Monday, 13 October 2014 17:38

Style | Startup Spotlight: Philthy Ragz

Style // September 15, 2014

What could be more fun than running a business with one of your best girlfriends? Running a fashion line with one of your best girlfriends, duh! Shianne Winston and Jasmine Peters have been BFF’s for 22 years and are living the dream as the dynamic duo who run Philthy Ragz; the premier location for edgy, sexy clothes in Los Angeles.

Although they’re both only 25, Philthy Ragz isn’t their first take at entrepreneurship. In fact, Shianne and Jasmine had the business bug as preteens when they had a neighborhood babysitting service. Now as start-up savvy women, they can tell you a little something about what all it takes to keep a business booming. These girls GRIND. From sweeping floors and planning events to managing their online store and styling celebrities, these ambitious besties have their hands completely immersed in the Philthy pot. We had the chance to sit down with the Directors of Operations (just one of their titles) right after the launch of their Garden of Eden line to talk a little bit about sisterhood, entrepreneurship and what makes them “Philthy”.

Philthy Ragz


Jasmin Martin: Where did the name “Philthy Ragz” come from? What does it mean?

Shianne Winston: The term Philthy Ragz came from a Bible verse my mom found. Isaiah 63 says, “we’re all nothing but a filthy rag”. The person wearing the clothes holds the power, not the garment itself. So be the best you can be and let your personality radiate humility, love, kindness, sex appeal or whatever through your clothes. 


JM: So how did you two meet up? It must be so much fun to work in fashion with your best friend.

SW: We’ve known each other since preschool and we instantly bonded.
Jasmine Peters: It’s great to work with someone with the same business mind that you have. We’re on the same page and aspire to have the same things, so it’s cool.

JM: Shianne, your mom Ms. Gaynelle is the store owner and the designer for Philthy Ragz. I’m sure she cuts you a little slack, being the boss’ daughter.

SW: Oh, no! Even though it’s my family business and we both love working here and it’s our baby, my mother and I see Philthy Ragz as a business. I work with my mom not for my mom. She knows how to deal with me as her daughter, but once she comes in here, it’s boss mode and we have a job to do. I don’t take advantage of her being my mom and assume someone else can just pick up my slack. That’s not even my personality. So I’m working hard to keep this thing growing so we can achieve bigger and better things.
JP: People think that when you work at a store all you do is sell clothes. The stores sell themselves, we don’t have to do that. We’re involved in every aspect of making sure that the store and the brand are being run to standard. Gaynelle put her blood, sweat and tears into this business and trusts us to help further her vision. She guides us and works with us, but also gives us a lot of  room to make decisions. It’s more of a collaboration.

Philthy Ragz


JM: Tell me a little bit about the typical day at Philthy Ragz.

SW: *laughs* There is no typical day. Every day could be something different. We could make a to-do list and think that’s what we’re going to work through and it could be a completely different story. One day we might walk in and my mom will say, “we’re having a pink party today, we just received 25 pink dresses” and the plans immediately change.
JP: Right, like we can get a call in the middle of the night like, “so and so celebrity wants to come by the store at 8 AM to pick up her dress”. That’s not what we were prepared for, but we get it together to make it happen. You have to be flexible to work here.
SW: You have to take initiative and have the personality to be flexible, open minded, innovative. We aren’t micro managed and we don’t have the time to micromanage, so there’s a lot of trust that goes into working here and getting things done.

JM: What do you think separates Philthy Ragz from shopping at a Nordstrom or other store? What brings people to Philthy Ragz?

SW: Our customer service. People CHOOSE to shop Philthy Ragz because we don’t treat our clients like they’re just customers. We make them feel comfortable, like they’re our girlfriends. When clients walk in it isn’t “Welcome to Philthy Ragz” as much as it is “ hey girl, hey! Where you going this weekend? Let’s get you in something fly…”. It’s important to us that our clients can relate to us and feel comfortable with us. We won’t just send you to a rack and hope you find an outfit. We actually care that you look and feel good in what you’re wearing and we’re here to help you find that. We’ve giving them a styling experience.
JP: Customer experience, for sure. I also think that people shop us because of how frequently we get in new inventory and how unique our designs are. Gaynelle puts a lot of effort into finding things that are different. She’s into creating things you won’t see anywhere else. She isn’t looking to follow the trends out there -- she's setting the trends. 


JM: That’s awesome. There needs to be more positive interactions amongst women, especially when we’re self conscious about how we look when trying on clothes. We could definitely use that support.  Speaking of support and female empowerment, what’s a word of advice you would have to a young lady who was considering entrepreneurship but was afraid to leave the safety of her 9-5 to follow her passions? 

JP: Do what makes you happy. At our age, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of doing everything by the book. You don’t have to do the college, grad school, corporate job thing if it doesn’t make you happy. Don’t do what you think you have to do to please other people, please yourself.

JM: Do you ever feel like because you are so successful at such a young age that clients, vendors or other business women don’t take you as seriously?

JP: Oh, it happens all the time. Standing your ground at 25 is important in demanding respect from people in business. Sometimes people will ask to speak with the manager and I’ll tell them I’m the manager, but if they would like to talk to Shi, I can refer them to her. Then when they see she’s young too, they’re just as shocked that she would be the next best thing. It’s like people assume I don’t know what I’m doing or that I’m not capable of doing this well because I’m younger than them. If it makes you more comfortable to speak with someone older who you feel you would respect more, that’s fine, but know that they will tell you the same thing I’m saying.




JM: Which celebrities have been seen rocking Philthy Ragz?


SW: Claudia Jordan was seen in our yellow Mackenzie dress on the red carpet at the BET Awards.
JP: Brooke Bailey from Basketball Wives, Michel’le from R&B Divas, Angela Simmons, Draya, Melanie Fiona,Tahiry, Meagan Good. We've also dressed some of the cast from the upcoming series of Love & Hip Hop LA.
SW: We do a lot of reality TV shows and sometimes we can’t talk about who was wearing our clothes until the show airs. We work with a lot of executives and business women who come in and get dresses to wear behind-the-scenes and not on the red carpets. We also see our clothes in a lot of photoshoots.

JM: Who would be your dream client to dress?

S&J: BEYONCE! *laughs*

JM: Who is the typical Philthy Ragz customer?
JP: The type of clients we have are looking to stand out and they’re the trendsetters of their crew. They aren’t afraid of  wearing a bold color, or shying away from something because of their age, the length of the dress or their dress size. A woman who shops Philthy is confident.

JM: How do you think you’ve grown from your experiences from working at Philthy Ragz?

SW: To work here is to be multifaceted and know that you can get asked to do things that aren’t necessarily your thing, but you have the determination to get those things done.That’s applicable to anything in life. Perseverance is like a lifelong skill. We can troubleshoot and problem solve and we’re proactive instead of reactive. Like Jas literally built our website in 2 days. She didn’t know anything about computers, but she did it.
JP: *laughs* yea. It’s comforting to know that from working here, I feel like I can get handed anything and I can handle it.

Published in Style
Sunday, 03 August 2014 19:01

Style | Start-up Spotlight: MADE Kids

Style // August 4, 2014

When it comes to kid’s fashion “cool” is the new “cute.” Fashion designer Andrew Made is ushering a new era in fashion for toddlers that takes things to a fresh, edgy place. His line, Made Kids, (You know I love that, right?) offers apparel, hats and accessories for newborns through twelve-year-olds. 100% American made, the foundation of the line is a strict adherence to quality and comfort. What sets them apart is their swag-a-licious styling that makes you slightly jealous of the toddlers rocking this street-inspired line.

After earning his Bachelor’s in finance, Andrew had a pivot moment that is all too familiar to entrepreneurs. In the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, he decided to pursue his dream of starting a fashion line and dedicated his life to making this dream come true. Today the line is sold at a variety of retailers including Traditions, in the Beverly Center. I got the chance to talk to Andrew about his vision and inspiration for this clothing line. Take a look!


MADE Kids - No Shades of Grey Collection from MADE Kids on Vimeo.


SW: What inspired you to start the MADE Kids line?

Andrew Made: It was really just my love for fashion and trying to push that culture forward. I’ve always been very fashion conscious and aware of trends. I wanted to translate that passion into the children’s fashion space because I felt that there was a big void in that space as it related to edgy and aggressive children’s wear. I wanted to give fashion conscious parents the ability to dress their children in the same style of clothes that they would wear.

SW: Where do you get your inspiration for the designs?

AM: I really get my inspiration from the things around me and my life experiences. Whether it be from music, travel, or the arts, all of my experiences sort of shape my perception of fashion and directly influences my design aesthetic. Not to mention, I have an awesome creative/design team behind me who have incredible concepts and fresh ideas. It really is a collaborative effort.

SW: You received a degree in finance but then chose to go into fashion. Why the switch?

AM: Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot working in the finance industry and certain parts of those skill sets help me run this business and other businesses that I operate. Finance was just not my passion. When I had the opportunity to take the entrepreneurial route, I knew it was my calling. The Road Less Traveled, I guess. I just wanted to do something impactful with my life in a space that I was really enthusiastic about.

SW: How has your finance degree helped you in your business?

AM: Just from a sheer operations standpoint. For example, having a baseline understanding of accounting is critical in any business, I think. There are a number of moving parts in this business that need to be accounted for. I feel that my finance background allows me to process and understand a lot of the transactions that occur without getting lost in the shuffle. As with any start up, having a keen understanding of cash flow and burn rate is critical. Also, managing a law firm out here in Miami has also given me keen insight into business from both a finance and legal perspective. I’m definitely a sponge when it comes to learning new information and applying those principles in operating my businesses.

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SW: Why start a line for kids?

AM: It was something I saw the need for and a space in fashion that I really thought was lacking. From a business standpoint, I knew I was entering a competitive market that was littered with “street wear” brands. I loved the traditional streetwear concepts, and wanted to place my own spin on it. I felt that the children’s fashion market was a perfect place to make this happen. After receiving the positive feedback from the initial line, I knew we were onto something.

SW: What was the point when you felt you had reached success?

AM: [Laughs] I still don’t feel like I’ve reached “success”. That’s something I work at everyday. I think that’s what drives me to keep working and creating things that create an impact and have meaning. Success is a very hard thing to quantify, but as long as my family and friends are healthy and I’m able to pursue my passion everyday, I have no real complaints.

SW: Why is it important for you to keep street culture alive for the next generation?

AM: No doubt, MADE Kids is highly inspired by street wear sensibilities. It’s part of the culture that I represent as well. However, we are looking to take traditional street wear to the next level and incorporate elements of high fashion as well. We will always remain true to our roots, but we want to be seen as more than a streetwear brand.





SW: Kids probably don't get the references on the shirts, but how do they respond to the clothes?

AM: The references may predate the children, but it’s the parents that connect with the graphics and lyrics. It takes them back to a bit of nostalgia and allows them to dress their children in clothes that are both relatable and fashion forward. You'd be surprised what kids these days understand. Our line goes up to size 12 and those older kids definitely understand what’s up.

SW: What's next for MADE Kids?

AM: We have just released the cut and sew line this past season and are now gearing up for the release of our girls line in spring 2015. We’ve also been in discussions to release a capsule collection, so keep an eye out for that. Also, we will be at the AGENDA Shows this summer as well as well as ENK! So come check us out. Overall, We’re excited for the expansion and reach of the band. We’ve been fortunate to receive love and support from a number of athletes, celebs and their children. From Matt and Gloria Barnes to Adrienne and Chris Bosh, we are really appreciate of how the brand has been embraced. So much more to come!

SW: Where can people buy MADE Kids?

AM: Made Kids is available for purchase on our online store at www.madekids.com. We’re also sold in Traditions in the Beverly Center out in Los Angeles. We are spreading our distribution channels, so look out for us at a boutique in your city real soon.

Published in Style
Wednesday, 16 July 2014 19:13

Lifestyle | Startup Spotlight: Sarah Grear

Lifestyle // July 21, 2014

So you think you can write? But how do you make a career out of your words? It’s not just full manuscripts that are getting writers paid these days. Copywriting is the creative craft of the digital age.

Sarah Grear has created a business around her creativity and is helping entrepreneurs around the globe “unleash their voice” and take their brands to the next level. I chatted with her about her business and her thoughts on what it takes to make it as a copywriter:

Serena Watson: How do you stay creative with your copywriting?

Sarah Grear: Oh my goodness, that’s an awesome question… I know certain people, they feel the online world is so crowded and wonder how are they ever going to come from a place that’s different from what’s already out there.

So the way I stay in my creative zone is, I try to realize that as much as people think that's it’s all been done before, that’s not true. There’s always a way for you to come with your personal experiences in your life and no one else has experienced it but you.

For me, the way that I was able to tap into [my creativity] is to learn what my purpose was, what are my strengths, what are my experiences in life that no one else has gone through but me, and so that’s what has been really powerful for me. I learned to hone that for myself, to use my personal stories to connect with people emotionally and that’s exactly what I do with all my clients.

I get to know them in a very personal way, and I get to know their stories so intimately that I’m able to use their personal experiences as well, and shine a new light on it. That is really the root of where my creativity comes from.

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SW: That’s so real, because every story is unique. You talked about digging into the storyline of your customer. Can you describe the creative process you take your clients through?

SG: Oh sure. So the first step is for them to reach out to me and they usually find me either online or at network events. I also host meetups for entrepreneurs, so usually they’ll hear me talking about what I do and they’ll reach out.

It’s interesting because my business has gone global at this point. I feel really lucky that we live in the times that we do. I’ve had people reach out to me from Africa, Canada, England, Australia... it’s crazy. [Laughs.] It’s really cool.

So, I find out if they can fit what they need into one of my packages or I customize whatever it is they need. All of my projects are done in five business days or less. I call them my “writing vacations”. So there is a “Summer Vacay” package and the “Weekend Warrior.” I keep everything within that theme because I used to be a travel blogger. When we start working together it’s an interview process, just like we’re doing right now.

Then I go away and I’m just writing, I’m seriously writing. [Laughs] I get everything in that first meeting and I just take it and I run with it. I send most clients the whole first draft after our first call. So on the second call they have all the time left [to give notes]. They look everything over and we do the live edit on Google Docs… Then we wrap the project, shortly after.

SW: Nice. So intensive and in depth, I like it. Can you tell me what type of businesses you usually work with?

SG: My ideal clients are coaches. Like health, business, relationship coaches. But lately, I’ve been attracting a lot of creative musicians, event planners and graphic designers. Right now I’m working with a woman who actually owns three businesses and all in the wedding and event planning area. And I just wrapped a project with singer/songwriter Chrisette Michele for her new website called Rich Hipster.

SW: Oh that’s awesome! I love Chrisette Michele.

SG: Oh, me too. That project was definitely interesting. I’ve been attracting highly creative people lately and I’m pretty excited about it. What I ask people is if they’re ready to change the world one word at a time. And that’s all that matters to me is that they want to help and make the world better in some way.


SW: Well, congrats on that. Actually, I was going to ask you, what project are you most proud of?

SG: [Laughs.] That’s awesome. It’s hard to say, honestly, really my latest creation is the one I’m most proud of at that moment. I’m an artist at the core and I actually got my degree in fine arts. If you’re an artist at the core, you know that there is always room for improvement in what you’re doing.

You can always want more, you can always spin it, you can always do a little bit better... You can always improve it. So the answer is every new project. Every time I have a project I feel like I grow from it in some way. And also, it’s really interesting for other people who want to be writers. I always tell them, your brain is a muscle and the more you write, the more you exercise that muscle in your brain.

SW: Whats your favorite part of helping businesses grow?

SG: My favorite part is actually that emotional connection with the writing. I realize that being vulnerable for some people is really tough, so I come in to the space with them and open that window for them to be vulnerable.

I was working on a project for a large corporation. I met with the CEO and told them I’m here to help you guys make that emotional connection with your product that you’re not making right now.

I literally saw his shoulders drop, he was so grateful for someone to say “let’s do that,” “let’s get vulnerable.” I try to just be a little more real with people. That’s the most satisfying part is to see that growth in them and to know that when I plant that seed with them now it will grow after we work together.

We make changes in them and they are not even aware of yet and I just love that. And they will come back to me six months to a year later, like “wow!” I get goose bumps just talking about it. [Laughs.]



SW: That’s great that you love what you do. That’s so important. So what advice would you give to someone who’s getting in the copywriting?


SG: For the people who want to get into the copywriting, the first book that I read was the Well Fed Writer by Peter Bowerman. I think that’s a great book to start with. The next thing I would do is [engage in] either an online network or an in-person network.

One of my online networks that I enjoy being part of is "B School” by Marie Forleo. You can interact with the Facebook group and we meet online for the course once a year. It’s a program that you go through, it’s really intense.

And then after you do those things, read some books about other copywriters that have built businesses out of it and get in system for networking. I highly recommend reading Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port. Those three things that I did changed my life, changed my business, changed everything.

SW: Last question, and this is just based on your experience after working all these different companies and seeing what they do well and what they do not as well… what mistakes do you see young businesses making in terms of branding?


SG: Not speaking the truth. Usually they come to me because they weren’t being true of who they really are and they got lost. Also, having fun. If you’re not having fun then you really shouldn't really be doing it. At all.

Not to say that there won’t be hard times. I get that, but overall, you have to be able to pull yourself out of that. You do that by... having values that you’re always going to hold yourself and everyone around you to. Branding is an experience, a direct extension of who you really are. If you can really hold true to your brand and speak your truth, you’re going to be a cut above the rest.

For more information on Sarah Grear visit her website or check out the next Unleash Your Voice: DIY Website Writing Workshop, a two day writing event! Get early bird tickets from now until July 31st!

Published in Lifestyle

Start-up Spotlight // May 19, 2014

Sisters Kimberly and Wendy Willming finish each other’s sentences. Like a lot of other sisters, they have cultivated a short-hand language over a lifetime together. But even considering their 26 years together, these sisters have an uncanny understanding of one another. They’re twins, and though they’re technically fraternal, they look so much alike that it’s unsettling upon first meeting them. The Willming sisters not only grew up together, but they were college roommates. Today, the two currently live together in Los Angeles and have recently embarked on a creative and strategic adventure together. After a handful of years spent behind-the-scenes at some of the city’s major studios, Kimberly and Wendy have launched Duplicity Studios. A new media one-stop shop.

These ambitious and entertainment savvy twins are developing their own productions, but more than that, Duplicity is art house new media studio. The duo are crafting strategic partnerships and original content for hungry, entrepreneurial brands. With an entertainment industry so deeply cemented in traditional milieus, these two are carving out a new path by bridging classic aesthetics with new ideas.


Kimberly and Wendy are the human manifestation of yin and yang: Wendy’s business and strategic tendencies compliment Kimberly’s creative concepts and acumen. It is this prolific and dynamic style that has carried through to Duplicity’s latest short film (having just wrapped production as of this writing). Alongside that, they are currently collaborating with a multi-faceted local Los Angeles art gallery and think-tank iam8bit for whom they are honing brand strategy and developing content. Wendy notes, “[iam8bit] fully respects our use of mixed media and cinematic flair. Our work with them has been about capturing their daily routine. We wanted to capture how owners Jon Gibson and Amanda White work together in this labor of love.” With iam8bit, Duplicity Studios is helping shepherd the journey of a company whose roots are in the video game industry (hence the name) to that of a full-fledged creative studio that spans across creative marketing, production, products, and events.

MW: How long has Duplicity Studios been incubating?

Wendy Willming: It’s been in the works for a while. Ever since we moved out here, we’ve been wanting to do this but we really needed the studio experience first.

Kimberly Willming: A lot of it is learning the industry and, between both of us, we feel like we can do just as well with all the knowledge we’ve gained to start doing our own thing.

MW: How would you describe Duplicity?

WW: What we want is our platform to display our own works, but it’s also a creative way for us to explore the city and—

KW: And work with other artists around town. We’re going to produce content for others and it’s also a way for us to expose the elements of the entertainment industry that we’re passionate about. We’re starting with this short film we just wrote, directed, and produced. For our clients though, they have a history and it’s all about how they want that to be seen.

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MW: Can you tell me about your short film?

KW: It’s a three-and-a-half-minute Sci-Fi short. It has a very stylistic approach in the vein of Jean Pierre Jeunet in feel and tone. It’s about a female android who, one night, explores something about herself that she didn’t previously realize she could do. It’s a kind of a slice of life, if you will.

WW: It was magical the way everything came together for us on the shoot. We shot at Ray’s Diner near Santa Monica.

MW: Who is an ideal client for Duplicity?

KW: What ultimately we’re looking to evoke [for any of our clients] is that old Hollywood feel but with a modern spin. Streamlining the old and the new.

WW: Definitely brands with that entrepreneurial spirit.


MW: How are you finding the life-work balance of start-up life?

KW: Late nights. Early mornings. But it’s so fun!

WW: Working the nine to five can be so draining emotionally and creatively, so then to know that you have something that you’re managing and you’re passionate about more than anything...it really helps the day to day.

MW: What is unique about your clients?

WW: They work in different mediums. They show prints in their galleries, they make tangibles, they do events. We’re always able to learn from them while at the same time helping them to figure out what and who they are as a company.

KM: They’re niche.

MW: What differentiates you from other studios or media agencies?

KW: We have a very clean style. And the fact that we also will produce and shoot on film in addition to digital. Everyone has a nostalgic feel lately.

WW: That classic Hollywood look never gets old.

KW: Everyone has predicted the demise of film, but really it’s just about having the knowledge. Digital is great, but I don’t think film has gone away completely—and shouldn’t. And by combining the two [digital and film] you can create a unique experience.

MW: Where will you be in a year from now?

KW: In a year, I would like to have our feature done (script-wise) and start financing it. And also as far as clients go, a trust of brands within the city—

WW: Just having great creative collaborations.


Published in Entrepreneurship

Style // December 30, 2013

If you’re reading this, odds are you are part of a very fortunate bunch. You obviously have access to a computer, the Internet, have a few leisurely moments, and are blessed with eyesight. I think many Made Women (myself included) can sometimes take for granted all the good fortune we experience day-to-day.

I was truly inspired when I spoke with a woman whose mission is to change the fortune of those who need it most. Azie Tesfai has traveled the world and sourced the most precious materials to raise awareness and share the stories of those in other cultures. Her company, Fortuned Culture, sells beautiful jewelry and allocates a percentage of the proceeds to charity. Her specialty is highlighting the tales of those who have had terrible experiences and turned them around into life-changing forces.

Made Woman Magazine: Tell me about your background and growing up, and how that led to Fortuned Culture.

Azie Tesfai: What shaped me the most was growing up in L.A. and going back and forth to visit family in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was an extreme perspective. I knew I was lucky to be raised in the U.S. and that I needed to use that good fortune to help those where I am from. So when an opportunity came to fundraise, I took it. Traveling all over Europe, Africa and the U.S. was the perfect storm of culture, creative passion and good fortune growing up. It exposed me to several precious elements that could be used to help raise funds. These precious metals and stones were important to the culture they came from and I wanted to use them to give back to those people.

MWM: How does the media negatively portray the place your parents were raised in? Conversely, how can the media help causes like yours?

AT: My parents are Eritrean (the country to the North of Ethiopa that gained its independence in the 1990s). Growing up, I would get stereotyped as one of those African children you see on infomercials. But really, these parts of Africa are so beautiful. I didn’t stand up for myself and explain the natural resources and beauty of my homeland. When I got into photography, I got into showing how happy people were with a lot less. I would take pictures when I returned to Africa for a visit. I would see fifteen children with one run-down soccer ball, and you’d never see happier children. The things they valued were family, love, basic goodness and morals. 

Amazing companies are starting to give back, and media is helping those companies. Ryot offers news plus a solution, which is a really cool concept. We always hear about death and negative headline-grabbing stories that don’t have any resolve. I like presenting the news in a way that is effective. I grew up watching the BBC News. The local news just scares you. But everything is changing. Twitter allows for a means to rally and come together; the younger generation will change the way the media sees people. You can’t falsely advertise countries and people through skewed angles in the paper. People will have to tell the truth more.

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MWM: Why jewelry?

AT: In Ethiopian or most African cultures, jewelry has deep meaning. Ethiopian gold has been passed down throughout many generations. It’s extremely personal and possesses great meaning. I like to wear one piece very simply instead of wearing a ton of jewelry. I’ve always made jewelry, especially for events and weddings. Around the time friends asked for jewelry I came to know the Fregenet Foundation, whose meal program got cut. People who are hungry can’t learn. Slowly I realized that I could sell jewelry and add the cost of a meal. Lots of my friends were into quotes and affirmations via social media, so I decided to incorporate these into my jewelry. The “Health” bracelet, for example, is really personal to what they are giving. They know they are giving help to someone else in need and it ended up selling well. So I did a “Love” one benefiting teachers and a “Wisdom” one as well. I wanted there to be meaning for something lacking and a connection between the person buying and the donation. I wanted to make each piece with materials that highlighted the beauty of that culture.


MWM: Tell us about the work you’re doing in Mexico.

AT: My goal is to have a huge row of countries to click on for each charity on our website. I really want to advertise with the best charities, the ones who are giving the highest percentage. I met with the founder of an orphanage in Mexico before, and she is an orphan herself. There are over 800 children now she takes care of, so they have basic needs for things like diapers and books. She is just one person, but I fell in love with her story. Before I design I go down and see the place our jewelry will benefit. I spend my days seeing orphanages. Most have children who just want to be held. I created a necklace inspired by one girl in particular named Lupita. There’s a handwritten note from her inside the necklace. This young girl is so positive and optimistic about life. She and her brother were abandoned by their mother at the orphanage without any papers, so they didn’t know anything about themselves and couldn’t get medical treatment or go to school. The orphanage got them papers and Lupita got to pick out her birthday. She got to create her life and her own destiny as well as that of her brother’s. She looks at the situation in such a better light. She just wants to do well in school and help her brother. So the necklace says “Rebirth” in Spanish on it with a prayer inside. Lupita was so excited to help be part of this necklace’s creation.

MWM: What’s your advice to other women looking to start a similar organization?

AT: Go with your passion. Anything done right will take a lot of work. Helping anyone in a dire situation requires passion. I don’t know how people have companies that don’t give back.

MWM: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?

AT: I like the Ethiopian cross because I grew up seeing it. They are modern but have an old tradition. The rebirth necklace for Lupita in Mexcio is a little piece of art.

MWM: How can others help?

AT: On our website, there’s a link to the charities we work with, so you can always volunteer. Volunteering is so gratifying. Each piece of jewelry we make does something good for someone else, so buy some for the holidays. Wear these pieces proudly, because each one is a representation of the kids they help.

MWM: Tell us about your partnership with Tom’s.

AT: We are excited to be on the new Tom’s marketplace, opened November 5, 2013. It’s been so inspiring and has caused many people to intern and want to help. Fortuned Culture was even the first item to sell on the Marketplace. We talked about Fortuned Culture to Toms employees. Toms is the biggest socially-conscious brand, so we wanted to incorporate its logo in the Toms blue bracelet, which helps children to go to school. The collaboration was a long process that involved exchanging information back and forth about our company and work ethics. We were so happy Toms approached us. We can now make cooler pieces because we have a buyer and a larger audience. New pieces will be added throughout the year, too. The marketplace has been a really amazing and inspiring experience that has pushed us to do more on another level and reminds us that we aren’t doing this alone. There have been billboards in New York, commercials and lots of magazine features resulting from the Marketplace. Jessica Alba even selected one of our bracelets for her holiday picks. We will probably even have some Black Friday deals. This is bigger than us, and will hopefully change how we shop.

If you’d like to change how you shop, while changing the world, visit Fortuned Culture and make a difference this holiday season.






Published in Style
Monday, 18 November 2013 01:01

Style | Start-Up Spotlight: Fortuned Culture

Style // November 18, 2013

If you’re reading this, odds are you are part of a very fortunate bunch. You obviously have access to a computer, the Internet, have a few leisurely moments, and are blessed with eyesight. I think many Made Women (myself included) can sometimes take for granted all the good fortune we experience day-to-day.

I was truly inspired when I spoke with a woman whose mission is to change the fortune of those who need it most. Azie Tesfai has traveled the world and sourced the most precious materials to raise awareness and share the stories of those in other cultures. Her company, Fortuned Culture, sells beautiful jewelry and allocates a percentage of the proceeds to charity. Her specialty is highlighting the tales of those who have had terrible experiences and turned them around into life-changing forces.

Made Woman Magazine: Tell me about your background and growing up, and how that led to Fortuned Culture.

Azie Tesfai: What shaped me the most was growing up in L.A. and going back and forth to visit family in Eritrea and Ethiopia. It was an extreme perspective. I knew I was lucky to be raised in the U.S. and that I needed to use that good fortune to help those where I am from. So when an opportunity came to fundraise, I took it. Traveling all over Europe, Africa and the U.S. was the perfect storm of culture, creative passion and good fortune growing up. It exposed me to several precious elements that could be used to help raise funds. These precious metals and stones were important to the culture they came from and I wanted to use them to give back to those people.

MWM: How does the media negatively portray the place your parents were raised in? Conversely, how can the media help causes like yours?

AT: My parents are Eritrean (the country to the North of Ethiopa that gained its independence in the 1990s). Growing up, I would get stereotyped as one of those African children you see on infomercials. But really, these parts of Africa are so beautiful. I didn’t stand up for myself and explain the natural resources and beauty of my homeland. When I got into photography, I got into showing how happy people were with a lot less. I would take pictures when I returned to Africa for a visit. I would see fifteen children with one run-down soccer ball, and you’d never see happier children. The things they valued were family, love, basic goodness and morals. 

Amazing companies are starting to give back, and media is helping those companies. Ryot offers news plus a solution, which is a really cool concept. We always hear about death and negative headline-grabbing stories that don’t have any resolve. I like presenting the news in a way that is effective. I grew up watching the BBC News. The local news just scares you. But everything is changing. Twitter allows for a means to rally and come together; the younger generation will change the way the media sees people. You can’t falsely advertise countries and people through skewed angles in the paper. People will have to tell the truth more.

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MWM: Why jewelry?

AT: In Ethiopian or most African cultures, jewelry has deep meaning. Ethiopian gold has been passed down throughout many generations. It’s extremely personal and possesses great meaning. I like to wear one piece very simply instead of wearing a ton of jewelry. I’ve always made jewelry, especially for events and weddings. Around the time friends asked for jewelry I came to know the Fregenet Foundation, whose meal program got cut. People who are hungry can’t learn. Slowly I realized that I could sell jewelry and add the cost of a meal. Lots of my friends were into quotes and affirmations via social media, so I decided to incorporate these into my jewelry. The “Health” bracelet, for example, is really personal to what they are giving. They know they are giving help to someone else in need and it ended up selling well. So I did a “Love” one benefiting teachers and a “Wisdom” one as well. I wanted there to be meaning for something lacking and a connection between the person buying and the donation. I wanted to make each piece with materials that highlighted the beauty of that culture.


MWM: Tell us about the work you’re doing in Mexico.

AT: My goal is to have a huge row of countries to click on for each charity on our website. I really want to advertise with the best charities, the ones who are giving the highest percentage. I met with the founder of an orphanage in Mexico before, and she is an orphan herself. There are over 800 children now she takes care of, so they have basic needs for things like diapers and books. She is just one person, but I fell in love with her story. Before I design I go down and see the place our jewelry will benefit. I spend my days seeing orphanages. Most have children who just want to be held. I created a necklace inspired by one girl in particular named Lupita. There’s a handwritten note from her inside the necklace. This young girl is so positive and optimistic about life. She and her brother were abandoned by their mother at the orphanage without any papers, so they didn’t know anything about themselves and couldn’t get medical treatment or go to school. The orphanage got them papers and Lupita got to pick out her birthday. She got to create her life and her own destiny as well as that of her brother’s. She looks at the situation in such a better light. She just wants to do well in school and help her brother. So the necklace says “Rebirth” in Spanish on it with a prayer inside. Lupita was so excited to help be part of this necklace’s creation.

MWM: What’s your advice to other women looking to start a similar organization?

AT: Go with your passion. Anything done right will take a lot of work. Helping anyone in a dire situation requires passion. I don’t know how people have companies that don’t give back.

MWM: Do you have a favorite piece of jewelry?

AT: I like the Ethiopian cross because I grew up seeing it. They are modern but have an old tradition. The rebirth necklace for Lupita in Mexcio is a little piece of art.

MWM: How can others help?

AT: On our website, there’s a link to the charities we work with, so you can always volunteer. Volunteering is so gratifying. Each piece of jewelry we make does something good for someone else, so buy some for the holidays. Wear these pieces proudly, because each one is a representation of the kids they help.

MWM: Tell us about your partnership with Tom’s.

AT: We are excited to be on the new Tom’s marketplace, opened November 5, 2013. It’s been so inspiring and has caused many people to intern and want to help. Fortuned Culture was even the first item to sell on the Marketplace. We talked about Fortuned Culture to Toms employees. Toms is the biggest socially-conscious brand, so we wanted to incorporate its logo in the Toms blue bracelet, which helps children to go to school. The collaboration was a long process that involved exchanging information back and forth about our company and work ethics. We were so happy Toms approached us. We can now make cooler pieces because we have a buyer and a larger audience. New pieces will be added throughout the year, too. The marketplace has been a really amazing and inspiring experience that has pushed us to do more on another level and reminds us that we aren’t doing this alone. There have been billboards in New York, commercials and lots of magazine features resulting from the Marketplace. Jessica Alba even selected one of our bracelets for her holiday picks. We will probably even have some Black Friday deals. This is bigger than us, and will hopefully change how we shop.

If you’d like to change how you shop, while changing the world, visit Fortuned Culture and make a difference this holiday season.






Published in Style
Sunday, 22 September 2013 21:18

Business I Start-Up Spotlight: SmarterBucks

Business // September 23, 2013 

Debt. It just doesn’t seem to go away. Whether we’ve racked up credit card bills during the summer wedding season or had to give in and get a new car, many of us have some form of debt to our name. More than likely, however, most of us have debt in the form of the good ol’ student loan. According to American Student Assistance, today in the U.S. there is approximately $902 billion to $1 trillion in outstanding student loan debt.

Fortunately there are programs out there that help students and recent graduates pay off their loans more quickly and efficiently. One such program is SmarterBucks – a website dedicated to helping reduce student loan debt (and don’t worry, it’s legit. SmarterBucks is an FDIC member).



A website that promises to help pay off student loans faster? Sign me up! As a woman who is more-than-eager to pay off her grad school loan, I eagerlyaccepted the invitation to check out SmarterBucks and explore how the service could help me out. After all, that hefty monthly payment would be much more useful in my savings account, or for charity, or …perhaps the occasional extra pair of shoes.

The Gist

Through using a special debit card issued by SmarterBanks or simply making purchases through preferred vendors, SmarterBucks will give users up to 10% back in rewards to help pay down student loans. Users can also invite family and friends to contribute to their account.

SmarterBucks offers great tips and resources for debt management, as well as exclusive discounts and deals for users.

The User Experience

Signing up for the SmarterBucks account and inputting all of your information is easy. In order to actually pay down a loan, users will have to link their SmarterBucks account to their student loan account so that SmarterBucks can track it. The site seems really secure, so this shouldn’t be a concern.

The actual process of earning rewards and paying debt down has been a bit of a challenge for me thus far. Since I don’t necessarily need to make purchases from vendors within the SmarterBucks marketplace, I have yet to actually earn any rewards to go toward my loans. Still, for the diligent buyer who is determined to pay off her loans, the process is simple and each dollar will add up quickly.

My advice is to sign up for the SmarterBank debit card. This is the fastest way to make qualifying purchases that will help erase that debt. It works like any rewards Visa where you earn points or cash back for everyday purchases, except you get SmarterBucks back instead – and those go toward your designated student loan. It’s a win-win!

If you have student loans to pay off, you should definitely give SmarterBucks a test drive to see if it will work for you. Every dollar toward those loans helps, and soon (okay, maybe a few years from now) the debt will disappear.

Published in Entrepreneurship

Lifestyle // August 12, 2013

Vision boards have become increasingly popular as people find them to be an effective tool for brainstorming and planning. Women, in particular, have been taping and gluing their way to business ideas for years. And it doesn’t stop there. Some serious wedding planning, home decorating, and bucket-list-making have gotten done via vision boards. Bettyvision founder and CEO Julie Thorne Engels recognized the potential for this tool, and the power of encouraging people to perfect and refine their dreams -- and bring them to life.

Julie, with the help of marketing maven Lindsey Heisser, set out to bring this concept to the digital space. They've since built a community called Bettyvision.com, where women not only share their personal visions, but also encourage each other to see them to fruition. Bettyvision's mission is to “provide resources and support necessary to bridge the gap between just dreaming and living the dream.”

How Does It Work?

The goal of Bettyvision is to create community around an individual's goals, making it a space to share tips, track milestones and provide encouragement to others. Similar to Pinterest, you can pin images to your boards; but Bettyvision allows you to add text to articulate your goals and track progress with their Milestone list. There is also an embedded Google search bar that helps with research and finding inspirational images. I like how other users can follow along with you and your board, as you work toward your goal and leave comments to congratulate you when you reach it.

No woman is an island, and the Bettyvision community promotes success and collaboration. Digital networking takes on a new form centered around each user’s unique ideas. The Bettyvision newsletter also spotlights one “Power Betty” each issue, bringing attention to other female-owned start-ups. Since its launch, thousands of boards have been created and shared. The outcome is a collage of ideas and goals from women all over the country.

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What’s Your Vision?

What I liked best about this site is that it allows you to clarify and hone in on your dreams. Instead of letting your million and one great ideas get lost in the abyss, you can create a board for each and get instant feedback from your peers. It takes the guesswork out of planning and provides a visceral design you can use to communicate with others. Entrepreneurs, business people and dreamers alike will find this a useful tool that can help them reach success.

I tested it out myself and created a “better body” board to help me reach my fitness goals. I outlined which fitness classes I wanted to take and other steps I could take to get ready for summer. I was able to share the board on my social networks and my friend were then able to comment on how they wanted to join me on my workouts.

The Big Picture

Bettyvision is more than just a website. Much like Made Woman Mag, they focus on offering useful tools to their users. They bring that mission into the real world with their Bettyvision workshops. These LA-based seminars allow local businesswomen to dive into their missions, find support and set measures for accountability.

If you have big plans for your life, it's a good idea to map them out. Bettyvision.com allows you to do just that. Let’s face it, sharing your dream -- whatever that may be -- with the world increases the likelihood that it will actually happen. Since I’m all about doing whatever it takes to make your dreams come true, I vote this site a must-try. Put your brilliant ideas on the growing, digital pinboard and see what sticks.

Published in Lifestyle