Turning Trash into Beautiful Treasure

Nurdle in the Rough Founder Kat Crabill Spins Plastic Trash into Small-Business Gold

Statement jewelry that speaks up: beautiful gems made from polished ocean plastic, set in recycled sterling silver.

2017 FedEx Small Business Grant Contest Bronze Winner
Nurdle In the Rough
Holualoa, Hawaii



Kat Crabill spent the first 13 years of her life in Hawaii, but long after she moved to the mainland to attend school for glassblowing and metal smithing, the ocean remained her muse. She started working at a small custom goldsmith shop, where she learned the commercial jewelry business. When her workday ended, she’d head to her own home studio to create and then, to the grocery store, late at night.  

During those late-night grocery runs, it wasn’t the food that caught her attention. It was the waste.

After noticing plastic bags in trashcans, she made it her “small” mission to go to the grocery store, take the plastic bags out of the trash, and put them in the recycling bin. Over time, she started looking at the plastic bags in a different way: like a tremendous amount of resources being wasted. So, Crabill started bringing the bags home, until her studio was so crowded with the bags that something had to give.



“I was so frustrated that I started cutting the bags apart until I had all of these piles of shredded plastic. Since it wasn’t my impulse to destroy things, but to fix things, I started sewing all of those strips together,” Crabill said. “I sewed for hours and hours and hours.”

Eventually, she ended up making a 10-foot by 25-foot plastic quilt — big enough for a baby calf whale. Her unique work of art made a powerful statement about the amount of plastic being thrown away. It also became Crabill’s personal catalyst for change.

The idea: Find a way to transform ocean waste and recycled metals into beautiful, statement jewelry and use her business as a platform for creating environmental awareness and change.

For six months, Crabill thought about the idea, and shared the concept with a few friends — including a “very nice” farmer she’d met the last time she had visited Hawaii. He mentioned that he needed a house sitter for the summer. Crabill took that as a sign. She quit her job and headed to Hawaii.

“When I looked at how covered the beach was in plastic, it was so overwhelming that I almost couldn’t breathe,” she said. “Instead of making it into something shiny and new, I decided, instead, to actually uncover the textures and celebrate the story behind the material. That’s when the name Nurdle in the Rough came to me. It speaks to the idea of finding potential in a dark place; a diamond in the rough.”

As a one-person business on a budget, Crabill took the do-it-yourself route to getting her e-commerce site up and running, building the site from the ground up. Social media has played a big part of her growth and gives Crabill a way to stay connected to her environmentally conscious community, even though she’s far from the mainland. Social media was also her entryway to winning a 2017 FedEx small-business grant. She is going to use part of the grant money to build an addition onto her small studio to store tools and to test-outsource some of her metalwork.

No doubt, she has come a long way since she made her passion her business.

“I’m really passionate about building a brand that speaks from the heart and resonates with people,” Crabill said. “I always wanted to be part of something that is making a change and making the world a better place. So, I created my company.”

That’s an achievement in and of itself.




Running a small business is a process, with lessons learned along the way. Those lessons can come in the form of corrected mistakes or good decisions that ended up being great decisions or unexpected victories.

Here are Nurdle in the Rough Founder Kate Crabill’s top three:

  1. GROWTH MANAGEMENT: Realize that You Can’t Do It All Yourself

    “If I didn’t know how to do something, instead of asking for help, I’d learn those skills on my own,” Crabill said. “That’s great for personal development, until you realize you’re not sleeping and you’re neglecting other parts of your business.”

  2. MARKETING: Build a Community on Social Media

    Living in Hawaii, Crabill is an ocean away from most of her marketplace. But, she still found a way to personally connect with her audience through social media.

  3. LEADERSHIP: Be Kind to Yourself

    Running a small business can be all consuming; there are never enough hours in the day to get everything done. Although Crabill works countless hours to make Nurdle in the Rough successful, she knows that it’s important to take a moment to recharge when she needs it.

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