Telling the stories of twenty-somethings to
inspire risk taking., motivate change., celebrate the defining decade., stir ideas., encourage fun., challenge apathy., illuminate the journey., ignite innovation.

Courtney

The story behind how twentysomething Courtney Weil grew Crafts and Love Jewelry from hobby to successful business.

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Twentysomething Courtney Weil is the owner and designer of Crafts and Love Jewelry, a beautiful jewelry line crafted with vintage and romantic-inspired materials.

As an engineering student at Georgia Tech, Courtney set up an Etsy shop so she could begin selling pieces of her unique handmade jewelry to raise funds for short-term mission trips. The response was good, and she was able to raise the money she needed at the time.

Though sales continued to come in even after the money was raised, she never considered growing Crafts and Love into a full-time business.

Due to her interest in global water solutions, Courtney attended Emory University to pursue her Masters in Global Public Health right after undergrad. She also got married. Life was very busy, and Crafts and Love only seemed to match the pace as sales grew.

Courtney couldn’t ignore the fact that her hobby was developing into something much bigger, a brand. She began to think of ways to steward the brand and build what was becoming a full-fledged business. Courtney studied other Etsy shops to see how to take her shop to the next level, from amateur to professional. She took note of product photography, packaging, and brand consistency, as well as pricing and affordability. As a twentysomething, it was important to Courtney to make sure her jewelry was priced with her peers in mind.

In order to gain awareness and exposure, Courney attended craft markets and shows, like Indie Craft Experience, and connected with other Atlanta crafters and buyers. Eventually Courtney became a vendor herself at these markets. All the while, she was still designing and creating new pieces and collections, which included hunting for the perfect materials and inspiration.

Courtney was wife, grad student, designer and business woman all at the same time. Her hard work paid off. She recently graduated with her MPH, and decided to stick with Crafts and Love full-time. Crafts and Love has since grabbed the attention of brick and mortar shop buyers, bloggers, and magazine writers, and is now featured in 40 locations across the United States.

“Figure out what inspires you to be passionate, creative, honest, and loving. That is the thing (or things) you should be doing and developing in your twenties,” Courtney advises her fellow twentysomethings.

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View the latest lookbook from Crafts and Love Jewelry here.

Photo credit: Rustic White

Courtney | Website

Owner, Crafts and Love • 24 • Atlanta, GA

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Xanna

20-year-old Xanna shares her journey to owning and operating a fast-growing macaron business.

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Building a business is tough work. Just the thought of investing your blood, sweat, and tears along with countless hours and sleepless nights, without any guarantee of success, is daunting. It’s hard to stay optimistic, creatively sharp, engaged in the process, and to ultimately press on no matter the number of failed attempts.

So it is the same with baking macarons. I bet you didn’t see that coming. Trust us or Google it, just know it’s very difficult.

Now get this, 20-year-old Xanna is building a business by baking macarons (what?!).

Xanna’s first time baking macarons was a short 3 years ago in her family’s mountain house with no grocery stores in a 30 minute vicinity.  She had first seen the French pastries as Blair Waldorf’s obsession in Gossip Girl, and subsequently became obsessed with them herself when she discovered them at a French bakery down the street from her work. On vacation, and hours away from that bakery, Xanna decided to satisfy her craving by baking her own macarons. Her first batch turned out to be over a six hour process that included substituting ingredients to make do and questioning whether the egg whites really needed to be room temperature. Needless to say, they were not the best macarons.

She kept baking them for fun, though, and when she got back to Atlanta, she would test out batches on the baristas at her favorite coffee shop, giving them unique flavors like Earl Grey, Green Tea Lemon, and Espresso Dark Chocolate.

“I could never pick just one flavor,” Xanna laughed. “And those Octane boys were troopers.”

About a year ago, Xanna began to receive requests for macarons at events and weddings, as well as orders from local coffee shops. She had just started a job as a barista at Mae’s Bakery, and when the manager found out her skills and side business, she graciously let Xanna use their commercial kitchen for baking. Since then XK Macarons has grown exponentially, and Xanna has transitioned from driving small orders all over the city to only baking for customers buying wholesale or large orders (6 dozen+).

Much of this growth and focus Xanna attributes to attending the Plywood Retreat last fall, and the guidance she received from other local entrepreneurs like Eryn Erikson and Jeff Shinabarger. The first six months of starting her business were nonstop with not a lot of help or planning.  Through her social media internship with So Worth Loving, Xanna became friends with Eryn, who designed her XK logo and introduced her to Jeff. Even though Xanna originally did not believe it wise to take three days off from her baking to go on a retreat, it became a turning point for her business. She began to function from a place of rest, and was able to strategically plan for XK Macarons’ future.

At her first pop-up at Root City Market this past December, Xanna sold out of the 500 macarons brought in only 3 hours. This was a wake-up call to her as it showed her the value of her product. She then transitioned over to only wholesale and larger orders, and the coffee shops she partners with tripled their orders when they heard people were coming to their shops to taste XK Macarons. This is just the beginning for Xanna as she continues to innovate and grow her business.

Though Xanna just stepped into this twenties decade, her advice is substantial and practical, “Don’t be afraid to talk to people,” she said. “Talking to people will help you find out who you are.”

Xanna, who does not have a college degree, believes that there are many paths to success and finding out who you are. In her business, she constantly steps out of her box to speak to people she does not know, and often they turn out to be the exact people she needed to connect with at the time.

In the future, Xanna dreams of having a traveling storefront (maybe an Airstream?), but for now Xanna can be found in the following Atlanta locations regularly:

Visit the XK Macarons booth at Root City Market on June 14, 2014!

Photo credit: Morgan Blake 

Xanna | Website

Owner & Chief Baker, XK Macarons • 20 • Atlanta, GA

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Sydney

Meet a twentysomething who has chosen to kick off her career in the fashion industry by launching a brand with a unique mission

While the fashion industry is broad and diverse, many outside of the industry tend to view it through the lens of popular stereotype. The Devil Wears Prada instantly comes to mind when New York Fashion Week is mentioned. The general perception has been that those working in fashion are materialistic, vain and self-serving. However, many, including a lot of twentysomethings, are revolutionizing the fashion industry to serve a greater purpose.

Sydney, 22, always knew she would work in fashion, however, the avenue in which she approached her career path greatly changed during her college years. As a freshmen, her goal was to pursue a profession in fashion journalism, preferably ending up at Vogue. She dove into her college courses and became involved with student organizations, and she began to develop interest in businesses that add a “social punch” to what they do.

Joining the SOUP, a student-led nonprofit, in its beginning stages introduced Sydney to the world of social entrepreneurship. By becoming heavily invested in the nonprofit, she saw how fundraising, though a necessary tool, was not a sustainable revenue source for growth. While exploring how to further expand the SOUP’s reach in Africa, she and SOUP founder, Brin, noticed a gap in the market.  They realized that many companies circulating Eastern African products were focused on connecting to female consumers (jewelry, scarves, etc.), while male consumers were very little engaged. This inspired Sydney and Brin to come up with an idea to utilize a product geared toward men — the classic bow tie. The bow ties is unique, timeless, can be sold to a higher end market, and can be easily brought through customs. Lion’s Thread  was born. The organization is an artisan bow tie social enterprise, made of the finest African textiles, employing local Ugandan artisans, bringing classic cuts back to the forefront of fashion, and giving men a reason and an opportunity to participate in social good.

Sydney is the Creative Director, while Brin is the CEO, but due to current circumstances, their roles have somewhat flipped. Brin is currently working on SOUP and Lion’s Thread projects in rural Uganda, and has taken on a hands-on role out of necessity, delivering product, revising patterns, working with the seamstresses, and performing quality control on a daily basis. Sydney, finishing up her degree stateside, has had many more opportunities to promote and present Lion’s Thread to investors and future partners, and has ended up handling most of the finances, marketing, PR, and the business plan.

“I never pictured myself in a role like this. Business has always been Brin’s comfort zone and design is mine, but it’s been an interesting and fun opportunity to grow,” Sydney said.

By presenting at Confluence, Clinton Global Initiative University, and other entrepreneurial events, Lion’s Thread is currently raising funding and awareness. A Kickstarter campaign was also launched and has 6 days left. The team hopes to raise $8,000 of initial funds to plug back into the business to increase production, hire more artisans, find more textiles to use, and expand their markets stateside. Right now, they are giving bow ties as rewards on the Kickstarter, their online store will launch a few weeks after the campaign ends, and they hope to be in more online marketplaces with a fashion and social impact (like TOMS) within the next few months. Eventually, they will expand to brick and mortar store, but for now quality of product and worker is everything.

“We exist to provide meaningful employment for these women,” Sydney explained. “We have to make sure we grow at a gradual rate, otherwise the strain we put on our employees is more hurtful than helpful.”

Sydney is all in. She has even jumped into advanced sewing classes this year to get a better understanding of the task at hand. Having always been a lover of fashion and design, and being a former intern with Billy Reid, she had gotten by with a just few basic sewing classes. However, knowing both fashion and social entrepreneurship to be very hands-on, Sydney continues to seek development in every area necessary to make Lion’s Thread a success.

Graduating next month with a communications degree from Berry College, Sydney will be spending the next year as a fellow at the Woodruff Foundation in Atlanta, Georgia. Although she eventually sees herself going full-time with Lion’s Thread, right now her and the team’s focus is getting off the ground and plugging the first profits back into company to spur on production, hire more local artisans, and hopefully grow to encompass other regions in Africa. Any job Sydney will take on in the next few years will be for the purpose of developing skills necessary to grow Lion’s Thread – whether that is business or design.

Today, Sydney cannot imagine working for an organization without a greater social good involved. She says it’s a norm our generation is demanding in greater quantities – to be change makers. Her advise to her twentysomething peers is to take risks when it comes to doing things you’re passionate about, “It is never going to be the right time,” she said. “If this is something you want to do, just do it, and work out the kinks along the way.”

Sydney | Kickstarter

Creative Director, Lion’s Thread • 22 • Rome, GA

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Carrie Jo

Twentysomething wedding and lifestyle photographer Carrie Jo tells about her unexpected start in the industry and how she built a successful business after college

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One of the many beauties of being in your twenties is the surplus of margin that exists in this particular decade. Whether you realize it or not, this decade holds extra room for risk taking, adventure and a little craziness. It’s by no means the only time for adventure in your life. But it’s the perfect time to start setting the tone and building the habits for a life well lived by embracing the challenges, tapping into your creativity and trying new things.

Twentysomething Carrie Jo’s journey to becoming a successful full-time wedding and lifestyle photographer has been filled with challenge and adventure.

As a business major in college, Carrie Jo was set on a career in finance. However, her career plans turned upside down when she and some of her college friends decided to produce an album. During the project, Carrie Jo worked to design the album cover. She learned Photoshop and InDesign, and also discovered she loved taking photos. Others noticed she was good at it and encouraged her to pursue it further.

“I started getting asked to do little shoots here and there, then I was asked to do engagement pictures, then weddings,” Carrie Jo said.

Not quite sure if she should move forward with her photography full-time, Carrie Jo searched for an opportunity to shadow a full-time photographer in order to gain some insight.

“I was willing to do whatever it took to learn from another photographer. Even if it just meant carrying their equipment and bringing them coffee on shoots,” Carrie Jo said. “It was difficult though to find someone willing to let me shadow them. I found out that a lot of people in the industry are very protective over their work. They didn’t want to teach me their secrets, so I could just go off and become their competitor.”

Though the job shadowing idea had only come up with dead ends, Carrie Jo decided to press forward and agreed to shoot her first wedding. Facebook was just up and coming, so after the wedding she decided to make a Facebook album for the bride to view a sneak peek of her photos. The response from her social media friends and friends of friends was phenomenal.

“The rest is history,” Carrie Jo said.

Carrie Jo has since built her business through social media. Immediately after every wedding, she edits through the night, puts a small album up on Facebook, tags as many people in the bridal party as she can and word spreads like wildfire through those tags. She has gained many new clients this way.

After graduating, Carrie Jo lived out of her car and on friends’ couches for a year while building her photography business. With a minimum budget and constant travel on the weekends, it was hard to justify signing a lease. Although she loved the freedom, she began to ache for community once again, akin to what she experienced in college. She knew she needed to find a home base.

She chose to move Knoxville, TN, where she still resides today. Though she still travels a majority of her weekends, she is intentional about staying connected to her community in the city, even if it’s just through a phone call or two while she is away.

Carrie Jo is now 27 and continues to embrace the challenges and adventure surrounding her career and season of life.

While some get burned out from working heavily in the wedding industry, which can typically be expensive and self-centered, Carrie Jo instead got creative to bring some balance. She developed a plan to donate 10% of the funds from each wedding shoot towards building wells in developing countries around the world. Since she launched Weddings + Water 5 years ago, 20,000 people have received clean water through this initiative.

When asked what advice she would give to her twentysomething peers, Carrie Jo proved she didn’t throw away all she learned in business school and her days preparing to be a financial planner.

“It’s important to be wise about finances, so you can be financially free,” she explained. “It doesn’t matter how much you’re investing, it’s about the amount of time the money accumulates interest in a savings account or mutual fund. “

She encourages twentysomethings to take the time to learn about money now, so they can walk into their futures with the right tools for long-term success no matter their career choice.

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To view more Carrie Jo’s incredible photos, visit her blog: texturephotoblog.com

Carrie Jo | Website

Wedding and Lifestyle Photographer • 27 • Knoxville, TN

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Meet the two best friends who spearhead the lifestyle blog and design company MaieDae.

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Twentysomethings Savannah and Jenny aren’t your typical girls. Their mantra—“make it happen”—is true in theory and practice. The pair went from best friends to business partners when they spearheaded the lifestyle blog and design company, MaieDae.

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In May 2010, Savannah and Jenny graduated from Berry College together. As they both settled into a full-time corporate jobs, they struggled with feeling stagnant creatively.

“I just want to do something that matters,” Savannah told her husband one day.

“You just need to do it,” he advised her. Those simple words became the launching point for the humble beginnings of MaieDae.

“We spent a lot of time dreaming, and finally said, ‘Lets just do it!’” Jenny explained.

Savannah and Jenny started by selling handmade items on Etsy, which consisted of jewelry, hair accessories and home goods that they created on nights and weekends in between their full-time jobs.

“Creating handmades ignited something in me,” Savannah said. “We started to dream.”

At first, their work was less of a business and more of a hobby. There was no name, no branding, and just the beginnings of their collaborative blog.

“We were just doing what we knew at the time,” Jenny said.

As their handmades business grew, Savannah and Jenny realized that what they loved most about their business was connecting with other artists, bloggers and small business owners at shows and craft fairs. They began to dread orders coming in, but always got excited at the thought of talking with people.

At the start of their business, Savannah and Jenny had set long-term goals to be able to work from home and start their own families someday, but they realized that constantly making products and filling orders didn’t fit into those goals. As they reevaluated what MaieDae was and where it was going, they decided to drop the handmades business and focus on the parts of MaieDae they loved: their individual blogs and graphic design for other bloggers/small business owners.

As with most startups, it became difficult for Savannah and Jenny to maintain their full-time jobs while managing their growing small business. While they had originally planned to go full-time with MaieDae in 2014, it soon became apparent that the leap could be taken sooner. By Christmas of 2012, MaieDae was growing so consistently that Savannah was able to make the transition to full-time at MaieDae, and Jenny shortly thereafter in April 2013.

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Today, all of their future plans are coming to fruition right before their eyes. Savannah is expecting her first child in February 2014, and Jenny is due in the spring. They are grateful to be able to share their pregnancy journeys with all of MaieDae’s followers.

“The community is so encouraging,” Savannah said with a smile. “It is so exciting to be able to share, although I am trying to figure out what types of boundaries and balance will be needed when the baby arrives.”

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Beyond the blog aspect of MaieDae, they also have a booming design business, where they create everything from corporate logos to blog designs. They strike a great balance as Jenny has taught herself HTML code, and Savannah enjoys graphic design. Their love of connecting with people has seamlessly been incorporated into business strategy. They’ve recently launched events and workshops like the MaieDaie Mixer and The Brand Market Workshops. They also attend three or four conferences a year, networking and gaining creative inspiration from panels, keynotes speakers and fellow bloggers.

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As lifestyle blogger, the MaieDae ladies were full of good advise for fellow twentysomethings.

“It really helps to have someone be a cheerleader for you,” Jenny advised. “I have Savannah, and we push each other along and encourage one another in our different strengths.”

“Take time for personal development,” Savannah added. “Create a guide for yourself to make decisions. Ask yourself, ‘Who am I and what do I love?’”

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How one twentysomething found a perfect balance In photography.

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Erin has been around photography her entire life.  Growing up, it was all around her. Her father was a photographer, and taught her the art and love of the craft early on.  In college, she veered slightly away from photography with a major in marketing, where she maintained some form of creativity. But during her senior year, she started dabbling in photography on a more serious level.

As an equestrian, Erin combined her love for the sport with her old-time passion and started photographing her friends and equestrian teammates with their horses. She loved it so much that when she graduated, she began shooting weddings and engagement photos, in addition to maintaining her 9 to 5 job in marketing.

Although Erin has had great success as a full-time photographer and a full-time marketing specialist, her heart was with the horses. Nothing energized her more than interacting with and shooting horses and their riders. With all the time and effort that goes into post-production, she didn’t want to spend her limited time on subjects her heart wasn’t invested in.

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Erin began to turn to dream ideas for shoots, from a carousel horse to an Alice in Wonderland tea party. These stylized shoots, though purely for fun and unpaid, confirmed that if Erin could do any type of photography, it would be with horses.

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Erin received the perfect opportunity to blend her love for horses, photography, and stylized shoots when Style My Ride— style blog for equestrians­—asked her to fill in for one of their regular photographers on a shoot. Style My Ride features glamorous editorial photos showing off current trends in equestrian wear. They loved her work, and asked her to come back a handful of times.

Now, Erin has transitioned to mostly shooting portraits of riders with their horses. She’s even been able to do some weddings with horses involved.

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“You don’t have to have it all figured out,” Erin shared with a smile. But her experience shows that, with persistence and determination, you can get do what you love most.

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Two twentysomething friends turn business partners with their unique film production company.

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Everyday, there are people who make the decision to change their career path, and, ultimately their lives. Will, a musician in high school, went to Belmont to study music for two years before changing paths and finishing up a business degree at Georgia State University.

Will’s father had owned a production company that produced  TV shows like Outdoor Life Network’s The Best and Worst of Tred Barta. During his studies, Will joined his father’s team to learn the skills necessary to thrive in the production industry. While there, he worked as a TV editor for four years with his close friend and fellow editor, Ben.

Ben and Will decided to start their own production company, called Yonder Blue Films, in April of 2012.  Combining Will’s business degree and their prior production experience, “We already knew how to tell a story,” said Will, so the move seemed fitting.

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They focused their efforts on a niche market—aerial filming using remote control helicopters. Will and Ben taught themselves how to build and fly the helicopters, and soon mastered the art of smooth and steady filming while flying. Ben pilots the machine, while Will operates the camera. That’s what sets them apart as a company—the fact that they have the technical knowledge of the instruments they’re using and understand every aspect of normal film production.

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Will learned more about client relations as he transitioned from a production job with an already-established company to running every part of the business with a partner. Ben heads up the financials, but they both deal with clients every step of the way. He stated that you simply “get somewhere by being nice to people.” This has manifested in the variety of business opportunities they receive: from themed races, TV shows like Necessary Roughness, commercials with national TV spots, to even feature films.

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Their most enjoyable shoot was one they did just for fun—a motocross shoot where the helicopters rode alongside the bike at 35 mph, 5 mph away from machine’s capacity.

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