Sheltering at their parents’ house in Iowa City, the Bassuk sisters are expanding their eclectic jewelry brand — and giving back

Leela and Maya Bassuk create and sell resin jewelry online under their brand Women in Resin, established in late January. — Paras Bassuk

From paprika and dog treats to glitter and obscenities, there is almost no limit to what Leela and Maya Bassuk will put into resin.

Over Winter Break, the two sisters — both Iowa City West High grads — bought some epoxy resin and started playing around with it, inspired by artsy resin videos on Instagram. They began by using Lego and star silicone molds to make plastic key chains. Before long, their creations became more experimental; some of Maya and Leela’s earliest projects incorporated chili flakes and Honeycomb cereal.

“The first few things I made were, like, a keychain that said ‘fuck,’ or like a bunch of dog food in resin,” said Maya, a graduate of the University of Iowa’s theater and music programs. “It really started off as kind of a meme, or as a bit.”

When Maya returned to New Jersey after break (she works as an actor and musician in the New York City area), she upgraded to UV resin and invested in a UV light so she could make the pieces faster.

The sisters posted their creations on their personal Instagram stories, and soon enough, people were putting in requests for purchases. They decided to make an Instagram account and start selling their keychains and jewelry, as well as taking custom orders. Within a month, the pair’s hobby became a brand: Women in Resin.

In the last three months, the Bassuks have fulfilled all kinds of custom requests using their silicone molds, glitter, foils and collection of add-ins.

One of the first add-ins they tried out were tiny fruit slices purchased on Etsy, which are now a Women In Resin staple. Maya said she’s wanted earrings with slices of fruit in them for a long time.

“That aesthetic is something that I’ve always wanted and I’ve never really seen, so I thought that it might be a little niche that we could fill,” Maya said.

Since Maya had the supplies, she made the products in New Jersey while Leela, a UI student and comedian in Iowa City, worked on distribution and organizing the business.

Most of the orders are from people in Iowa, including University of Iowa students or old friends from West High, but a few also come from New York. The most exciting orders to receive, the sisters say, are from strangers.

“We love a rando order,” Leela said.

Though there are some fan favorites — like their classic circular mold with fruit add-ins, and their new galaxy style — the Bassuks estimate half of their orders are specific requests from customers.

“It’s very fun to collaborate creatively with people who I would never anticipate creatively collaborating with,” Leela said.

Some of the orders have surprised them in terms of content (such as a set of dangly earrings, one with the word “tits” in it, the other “ass”) and combinations. The sisters were sure one request for earrings with a blue background and lime add-ins would be an ugly combo, but the Bassuks ended up loving the outcome.

“I think our best ones have come from other people giving us ideas over DM being like, ‘Hey, could you do this, but like, what if you did it with a blue background and what if you said XYZ and what if we did this shape?’ And we’d be like, ‘Oh, that never occurred to us,’ and then we would make it and it would be like our new favorite thing that we made,” Maya said.

While many of their customer collaborations have been unexpected, the two Bassuks working together is no surprise. The sisters have performed in shows together over the years, and their knack for jewelry-making goes back to their childhood.

“We’ve always loved crafting because our mom is very crafty, too,” Maya said, “like when we were kids we would make jewelry just with beads and earring backs.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has put Maya and Leela under the same roof again: both are sheltering in place at their parents’ house in Iowa City. They said Women In Resin has experienced an increase in requests during the crisis.

Leela and Maya Bassuk work on their orders. — Paras Bassuk

“I think it’s because people are more online, and have less to do, probably, but also, I hope, it is because we decided to give some of our proceeds to NewBoCo,” Maya said.

The nonprofit New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative is connecting with people that own 3D printers and asking them to use their printers to make personal protective equipment for health care workers at the front lines of the pandemic.

“Our dad is a doctor and my mom was trying to find a facial shield for him.” Leela said a Google search led their mother to visit NewBoCo in Cedar Rapids. They made such a good impression, she suggested her daughters donate a portion of their proceeds to the nonprofit. “We liked that it was local because we know this community’s not super big and … the hospital is a huge part of Iowa City, so we know a lot of people who are doctors and nurses and work at the hospital. It felt like a very direct way to help out in these times.”

“Especially because it’s such an uncertain time, we don’t know how full the hospital is going to get and we want doctors and nurses to be protected at all costs because they’re the ones saving lives,” Maya added. “One of our best friends is a nurse, and hearing her stories about just how high-stress it is right now for health care workers, we thought it’d be a good cause.”

They plan to donate 50 percent of their March and April profits to organizations, including NewBoCo, helping health care workers during the pandemic. Maya is hoping to give back to the New York and New Jersey community as well eastern Iowa’s.

The Bassuk sisters told their “Family In Resin” that they are open to suggestions on other ways to help.

And of course, their DMs are always open to the strangest of custom resin orders.

“We want to make this world resin-ville, so anything your hearts desire we’re happy to make, and make it for a good cause,” Leela said.

“Show us what’s in your weird little brain.”

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