, patterns and even materials. She then creates a Pinterest board where they can paste the things they enjoy. Next, she spends hours at the store picking out the highest quality material, sparing no expense. All of this culminates with an explosive final product.

“I make them in my living room,” Oncken said. “It is quite entertaining, especially for someone who is as OCD as I am because they make a very, very large mess. It is an absolute explosion. There are times that my entire living room is just insanely covered in materials.”

While it does make a mess, Oncken has been proud of all of the work she has accomplished. She sometimes even sells her wreaths for less profit because she wants to make sure that the quality matches the artistic vision she and her customers expect. This experience leaves a lasting impact on those that have purchased from her, like Spanish teacher Anelise Mossinghoff. 

“Her work was just outstandingly beautiful, and so I’m like, ‘you know what, maybe I want something to spruce up my house,’” Mossinghoff said. “It’s just something very happy to see. When I walk through the doors [I think] oh that looks so nice, something beautiful to see when you walk inside.”

It has been six months since she last sold a wreath, but Oncken is not closing up shop. She doesn’t necessarily seek out customers; rather, the customers come to her as she publicizes her work. She’s glad that they search out the experiences from smaller sellers. It helps to spark more personalized designs.

“Most people have shifted so much to box stores and the great big God of Amazon,” Oncken said. “I feel like there’s a lot of loss of creativity and inspiration, like everything is very cookie cutter. I appreciate the whole small business aspect of things because it puts people’s ability to be their own unique selves out there.”

The word of her business and the creations she made spread beyond the online social media accounts that Oncken had curated. Oncken believes that students should be able to come to her with the work that they’re proud of just as she does them.

“The first time I heard about it was from the choir,” Ana Remolina, a senior in choir said. “You could hear [Oncken’s] excitement when she talked about the wreaths she had made.”

That excitement of seeing the final creation is mutual between the customer and Oncken as she creates projects that they love for many years to come. With many different seasons to choose from and personal tastes, the outcome is always perfect for each person.

“It’s funny because every single one of my customers has said ‘oh my gosh this is the most beautiful one you’ve ever made,’” Oncken said. “It’s funny because every single person says that every single time. The reason that they say that is because it is designed for their personal aesthetic. I take all of the things that they like [and put it into] one wreath.”