One could say that Justine Hudak, a jewelry designer and our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, owes the success of her business, Sanctum Handmade, to a family trip she took to Bali. While there, she spotted beautiful, massive chandeliers in the style of Himmeli, a centuries-old Finnish handicraft. Inspired by the unique combination of geometry and architecture, Justine came home with a spark of an idea to stand out among an oversaturated handmade jewelry market—she would create a Himmeli hanging mobile to hold plants using the same design concepts from her jewelry-making background. The idea took off, and she pivoted from jewelry to home decor with Sanctum Handmade, recently opening two brick-and-mortar locations in Asbury Park. We sat down with this busy Wanamassa mom of two on how finding a niche was the secret sauce for her success, how the pandemic helped her business, and the special Pine Barrens canoe spot she’s been going to for decades.
Tell us about your family and where you live. My husband, Bret, and I have been married for six years. We live in Wanamassa, with our two sons, Rylo, 21 months, and Atlas, 5. We lived in Asbury Park, but we wanted more space with the kids, so we moved just over the bridge from Asbury Park to Wanamassa. It’s less than a mile from the beach, and we couldn’t be happier living here.
What is your background, and how has your experience been helpful when it comes to running your own business? I have a degree in marketing. After college, I had an office job for just about 9 months before I started to feel the pull of doing my own thing. At first, I altered vintage clothing to sell. I then moved into designing and selling jewelry to stores and at craft fairs. After creating and selling handmade jewelry for 7 or 8 years, I realized the market was oversaturated, and I had to figure out a way to stand out from the crowd. After a trip to Bali, where I discovered Himmeli designs, I started to make geometric home décor pieces like metal mobiles and tabletop pyramids with small air plants in them. In 2017, I formed Sanctum Handmade and found it easier for me to differentiate myself from other makers. It’s been a success since my items immediately go over very well with women and men of all ages, from young to old, and everything in between.
What was the “aha” moment that made you leap into entrepreneurship? I’m not sure it was an “aha” moment, but there was this constant feeling that I could use the time I was spending in the office to pursue something of my own. I was also fortunate enough that I was still living at home with my parents when I started creating jewelry, so I could build something for myself while getting a lot of support.
How has the pandemic affected things? I know too many businesses suffered significant losses, but the pandemic was good for Sanctum Handmade. I went from being an online-only shop to having two locations in Asbury Park. I’m sure it has a lot to do with everyone having spent so much time at home, and I sell home décor. Also, once the pandemic was well underway, there was an opportunity for me to get into the commercial market. I was ready to jump when I was offered the Asbury Park Boardwalk location, which ultimately led me to get my second store on Cookman Avenue in Asbury Park’s downtown area. In both these locations, I have original home décor, baby gifts, and more.
What’s your favorite thing to do to unwind after a stressful day? After a stressful day, there’s nothing like heading to the beach with the family in the evening. We might eat at one of the many delicious restaurants in the area or enjoy the boardwalk together. I realize we are so fortunate to live close to the beach, especially in the warmer months.
What do you hope your children learn through watching you run your business? My husband and I are both entrepreneurs, so I hope they see you can choose to create something from the ground up and do what makes you feel happy and fulfilled.
What do you wish you had known about being an entrepreneur before launching your business? I wish I had the foresight to see I could still be a great mom and have a great business outside the home. I put limitations on myself and felt I needed to work from home because I was a mom. Without those limitations, I could have progressed a lot quicker.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses? Asbury Fresh would be a favorite, even if it weren’t my husband’s business. It’s a curated series of farmers and makers markets and an excellent place for a new business to get a start, too—it’s where I got my start. The Asbury Park Bazaar, another favorite market, was also instrumental in getting my business up and running. I’m also crazy about Everleigh Meadow. They make the sweetest handmade children’s shoes— I love them so much that I carry their little leather moccasins in both of my stores.
What are some of your favorite things to do in NJ with your family? Hands down, I love taking a canoe trip down the river at Cedar Creek in Double Trouble State Park. Growing up in Toms River, my family and I would do it every summer, and I’m so happy to continue this tradition with my own family. I was so excited that Atlas was old enough to do it with us this year. A favorite vegan restaurant is Kaya’s Kitchen in Belmar. It’s vegan, organic, and so delicious. My kids love the Kaya’s Combo, and I highly recommend it. Also, as a family, we hike different trails whenever we can in the Monmouth County Park System.
What words of wisdom do you have for other NJMOMpreneurs? When you’re first starting your business, know that it’s a long-term commitment. Be patient and proud of every step forward, and enjoy each win along the way.
Sanctum Handmade is located at 1300 Ocean Avenue in Asbury Park’s Boardwalk in Convention Hall and the gorgeous second location is now open for business at 601 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park. Check out the Etsy shop, Facebook, and Instagram pages on Justine Hudak and Sanctum Handmade.