The Future Is Female

Atlanta’s Female Entrepreneurs Rally

by Laura Relyea of Edgar Allan

Photo courtesy of Jamie Hopper

We’ve all been to our fair share of networking breakfasts — with their fancy carafes of coffee and inspirational talks. And while they are readily inspirational for many, and I’ve often gotten my own joy out of them — I also can’t help but look around in the sea of gingham and high & tight haircuts and not feel marginalized, despite however many firm handshakes I issue. More often than not it’s a single man up there with a slideshow, sharing his story and encouraging us to live and learn by his example and mistakes.

While that’s all fine and well — it’s also incredibly alienating.

I want something a little different, a little more collaborative, and as it turns out — I’m not alone.

A couple Fridays ago, we got just what we were hoping for. Thirty female entrepreneurs rallied in the office of Edgar Allan. “Look around the room — there are women from every walk of life here,” said Jen Soong, the organizer of what she dubbed ‘The Creative Tribe Coffee’ – a test run of what could evolve to be a new kind of creative breakfast series. After about a half-hour of hobnobbing and breakfasting, Jen gathered everyone around Edgar Allan’s office in a circle. “I wanted to get everyone in the same room. I feel like we’ve all heard of each other for so long, and admired each other’s work — it was time to get us all in the same place,” she continued, smiling.

Looking around, she was right: a small-batch butter maker stood alongside a screen printer; a maker of homemade candles shared coffee with a yoga festival organizer; two writers shook hands with a local coffee shop and gallery owner. The common thread between the 30+ individuals in the room? Entrepreneurial zest and a thirst for community. Oh, and all but two of them were all women — but first and foremost, enterprisers. The other unifying thread amongst the tribe was that a great number of them were depicted on a screen-printed poster made by Sarah Neuberger, a Designer and Co-Founder of Paper Ghost Studio, who stood at the helm of the circle alongside Jen.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Hopper

“It started out that I was drawing portraits of dead people who inspired me,” Sarah explained, laughing. “But then I realized, these were people I would never get to talk to — so I started drawing portraits of the women around me who inspired me — some who I had met before, some whom I hadn’t.” She went on to explain that she felt this first poster was just the first iteration of what would be an on-going effort, since she kept thinking of more women she wanted to include. The first poster contains portraits of 60 different movers-and-shakers from around Atlanta, from just about every different industry imaginable.

“A lot of the women depicted in the print I had never met before,” Sarah said. “Which gave me a great excuse to meet them, since I had to get their permission to use them in the print and all.” Sarah clearly has an eye for curating crowds, the group of women gathered around the office were endlessly jovial and bright, and each one of them had a story to tell. Sarah stood gleaming amidst the physical manifestation of her work, and it was easy to tell she had never dreamt the project would evolve to something as tangible as this.

Rolling Up Your Sleeves and Getting To Work

Photo courtesy of Jamie Hopper

Though Sarah’s not from Atlanta originally, she certainly seems right at home here. The illustrator and designer is the owner of The Small Object, a custom rubber stamp, stationery, and wedding topper company. Along with that and her own design work, she got involved with her fellow illustrators of Paper Ghost Studio, Sarah Watts, Mike Lowery, Caleb Morris and founder Katrin Wiehle.

Sarah’s always been pretty project-oriented: According to her, she spent the bulk of her childhood mapping out monorail bicycle maps while endlessly singing “It’s a Small World.” Eventually life took her to Jersey City, where she got her Master in Fine Arts from the School of visual Arts before returning to the south where she was raised. All of her hard work has paid off over the years, landing her features in Lucky, Design*Sponge, Country Living, Venus Zine and being published in books such as Handmade Nation by Faythe Levine and Cortney Heimerl and Indie Craft by Jo Waterhouse, amongst others.

Despite all of her success, Sarah remains pretty darn humble and generous – getting her greatest pleasure out of coming up with new projects, collaborating, and rolling up her sleeves to get to work. If anything, it seems that her greatest focus is paying it forward and spreading the love — a trait she holds in common with the other reason for the morning’s gathering, Event Organizer and Writer, Jen Soong.

Photo courtesy of SOMA Goods

The More, The Merrier

Jen is so many things — a mother, a writer, the founder of quarterly pop-up market Root City Market, and founder of SOMA goods, a company which creates home and gift accessories locally crafted by seamstresses from Atlanta’s refugee community. She’s one of those rare gems who is probably so busy putting her dreams to work that she’d have difficulty summing herself up. She’s passionate about uniting makers from every walk of life — a passion that reigns supreme at her local weekend markets and especially at this breakfast.

Most any citizen of Atlanta who’s crossed paths with Jen at some point would undoubtedly agree that she may as well be the Patron Saint of Community Support. Her career is a living testament to the power of mass assembly. She’s hosted 12 different markets since launching three years ago, and helped local makers establish themselves as independent businesses by giving them a forum where they can interact with their patrons. She’s enabled countless refugee women struggling to find their place in a new country by employing them with SOMA. It’s exactly that kind of community rallying that gets nervous entrepreneurs the courage and strength to make their own magic happen and stick with it.

Photo courtesy of Sweet Peach

Slow & Steady Wins

For anyone who’s lived in the South for any amount of time, this region loves its butter. For that reason, Elizabeth McBath and her husband Drew are kind of Golden Gods in our eyes — a Golden Gods of rich, flavorful, small-batch butters. Elizabeth is a lawyer by day, and has found an incredibly gratifying existence in cultivating Banner Butter with her husband — but it’s not anything that they rushed into. The number one ingredient in their butters? Patience.

After nurturing their love of butter for eight years, Drew and Elizabeth decided to take their amorousness to the next level and try their hand at making their own — thus kicking off their year of research searching for the perfect churn. Their meticulous research led them to almanacs and journals from the heyday of small scale dairy, the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Well before the mass-produced, charlatan flavors of Land O’ Lakes compromised our palettes, dairy farmers were akin to scientists, cultivating small-batches with specific temperatures, pH levels and schedules. They even ventured as far as Northwestern France and Australia, and to the council of buttery greats such as Naomi Ingleton of the Butter Factory and Allison Abernethy of Abernethy Butter.

Coming back home, knowing they had found their path, Elizabeth and her husband knew that sourcing locally would be a priority to them, so they forged an allegiance with Southern Swiss Dairy Farm in Waynesboro, G.A. and AtlantaFresh Creamery. Each of their eight arrays of butter sake about two days to make, which is about 20 times as long as it took to make that commercial tub in your fridge. You can taste the results of their work — Banner Butter is downright silky and endlessly flavorful — evidence that working slowly on your dreams can pay off in big, big ways.

Photo courtesy of Jamie Hopper

Be An Action Verb

Fact: Starting your own business takes 68.7% more courage and zest than it does to ascend the Aggrocrag for a coveted piece of glowing rock. It also takes 49% more know-how and savvy than navigating your way through Olmec’s lair in Legends of the Hidden Temple. But where to begin? Porsha Thomas started the Ladypreneur League of Atlanta to give Atlanta’s go-getting women a safe place to bustle their hustle. Equal parts safe corner on the internet, workshops, and events focused on business development — Thomas has fostered a community of tenacious, inspired women set to energize, inform and empower women getting their businesses off of the ground.

By day Porsha’s a writer, publicist and graphic designer who focuses in working with women business owners enriching their brands. Living life in the freelance world certainly takes its own kind of intrepidness, and starting an endeavor like the Ladypreneur League, even more so. Porsha’s got this in spades, clearly. According to her, she wanted to create “her tribe” rather than merely try to find it. After spending brief periods in Washington D.C. and Houston, she set her lasers on stun for Atlanta and hasn’t looked back since.

Image Courtesy of Fat Quarter Shop

Weaving Your Own Story

Melody Miller, a designer and founder of Cotton + Steel, has always been very intentional with her career. The Pratt graduate honed her passion for vintage goods into fabrics, which led her to develop Ruby Star Fabrics for Kokka, and eventually the book Ruby Star Wrapping. When it came to the next steps in her career she knew she wanted to forge a creative space for herself where she could learn more about the business side of her industry, while continuing to develop her own creativity and create opportunities for peers that inspired her. “I had to ask myself some very specific questions about what I wanted my role in this industry to be,” she says. “I had an idea, ‘What if I helped a company, like RJR, build a brand new division, maybe do things a bit differently?’”

This spark of a notion led her to carefully craft her zeal and passions into an email to Rick Cohan of RJR, describing her ambitious plans for a brand that she had dreamt up. She knew exactly what she wanted to accomplish, down to the team she wanted to assemble — that was in 2013. Her precision and commitment to her own vision has led to the expansion of RJR’s brand, and the realization of her own reverie. Proof that living life by your own terms, and not compromising when it comes time to take action can yield results far beyond our own imaginations.

Resolved for Resolution

With such a high concentration of genuine, creative and talented women in the same room, I’m practically brimming with anticipation for the next breakfast. Whether or not the morning turns into a series of mornings, or if it was just a one-time magical occurrence — one thing is for certain — only great things will come of it.