By: Kristy Kurjan
Crisp fall air kisses rainbow leaves and a bald eagle soars overhead
to welcome the coming day. Its no wonder Northern Michigan has a
reputation for beauty and inspiration -- and these are among the
reasons why creative minds flock to the area. The gorgeous landscape,
friendly people, and laid-back life style provide a dream environment
that fosters innovation.
Here are just a few of the many women entrepreneurs who are succeeding
in turning their artistic talents into thriving enterprises in the
region. Take a look at what they are doing, why they are doing it, and
how they got there. Without a doubt these women have faced challenges;
but for them, it is well worth the reward of living and working in
Michelle Pollock: Shoe Designer
Art for the Sole Traverse City
Michelle Pollocks shoe design company, Art for the Sole Shoes,
features shoes that are more than just fashion; they are pieces of
art. Her clients purchase them for special occasions, weddings or
simply to bring a smile to their faces. She is starting to gain
national recognition and has created shoes for Miss USA Rima Fakih and
actress Jennifer Love Hewitt.
The designer spent generous amounts of time watching the glamorous
Hollywood women of the 1920s -1950s throughout her childhood years.
The romantic aspects of these films was not the only reason for
watching them, but the journey into a enchanting world of fashion and
feminine allure were my inspiration for my creativity, says Pollock.
Actresses such as Greta Garbo, Ginger Rogers, Katherine Hepburn, and
Grace Kelly were some of her initial muses. Their dresses were always
extremely glamorous and the shoes would take second fiddle. This lead
Pollock to ask the question; Why should the dress get all the
attention?! At the age of 14 she started creating shoes that took
Since then, Pollock has combined her passions for art, cars, fashion,
and shoes into her dream job as a shoe designer. She started Art for
the Sole Shoes two years ago and has slowly expanded and developed her
brand image. Each year she creates two collections: spring/summer and
fall/winter. The lines consist of 20-35 limited edition shoes priced
at $200 and up. She also creates one-of-a-kind exclusives for her
clients which start at a higher price tag, around $500.
Designing has not always been her career. She entered the United
States Marine Corps directly out of high school. After the Marines,
she worked her way up the corporate ladder at Sams Club to become a
buyer. There, she obtained many of the business skills she now
utilizes as an entrepreneur, like business discipline and having an
eye for what the consumer wants.
Art for the Soles fall 2010 shoe line debuted at the Grand Traverse
Resorts Fashion Bash in October and was featured at Swing Shift and
the Stars. To check out the line in person, it will be featured at the
Festival of Trees at the Hagerty Center on November 18-21.
Becky Thatcher: Jewelry Designer
Becky Thatcher Designs Glen Arbor
Becky Thatcher is a jewelry designer and owner of Becky Thatcher
Designs based out of Glen Arbor. When I came to Glen Arbor 28 years
ago, I was the first new business to open in 20 years. Everyone
thought I was crazy, says Thatcher. Since starting her business she
has watched as the area has grown and morphed into a supportive artist
community. She now has stores in Glen Arbor, Leland, Harbor Springs,
Traverse City, as well as an online store front. While most of her
clients are visitors to the area, she also has a strong local
The jewelry designers typical morning starts off with a 2.8 mile hike
up Sleeping Bear Sand Dunes. In the early fall hours she can be found
on the dune top watching the sunrise. She takes note of its changing
seasons by reflecting on the brightest yellow leaf falling from a tree
or the way the suns rays light up a red freighter passing by. These
observations then influence the rest of her day, especially within her
designs. It is great to be able to live, breath, and tie your
surroundings into your life. I am grateful for the opportunity.
Her designs are based around the inherent beauty of natural elements
which can be seen both in her designs and her business mindset. It is
a good challenge to see how to be creative beyond the objects we make,
to share the stories and inspiration behind the process, in how we
choose to market, display, and package. Thatcher explains that
artists can use their creativity not just to make a product but to
overcome business hurdles in innovative ways. I think we can use the
excuse of being an artist as a quick explanation as to why we are not
taking a textbook approach to solutions in business.
Megan Gilger: Graphic Designer
Hitch Design Traverse City
What type of person opens a package of M&Ms only to organize them by
corresponding hue? Someone who is obsessed with color. Meet graphic
designer Megan Gilger. She is the owner and creative director of Hitch
Design Studios based out of Traverse City.
Gilger moved from Lexington, Kentucky in the summer of 2009 with a
degree in media communications from Asbury University specializing in
Multimedia Design and Project Management. Since starting Hitch Design
she has produced products for clients ranging from stylish brides
looking for fresh designs to corporations asking for eye-catching
logos. At Hitch Design Studio, every day is different: blogging,
editing, client meetings, communicating with vendors, and of course,
My husband gives me a hard time because I constantly take photos of
things, exclaiming, look at this palette or that sunset will be great
for this project, says Gilger. I am so inspired here by nature, the
people, the food, and everything that is Northern Michigan. But that
water, that water just fills my soul in a way nothing else can.
Gilger feels extremely lucky to be able to follow her passion and
succeed in the business aspect of owning a company. In addition to
using her creative gifts as an entrepreneur, she has learned to
utilize mainstream business skills in her day-to-day interactions. Her
client relations, financial, and time management abilities are now
stronger than ever. It has meant a lot of learning and a lot of
moments of humility but every time one of those moments happens, it
shows me new strengths and areas where I should improve, she
explains. I work every day off lists, so if I dont have a list there
is no way I would accomplish anything; it keeps me sane.
Lindy Bishop: Oil Painter &
Seed Studio/Gallery Elk Rapids
Lindy Bishop moved back to her hometown of Elk Rapids after living in
Chicago for 26 years in the advertising world. As a single mother of
three, she wanted to provide her family the same joys she had of
growing up in Northern Michigan. The only missing piece of the puzzle
was the career path to make it possible.
In May of 2009, Bishop opened Seed Studio Gallery in Elk Rapids which
showcases her own paintings as well as those of other artists. Since
opening its doors the studio has also become a concert space for local
performers and a place where the creative community gathers. The
gallery provides Bishop the time and opportunity to talk about ideas,
writing, and music with other people in the area. The area is full of
artists, she says. It calls artists to the area.
One of her biggest challenges is trying to match all of the great
works of art with markets. Thus, she has been working on marketing her
artists through her website as well as Facebook and Twitter. Her
clients are mainly out-of-town visitors, often from urban areas such
as New York, L.A., or Chicago. There are some very good collectors in
the area, but it is a matter of population -- trying to match the
artists to the buyers.
Seed Gallerys newest exhibit called Vintages Then and Now,
showcases Midwest artists work inspired by the word vintage. The
first is of the wine industry, including interpretations of wine and
vineyards. The other meaning is a local historical perspective. Seed
gallery paired with the Elk Rapids historical society using old
photographs that artists then recreated with their own vision.
Sue Burns: Accessory Designer
Baa Baa Zuzu Lake Leelanau
Northern Michigan is known for its cold winters, which is one of the
reasons Sue Burns line Baa Baa Zuzu has been so successful. Sue
recycles shrunken wool sweaters to produce woolen garments that are
sold in over 1,000 stores across the Unites States and Canada. This
fall season they added Japan to that list. Her line of woolen items
includes fingerless gloves, ski caps, jackets and even boot liners.
A happy accident is how Burns refers to the beginning stages of Baa
Baa Zuzu. One day, her husband shrunk a batch of wool sweaters in the
laundry leading to a childrens wear line made out of recycled
materials. Adults started pleading for their own products so Burns
quickly followed the market demand, abandoning the childrens clothing
to focus entirely on a womens line. After 17 years in business, the
company has grown from a basement shop in Lake Leelanau to a thriving
business with 20 employees.
The good news is the company continues to grow at a rate of 30-40% per
year, even in these tough economical times, says Burns. Last year her
company produced over 12,000 pairs of mittens. This year they hope to
make even more. Baa Baa Zuzu is a seasonal line; however, the company
is in production year-round to make enough goods to fill orders come
fall and winter. Burns says she likes to use current trends as her
inspiration for new product, noting what people are asking for, and
then implementing the Baa Baa Zuzu look and feel. Our pieces are
pieced together, but not patchwork she says.
Initially, one of her biggest challenges was marketing the companys
product as recycled goods. Thanks to a large recycling movement, the
mindset has progressively changed over the years to a point where
customers are seeking out earth-friendly goods. And, it doesnt hurt
that the products are handmade in Michigan.
What does the future look like for Baa Baa Zuzus Sue Burns? Nothing
but up! Everyday is a new day because every article we make is
different... We never know what will come in our next piece of wool.