#MANday: Belizean-American Designer Jonathan Justin Smith of Jonathan Justin Handbags Chats Working With Janice Dickinson, & Following Your Dreams

Jonathan Justin posed with Janice Dickinson. Bags L- R: Aaron Clutch, Ricardo Duffel, Elinna Togo Satchel

Here at A Life In The Day of Andrea, I have made it a constant mission of mine to showcase and uplift people, entrepreneurs, and businesses that I care deeply about, or believe are doing innovative work. As a lover of all things beautiful and handmade, I am drawn to great design of all sorts and types. Having worked in the handbag industry for many years, I realized that what excited me the most about the process was not only the end product, but the story behind the designer and what bright idea led to the beautiful bag you carry each day.

For this feature, I interview an emerging handbag designer out of Los Angeles named Jonathan Justin Smith of Jonathan Justin Handbags. A fellow Belizean-American and lost cousin (truly, not for fake), I believed it was imperative for him to tell his story in his own words via my platform. Read on below!

 

What inspired you to design handbags, and when did you know that you wanted to pursue it full-time?

Well to start off, I was about 18 or 19 years old, I always looked up to two people, Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn. There is a certain class about both ladies that’s timeless. I used to work in the handbag industry as a sales representative, my first job was at TUMI Designer Luggage. I was going to Santa Monica College studying Business Administration, and I knew that I wanted to start my own business, but I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. Working for TUMI Designer Luggage I never cared to have a bag. I’m a luxury guy, I like nice things, but I would never look to handbags for anything. While there I  grew an interest for handbags, and what TUMI taught me is functionality, and that’s what I loved about them. Every piece of theirs is so dynamic in functionality; women have a place just for their watch in their handbags, and I really enjoyed that idea and the quality was out of this world.

After that I worked for Coach Leatherwear. Coach taught me about leather and the quality of it too; I think Coach is known for their leathers. So it was like, let me just take what I learned from these companies I worked for and make a sample. I had my first sample made, the JJ Blue, and it was pretty high-end; Saffiano blue leather outside with this red interior, it was really nice, and I didn’t think it would go anywhere. I thought I was in over my head a little bit because of the concept the there is a Hermes, and there is a Prada, you’re not the first to come out, and it is obviously daunting, but I guess God puts things in the right place at the right time. I had a friend that was a fashionista in the Pasadena area that is known for her style. I told her about the bag and she was like, ok let me see it. So I showed it to her and she was like, “Get the out of here, this (bag) is pretty dope!” She decided to take it and wear it for a week, and now I’m here. With Princess Diana and Audrey Hepburn in mind, it definitely inspired my go-getter attitude at the time and my fearlessness, and also in my design, that luminous aspect I was talking about recently.

Elinna Togo Satchel & Elinna Togo Wallet

What is the inspiration behind your bags, and why they have the names that they do?

I never just look at Louis Vuitton like “Oh that nice bag, let me copy that and make it Jonathan Justin”, that’s never the case. I always seem to have somebody in my life at that time that’s like, “Omg I love your handbags! What do you think of doing an orange (lining) in a handbag?” I am usually that person that says ‘let’s do it!’ if I am feeling it. So Aaron, for example, he is one of my good friends and was my artistic director for some of my shoots, he was like, “what do you think of some orange in a bag?” and I’m like, ok, cool, and made it. It’s a blue clutch with orange (lining) on the inside and it’s named the Aaron Clutch. It’s awesome when it has a name or meaning like that because I can go back and think, “yea that’s the guy that told me to put orange in there.” He helped make that and I feel good about it.

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#MANday Interview: M. Tony Peralta Has A Fresh Take On Latina Icons With “Rolos & Icons”


M. Tony Peralta and his work, “Dora Con Rolos”

*Originally published on Slant News

It’s an unseasonably warm Friday afternoon for October and I am making my way to Manhattan’s Lower East Side to chat with artist M. Tony Peralta. His newest exhibition, Rolos & Icons had opened the night prior to a packed house of family, friends, and supporters. This was the first time he had ever held an opening downtown, and the incredible turnout was a feat in itself.

I had been following the works of the Dominican-American artist by way of Washington Heights for a few years now as we have many mutual friends who’ve invited me to his events in the past. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of his Latin roots, hip-hop and pop culture elements that were consistent through his works.

I sat down with Tony to talk to him further about his career thus far, Rolos & Icons, and the inspirations behind his work.

I have been following your career for a number of years and I have noticed that there has been a strong female presence throughout. Why is it important for you to showcase women of color in your artwork?

The first exhibit I did, Complejo, had to do with identity issues. Mainly being Black and Latino, and the identity issues we have growing up and the effects of it. I started to think about some of the things that women go through as well; the whole good hair/bad hair thing, which I went through myself, as a man. I had curly hair and would shave it off. For women, it’s a little more extreme because they have to go to the hair salon, and get their hair straightened, and relaxers, etc. I grew up with a single mom and an older sister, and a younger sister, and our bathroom was filled with their products.

Growing up with a single mom that was a very strong figure, along with my sisters and brother, I had a good balance. My mom was very influential. I don’t think it’s something that I do consciously. I grew up with low self-esteem, so I touched upon things that affected me [with the Complejo exhibit] but then I started to think about how it affects women as well because they deal with it more, whether it be a hair [texture] thing or skin lightening, if it’s body issues. There was a piece in the exhibit of a woman in hair rollers, and that woman almost became a Latin Mona Lisa. She had a certain gaze that people thought was beautiful, and I feel that it influenced other artists to start creating works with women in hair rollers as well.


A glimpse into “Rolos Con Icons”

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#MANday Exclusive: Stephen Andrews of Earls Kitchen + Bar Talks New Location in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Fave Dishes, & More!


Earls Brunch Croquette

In a time where restaurants close as soon as they open, how does one find the secret formula? It seems like the chain Earls Kitchen + Bar has figured it out. Founded in Canada in 1982, Earls Kitchen + Bar was created with the goal of becoming “The Most loved and Best Run restaurant in North America”. The franchise now has 59 restaurants in Canada, and 7 in the United States; its latest opening being in the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Chicago.

We had the opportunity to pick the brain of Stephen Andrews, Chief Development Officer and Vice President, who is driving International Growth for Earls Restaurants through world-class Real Estate Development.


Stephen Andrews, Chief Development Officer & VP of Earls Restaurants

Coming from a senior position at Darden Restaurants, what about Earls enticed you to make the move in particular?

Earls is a restaurant company with scale but without the predictable monotony of a chain. We work really hard to create a collection of innovative and individually compelling restaurants, so the design freedom is intoxicating. Then, seeing the design and personality of each individual restaurant come to life is positively addictive.

Earls Kitchen currently boasts 66 locations across the US and Canada. If you had to choose, what would be your top three locations and why?

Aside from Lincoln Park:

1) King Street in Downtown Toronto for its fantastic energy and patio right in the heart of the financial district.

2) Tysons Corner, VA. Located in Macerich’s jewel project, this location is absolutely breathtaking with panoramic views sitting on the center’s elevated 40,000 square foot landscape plaza.

3) The third is a toss-up between Dadeland in Miami for its spectacular cantilevered patio complete with tropical breezes and one that is still on the drawing boards — the Prudential Center in downtown Boston. Earls Prudential is currently in the design phase and will feature an spectacular 3400 square foot roof-top patio complete with an exterior bar right in the heart of it all and just an eight minute walk from Fenway.

What are some of your favorite items from the kitchen and bar menus?

The bold flavors of the Korean Bibimbap with its crispy rice never fails to impress me, but I am also a huge fan of the authentic Jeera Chicken Curry with coconut jasmine rice. When I am feeling more traditional, there is nothing quite like a Creekstone Farms antibiotic and hormone free New York Strip Steak to fit the bill. I try to leave without dessert, but the Sticky Toffee Chocolate Pudding (it’s actually a caramel and ice cream covered cake) somehow usual finds its way onto my table.


Rendering of Earls Lincoln Park

Tell us, what do you find most unique about the new Lincoln Park location in Chicago?

To be able to deliver a great indoor/outdoor restaurant and patio in an urban location is challenging. At Lincoln Park, we are able to deliver the good– such as open views, open facades and a spectacular patio without the bad– street noise, cars and fumes. The restaurant will be a perfect oasis woven into an urban fabric.

What do you find is most rewarding part of having a career in the real estate development sector of the restaurant business?

Restaurants are very complex creatures — part entertainment, part utility, part social, but they are always experiential from the guest’s perspective. The ability to help create a fantastic guest experience through real estate, architecture, and design is just plain thrilling.

Photo Credit: Earls Kitchen + Bar

WOMANday Exclusive: Nike Master Trainer Traci Copeland Chats Fitness, Training Tips for Runners, & More!

TRACI COPELAND TEACHING

You are a self-professed “yoga-athlete”. Can you tell us a bit about your ​fitness background​?

I was a competitive gymnast for thirteen years- competing in bars, beam, floor, and vault. I also ran track in high school and college- competing in 200m, triple jump, long jump, and high jump. Our high school girls team (me and two other girls) were the first team to ever win a state title. And we did it two years in a row! In college, my first year at Georgetown, we were Big East Champions.

​I first met you in one of my Nike Training Club yoga sessions, as our instructor. What brought you to Nike?

Who wouldn’t want to work for Nike right ? I found out they were auditioning trainers three years ago, so I auditioned. It’s sort of been my dream job ever since. I’m very lucky in terms of the types of projects I get to work on, the athletes I get to work with, and being able to travel the world!

​Spring is here, and marathon season has begun. Do you have any training tips for runners​, both novices and those that are more advanced​?

For novice runners, hold on to what got you motivated to run in the first place. There is nothing more exciting than falling in love with running for the first. Approach without any expectation. Run to finish the race and that’s it. And for more advanced runners, it’s important for them to just be humble. Less expectation and emphasis on times but rather enjoy the race and naturally you’ll run faster.

TRACI’S WORKOUT IN THE NIKE TRAINING CLUB APP

​Where can people take class with you, and what can we expect from you in the coming months?

They can find me at Nike’s Upper East Side Running store every Thursday at 7 AM, and Broadway Dance Center Yoga 9:30-10:30 AM.


It was a pleasure chatting with (as well as taking class with) Traci. Be sure to follow her adventures with Nike on Instagram at @traco4. Maybe she will be in your city soon!

Exclusive Interview: ARROJO Studio Owner Nick Arrojo Talks Hair Education, Styling Products, & Opening A New Salon In Brooklyn!

NICK ARROJO WORKING HIS MAGIC ON A CLIENT

You have been a hairstylist for over thirty years and salon owner for over ten. What initially sparked your passion in haircare and styling?

Growing up just outside Manchester, England, I was constantly re-creating my image. Inspired by music and fashion, I spent every day of my teenage years reading the key fashion magazines of the time (of which there were very few) and getting into all the new trends. Changing the way I looked was a huge part of my development. I thought a hair salon would be a great environment to work, with music playing all day, meeting lots of new and interesting people, and having the chance to be creatively involved in the fashion industry. I loved my new job. The high energy, a hip young team of staff, music playing all day, friendly clients, and parties every weekend. I realized that I wanted this to be my career. By luck or by fate, I landed a job at the best salon in the country, Vidal Sassoon, and I haven’t looked back.

As part of your business model, you operate Arrojo Cosmetology School in your SoHo flagship on Varick St. How important is education to the ARROJO philosophy?

It’s fundamental to everything we do. Education is the foundation of a lasting, prosperous, creative and rewarding hairdressing career. It raises standards of craftsmanship and professionalism throughout our industry. I believe education is the backbone of strong technique, of creative expression, of confidence with clients, of feeling motivated and inspired, of success in any field of hairdressing.

STYLING CHAIRS AT ARROJO WILLIAMSBURG

This past month you opened your first outpost in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood. Tell us more about the space and what clients can expect.

Williamsburg is an incredible, almost unbelievable space and location for us. Manhattan has always been the place for the Mega Salon, whereas Brooklyn has a more bohemian feel. But it has grown and grown, and become a capital of fashion and trend in its own right. We feel our culture, standards, and aesthetics are perfect for the people and the lifestyle here. Located at 11 Broadway, it’s an iconic spot by Williamsburg Bridge with views to the East River and Manhattan’s skyline. A 3300 square foot site with 15-feet high windows and a 25 foot high ceiling, the custom architectural design is influenced by industrial elegance and modern minimalism; a suspended wall of light, flowing lines and aesthetic functionality make for a strikingly beautiful space.  To ensure continuity of our world-class service standards, the first stylists to work out of Williamsburg come with years of experience at our Varick Street Flagship. 6 girls, 1 guy, and a weekly visit from myself (to take clients), it’s an amazing team of stylists and people, committed to giving the people of Brooklyn Great Hair and Good Vibes.

You have a full line of styling products that you sell in your salons, ambassador salons, and online. What are some of your personal favorites to use on clients?

For guys, I love texture paste –– a flexible, medium-hold product that’s perfect for short and messy styling. It creates texture and separation with a smooth matte finish, which is great for modern men’s styles. I use it on girls with short hair too, especially for that just-rolled-out-of-bed look.

For a great cleanse and condition I recommend our Shine Luxe Shampoo and Conditioner. Sulfate and paraben free, it’s a luxurious combination designed to generously restore hair’s natural luster and luminescence. Filled with opulent oils like macadamia and cocoa butter that quench dryness, add vitality, they are feel good products giving an upscale experience.

PRODUCT WALL INSIDE ARROJO WILLIAMSBURG

For styling women and girls, I have three hero products.

Wave Mist is one of our newest products and already a client favorite. It uses sea salt and sea kelp to create playful body and texture and the loose, wavy and beachy styles that are perfect for summer.

ReFresh Dry Conditioner is another new favorite. Everyone loves dry shampoo and now we have its perfect complement: dry conditioning. ReFresh is a weightless spray for impossibly soft and silky hair, instantly, anytime, anywhere, and especially for second or even third day hair. On clean hair we’ve also found it adds bombshell to blow-outs. Just blow-out your hair as you like it and mist ReFresh into mid-lengths and ends and see how the shine and the silk makes for irresistibly touchable locks.

And then there is our original hero: ReFINISH dry shampoo. Recently recognized in Real Simple’s 15th anniversary issue as one of the best ever beauty products, we believe it’s there best dry shampoo on the market. It gives tons of instant texture and volume, and never leaves any white powder residue. We call it “gorgeous on the go, miracle style rescue.”

WOMANday Exclusive: Sunnie Ha, Founder of Activewear Company Wear It To Heart Talks Apparel Production in Central America, Sustainability, and Empowering Young Women

WEAR IT TO HEART LOGO BEING TRANSFERRED ONTO GARMENT

Back in February, I attended the first ever AXIS Show at Pier 94 in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood. The fashion trade show focused on women’s active lifestyle apparel and home goods, which was really exciting to me. It was there that I was first introduced to Wear It To Heart (WITH), a ladies activewear brand based in Los Angeles and produced in El Salvador.

I was really drawn to the soft, yet technologically sound fabrication of the garments, in addition to the lovely prints used across their spectrum of leggings, capris, tanks, and sports bra offerings. I was also drawn to the idea of their goods being produced in Central America, so I decided to set up an interview with the company’s founder, Sunnie Ha, to discuss their initiatives, predominantly female workforce, and more. Read on!

Tell us a bit about your background and when you came to the point to make Wear It To Heart a reality.

Looking back, it all started with the observation that women’s activewear was just men’s activewear made in smaller sizes.  It seemed as if every woman walked out of the same closet all dressed in black tights and uninspiring, boring tops.  I wanted women to look like women, feminine and beautiful.  In my mind leggings with fun and pretty prints give women a comfortable but bold look that is stylish.  The WITH look allows women to live in every moment and love the life they live. Wear it to Heart was born in California and is growing up in El Salvador.  We work with both designers and artists from Los Angeles and El Salvador.  I have the pleasure of working with artists who, for the first time have an outlet which allows them not only to express but also profit from their creativity.  You should see the excitement of the team when their prints are featured on our pieces.  I feel blessed to be able to love what I do and excited to see what the future of WITH holds.

Your product line consists of fashion-forward activewear suitable for yoga and other low-impact activity. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the fitness community thus far?

So far, the feedback has been very positive. Every piece of WITH is constructed with the highest quality materials and attention to detail, which people notice and appreciate. Also, because the prints are fashion-forward, you can wear them out and about, not just at the gym, which is very important to our customers as well.

DESIGNER SKETCHING

Let’s talk about your workforce. In your company factory in El Salvador, you run a sweatshop-free work force, comprised predominantly of women. Was this done intentionally? And can you elaborate on your company values and in-house initiatives?

Wear it to Heart mainly manufactures in El Salvador to support Project Garrobo which was started many years ago by my husband and I.  It began with a desire to help the communities in El Salvador.  We found ourselves working with single mothers to help them acquire work skills to support not only themselves, but also their families.  Project Garrobo, is an apprenticeship program for several disadvantaged, unwed, and unskilled teen mothers.  We pay them a salary and train them for several types of apparel jobs, but also teach them life skills such as finance, English, and other necessary subjects for them to meet the oncoming challenges of adulthood.  Once they reach the age of 18 they are welcome to work at our factory, or if they choose to leave and work elsewhere, we’re happy with that also. Our payback is satisfaction knowing that we improved their lives.
Our factory is recognized globally as a leader in CSR (corporate social responsibility) and sustainability.  This distinction stems from many years of researching and implementing the best practices.  For instance, we responded to employee requests to offer a daycare solution.  Our response was to visit several daycare facilities in the U.S. and Brazil.  Learning from those already doing it, we inaugurated our child development center on our premises in 2011.  Since then we have gained Montessori accreditation, therefore giving our pre-schoolers a clear advantage for when they graduate and move on to regular day school.

A PAIR OF LEGGINGS BEING SEWN

Apparel production in Central America has been on the rise in the past few years, using some of the most technologically sound processes in the industry. What do you see in its future?

On-shoring or near-shoring apparel production back to the Americas has been a hot topic for the last couple of years. It’s good news for us because it creates a win-win situation for the U.S. and the Central American & Caribbean regions. Due to the way the free trade agreement (CAFTA-DR) is structured, most key inputs come from the U.S. and then produced as final garments in the region.  So it’s true bi-lateral trade benefitting both sides of the border.  We are to expect this trend to grow significantly due to the changing global sourcing landscape. As China and other Asian countries develop more consumer driven economies, the available capacities and resources will focus more in that direction.  As a byproduct, the Americas will gain more market share of U.S apparel imports.  Flexible, faster to market lead times and real time communication with U.S. brands and retailers  also make CAFTA-DR region a very attractive sourcing hub.  For W.I.T.H., the flexibility and speed allow for unparalleled levels of service and innovation.

It was such a pleasure to speak to, and learn more about the apparel industry in the Americas from Sunnie. Be sure to check out the goods on the official Wear It To Heart website, in addition to following them on social media!

*Photos courtesy of Wear It To Heart (WITH)

#MANday Exclusive: Le Club Des Douze, The Men’s Online Fashion Destination in English & En Francais

ALEX & OLIVIA OF LE CLUB DES DOUZE

It has been some time since I’ve featured a piece for MANday, so to get back on the ball, I want to introduce you to super-cool menswear aficionado Alex Rizos of Le Club Des Douze. Alex first reached out to me over a year ago via Twitter, and since I have been following his blog which is a men’s lifestyle destination focused on curated fashion-apparel inspiration boards, designer & brand interviews, home goods and food. We are both in good company as contributors to Capsule Show’s We Are The Market blog as well.

The site began entirely in French, and with my little knowledge of the the language was able to navigate the mood boards and posts. It has since transitioned to be a completely bilingual site, featuring content in both French and English. I caught up with Alex at a coffee shop in the city to chat about Le Club des Douze and learn the story behind the blog. Read on.

You started Le Club Des Douze in 2012 with your wife, Olivia. Give me a little background on you guys and your interest, and why you decided to start the site?

Let’s start with Olivia. She used to be a lawyer in England, she’s actually from here [United States] but she moved there to study law, but she didn’t love it. At some point she came back here and went to Parson’s because she was interested in fashion, not necessarily fashion design, but working in a more creative, design-related field. She does PR for interior designers and architects, so it is very specific. As far as I’m concerned, I lived here six years ago for one year, then lived in London for a year, where I met her (Olivia). During these stays in both countries I discovered the renewal of independent menswear [brands]. I don’t know if it was because I felt new to it or it was actually a new wave then, between 2009 and now. I discovered a bunch of new brands between here [New York] and in London, and also a lot of menswear blogs that focus on craftsmanship, more independent smaller brands, and I thought that was very interesting. At the time in France, there really was no blog talking about that. So before moving back here, I had a three-month period where I moved back to France to take care of my visa, and I said “let’s launch something in that field.” I started the blog [Le Club Des Douze] and at some point it had an e-commerce portion to it when I launched, then I realized that it was writing that people were looking for.

How important has social media been in connecting you to fashion brands, in addition to building your brand internationally?

It’s crazy how social media can enable you to connect with so many brands, even the smaller ones, and that’s amazing. When I started Le Club Des Douze I feel like most of my followers were on Facebook. There was an interaction, but I didn’t feel that brands would reach out to me there, and it kind of shifted to our biggest following being on Twitter. That’s where our audience is, where you can visit our website from, where you share articles, and where you connect with a lot of brands. Either we reach out to the brands or they discover us, and they want to talk to us. It’s crazy that five years ago, to know about a brand, I would have to read about it on a blog or go to a trade show. Since the beginning, our following grew a lot internationally. Now we have about 40% French followers, about 30% in the UK, and the rest divided between the U.S. and Japan.

SCREENSHOT OF THE WEBSITE

How important do you believe a female influence is for the growth of a menswear-based business?

I think it is very important. I think since she [Olivia] started working with me, she’s added a lot of value in terms of …I don’t know. She just KNOWS when she sees a group of items together, what to add. I need to see things. I need to see the twelve items and then decide if it looks good. She can see three items and already know what the whole section will look like. I don’t know if it’s a feminine thing, but I know that’s the way she thinks. She sees the story behind it all. She has the vision of the guy that’s going to wear the outfit, and each selection is basically one outfit with additional pieces that you can pair and swap out.

What do you foresee in the future of menswear apparel & media?

I think the menswear industry, especially independent menswear …they’re not looking to do something that is “out-there”, these brands are looking to do something that they have seen and that is “heritage” with a twist. Whereas in womenswear, designers create something that is new, and there are menswear designers that do that as well, but that’s not what we are really interested in. The independent brands and designers that we work with are more into heritage and taking something that exists and making it better.


It was such a pleasure to speak with Alex, and see the growth of Le Club Des Douze firsthand. You can check out their site here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

*Photos courtesy of Le Club Des Douze

WOMANday Exclusive: Tanwi Nandini Islam of Hi Wildflower Botanica Chats Writing & Entrepreneurship, Supporting Local, Social Activism & More!

FOUNDER OF HI WILDFLOWER BOTANICA, TANWI NANDINI ISLAM. CREDIT: RAHIL ASHRUFF

For this edition of WOMANday I wanted to introduce you to an extraordinary woman, Tanwi Nandini Islam. Tanwi is a published writer with a novel on the way, and the creator of artisan beauty line, Hi Wildflower Botanica, which includes a product range of perfumes, candles, and skincare. In my interview, we chatted about the road to entrepreneurship, the local small business community in Brooklyn, writing, social activism and more.

Get into our conversation below!

What was the turning point in which you decided to start Hi Wildflower Botanica?

Last year I presented four scents at Bushwick Open Studios. I had been experimenting a lot with perfumery because I was doing a lot of research for my new book that I’m working on, and I kind of wanted to see if people would be into the product. Bushwick Open Studios draws hundreds of people into your studio, which I share with three other artists. A lot of people were into it, so I felt like I hit a certain nerve in regards to the fragrances I had made, and it felt like something that could be a viable source of income, and perhaps a new business.

I’m a writer professionally, and that’s not necessarily the easiest way to make a living, especially when you are writing fiction or working on freelance projects, so this kind of became something that I saw myself doing as a fun, indie business. I initially thought it would just be an Etsy or an extra source of income; I wasn’t thinking wholesale or getting stores, new accounts, or anything like that. It kind of really grew fast because I decided to do a launch at Renegade Craft Fair in late August [2014], and it was awesome. I had a really simple array of product. I had my perfume and I had skincare, and people were feeling it and buying it, and I was like ‘Wow! I’m on to something here. This is really cool.’ Since then, I’ve really expanded a lot. Now I’m in ten different stores, and I believe a lot of that has to do with the fact that A) I live in Williamsburg in Brooklyn, and it’s a really great location I think to be a new business, and to be an entrepreneur and share it with other small businesses, usually store owners who are all my peers. They are usually women my age who are looking for the next line to carry, whether it be for perfume or skincare, or candles.

Since this is WOMANday, I would love to know the feedback you’ve been getting from fellow female entrepreneurs in your community, as well as consumers?   

It has been really, really interesting. I think that the customer is really drawn to the packaging, so the colorful nature of the packaging is really inspired directly by wildflowers. That’s pretty much the central philosophy of the brand, to grow free everywhere, to be the one who is a little bit different than the mainstream, and I think that concept is really beautiful because it’s like every product has its own mini-story and its own aesthetic. I think traditionally that can be seen as ‘Hey! Everything should be super cohesive and one story’ but it’s many stories. This is fun for me. I’m drawn to old botanical drawings, and I think my customer [also] is drawn to that and is really into the idea of ‘this is my signature scent, this is something that really speaks to my personality’; every thing has a different appeal for a different person. If you were to take Night Blossom, which is one of my perfumes that has really deep notes that are floral which I call ‘sex florals’ , and jasmine, neroli, rose; really sexy scents, it’s all understated and it dries down into this leathery ember scent, and it’s for a certain kind of person. Then you have something like West Indies which is grassy, herbaceous, has notes of Bay Rum and lavender; it’s really fresh, and for someone else. I think that’s something that really appeals to people, that they can find their piece within the brand that’s just for them.

For women, I think self-care rituals and finding time in your day to moisturize with body oil, or light a candle and chill, or dab yourself with perfume-oil; it’s all about re-centering and getting in touch with yourself. I would say my customer is someone who appreciates that moment of respite and peace.

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WOMANday Exclusive: Atlanta-Based College Friends Embrace Female Duality With Their Online Fashion Boutique, Babs + Mickie Co.

Chatting with Lucy (L) and Monique (M) of Babs + Mickie Co.

The vast mass that is the world wide web opens us up to so many different things; whether it be music, fashion, art, or people. Being one who basically spends their livelihood on the internet via this here blog, freelance projects and more, I find myself connecting with really amazing people via social media. This is how I was introduced to Babs + Mickie Co. The Atlanta-based women’s e-commerce store reached out to me via Twitter about a possible collaboration and I was totally into it. I really appreciated their aesthetic, and here, I am able to share the story of the women behind the brand. Read on.

Tell us the story behind Babs + Mickie Co. and how the idea of this business came about.

Monique: Randomly, it started at mutual friend’s birthday brunch. It was in West Midtown (Atlanta) and we were all just talking about our sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. We were just getting ready to graduate and one of the things about being a student leader on campus and being in AKA is that you have this whole reputation, or this whole responsibility to be prim and proper, just a lady at all times, you know? But both of us are a little rough around the edges with that [laughs]. One of the things with me and Lucy is that we best express ourselves through clothing and style, and being ourselves, so we wanted to create an online store that kind of represented that, and that’s where the birth of the two characters came in, the “Babs” and the “Mickie”. Babs being that typical lady, like the Alpha Kappa Alpha woman, which is really poised and polished, and Mickie is more of the androgynous friend that you like to take out, the rebel, boyish part of the brand. We really wanted to have two styles that we kind of fuse together to make up those characters; to make up what a woman is. We want to make sure girls feel comfortable embracing both sides.

How would you each describe your personal style?

Lucy: I think for me, I definitely find my personal style to be androgynous. I love feminine silhouettes…I think the clothing I like has more shape to it, more geometry and cuts…more futuristic. I do like to play with different textures. I like pops of color, so you will find me in grays or blacks, or nudes; I like to play with nudes a lot, with pops of color. But at the very same time, I like to stay prim and proper, so I do have my nails done, and things like that. I like accessories; hats, sunnies, a pop of lip. I definitely think Monique is more feminine though…

Monique

Monique: I’m more comfortable. I like boyfriend jeans, but I will always throw on a pair of heels with it. I love colors, patterns; you will rarely see me in anything very tight. I like to be flowy, and loose, and comfortable. That effortless chic style, I guess is more that I go for.

What are some common misconceptions you believe the public may have of starting your own e-commerce business?

Monique: That it’s easy. That you can just put it up and people can shop online, as opposed to a brick and mortar stores where you are worried about foot traffic, depending on the city you are located in, high overhead costs of getting a building and so forth. People like to go online because 1) we are in the technology age, and 2) it just seems  easier to put up a shop online, but the amount of work you have to do to make people actually go to your site, because you’re one in millions, you know? So that is the main thing, but thankfully we have so many tools like social media and so many ways to bring traffic to it, but you really have to put a bulk of your time into that, because with brick-and-mortar, you can have that foot traffic and say “Hey I like that!”, and try it on, but how are you going to get people to your website? How are you going to find out about Babs + Mickie? That’s a tough battle. I didn’t realize how tough it was until you actually get into it and you’re like “SEO and all these other things…what?”.

Lucy: It’s so much research. I believe we spent the majority of our time researching. As soon as we graduated from Georgia State in 2012, we looked at a couple of our records, and I think we opened the store six days after. Through all that time in 2012, it was just research, research, research. How to start a company? What is marketing? What is SEO? How do you find your audience? Who is your audience? It’s not just getting products and throwing them online. Our main thing is building a consistency with our brand, and discovering our customer; knowing who our customer is, what she wants, what she likes. Keeping up with trends but still having a starting point, or a point of reference. Starting an online store is NOT easy, and 80% of small businesses fail in the beginning, but you really have to do your research, and have fun with it too.

Lucy

You all are an Atlanta-based business and you mentioned that there are a lot of cool new things on the fashion front for the city. What do you foresee in the future for Atlanta as a burgeoning fashion capital, and what can we expect from you both in the not-too-distant future?

Lucy: Atlanta is great for the new up-and-coming professional, entrepreneurs; so much construction going on, but from Atlanta you can expect new designers, new fun styles, more contemporary-chic, and from us, a plethora of that, going into casual, cocktail-wear, formal, business [attire]. We want to bring color and patterns to the city, and that’s what we want to do through our brand, Babs + Mickie; showing the everyday girl who loves style where she can find that, you know?

Monique: I think what is a good thing about Atlanta is that everything is just sprouting up so quickly, we’re JUST getting our Rodeo Drive with the Buckhead Shops that they’re just building up, we’re just getting our SoHo, so a lot of designers are seeing potential in Atlanta. There’s a growing market and a big media outlet, like a $1 Billion budget, so you’re going to get a lot of opportunities in the entertainment industry, and fashion is really starting to grow because people feel interested  it. With that, we’re definitely going to make sure we capitalize on bringing those patterns and those colors to the city. What I loved about coming to New York is that everyone had their own style, and I feel like Atlanta has their own style, but it’s growing, so we’re really excited to take advantage of that, and provide some cool products for women to be comfortable in.

Fin.

It was such a pleasure chatting with Lucy and Monique about their business. A special thank you to Lindsey Trimble for the lovely photos (website link below). Be sure to follow Babs + Mickie Co. at the following links:

Babs + Mickie Co. E-Boutique

Babs + Mickie Co. Blog

Babs + Mickie Co. Twitter

Babs + Mickie Co. Instagram

 *Photos by Lindsey Trimble/Pristine Finesse

#WOMANday Watch: Zoe Saldaña on “The Conversation With Amanda de Cadenet”

Zoe Saldaña has been one of my favorite actresses/public figures for some time now, portraying strong characters on-screen, and embodying that spirit off-screen. There have been clips circling the internet of Zoe lately in an interview in which she passionately expresses how much she enjoys being herself, and learning from her own mistakes. With the help of Google and YouTube, I’ve found the full interview, which is part of a series entitled, The Conversation With Amanda de Cadeneta program highlighting the female perspective.

Press play to hear Zoe’s unique, expletive-filled story. I hope it can bring some positivity into your day!

#MANday Exclusive: .Bk Founder Teghvir Sethi Talks The Evolution of Menswear, Production, and Being Brooklyn-Based

.Bk founder Teghvir Sethi [left] and guest at the #InventorsGarage launch event

As a lady who loves menswear, I’m constantly on the lookout for brands and designers that are fresh and cutting edge, not only for my male readers, but for the ladies that love to rock menswear themselves. About a month or so ago I was introduced to .Bk  [said “Dot BK”] by the lovely women at Janine Just Inc. The Brooklyn-based brand designs and produces limited-edition mens shirting in a cool palette and size range, fitting for both sexes.

I loved the concept, and wanted to learn more about the brand and the man behind it, Teghivir Sethi. Read on for the full story on .Bk, and what we can expect from the brand in the future!

 

Tell us the story behind .Bk.
In September 2012, I was commuting from Bed-Stuy to Midtown & running the menswear division of my father’s small independent brand. Back in the 70s, a production run fit in the back of my father’s Dodge Colt — he’d drive around the Midwest selling to boutiques & regional chains. Where there were once thousands of local boutiques, there are now a handful of mass-retailers dominating the globe.

Generally, online retailers are out to solve a simple problem for customers. Generally, the benefit breaks down to a value proposition (low overhead –> low prices) or convenience (let us choose for you). These retailers claim to “reinvent” fashion (echo:”Silicon Valley”) when they’re simply repackaging mass fashion through the tools of online retail. It’s business as usual for everyone except the customer.

I started .Bk to solve a complex problem for designers & customers alike: scale. We produce clothing at a run of a 100. At a better price than mass-produced “designer” clothing. Why is this different from a typical online retail value proposition?

Aside from saving our customers money, “cutting out the middleman” allows us to operate at a revolutionary scale: limited edition design, artisan-scale production & in-disposable clothing. We’re out to turn back the clock on mass production, mass retail & mass appeal.

A selection of .Bk shirts from the #InventorsGarage launch event

 

We love that you feature women in your shirts on the website? Will you be doing women’s pieces soon?
It’s one of the many things we do differently when it comes to our branding. We’re not out to sell machismo, or any traditional sense of a men’s brand. We design for individuals. The women & men featured on our site have all founded something unique & different.

With that said, we design to our strengths. So, no womenswear soon. Women’s fits & sizing on menswear? It may be in the works.
What lifestyle does the Dot BK consumer uphold?
Our customer doesn’t want to be told what to wear, or who to buy a basic tee from. They want to know more about the clothes that they’re wearing: who made it, and what inspired its design. And, they’re constantly evolving their own personal style.

Why did you decide to have your business headquartered in Brooklyn?
Our designs are inspired by 21st century subcultures. And, Brooklyn’s got the highest population of “live your own, unique way” kind of people. If it was anywhere else, we’d run out of material after two collections.
What can we expect in the future on the business-end for Dot BK?
This isn’t your typical scale-able startup. Regardless of demand, we won’t be increasing our quantities (60-100 per shirt) any time soon. Right now, we’re focused on expanding the lifestyle collections: look forward to items beyond button-down shirts. And, the Dossier (our spy journal on subcultures, written by the best writers & photographers in Brooklyn & Austin) will be launching in the next week!


It was a pleasure speaking with Teghvir Sethi of .Bk. Stay on the look out for more #MANday features!

*Photos courtesy of Janine Just Inc.

Exclusive Interview: UK Rapper Ikes Talks The Evolution of The Rap Game In London, Bringing His Talents Stateside, & More!

Back in October 2013 during the clusterfuck that is CMJ week, I met a lovely Brit by the name of Ikes while out and about at Fader Fort. We chatted, got some food, party-hopped with friends, and kept in touch as he told me that he was a rapper based in London, that was really starting to get his feet wet in the US.

Fast forward a couple months and Ikes’ music and videos are plastered on all the major blogs. It’s amazing to see the love for him from the US, so I personally wanted to get to know him better on the music-side, by having him tell his story, via an exclusive interview with yours truly. Enjoy!

Tell us about your musical influences growing up, and when you knew you wanted to pursue music professionally?

I grew up in a Nigerian household in the UK, there was a lot of cultural African music. My Pops is very musically inclined, and his vinyl collection was crazy. He had a lot of African music, but then again he had a lot of Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Elvis Presley, Tracy Chapman, and everyone really, so I just picked up from there. I’m the youngest of six; my eldest brother was a DJ, and he just kind of passed it down. I looked up to my two oldest brothers, they were so musically inclined and that’s where I got most of the music from, cuz they really were the rap fans back in the day. They always brought home the latest Wu-Tang, Pharcyde; these are the people I grew up on you know? I always used to thief their tapes and stuff.

We have a genre back here [UK] called garage. It’s kind of like dance music but gritty. We used to emcee over music, and I did loads of that. When I got to what we call “college”, you guys call “high school”, the garage culture was evolving a lot, it was evolving into something called grime, this was in 2002.  A lot of people started getting into grime, and emcees became grime acts; I as an emcee became a rapper. I was just influenced by different things. I was listening to Nas, and Jay, Busta, Ludacris and Cam, this was Dipset-heavy era…this was the kind of music I was listening to, which I was heavily influenced by. I started rapping in high school [college in the UK], and when I got into university, I signed up for MySpace and put up some music. It was not mixed, the sound was awful! I freestyled on Ameriie’s “Why Don’t We Fall In Love?” record, I had a couple freestyles on there, I thought I was fly. I got a really, really good response, but the response came from America, not from the UK. I had all these Americans hitting me up, saying that the music helped them get through stuff, and that it really touched them, and that’s when I knew, it must have been 2005, but I knew I wanted to feel like that everyday.

Music Video: “Walk to Freedom”, which documents his most recent trip to New York.

You have your own music-focused creative development & marketing company called Port Mayfair. Can you tell us more about what you all do, and the inspiration behind the name? 

As I said, most love used to come from abroad, so we just took it there; I needed an international network. We got all entrepreneurial and I founded a lifestyle group which is Port Mayfair. Mayfair is in Central London, it’s very bougie, for the rich and famous, and very high-end, dining and clubs. The port is where the yachts all meet at one point, and so my idea is, ‘I don’t come from anything and I don’t have the big label, and I don’t have this big backing’ or whatever, but I honestly do believe in creating a product that is as good as a Kanye, as good as those people that are right up here. So when I say “Port Mayfair”, I’m just talking about really creative individuals colliding, and not compromising on product. I’ve just used “Mayfair” because that’s the area, and “port” is where we come together. I want to work with people who are top of their game; they may not have the name, but they are as good as anyone else that’s doing it. It’s kind of like my version of DONDA, basically. I understood coming into the industry that it’s more than music, and people have to buy into you as a person, and what you believe in; buy into you as a brand, you know?

How does rap music in the UK differentiate from that in America?

There isn’t a rap culture in the UK; there is a rap market, but there is not a rap culture. What that means is that we can’t birth any real rap stars here; you can’t make your name here. If you have a name already, there is a market for you, but you can’t make your name here doing rap music. You can make your name here doing “pop-rap” music, i.e. Tinie Tempah, Dizzie Rascal, but if you want to make “rap” music, not trying to discredit or throw shade on those guys cuz I like them, it’s a different genre and it’s not to be confused; they came from grime. A lot of what they call UK rappers are grime acts, but in order to promote them and market them across the nation, is by calling them rappers. They are rappers, they just don’t make rap music.

You were recently on a college tour in the US. What was that experience like?

I’ve recently come back from this college tour in New York, where I saw you. It wasn’t really a big thing, but it was good for experience. I did a lot of traveling and I met some cool people, you know? It just adds to the story.

What can we expect from Ikes, the artist, in the coming months? 

I’ve finished the EP, it’s called “Outside In”. The name plays off the fact that I’ve had to go outside to build a name, with the intentions of  building a name outside to get back in to the UK. I’ve worked real close with a guy named Edward Nixon, who’s the chief engineer of Grammy Award-winning production team, the Justice League. I’ve got this international team now, and we’re ready to deliver “Outside In” to the masses. We don’t have an exact date for the release, but we know we want it to be summer. We want people to want the project, if that makes sense. I’ve got a load of material that is not on the project that we will use to get that buzz going.


It was a pleasure chatting with Ikes! Look out for his latest EP, “Outside In”, coming later this summer. Also be sure to check him out on his official website, Twitter, and Facebook.

 

*Photos courtesy of Ikes 

#WOMANday Exclusive: Estée & Felicia Mancini of Girls With Gunz Talk E-commerce, Personal Style & Working With Family!

FELICIA & ESTÉE MANCINI OF GIRLS WITH GUNZ

Once upon a time, there were two sisters from Ontario, Canada who had a vision, and made it their job to bring it into fruition. Their names are Estée and Felicia Mancini and they are the women behind Girls With Gunz, an online destination that is part visual imagery of strong, stylish women, part online shop selling designer, vintage, and custom fashion pieces.

I was intrigued by their imagery and unapologetic style, so I found it fitting to feature the ladies in this edition of #WOMANday. Read on to learn more about the ladies behind the brand.

Tell us the story behind Girls With Gunz.

Estée: In university I was studying Sociology and Women’s Studies and I wasn’t exactly sure where everything was headed, I just knew that something was missing. In my second year of university I bought a camera with no expectations of what was really going to happen, I just knew that I really loved taking pictures of my girlfriends. So whenever before we would get ready, I would always be like, “Let me take a picture of you!”. We would use lamps as lights, trying it all out, and eventually, I guess I started realizing that I only liked shooting women, and I really liked the idea of not using any models at all. All the girls I take pictures of are girls that I either meet through my friends or on the street. I’ll approach them or go on Instagram, so it basically started like that; when people that didn’t know me were asking who was taking these pictures, and ‘how can I be a part of it?’.

Felicia: That’s where Girls With Gunz started; that was Estée’s creation, but I think the clothing and the fashion aspect of it was something we’ve been doing since we were kids and we were never really aware of it. I did styling work for different music videos and Estée worked on a few different film sets, and we kind of found ourselves facing the same problems; when budget was an issue, when size was an issue, when options were an issue, and the mall didn’t cut it. It was for our own selfish reasons. Girls With Gunz was for us and our girls, and I think it still remains as that, but I think when we say “our girls” now, it’s girls in Argentina, girls in Greece, etc. But I think it always started with a love for fashion, and a love for stylish and smart women…to kind of fill a void that we experienced in our own professional careers, and that we knew was something that we always did on a personal level. I had a boutique and at that time me and Estée, it [Girls With Gunz] was mostly pictures, but  we found ourselves making swimsuits, making shorts, making different things with our aunts; it’s a family affair you can say. The Girls With Gunz family has expanded, but it’s still mostly a family, and I guess that’s where it really started, was here, in Hamilton, Ontario.

What’s it like working with your sibling?

Felicia: Like the best and the worst, because it’s like working with yourself. Everything that I hate, Estée hates, which I think is a very important thing, even as much as things that you love; the way we appreciate style, the things we like, the things we gravitate towards, it’s a good thing working with your sister cuz you can have little spats, and ten minutes later you can say, ‘Ok, let’s get back to work’.

Estée: Yea. And I think because what our Mom always told us, ‘blood is thicker than water’, what better person to do business with than someone who you know will always have your back, do you know what I mean? What I lack, she [Felicia] has, and vice versa. She’s got more of the Public Relations side, and she’s more  like the business one, and I’m always the dreamer, thinking of new ideas and how we can present it.  What would other girls like us want to see?

ESTÉE MANCINI

So you balance each other very well?    

Felicia: Yea, and I think that’s the hardest part about having a business with another person, that balance, and we’ve had this balance since I was like 1 1/2 and she was a newborn baby, or whatever the difference is. It’s a good balance and I think also, there’s nothing personal. So when we have these spats or debates over things, we know it’s for the greater good of the business, and we have to have them. It’s not like being in business with a friend or an associate, where you kind of have to walk on eggshells sometimes? You can be as honest as humanly possible with your sister, so I think it’s been a really good experience. Blood is thicker than water, and that’s what we have always been taught.

How would you both separately define your personal style?

Felicia: Estée and me both think we have an inner-J.Lo inside of us [laughs]. I think my style is very dark, and  then I have weird, random moments where I’m in a floral dress. My best friend growing up was a complete androgynous tomboy, so at a really early age, I took notes from her without even realizing it. I love menswear, I love vintage, but I find myself now just trying to create a uniform. So tomboy, I like urban, but I like things that are polished. I like unisex; I think that’s my biggest thing, I like being able to be really girly, but also being able to wear my boyfriend’s t-shirts, and dressing that up as well. I’ll let Estée go…

Estée: Oh, it’s so hard! I feel like it honestly depends on the day, and J.Lo [laughs]. I think the main thing is that I don’t dress for guys, I dress for other stylish girls that notice. It’s like the greatest compliment to me, being able to go out and see another girl who’s got great style say, ‘I really like what you’re wearing!’, and I’m like, ‘YES!’. I don’t really care how other people, especially the opposite sex, are really gonna see it, because I feel at the end of the day when you are unique, people notice that. I don’t really follow what’s going on in fashion too much, I love it and I always keep an eye on it, but I don’t really believe in ‘certain things are in, certain things are out’ because certain things we were wearing a couple of years ago were ‘out’ and certain people are wearing it now, so we don’t really follow it.

FELICIA MANCINI

What can we expect in the future for Girls With Gunz

Estée: We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. Hopefully just bigger and better. I really want to travel a lot more and take pictures of more girls, whether in New York, or just all over the place basically. I just want to keep doing that and keep meeting girls out there that are like us. Doing more photoshoots, more styling, some more events hopefully, pop-up shops throughout Canada and the U.S. especially.

Felicia: I think for a while we were both working, Esteé was in school, I was working in different areas in media and we always had this love of fashion that was in the background that was always there. So when Estée started doing the photos, things kind of took a different turn. We found ourselves blending Girls With Gunz, the photo and the lookbook, with the clothes, which now we are really focused on branding, and  kind of just trying to make it all fit and mesh as one. So that it’s not even just a clothing line, it’s not even just a look, but I don’t want to be cliche and say it’s a ‘culture thing’, but we’re trying to do something  where it’s all unified. We have pop-up shops in our hometown, there’s an event every second Friday called Art Crawl. It’s artists from our city and beyond, and it’s a whole street, a big block, and people sell things, there’s artists, there’s different events, so we like making our local presence, as far as Art Crawl goes, to support the community, and just looking to do pop-up shops everywhere else, and further expanding our collection. I believe it is an exciting time because we have complete control over things, so it’s really up to us where we take this.

Any advice you may have for young entrepreneurs who would want to be in a similar space in fashion and e-commerce?

Estée: I would just say that you have to know that it will be a very difficult one for a while, but if you really know that it’s something that you love to do, then just keep doing it. There really is no option of stopping, it’s just a matter of what’s the path to take for us to get there.

Felicia: I think if I were to have a little bit of advice, it would be to just own everything, from conception to creation. If you are very sure of your brand and what you are trying to portray, you just need to do it, no excuses. If you know what you want, and you want it bad enough, you will find a way.


Follow the Girls With Gunz journey on their e-commerce site, Tumblr, and Facebook!

*Photos courtesy of Girls With Gunz

#WOMANday Exclusive: A.V. Rockwell & Amy Collado of #OPENCITYMIXTAPE Talk NYC, Crowdfunding, & The Future of Film!

It was a glum day in Brooklyn when I decided to meet up with A.V. Rockwell and Amy Collado; the director and producer (respectively) of independent film series, Open City Mixtape. The series, shot entirely in black and white, is a collection of short stories of New York City life in its rawest form, something that touched a chord with me personally as a native New Yorker.

In this feature, we get to know the ladies a little better, and the steps they have taken to make to bring Open City Mixtape into fruition.

…it’s really cool that what we’ve done in some ways is document what New York was like in this era in time. – A.V. Rockwell

 

How did you ladies initially start working together?

A.V.: I’ve been freelancing as a filmmaker and videographer for the past few years. Around the time that we had started to work on Open City, I had just officially decided that I wanted to work on a project. I had known Amy at that point for almost a year, and I had asked her to be a part of the first short film that we shot, and it just snowballed from there. I had a rough idea of what I wanted to do, and it just grew over time.

Amy: I stumbled into filmmaking. My way in was when I decided to work with A.V.; she asked me to come on board, as she mentioned. I was really inspired by her work, and her work ethic, and it was just like “Whatever you need need me to do, I’m there”. Before that, I was always very free-spirited, very “go-with-the-flow”. I was the friend that people would call if they were having a photoshoot and they needed someone to handle lighting, or jump in front of the camera, so you know, it was something I was really excited to be a part of. We would have never guessed that the crazy cool things that have happened.

Give us more background on Open City Mixtape as a project, and how you anticipate its growth in the not-too-distant future.

A.V.: It’s an idea I had started to think about in late 2011/beginning of 2012. I just thought it would be really cool to take the concept of a mixtape and apply that to what I do, as somebody who is aspiring to one day be a feature filmmaker. Recording artists use mixtapes to get from where they are, to where they want to be with a studio album, so I thought it would be something cool to experiment with. I was really busy at the time doing videography, on the road alot, but when I came back to New York I said, “I have the time now to get it off the ground”, even though I didn’t have a lot of resources, I was determined to still make it happen. So I was like, “You know what, we’ll just tell these short, sweet stories, and if people mess with it, cool, if not, it’s still something that I can use as a tool to grow with as a filmmaker.

You used crowd-funding sources to help aid in the completion of the project. How important do you foresee crowd-funding sites being in the creative future?

Amy: I think its inevitable. I think people going into creative fields know that financing, or raising funds for anything is difficult. We’ve learned that it’s an ongoing thing. It would be great to have a start-up with a set budget, whether you’re an artist trying to do something at a gallery, or film, it’s [fundraising] something that you have to get used to.

A.V.: The best part about crowd-funding is that you really let people be a part of what you’re doing. It makes people feel like, “Wow! I really made a difference”, or “I was really a part of getting that project off the ground”. As far as filmmaking overall, I don’t see it going away any time soon. Filmmaking as industry is changing so much, especially independent cinema. We live in age where it’s not as challenging to make a film on your own as it was thirty years ago. With resources, there’s just so much more accessibility and in line with that, people no longer have to search and beg for these investors to fund their films. Crowd-funding is another way of bridging the gap.

Any advice you would give to young, aspiring filmmakers?

A.V.: In the past two years alone, a lot of doors have opened up for women and there is a lot of interest in the female perspective; we’re just as talented and versatile as our male counterparts. There’s definitely a lot more industry interest in female directors, and I think that’s cool. There’s a lot of diversity both in front of the camera, and behind the camera, even in writing. You have Shonda Rhimes who is basically owning television right now, and Lena Dunham. There’s a lot of great people in all facets of the medium.

Amy: I would say to be patient. I know it sounds corny, but keeping that mentality of having your “eyes on the prize”; finishing what you start. Go in it for the right reasons too. If you’re going to capture a story, or have a story to tell, try to stay true to that.

A.V.: Focus on telling stories that really mean something to you, and aren’t things that have been done over and over.

 


 

Follow the Open City Mixtape story on their main website and Facebook. Be sure to look out for more #WOMANday features weekly!

*Photo by Britt Sense

#MANday Exclusive: Frank Billini of La Lucha Chats Life, Business, & Mexican Food!

Frank Billini of La Lucha
Frank Billini of La Lucha in the restaurant

Growing up in a family with a background in entertainment, and following that in many aspects of his life currently, being a partner in an increasingly popular Mexican restaurant in New York City’s East Village neighborhood may not have been the expected route for Frank Billini.

We stopped by La Lucha to chat with our friend Frank, to get the lowdown on the story behind the eatery, and what we can expect in the not-too-distant future.

Tell us about the story behind La Lucha, and the wrestling theme of the restaurant.

My dad was a wrestler, and from the age of eight years old he used to lie to his family to be in this wrestling league. He really loved it and was really good at it. He used to fight older people. Imagine being 8 and fighting 13-year olds?

He recently got re-married, and we opened La Lucha in 2008. His wife is from Mexico City, so she has this very rich Mexican culture, and this appetite for Mexican food that didn’t exist in New York [at the time].  For her, there is a flavor that she is expecting when it comes to Mexican food, so we really tried to touch that and keep it semi-traditional, and cool…it’s just a  reintroduction to Mexican food.

What are some plates that set La Lucha apart from its counterparts?

Honestly, I don’t think there is a plate that separates us from other restaurants. I think what makes us different is the experience when you come to our restaurant. We want to create intangible experiences where people can come here and be like, “Wow! I don’t remember where this sh*t was located…I was really drunk, whatever,  but I remember that they brought that ring when they brought the check. That was magical for me. I took a photo, and I remember that.”  

We have some very good vegetable options, that’s something we are trying to highlight more now along with gluten-free options,  because people are becoming more health-conscious. I think there is no other Mexican restaurant with as many vegetable tacos as we have. Like the Hibiscus Taco; amazing.

An example of the "Luchador" theme in the restaurant, via a wallpaper effect of wrestling posters.
An example of the “Luchador” theme in the restaurant, via a wallpaper effect of wrestling posters.

What are some of your favorite plates on the menu?

I really enjoy our signature tacos. They come in threes; it kind of feels like I am up-selling you, but I’m not. A lot of those tacos are mixtures of other tacos on the menu. We have a vegetable signature taco on the menu, which is poblano peppers mixed with mushroom; the Huracán. That one is really good, but my favorite has to be the El Santo, or the Mil Máscaras. The Mil Máscaras, I love to talk about because it has bacon.  I love bacon, and it has bits of bacon, not big strips. You have an option of chicken or steak, and it is mixed with roasted poblano peppers, corn, onions; it’s delicious. And then we put the queso chihuahua on top; it is one of my favorites. The El Santo is the meat-lovers taco. It has our red salsa mixed with salted steak that we cure ourselves, it also has chicarron; it’s really a delicious taco man, I’ve never tasted anything like that before.

Tell us about the future of La Lucha, and your newest food truck output in the works in Brooklyn.

We just got a trailer, it’s an extended trailer and we put a banner on it. We are still getting equipment, but by summer it will be up and running. It will be called “La Lucha”, but we may give it a nickname. We are working with some artists right now so we can do something that doesn’t feel too corporate. We want it to feel artsy, like the aesthetic of Brooklyn. I want it to feel “real”. You know what I mean?


As La Lucha prepares to open their mobile output this summer, be sure to stop by their brick and mortar location in the East Village for delicious, no nonsense Mexican food!

La Lucha

147 Avenue A ( Between 9th & 10th Street)
New York, New York 10009

Be sure to connect with them on Facebook at LaLucha NYC, and on Twitter at @LaLuchaNYC

 

*Photos by Andrea K. Castillo