In each mala there are about 115 knots, all tied by Lynnea Tai’s skilled fingers, meticulously securing each gemstone.
And there are so many beautiful gemstones to choose from — snow quartz and jade, carnelian and aquamarine, which happens to be the Colorado state gemstone, Tai pointed out.
“That is what I love about it, endless creative possibilities,” Tai said about making jewelry for DarcMoon, the business she started nearly five years ago.
DarcMoon offers malas, a piece of jewelry that originates from Buddhism and Hinduism and is a tool to help focus the mind during meditation. Each mala has 108 natural gemstone beads, a guru bead and tassel.
DarcMoon also offers chokers, bracelets and keychains, all with beads in factors of 108, and workshops in which Tai teaches others how to make malas and about spiritual properties of a mala.
Tai, 28, estimates she has handmade 8,000 pieces of jewelry using mala beads and they’re all unique. But while she’s accustomed to trying new and different things with mala design and with her business, she was still unprepared for 2020.
Each year since starting DarcMoon in 2016, her business had grown. In 2019, she took the leap of faith, leaving her fulltime job with HelloFresh on the Front Range and concentrate her efforts on DarcMoon. She also moved herself and her business to the Grand Valley where she saw more opportunity to expand to other Western states with her workshops and in retail.
In mid-March of 2020, she was scheduled to teach mala-making workshops to more than 100 people on the Front Range. It was the weekend that nearly everything shut down in the state because of COVID-19, she said.
The cancellations started coming in for that weekend and created a pivotal moment for Tai. She could freak out, or she could do something, she said.
Tai had recently launched a YouTube channel and was doing weekly Instagram live classes. She also had added mala-making kits to the products she sold at darc-moon.com.
She began to concentrate on those things, and despite COVID-19 ockdowns across the country, her business thrived. In fact, it was a little indescribable, she said.
People across the United States began ordering kits during the week, then getting on Instagram with Tai on Sundays to make what they had ordered.
There were even people from as far away as Brazil and the United Kingdom joining in and using their own materials, she said.
“People were looking for something positive and creative to do,” Tai said.
Some also wanted an activity to help with the stress the pandemic brought, she said.
As the weeks went by, Tai noticed a big difference in how people would work during those online workshops as compared to those she had taught before.
Usually, a mala’s beads and knots would overwhelm people trying to make one for the first time, Tai said.
In 2020, “they were savoring every moment of it,” she said.
Among the online workshops she led in addition to those Sunday Instagram classes was a workshop over Zoom for Netflix employees that was arranged by her aunt who works for the company. Tai also led a class on Facebook for 24 kids ages 8–12 that was arranged by a parent. “It was amazing,” she said. “They actually all got into it.”
By June, Tai was so busy that she needed a part time employee. “I honestly didn’t expect to do that so soon,” she said.
But she needed help packing orders, managing the website and social media, basically everything except tying knots, Tai said.
“She has the best customer base,” said CeCe Beldon, who joined DarcMoon last summer. She quickly learned how much time and energy it takes to run a small business and how to answer No. 1 question DarcMoon gets: What is a mala?
It’s different for different people, Beldon said.
“For me personally it’s kind of a meditative or grounding kind of jewelry,” said Beldon, who also noted that a Catholic rosary also has 108 beads.
With Beldon’s help, Tai now has more time to create and to interact with her customers. Tai has about 50 events lined up for the coming year, some online and some in person. Her Spring Equinox Workshop at Riggs Hill in March that includes yoga and making a bracelet has sold out so quickly that she had to add a second time slot.
Tai has other workshops planned with other local businesses such as Pressed, Ghost Rock Farm and Monumental Beer Works.
Various art shows are on her schedule and she continues to work with clients one-on-one, but on many Friday evenings Tai takes time for her “apprentice,” 8-year-old Elora Canchola.
“She has a really good design eye,” Tai said.
Tai met Elora after the girl’s mother, Chenae Ramirez, took a workshop and the duo got to know Tai better from seeing her at area farmers markets.
Elora likes going to Tai’s house, sometimes sharing a meal and then selecting various mala beads she thinks customers will like.
“It makes me really happy to see my designs out,” said Elora, who has spotted malas with beads she selected and that Tai has tied on sale in downtown Grand Junction stores such as The Bee Dynasty, Mutual Friends and It’s A Plant Thang.
“I’m just really proud to be able to watch Elora have this experience with Lynnea,” Ramirez said. It’s important that Elora “get to see someone who owns her own business and is out there chasing her dream.”
Even during a pandemic, “she’s rockin’ it,” Ramirez said.
“It has made me realize how resilient I can be,” said Tai, who plans to continue expanding her business as opportunities come her way for retail and for workshops.
She also has a dream of creating a retreat space where clients can come not only to create malas, but for yoga and more.
“Even a year ago I couldn’t have imagined I would be where I am now,” Tai said.