Things seem to have gotten an early start for Oakdale High School Class of 2021 alum Peyton Johnston and Rylee Knittel. The longtime best friends and former Mustangs are the current owners of the popular home décor business Gracefulleigh Designed.

“We were super into organizing so we got machines that make labels,” Knittel said of the start of the business last September. “We could customize labels and all that and then how it actually started is we wanted to make our nail lady a doormat for her new studio suite thing, so we made her one for her business.”

From there, she added, they just seemed to get on a roll, as the creative juices were flowing.

The two young women shared that it was during the early part of Distance Learning in their 2020-21 school year that they became restless and each acquired Cricut Label makers. A hobby turned business began in a corner of Knittel’s home dining room and in the past year has grown to occupy Johnston’s garage.

The business began to grow when a family friend offered them a chance to do a pop up event, and set up outside of her store and sell their products. What began with custom doormats painted by hand and custom door hangers with the Cricut has now expanded to dish towels, charcuterie boards and a few other custom items.

“We can do anything custom,” Johnston said. “We’ve done stuff for people’s businesses, last names, just like generic sayings, we could do a bunch of different stuff.”

“Our most popular one is ‘Welcome ish … depends on who you are,’ that sells out like every time at our pop ups,” Knittel said of their original doormats.

“We hand paint everything, a lot of people don’t know that, and then we seal it all with like a clear on top,” Johnston shared.

The craft-hobby turned business taken up by the Modesto Junior College freshmen is self-taught with inspiration coming from Tik Tok and Pinterest for their creations. Products are sold at pop-ups as well as through their Social Media pages bearing the same name as the business.

“It’s a combination of my middle name and her middle name,” Johnston explained of the unusual yet original spelling of the business name. “So her middle name is Grace and my middle name is Leigh Anne, so it’s the combination of the two.”

As they attend MJC classes virtually full-time, the two shared the business keeps them going as primary employment for both, working four to five days a week.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Johnston said of working with her best friend. “A lot of people don’t have fun when they work; we get to have a lot of fun.”

“We do get frustrated with each other,” Knittel added, “but we know when we’re frustrated with each other.”

The pair shared they each have their own specialties which complements the other.

During the course of the past year and doing business the two have learned a number of valuable lessons, including the value of customer service and being professionals.

“I think dealing with customer service is kind of really hard,” Knittel admitted, of those customers that are more difficult to please than others.

“You have to learn to keep your cool because you can’t ruin your reputation, you know,” Johnston added.

Yet at the end of the day, the duo openly shared they enjoy the freedom of being self-employed just as much as sharing it with one another.

“I think like the interaction with the people personally for me, being able to create something that somebody wants,” Johnston said of her favorite part of the business. “Like their last name or if they want their logo for the front of their store. Being able to put that on an item and then have, our product advertised in their store, in front of their store or whatever, is the best part for me personally and I just like to see like people happy when it’s done.”

Looking toward the future the young business owners shared they do have plans.

“Eventually, sooner than later, we’d like to do a mobile trailer, get one and renovate it and make it super cute inside, and then be able to bring that to the events,” Knittel said.