One of the great opportunities in life is when we are able to connect and share stories with each other, which can lead to a better understanding of ourselves. Over the past few weeks I’ve had the distinct pleasure of hearing the stories of seven impressive Boulder women entrepreneurs. Each of these amazing women has her own unique and compelling story that conveys a sense of optimism and empowerment. They share their passion for life through a journey that has come with the highs and the lows in their businesses. They courageously created a limitless energy in their work and an eagerness to uplift a community that has supported and embraced their businesses here in Boulder. With their successes one can expect their stories to inspire other women, young and old to choose a path that illuminates the best in us.
A Balancing Act
Time stops for no one especially those who are movers and shakers of the world. Natasha Wright knows this all too well. “It's a balancing Act,” she says. She’s raising three young boys, working part time for Google, and working part time for her non-profit organization that she started nine years ago called Chai For Charity. Wright was born in Pakistan, and her parents raised her with deep-rooted traditions and values which set the tone for her to dare to dream. She witnessed her dad commuting to work from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan to save for a future in America. Eventually, her family moved to The Bay Area when Wright was 8 years old. “I’m that classic do-gooder,” she says, “I wanted to do it all.” With her standards set high, she was the first in her family to graduate college. Wright is on a path to do better and be better, while influencing others to do the same. Like so many working families, she was blessed with an opportunity to take a sabbatical. Within two days, the idea for her non-profit, Chai for Charity was born...a name to give honor to her heritage. Wright has inspired her friends from around the country to sip the traditional tea together to raise money for charities of their choice. Her very first meeting included friends from six different cities throughout North America. In that meeting among her friends, something magical happened: they raised $6,000. Giving back is where Wright's heart truly is. Since that magical night nine years ago, Chai for Charity has evolved around the world, raising over $100,000. The model today pairs charitable donors from around the globe to the charities of their choice in the form of money, goods, time or talent. With many of us at different stages in our lives, Chai for Charity makes it easy to give back to causes that resonate most. So many of us have had our lives disrupted by COVID-19. It may have slowed Wright a bit, but she marched forward and will now launch her virtual Chai for Charity! Wright's three beautiful boys, all under age 8, have launched their own non-profit by creating a newsletter in the neighborhood. She was reminded of a quote by Ada Calhoun, “Our generation of women grew up being told we can do anything, but we interpret that as we can do everything.” She says, “this balance is not realistic to do all the things really well.” Natasha Wright exemplifies leadership and is a beacon in our community inspiring us all to dare to dream!
Flip The Script
Walking into a room, Samantha Joseph causes many heads to turn. The model from Haiti is beautiful and striking and is now using her experience as a Black model to create a magazine, NWÀ, with a full cast of Black models for its launch issue. “We have to stop normalizing that all Black models look alike. That’s why I created NWÀ with only Black models for the first issue. It is my way of showing people that we are all different,” Joseph says.
The Haitian model took her negative experiences with modeling agencies and used that drive to promote other Black models, photographers, stylists, and creatives. After being told that she looked like other Black models already signed to agencies, Joseph filled the beautiful pages of NWÀ Magazine with Black models of all descriptions to show the diversity within that specific group. Growing up, the publisher was destined for a future in the fashion industry, first exploring being a designer and then a fashion merchandiser. But modeling was her calling, and now she gets to elevate, promote and support her fellow Black models in a sometimes unkind industry.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Jina Park, self proprietor of 71 productions, puts her best foot forward in creating magic. She operates a full-service production company that specializes in commercial photo and video productions. Services that include budgeting, sourcing locations and management, casting, crew, etc. Jina answers questions from Jojo Watts.
JoJo Watts: What has your journey been as an Entrepreneur?
JP: I love working for myself. I feel happy when I’m working and I am fortunate that I get to choose the products, travel around the world, and foster relationships with a diverse range of people that I meet.
JW: What is unique about being in production?
JP: The best part of my job is that I get to be a part of the whole process. Each job, client, and ad agencies are all different. As a producer, I have to be aware of both the business and creative side. The job takes me to different locations all the time. I could be in Seattle one minute then off to Hong Kong the next. The crew is like your family, and I have to hear everyone's voice by remaining calm, relaxed and setting the tone on set.
JW: How are you motivated?
JP: I love seeing all the puzzle pieces come together and seeing a production go smoothly. If I’ve done my job right, it facilitates the creatives to do their job.
JW: What inspires you?
JP: I’m inspired by the diverse people I get to work with, especially their different trades, such as a prop stylist, photo assistant, or a real cowboy that we are shooting on location.
JW: What challenges have you had to face?
JP: Managing expectations within budgets and time frames. I have to constantly be ready to change directives on a dime. In addition, to taking initiatives and being willing to find workarounds on the fly. Shooting with animals and babies is always challenging!
JW: What are you working on now?
JP: Home school! With the pandemic, I’m taking a break to support my family and be home. Being in production is a great preparation for motherhood! I volunteer with There with Care by making deliveries to families in need. And I’m taking tennis lessons!
Reach for the skies
Shelley Dunbar represents the adventurer in all of us. If you can master the techniques in exploring its beauty, the world of outdoors is a huge wonder. Whether you’re climbing a mountain, hiking a fourteener, or skiing snow cap mountains, you can, like Dunbar, experience the sole essence of outdoor activities. Dunbar is a proud co-owner of Neptune Mountaineering, a renowned store that is known for its knowledge of all things related to the outdoors. Its unique setting also lends itself as a museum, housing a large collection of legendary artifacts from over 200 years of climbing including a down suit of an Australian climber, an amputated toe, and so much more. So much of its attraction is the community. One can sit at a built-in custom table, or explore the heritage wall. Shelley Dunbar answers questions about life as a co-owner.
Jojo Watts: What do you do for Neptune Mountaineering?
SD: I’m the co-owner and head of marketing.
JW: How are you motivated?
SD: After all these years, climbing is still my passion. I started climbing while working my way through college at an outdoor store that was not too dissimilar to Neptune. I barely graduated because I was often cutting class to head to Yosemite or Lake Tahoe to climb. After college, to my parents chagrin, instead of starting a career, I became a full-time professional climber. I traveled the world living out of a backpack. I’m motivated by climbing by its physical and mental challenge. To find a calm and relaxed mental state while hanging off a small hold by your exploding forearms is super empowering. It makes me feel like I can do anything, especially in my work life.
JW: What inspires you?
SD: The commitment of our community by supporting our local independent businesses is what inspires and humbles me. I was personally already a “shop local” person, but it's more crystallized since the pandemic. I think this made us all appreciate our local cafés, restaurants, hardware stores, breweries, etc. even more. Neptune, like small businesses in our town, wouldn't survive without ‘local’ and foregoing online shopping.
JW:What challenges have you faced?
SD: Transforming an early 1970’s era, low ceiling, dingy, and all around underwhelming retail store into a beautiful and interesting physical space. We wanted Neptune to be more than a store; we wanted to create a place for the community to gather, explore and be inspired. We added a café and created custom displays throughout the store. In addition, we created a Neptune Museum, in which Gary Neptune, the original owner, curated himself. Before COVID, we hosted weekly slideshows and events that were enormously popular. When I hear our customers gushing how they simply love coming to Neptune to wander and hangout, it's really gratifying. It’s definitely not a typical retail experience.
JW: What are you working on now?
SD: Our Website. Unfortunately, it was not a huge focus for us before COVID because the involvement you have in our store was a 99 percent brick and mortar experience.
JW: How are you dealing with things in the face of COVID?
SD: We have been very conservative in reopening Neptune. We’ve limited the number of customers in the store to only 10 people at a time. Upon entering, it’s required to wear a mask and use hand sanitizer. We steam any clothing that has been tried on, wait 24 hours before putting it back on the floor for purchase. Our customers have been so appreciative, they feel we are doing the right thing.
Earth’s biggest Avenger
Humans are finding themselves at a crossroad now more than ever before. So many of us are unable to hear the subtle messages that are presented to us either through our bodies or this beloved environment we call home, EARTH! Kara Armstrong, mother of two kids ages 4 and 8, is the proud owner of the Conscious Merchant. The Conscious Merchant is an eco living store that provides information and merchandise on how to care for and use safer and more sustainable products for our bodies and the environment. She has two pop-up stores located in Louisville and Denver. Armstrong’s personal journey led her on a path advocating for herself to find answers about why her health was in question. She found an enormous amount of information on sustainability and she created the Conscious Merchant—a space for others to decipher through all her findings on what best fits their needs. Armstrong has curated and researched products to help us all have a more sustainable lifestyle, and these products not only help our bodies but they protect our environment as well. “The earth and our bodies are struggling, and I want to create a healthier future for our kids and grandkids,” Armstrong says.
The Conscious Merchant gives many options to a path of clean living, and they vet all of their products. “I’m most inspired when people feel empowered, happy, and make decisions that are not overwhelming,” Armstrong says.
In recent months the tone of the country has taken on so many emotions, and we are all left with decisions to educate and listen. Along with many other retail stores, they've had to make some changes to keep their doors open. For example, no more gatherings for community events. Armstrong wants the Conscious Merchant to continue educating and to be accessible for all demographics. “Everyone is entitled to knowledge, but not everyone has access. I want to educate and connect to all demographics across socioeconomic and racial barriers,”she says.
As humans we have a choice. Choices that have long-lasting impacts on our mind, body and environment. We can be enlightened by the hard work that Armstrong and her team have so eloquently provided for us. As we stand together during a time of uncertainties, we can focus on a clean environment and protecting our bodies.
Beauty In Boulder
Ann Klein, a Boulder native, graces us with her nurturing style in the art world. Not many of us can say we grew up walking the streets of downtown Boulder—the historic bricks that exemplify Pearl Street Mall. Shops of retail, restaurants, and the iconic SmithKlein Gallery all sit beneath the famous Flatirons mountains. Ann not only grew up in Boulder, but she has known her husband Nate her whole life. Best friends, now married with two daughters, purchased Smithklein Gallery in April 2014 from the original founder, Nate’s mother, Deborah Smithklein. There is great value in being a Boulder native and owning Smithklein Gallery. Ann, who is the market and graphic designer, has seen many stages of growth in the community which offers an advantage in building relationships which she values so much. Her ability to cultivate a seamless transition of an artist's work to a client's home benefits both the buyers and the artists. Smithklein Gallery offers an eclectic mix of art, and she prides herself on building relationships that last even after the purchase.
“Not only am I nurturing and representing artists, but I’m equally representing my clients,” Klein says.
There are so many uncertainties in the near future, and Klein feels with the new digital age of marketing, adapting has also benefited their market in the face of COVID-19. Klein says, “I’m not sitting back.”
She is putting in the effort and expanding a digital platform to market new clients and relationships in communities reaching Denver, Seattle, and beyond. Its history is in the making for both her and her husband to own Smithklein Gallery. Galleries in general can sometimes take on a tone of intimidation. Klein invites all to come in and experience the variety and beauty of an artist's work without judgment. Smithklein Gallery welcomes all to come experience the beauty that attracts major collectors and new buyers. With a knowledgeable staff, Nate and Ann take pride for all to grace the presence of their doors.
“Art is for everyone,” Klein says, “and raising a new generation to see beauty and appreciate art is exciting to see.” Klein enjoys the relationships she creates with artists as they move through their journey working to create beauty and placing that beauty into a client’s life.
The Outdoor Goddess
The lure of being outside in our majestic state of Colorado is second to none. For more than 15 years Cheri Stringer, owner of TLC Gardens, has provided and transformed backyards, farms, and ranches into lasting, meaningful, and valuable landscapes. So much of what Stringer does is inspired by her desire to enliven her clients by creating an escape outside to fit their lifestyle. Stringer’s architectural specialty is modern and contemporary design build, bringing people together in an uplifting outdoor environment.
“Allowing our clients to live their best lives is what inspires me,” Stringer says.
TLC GARDENS' award-winning team conceptualizes the design ideas, personalizes every detail, and builds with materials that sustain an invigorating escape outside. Creating outdoor environments is not free from challenges. Cheri relies on her dynamic team to design and build a space that fits each client’s priorities and goals. With innovative craftsmanship and streamlined processes, TLC GARDENS is empowered to produce a landscape masterpiece, while Stringer encourages a growth mindset every step of the way.
“Modeling leadership through listening is an important part of the journey,” she states. Stringer and her team are motivated daily to live their best lives, and the authenticity shines through their work. Their talents reach beyond the outdoor landscape on the TLC Gardens blog (tlcgardens.com/blog). The blog provides knowledge and expertise on conscious building and design, ecological stewardship, leadership, and so much more. Cheri Stringer and TLC GARDENS exemplify the beauty beyond what the eye can see. “We build it, you live it!”
Who Are YOU?
From the east coast to the west coast, Becky Herman returns and settles in the statuesque mountains of Boulder with her family. Herman has courageously stepped out of her comfort zone by following her dreams. After 20 years in the business of advertising and marketing, she opens Fadduh!
Fadduh is a strategy and brand shop, based in Boulder. It’s a full-time service marketing agency that specializes in brand strategy, brand identity design, and integrated advertising campaigns. Fadduh brings life, heart, and identity to the client's company. The Fadduh name is an honor to her dad, Joe. We like to say “it’s Jersey for father,” she says. “My guy, my person, a straight shooter and larger-than-life person.”
Becky Herman answers questions from Jojo Watts on what it takes to be a brand guru?
JoJoWatts: What is unique about your job?
BH: Having worked in advertising for over 20 years, I find that a lot of businesses need marketing support and more often than not are unable to afford an agency. Because I’m Fadduh’s only employee, I can ensure our clients by staffing and curating a team of freelancers who, like me, matriculated at global ad agencies before going solo to best fit their business needs. Fadduh is able to offer big-agency thinking without paying a big-agency price. We believe that brands are living, breathing things. They have an origin story, goals, ambitions, and are constantly evolving.
JW: What are you passionate about?
BH: As a female business owner and mama to twin daughters, I’m extremely passionate about supporting women and mothers every way possible. I realized that so much of my own success is tied directly to the opportunities and relationships that were given to me. The community of women that are encouraging and supportive inspired me to start a new Instagram series called #herstory, which highlights strong, professional women. Sometimes all it takes is one introduction,and if I can do that for someone else, it’s amazing!
JW: What challenges have you had?
BH: When I first started the agency, I was a new mom, first-time homeowner, and a woman opening a shop in a male-dominated industry. I was scared and intimidated. I allowed the voices of doubt to become my narrative and question my ability. Having my wife, family, and girlfriends to build me up with encouragement, I dug deep and pushed on. With three years of success, a healthy roster of clients, and a wonderful contract team, I’m feeling my stride and confidence.
JW:What are you working on now?
BH: In addition to my clients, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant, Homeadvisor, The Hillman Group, Sanitas Brewing CO, Mandara CBD,and Gilde, I’m cultivating a personal side to Fadduh. I’m mentoring and public speaking about opportunities to engage women on the never-ending questions of how to balance being a wife, mom, and business owner. We all need encouragement, someone who believes in us and tells us, “yes you can.” For me, I have to trust my instincts and do the work, while also supporting my tribe in showing women a potential path to follow. There is nothing more satisfying than when I can encourage women.
Fadduh will continue to support Mother House, a Boulder-based nonprofit safe haven to pregnant mothers in need.