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.
View the latest lookbook from Crafts and Love Jewelry here.
Photo credit: Rustic White
Owner, Crafts and Love • 24 • Atlanta, GA
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.”
Creative Director, Lion’s Thread • 22 • Rome, GA
Q. How did you get involved with Nisolo Shoes? What was the journey like getting there?
With my liberal arts undergraduate degree in Economics & Spanish and a minor in Math, I wasn’t exactly sure of my career path. I worked at UCSB for a bit with international students, I moved to Italy and worked for a small marketing firm and then moved back to Santa Barbara where I worked for a school in their business office and coached volleyball. That’s when I started a handmade swimsuit company on the side, working with small scale seamstresses in Mexico and my interest in the fashion industry peaked. I decided to move to NYC in order to gain as much experience as I could working in the heart of the industry and going to graduate school at night. After spending 3 years in NYC, the corporate world that I had been working in lost it’s appeal to me and I realized that my ideal work would combine my love of fashion and my passion for work in developing countries.
I began researching fashion brands that had a social cause behind them. While I was interviewing for some of those organizations, a friend who I met in NYC sent an email introducing me to her friend, Patrick, who was in Peru and was working on starting a shoe company. Our first Skype call was 3 hours long and we quickly realized that our interests and vision were very aligned. A few weeks later, I flew down to Peru to check it all out. In Trujillo, Patrick showed me a town full of amazingly talented and gifted shoemakers. After seeing this, I decided to quit my job in NYC, sell all of my furniture, ship most of my belongings home to California and head to Peru, this time on a one way ticket. That was in June 2011.
Q. Your background is in the fashion industry- what was the transition like from high-end corporate fashion to a start-up? How did it affect you personally and professionally?
This was a transition I always wanted and hoped would happen. I moved to NYC to gain experience working in corporate fashion, but knew that it was not where my passion lay. I relate to and get more excited by the contributions to fashion that handmade products and more boutique type brands and manufacturers bring.
Q. Tell me about Nisolo currently- how has the company transitioned from what it was in the beginning until now?
We’ve moved Nisolo from a garage in Oxford, MS, to working out of my house in the 12th South neighborhood in Nashville to now a beautiful and spacious showroom and office space in the Germantown neighborhood of Nashville. As I type this, I’m currently in Peru also moving production to a larger space so that we can scale in order to meet our projections for the coming years. Stateside, we now have an amazing team of more than the 3 co-founders, which includes 2 staff members and 5 interns. It’s an ongoing journey – with exciting changes every day. Last week, Patrick and I organized a retreat with all of the shoemakers in “el campo”- the countryside outside of Trujillo – where together we played soccer, BBQ’d and talked about our Nisolo vision and future and their part in it. It was an incredible time with over 40 people and their families, people who in some way are involved with Nisolo: from leather suppliers to shoemakers to shoebag seamstresses.
Q. What does the future hold for Nisolo? Where are you guys going in the next year or two?
We’ve started introducing more accessories to our line – including hand bags that strike a balance between high quality, rugged leathers and bright-colored, Peruvian woven fabrics. This Fall we are also coming out with some more dress styles for men and women. I hope one day to create a knee high riding boot modeled off a vintage pair that has been passed down to me from my mother.
Over the next few years, we plan to continue to develop our line of shoes and accessories while creating more jobs in Peru in this sector. In addition, we plan to empower more artisans by developing further high-quality handmade products – we have some ideas in mind but nothing concrete yet.
Q. Any other projects you are working on? Any projects you are excited about?
We are very excited to be working on a new website for Nisolo. We won a prize to work with a top branding agency out of NYC for 3 months and amongst other things, they are going to help us re-do our website, which will be huge for us. Our website was launched when we first started with very minimum funds in October 2011 and has not been updated since – it is long overdue for an overhaul!
Q. Since you are at the end of your 20′s, looking back, is there any advice you would give to those just starting out? Any lessons you’ve learned the past 10 years that you want to pass on?
Working experience was invaluable in helping me figure out what I like to do and what I don’t like to do. I moved to NYC when I was 23 after already having several years of an established, well salaried job. In New York, I took various non-paying and paying internships and jobs ranging from small 3 person teams to designers in the Meat Packing district to a luxury department store and then finally working for a world wide brand with annual sales of over 2 billion dollars. From there I was able to piece together and really figure out what direction I wanted to head and what I was passionate about. It was definitely a journey that was not easy at times and took a while, and not only helped me to understand myself better but also led me to a place professionally that I’m very proud of as well as stimulated and challenged every day.