southern weddings feature

Oh snap! Magnolia Pair’s stunning photos from my sister’s wedding are being featured on Southern Weddings today! See full coverage on the fabulous affair by clicking here.

Not only was it exciting to read Caroline and John’s story “in print,” but it also reawakened many wonderful memories from the wedding weekend, including, but not limited to, listening to Caroline and John’s closest friends and family affirm them at the rehearsal dinner, hanging out at the Monteleone all day with the bridesmaids, feeling a sense of proud servitude as I carried her veil, seeing my father place Caroline’s hand in John’s at the ceremony, watching my mother take the dance floor by storm with a tambourine at the reception, and, most importantly, witnessing Caroline marry John, her perfect match if there ever was one.

P.S. – Check it out! On full display at the reception was the signature cocktail that Caroline asked me to concoct. It’s the Starlight Royale cocktail that I made during Bitsy & Boo’s Drink Week, which was renamed “The Sparkling Rose” to better fit the reception theme.


spotlight: nisolo shoes

Second stop on Nísolo’s Holiday Tour? Baton Rouge! A festive party will be held at the home of Andrea and Wally McMakin this Wednesday, where guests will have a wonderful opportunity to get to know the shoe line and its remarkable story. Here are the party details:

When: Wednesday, Nov. 28 from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Where: 2052 Estates Rd., Baton Rouge, LA 70808

Link: Nísolo Holiday Tour in Baton Rouge’s Facebook page.

If you can’t wait til Wednesday to learn more about this FAMAZING brand, check out the photos below as well as my Q&A with one of Nísolo’s founders, Patrick Woodyard.

Nísolo founder Patrick Woodyard and shoemaker Eliseo

The Mendez family and the Mendez flat

Bolivar sandal

Oliver oxford

Willan with suede oxford

Delicias sandal

Chavito Chukka with shoemaker’s Son and Chavito Chukka on slackline

*All photos courtesy of Nísolo Shoes. To check out the company’s website, click here.

BACKGROUND ON NÍSOLO SHOES: 

Nick Meyer and Patrick Woodyard spent two years working with impoverished women in Trujillo, Peru, empowering them to enhance their small businesses through microfinance organization Sinergia, an affiliate of Peru Mission. One morning, Patrick and Nick sat in the kitchen of Sinergia client Doris. As they helped Doris balance the books for her small convenience store, they noticed a steady hammering noise coming from the adjacent room. Detecting Patrick and Nick’s interest, Doris guided them into the room, where her husband Willan sat handcrafting a handsome pair of high-quality, leather men’s dress shoes.

Impressed with Willan’s fine craftsmanship, Patrick and Nick were surprised to learn about his struggle to find consistent work and make financial ends meet, but they were even more surprised to learn that more than 3,000 other small-scale shoemakers in the area shared in Willan’s struggle. It was at this time that the inspiration for Nísolo struck.

“Upon seeing their remarkable talent yet lack of access and inability to provide for their families,” says Patrick, “I was led to start Nísolo as a means of providing the access they lacked to grow their businesses (including capital, design, knowledge of established markets, training, etc.).”

And here’s more from Patrick and I’s Q&A…

REBECCA: Have you always been shoe guy? Or, did this simply strike you as a viable business opportunity?

PATRICK: I’ve always been somewhat particular about the shoes I wear, but I’ve certainly never had an affinity for shoes. I think that a sustainable way of going about work is to use the skill sets that are already evident. In our case, that happened to be shoes—thousands of extremely talented individuals who had been making shoes for generations. Our passion to start a shoe company was originally sparked by a vision of being able to help a lot of people help themselves, through the work of their own hands.

REBECCA: Has socially responsible consumerism always been a cause close to your heart?

PATRICK: A cause that has always been close to my heart has been poverty alleviation and economic development in general. That is what originally led me to Peru to work in microfinance and eventually start Nísolo. As far a responsible consumerism goes, it wasn’t until seeing the effects of Nísolo on the ground level in Peru that I was completely convinced that our little choices do make a big difference. Since then, we have become much more conscious consumers than ever before.

REBECCA: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced throughout this process?

PATRICK: The greatest challenge we face is striving to build a world-class footwear brand while at the same time facing the challenges of manufacturing in the developing world. Our products are not mass-produced in far off, low-wage paying factories. Our belief in empowering the human face behind each product prohibits us from operating through a simple point-and-buy process like many brands out there.

Rather, each handmade product is a work of art to the shoemaker who crafts it. And, behind each product, are hours and hours of thoughtful design, planning and, at times, difficult resourcing on our part leading up to the “perfect pair” you see on the shelf.

Operating a formalized business in an underdeveloped micro-economy in the developing world presents a plethora of difficulties that are impossible to foresee or understand until you have experienced them yourself. Nonetheless, our advice to social entrepreneurs hoping to do something similar to Nísolo: “Just do it.” You’ll learn a WHOLE lot in the process.

spotlight: lauren eckstein schonekas

On the last day of Nola Fashion Week, I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Lauren Eckstein Schonekas, founder of Construct Jewelry. Her bright personality and unassuming nature came to the forefront during our encounter. And her creativity and passion for jewelry-making is inescapable. She just seemed genuinely happy and grateful to be there. Her face lit up as people viewed/took interest in her work.

So I sent Lauren a few questions after our meeting and her answers are really interesting and engaging. Check them out below…

1. When did the concept for Construct first strike you?

I’ve always been drawn to the craftsmanship and style of vintage jewelry.  When Katrina hit, I moved to Houston where my family evacuated to assist my father’s company in accounting. After a full day of work, there was nothing to do (I recently graduated from college, so I was not used to sitting around at night), so I began taking apart my personal jewelry and reworking it. It was therapeutic during those early days after the storm, and then became a fun addiction. I loved using my creativity to transform something that was otherwise forgotten, broken, or considered “old.” Looking back, I think that was a central force for me, especially during a time when I was also witnessing my city go through such huge transformations.

2. How would you describe Construct’s aesthetic?

I aim to create pieces that are both elegant and edgy while maintaining the timelessness of the vintage pieces included.

3. What was one of the biggest challenges for you when translating the inspiration for Construct into a legitimate jewelry line/business?

One of the charms of my designs is also a challenge and that is that I cannot reproduce or duplicate designs because each piece is one of a kind. Although many people, including myself, appreciate this aspect of Construct Jewelry, it is frustrating when someone falls in love with a piece that has sold, and I can’t remake it for them.

4. As your business continues to grow, how do you keep up with its growing demands?

I have finally hired my first assistance (my sister!), which is a huge step for the company because I have basically been a one-woman-show for the past several years. After going full time in the Spring of 2012 and getting pregnant in the fall of this year, I realized I need help and fast! Fortunately for me, my sister became available, so I am looking forward to working with her.

5. What advice would you give to other creatives that are trying to find a potentially lucrative outlet for their work?

Know that if you have a passion you should follow it because it is a gift that can’t be opened without patience, courage, and motivation. Also, don’t always expect success and remember to always have fun because if you are not enjoying what you are doing, others won’t either!

6. What’s your most treasured piece of jewelry?

Since my passion for jewelry design grew out of the aftermath of hurricane Katrina, I promised myself that I would never become attached to any particular creation since I was watching the rest of my hometown adjust to losing all of their possessions. There is one piece, however, that I have allowed myself to break that rule with. It’s a necklace I made with a vintage pendant my dad gave me.  It’s an Estrucean gilt pendant with heart designs, and he gave it to me the same year he was diagnosed with cancer. Fortunately he is still in good health, and up until now, my keeping that necklace has been my little secret!

7. What’s the most rewarding part of the creative process for you?

I absolutely love commissions—either using a customer’s family heirloom or one they select from my collection. It is so rewarding to complete a consultation, develop a concept for a design, and then see their reaction when the piece is complete. I have done many weddings where the bride is able to co-design her jewelry or bridal party gifts, and it is so fun to see how excited and proud they are with the finished product. I guess it’s the social worker in me, but it is certainly my favorite part or the creative process.

8. What’s your pipe-dream/out-of-this-world fantasy for Construct? (It won’t sound silly, trust me)

I have so many!!! I would love to learn how to solder. I would still of course use vintage jewelry, but it would give me so much more freedom with manipulating materials!!! I would also love, love love to have access to the old workshops of my greatest idol in the costume jewelry business, Miriam Haskell. I have found some dealers that sell parts that the company used, so I can imagine what it would be like to see the entire workspace and the amazing vintage pieces that were included in the collection. I don’t know if these warehouses are still intact especially since the company isn’t producing for Neiman Marcus, but I don’t need to know because it’s part of dreaming!!

Learn more about Construct Jewelry by visiting its website.

Quote of the day: 

“Intelligence without ambition is a bird without wings.” –Salvador Dali

i do bridal couture

I Do Bridal Couture owner Ramsey Sims hosted a Haute Opening party for the boutique yesterday afternoon in conjunction with a personal visit from wedding gown designer Heidi Elnora. The media was invited to arrive early to meet Heidi and check out her collection. I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to finally check out this charming store in the Southdowns Shopping Centre.

The boutique and its owner were just that—charming! Ramsey’s choice selection of gowns were breathtaking and it was easy to see that a bride’s shopping experience there would be totally personal.

After checking out the digs, I sat down with Project Runway, season 2, designer Heidi Elnora to discuss her blossoming career as a wedding gown designer. Heidi lives and works in her hometown, Birmingham, Alabama. Her laid-back style and southern charm were incredibly endearing. She was extremely down-to-earth and easy to talk to, which was really refreshing. Check out our Q&A below…

Heidi Elnora rocking her baby bump (she’s due in January!)

I Do Bridal owner Ramsey Sims and Heidi Elnora

Danielle de Mond models one of Elnora’s designs (isn’t she beautiful?!)

Shoulder detail shot

Rebecca: How has your career taken off since Project Runway?

Heidi: Project Runway gave me the confidence to know that I can do this. Being from Alabama, sometimes you have these big dreams and aspirations, but because you’re from a small town, people kind of crush them. Being on the show validated that I am a good designer and there’s more to this than a dream…so I called up a magazine one day and said, “Hi, my name is Heidi Elinora and I’m a wedding gown designer.” I had made one dress in my whole life at that point and they said, “We want to do a four-page spread.” So my husband Jeff and I bought a house in Birmingham that we remodeled. I opened my business in September 2006 and I sold my first gown in November…

In the past two years, it’s really taken off. I was just going to keep my shop small and do things around Birmingham, but I’ve seen a need for a certain style of dresses. My dresses are real simple and clean, but I like that. Your dress shouldn’t speak more than you do as a bride. It’s just a compliment of who you are. You get to do your own customizations to the gown, which is really neat because not every girl has the same dress. They may have the same concept, but it’s always custom to you. The line has just really grown. I’m in 22 stores now. I got picked up by Nordstrom last April and now I’m in 14 of them. I’m also getting ready for bridal fashion week in October.

Rebecca: What drew you to wedding gowns as a fashion designer? What do you love about them?

Heidi: As an artist—I went to art school at SCAD—I love creating something that someone is going to cherish. I did children’s clothes, but babies spit up on those. I have one of my own and I’m about to have another one. I love women’s wear, but you’re going to throw that in the laundry with dirty socks. For some reason, that bothers me [she says with a laugh]. So with a wedding gown, it’s something that’s truly unique to you and you’re going to love it as much as I love it. I mean, I walk every single gown to the car and it’s like giving away my baby. I say, “Take care of this.” And they do. They love it, they cherish it, it’s special. I love it. I’m obsessed. It’s make me happy every day that I get to do this.

Rebecca: What do you see for the upcoming season? Can you tell me a little bit about your collection?

Heidi: So in October, we’ll show for the following fall, fall 2013. The collection that I’m showing is called Heavenly Days. It’s very airy. There’s a lot of golds. I don’t know why when I think of heaven, I think it’s going to be gold and silver and shiny. It’s very soft and ethereal in a sense. A lot of different textures and movement is what I’m aiming for. My April collection was very plain silhouettes…You can wear it [the new collection] in a pasture, you can wear it down an aisle, you can wear it wherever you want to.

Rebecca: How did you feel when you got picked up by Nordstrom?

Heidi: For Nordstrom to walk into my showroom and say, “We love you, we want you.” Oh my gosh, I cried! You know, I’m from Alabama. I live in the woods. This was such a beautiful blessing. Every day, something new and amazing happens and I’m very humble and very grateful.

Rebecca: What advice would you give to aspiring designers?

Heidi: Don’t give up. It’s not easy. Nothing worth having to me is easy. I wasn’t raised to think you’re handed things. I’ve never been handed anything. You have to be very passionate about it and have a lot of faith—you’ve got to pray a lot. But you just can’t give up. I have cried for six years and I have smiled for six years. Once you get to a certain plateau, people like to say, “Oh, it’s so fabulous!” And I want to say, “Oh, there was such a long, hard road to get here.” Just don’t stop. Keep going. If you want it bad enough, you can make it happen.

*To learn more about I Do Bridal Couture, visit http://idobridalcouture.com/.

Quote of the day:

“Your dress shouldn’t speak more than you do as a bride. It’s just a compliment of who you are.” –Heidi Elnora

 

spotlight: jennifer palpallatoc

Hey there! Did everyone have a good weekend? My weekend is still going right now actually. I have a few vacation days left for the year, and I wanted to use one before Baton Rouge’s social season really revs up at the beginning of September. Once that happens, I’ll pretty much remain in Baton Rouge for the duration of fall as I cover events for work. So for a last hurrah, I’m enjoying a long, relaxing weekend at one of my favorite places in the whole wide world: Lake Bruin.

But I love you guys so much that I couldn’t leave you without a Monday morning blog post. Last week, I sat down with  Jennifer Palpallatoc, freelance fashion editor for DIG Magazine and founder of the Haute Off the Rack blog. Jennifer’s love of fashion and determination to share it with others has really benefited her both personally and professionally. See photos of Jennifer and pieces of our Q&A below…

REBECCA: When did you start Haute Off the Rack?

JENNIFER: My first post ever was February 1, 2012.

REBECCA: When and how did you discover your passion for fashion and styling?

JENNIFER: I’ve always been into fashion, no matter what else I was doing in life. I really can’t pin point a time when it became more important to me than any other time. People have always come to me for fashion advice. Even when I was little, I would get $10 a week for my allowance and I would save that up and go buy a bunch of makeup in the store or I’d buy a pair of shoes that I wanted from Old Navy or Gap or something.

REBECCA: Is there a celebrity or fashion icon that you particularly identify with?

JENNIFER: Blake Lively is one of my fashion icons because she really exemplifies that looking confident is key to your outfit. She always looks so elegant and poised on the red carpet. There’s no doubt that she’s totally confident in what she’s wearing. I also really like Charlize Theron. She always looks really cool and laid back in all of her outfits. She looks very sultry.

REBECCA: Switching to a different subject, what encouraged you to change your major from fashion merchandising to creative writing?

JENNIFER: DIG Magazine really. And also, when I was doing fashion merchandising, they don’t teach you how to be creative. You’re either creative or you aren’t. They don’t teach you how to style an outfit or anything like that. I just felt like I was learning more by actually working in the fashion industry. And that’s what I was doing. I was working for Park Lane as their marketing coordinator; and plus with my blog, I work with a lot of different designers and brands. I just felt like I was learning more doing this than I was in school. So when I got the position as freelance fashion editor for DIG, I realized, “Oh shoot! I need to get back into writing all the time.”

REBECCA: So you’ve acquired a lot of skills on the job?

JENNIFER: Yeah! When I was at Park Lane, she [the owner] gave me a lot of control. I was in touch with a lot of designers and the reps and I got to do more than the average sales associate for a store. I’ve been to market with her as well.

REBECCA: How did the opportunity to freelance with DIG come about?

JENNIFER: The editor in chief was looking for new ideas for the fashion pages because they were losing a fashion editor. She came across Haute Off the Rack in her search, and she was like, “Oh my gosh! What a clever name.” She started looking through the blog, figured out what it was, and when she realized I lived in Baton Rouge, she was like, “Oh my gosh! She needs to be the fashion editor.” She emailed me about the position and I went in and interviewed.

REBECCA: What do you like most about your new job with DIG?

JENNIFER: I like that it’s what I love to do! I can’t believe that I get to actually write about stuff that I always want to talk about with people, but they don’t necessarily want to listen to. I always want to tell people, “You need to go to LOFT because they have all these new dresses there. Or, oh this is really going to be in style for the fall.” And I get to put it all on paper for everyone to read and that’s so exciting!

REBECCA: What’s been the biggest challenge so far?

JENNIFER: Once I start, I can’t stop. Every week I have to come out with something new. Sometimes, I get a little nervous, but then I look at my blog and I post something almost every day and I come up with something new, so I think I can do this. And I also think about the fact that big lines have wanted to work with me, so they’ve obviously seen something in me. Because there’s a ton of bloggers out there, ya know? There’s something in me that says I can do it.

REBECCA: When you say “big lines,” can you give me an example?

JENNIFER: Lines that people will be a little more familiar with are AG Jeans, Amanda Uprichard and Virgin Saints & Angels. Amanda Uprichard contacted me because I’m partnered up with a lot of boutiques around here and Rodeo is one of them. I borrowed some Amanda Uprichard pieces from them for a Haute Off the Rack photo shoot and Amanda Uprichard’s PR girl saw it. They loved how I styled it and sent more for me to wear for the blog.

REBECCA: It sounds like Haute Off the Rack has benefited you both personally and professionally.

JENNIFER: Yes! It’s so great for exposure. It has opened doors to so many different things. I’m going to New York this September for the Independent Fashion Bloggers conference and when I’m there, I’m going to meet with the PR rep for Virgin Saints & Angels and Amanda Uprichard. Who would think that I was going to get to meet with them? It’s because of my blog. It’s my working portfolio. And on top of that, I’m getting a lot of feedback from people.

REBECCA: What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from Haute Off the Rack?

JENNIFER: If you’re really passionate about something, you can do it. I started something from nothing. It was just me and my love of fashion, but I built a website and I am horrible with computers. When I figured it out, it’s because I wanted to figure it out. If this wasn’t something I liked, if this was just for school, I don’t think I’d be very good at it, but because of the end product that I know will come, I can do it.

REBECCA: So would you say that Haute Off the Rack is worth all the time and effort you put into it?

JENNIFER: Yes, definitely. There were times in the beginning when I was like, “This is a lot of work!” The first few weeks that I had my blog up, I didn’t sleep. It’s not because I couldn’t, it’s because there were things that needed to be done and I wanted them to be done. I put everything into it. I was exhausted, but then, whenever these designers started contacting me and I started making money from rewardStyle, I started to think, “This is so much fun!” People are actually coming to the blog and looking and buying. I was styling outfits in a way that made people think, “Ok I need it.” It’s been really rewarding and I’ve only gotten positive feedback.

Learn more about Jennifer by visiting Haute Off the Rack.

*Photos courtesy of Jennifer Palpallatoc

Quote of the day: 

“Never let life impede on your ability to manifest your dreams. Dig deeper into your dreams and deeper into yourself and believe that anything is possible, and make it happen.” –Corin Nemec

spotlight: amy strother

Hey there! I hope everyone had a splendid weekend. How about we start our week off with a dose of inspiration? This past spring, I interviewed Noelie Harmon and Denicola’s owner Amy Strother for a 225 story on young, female professionals. Her insight on the challenges of opening a small, green retail business is both valuable and accessible, so I wanted to share some of it here with you. Read more below…

Amy Strother formerly served as the CEO of United Healthcare Group before making the leap to small retail and furniture business four years ago.

During her time with United Healthcare, she started a sustainability program that focused on reducing waste and conserving energy. She even created a hybrid fleet of Priuses for every full time RN to drive.

But Amy slowly began to feel burnt out on healthcare. Around that time, she attended a green business conference in San Francisco. It was there that she visited green stores for the first time, and it was there that inspiration took hold of her.

“Fair trade and social responsibility are two of my greatest passions. It’s not just about being green, it’s about being a responsible shopper. So I conceived this idea to have a store where all the green guess work was done for you,” Amy says.

Right after calling her crazy, people would often ask her, “Why here? Why not California?” which is where Amy was living half of the time.

“There were always two answers to that,” she says, “because Baton Rouge is my home, and just like any other social entrepreneur, you have a burning desire to help your home and then secondly, why would I not open the store where it’s needed most?”

So Noelie Harmon opened its doors in the summer of 2008. With her house as collateral for the small business loan and her life savings at risk, Strother had a lot to lose. And she almost did.

“We were heavy eco-apparel in the beginning—bamboo, organic cotton and socially responsible clothing. It was probably 50% of our floor, and it completely flopped,” she says.

Amy explains that the concept of a green boutique was very hard for the Baton Rouge market to initially grapple with. It wasn’t that Noelie Harmon’s eco-apparel was unfashionable. Far from it—eco-apparel like what Amy was stocking has graced the runways of New York fashion week. It was a question of trendiness.

“The price point [of eco-apparel] is high, and it’s not that women in Baton Rouge aren’t spending money on clothes, because they are,” she says, “they just hadn’t seen anything like it before. Because I’m in the fashion industry, I’m of the notion that you dress according to what you like, but I think a lot of people here dress according to what other people wear.”

Amy quickly realized that a store filled with completely unfamiliar brands and styles simply wouldn’t work. She had to make a choice.

“Rather than think about my tastes and what I like and being vain in a way, I had to think about the person crossing the threshold of the store,” she concedes.

So Amy flexed according to the customer and began stocking more popular products, such as TOMS shoes and Paddywax Candles. With an equal offering of apparel and gifts at varying price points, the store has now achieved a balance that’s more accessible to Baton Rouge shoppers; and it’s made quite a difference.

“We are more popular now than we’ve ever been and I spend less than I ever have on marketing and advertising,” Amy says. “Sometimes, you’re going to have to sell some stuff that you’re not crazy about. If it sells, it sells. You’ve got to be willing to accept that.”

Amy’s reconciliation with local buying trends can be likened to something quite remarkable: resolve. I expand upon this concept more fully in the 225 article, but basically, I think resolve is vital to career-building success. Resolve is often the result of inward reflection—taking time to assess personal strengths and weaknesses honestly. Amy didn’t compromise her fundamental nature or Noelie Harmon’s original vision to make the store successful. She simply reevaluated ineffective biases and ways of doing things. In turn, she’s made Noelie Harmon so popular that she’s opening a second location in New Orleans.

I couldn’t be happier for this local merchant, or more of an admirer. It would have been easy for Amy to point to Baton Rouge’s slow-to-adapt market if the store had failed. Instead, she’s created a popular Capitol City boutique while raising awareness of eco and socially responsible shopping. Mad kudos, Amy!

Learn more about Noelie Harmon by visiting its website or Facebook page.

To read the full 225 story on young, female professionals, click here.

All photos are courtesy of Noelie Harmon and Amy Strother.

I’d like to spotlight inspiring and intriguing individuals more often. If you have spotlight-worthy person in mind, please reach out to me anytime. I hope you have a great, productive Monday! I’m sure as hell going to try to.

Quote of the day:

“We don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” –David Brower