meet laura: chicago upcycler of old into new

Dstressed Cuff,

My cuff I bought from Laura! “I’ve always loved vintage jewelry and stuff, so I started making cuffs where I use vintage bindings for the middle, and the snap covers are all vintage buttons,” she says.

It was love at first sight.

My gorgeous gray leather cuff, shown in the picture on the left, was lovingly made out of all vintage materials by Laura Allswang, the vintage upcycling guru behind Dstressed. While I was interviewing Laura in her home, she brought out these cuff bracelets she makes. The soft gray coupled with the silver leaf caught my eye. My fatal mistake was trying it on—it fit like a glove. So naturally, by the time the conversation was over, I had to have it. And now I wear it all the time! Today I am wearing it in honor of People with Panache, sharing Laura’s story. (And I thought it would be a great second-ever post on PWP’s brand-new Instagram account!)

Laura lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and kids (the ones not away at college). She met her husband when they were both in law school. Then, she practiced law for a short time before realizing she didn’t really want to be a lawyer. She decided to stay at home with her kids and as they grew up needed more. Laura let her creative juices flow and started painting furniture, which grew into a business involving decorative trays from picture frames, supple leather cuffs and more—all in her signature distressed style using only vintage and antique pieces.

People with Panache: How did you transform your hobby into a business?

Laura Allswang, Dstressed, PWP

One of Laura’s favorite parts of her business? “I just love the talking with people. I needed something where I could really relate to people, do something creatively and make connections.” We relate to that!

Laura Allswang: I’ve always loved redoing and creating things. So I started painting furniture as a hobby about 10 years ago. I would either find things and paint them, or I had a friend who would ask me to paint her stuff. I didn’t charge her at first; it was fun! Eventually she said she wasn’t going to ask me to do another piece for her if I didn’t charge her something. I had no idea what I was doing, but that’s how I got into my business—painting furniture.

PWP: How did the trays and cuffs come into play?

LA: My nephew, who is a business person, said: You know, you really need a small product of some sort to show people. It’s hard to lug your furniture around and say, ‘Oh I paint furniture, and here’s a huge piece.’

Laura Allswang and one of her trays, People with Panache

Retail was hard for Laura when she was starting out, because it was often consignment and took up all her inventory. Events seem like her sweet spot!

Then I started collecting old frames and hardware and came up with my signature piece: Ottoman/vanity trays in all different sizes, made out of vintage frames and hardware with vintage-inspired fabrics under the glass.

PWP: How did you develop your style?

LA: I always loved different layers of paint sanded back to give a rustic, distressed look. That’s my signature style.

Even with my trays, when people say, oh do you do something modern? I just don’t. That’s not my thing.

Early on, I took my trays to a store I had always wanted to carry them. They tried to get me to bring them down to a lower price point so they could stock them, but the one thing that a lot of people told me when I started my business is to start higher. People will pay more for something they see as more valuable. If you can make it there, then stay there. Don’t devalue yourself. I was really proud of myself; I told them I can’t. And they said, ‘But you could do it cheaper if you got your frames from Homegoods and went to a hardware store…’ I was almost sweating. I could do that, but that’s not my business model. I can’t turn around and tell someone that’s a vintage frame. But it was like this turning point: This is who I am, and I have to stay true to myself.

Laura Allswang, People with Panache

This eclectic, super tall giraffe is actually her brother’s—he got it at the Old Town art fair! And she has been taking care of it for him for 20 years.

PWP: That’s so important! You can’t let someone else’s business model shape how you run yours. Now how do you go about selling the trays?

LA: I started with by getting in touch with a local store that mainly carried jewelry and clothing stuff but featured some housewares, and she gave me a try. So I started slowly.

Then I began doing a summer fair here and there. A jeweler friend and I got into a networking group together, she started helping me network, and then we did One of a Kind Chicago. This winter will be my third year. She and I signed up together with booths next to each other—my first real foray into seeing how this thing was going to work. I made like 110 trays and I ended up selling 60 or 70. I was really excited. I did a couple summer shows, like a sidewalk sale, and started getting into a couple of stores. And I just took off.

The next year I did One of a Kind, it was really fun because people remembered me—and this time, they came to buy! It was really a good feeling.

Laura, People with Panache

Laura showed me a project she’s currently working on—she’s trying to decide which blue would be best! “Before One of a Kind, I redid my website and I needed to pull everything together—I’m painting furniture, making trays, stuff with old windows, I can reupholster chairs,” she says. “So we came up with a slogan that was Classic Vintage to Upscale Chic. That gave me the forum to be able to do different things all under the vintage umbrella.”

PWP: What do you love about being a vendor versus having your trays in a store?

LA: I just love the personal side. I love talking to people; it’s so fun to discuss. I love the interpersonal part of being at fairs and hearing people’s ideas. From that, I do a lot of custom stuff.

PWP: How is your furniture business doing?

LA: Probably about a year ago, out of nowhere, someone saw something and asked me if I paint furniture. I said I do, that’s how my business actually started, and it’s just taken off in the last year. I’ve been painting so much furniture, which is really nice—and for people I don’t know, which is even better. I have really good, supportive friends in my community but I wanted to see if I could break out and have people who weren’t my friends use me. I want people to do it because they like my product, not because they feel like they have to buy a tray. I was really self-taught in that also, so now I’ve taken a couple classes and that’s been great.

PWP: What do you love the most?

LA: The thing I love the most is the taking old things and making them new. Don’t get rid of good, old furniture and buy some piece of garbage that’s going to fall apart. People don’t believe you, but you paint it and it comes to life!

[Photos by Kate.]

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our chicago pwp party!

IMG_9476Last Thursday night, September 24, Alysse and I hosted our second PWP party—this time in Chicago at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery & Think Space! Whenever I throw a party, I somehow convince myself that NO ONE is going to show up. So until people started trickling in on Thursday evening (besides my mom, who showed up first), I was panicking.

But after the last person had gone home with her custom Big White Yeti candle and a phone full of new connections, we cleaned up, full of joy and exploding with pride and gratitude. Over the course of 3 hours, we had about 35 of my favorite people on this planet gathered in Beauty and Brawn, and I can’t wait to do it again.

For Alysse and me, it’s all about creating our own kind of community—a community of women united not by occupation or demographics or geographics. No, these women are united by something bigger: their ambition and passion to make the most out of this life. That is one of the main reasons Alysse and I write this blog and have gatherings like this. We are lucky enough to get to meet these amazing women and tell their stories every week—but when we’re sitting one-on-one with them, listening to their triumphs and disappointments and lessons learned, we can’t ignore the overwhelming desire to connect them to others who know exactly how they feel. We try our very best to portray each woman in our blog posts as who she really is, but there’s nothing like the feeling you get hearing someone’s story firsthand. And that is the inspiration for creating the PWP community. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee teacher, leader, community creator part 2

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we're having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You're invited! :)

Here are Melissa, my roommate Jessica, me and Kate at our first People With Panache party! This Thursday, from 6-8, we’re having another celebration of People With Panache at Beauty & Brawn Art Gallery and Think Space. You’re invited! :)

“I have this desire to create the best world for children,” Melissa Pallin says.

This vision rings so true to me, too. Growing up with a grandma who ran a daycare with me as her little sidekick, a mom and dad who were parental figures way before I was born, and a toy box full of dolls I called my “kids,” I’ve always loved children, even when I was one. Now, at work, I get to write grants for programs that provide children with education about growing food, eating healthfully and working as a team—and because we’re so small and connected, I also sometimes get to work with the kids, too. It’s a great blend of my skills and passions, something I think most of us strive for. Melissa has also found a way to lead a passion-driven life—as we saw in last week’s post. I hope you met Melissa already but if not, she’s a perpetual student, teacher, and creator of a better, brighter future for Milwaukee’s children.

Melissa Pallin, 29, established Summer of Learning in the City of Milwaukee, an 8-week summer education program featuring a 5-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Montessori methods and real-world experiences with the City of Milwaukee as the classroom. It was precipitated by the facts that (a) more than half the achievement gap between higher- and lower-income youth can be attributed to lack of access to summer learning and (b) most students lose about two months of their grade-level math skills over the summer, but lower-income students also lose more than two months in reading—while their higher-income peers actually make gains.

Melissa also created Milwaukee Teacher SPAce, a hub of teacher enrichment, connection and support in a spa-like atmosphere. Membership itself comes with collaborative open workshops, health and wellness opportunities, and more for teachers to feel supported and cared for. Melissa also sets up Teacher SPAces in schools themselves to catalyze collaboration, health and wellness through workshops, spa sessions, and even parent education retreats. Finally, Melissa works to make satellite SPAces in businesses and other community resources, featuring programming the first Tuesday of every month, bringing teachers, parents and children out into local businesses. Continue reading

meet melissa: milwaukee teacher, leader, community creator

Melissa’s goal: Connect the whole city to make dramatic change in education. “Teachers are community creators, designers, talent developers, and more,” she says, and the list goes on!

Melissa’s goal: Connect the whole city to make dramatic change in education. “Teachers are community creators, designers, talent developers, and more,” she says, and the list goes on!

Close your eyes (Okay, not actually—it’s really hard to read that way). Breathe in the sweet, vanilla-tinged smell of chocolate-chip cookies in the oven. Imagine the feeling of the warmest late-summer breeze on your skin. Let yourself get mesmerized by the image of a lake dazzling in the last golden glimmers of sunset. All those sparkly, warm, happy, almost-as-good-as-the-best hug feelings are my best attempt at describing what it feels like when you’re around Melissa Pallin. (She’s even sweeter than this pie I’m eating—and as you know, I freakin’ LOVE. PIE.)

During the day, Melissa, 29, is a teacher at Highland Community School, a Montessori school part of the Milwaukee Public School system. She also founded and runs Milwaukee Teacher SPAce and Milwaukee Summer of Learning (SOL), which take up her nights and summers. She is incredibly sunshiny, exuberantly enthusiastic, and I think all who meet her would agree: Melissa was born to work with children. Continue reading

meet imani: chicago designer, photographer, artist

50 Shots, Imani Amos, People with Panache

Imani is holding the flyer for her “50 Shots” project. She says, “The project really isn’t about me. It’s more about pride and these men who are doing great things as a part of our community.”

I could eat Mexican food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I like to think of myself as a taco connoisseur. Recently I may have met my match: Imani Amos. When I met up with her to talk about her recent, stunning, timely and captivating art photography project, “50 Shots,” we ended up spending the last 20-ish minutes talking tacos. Thanks to her, I have a list of new places to try in Chicago!

Imani is currently at the tail end of earning her graphic design degree at the Illinois Institute of Art. She also teaches West African dance and has been performing since she was five years old. On the side, she is also a freelance model, but she wants to move more toward the other side of the camera—directing the shoots rather than being in them. She has a VERY cool Instagram. And although she bills herself as a graphic designer (not a photographer), she recently created a photography art project called “50 Shots: Humanizing America’s Most Hunted” that depicts the mug shots of 50 black men and five things about them that you might not know by looks alone. The outcome is powerful, compelling and so relevant to today.

People with Panache: Imani, your “50 Shots” show is eye-opening and beautiful. Where did you get the idea?

Imani Amos: I have a notebook where I just jot down ideas. About 3 or 4 years ago, I had this idea to take a mug shot of a few of my black male friends. I thought about how my friends who I knew very well could easily be pulled over and taken to jail. So I thought it would be funny if I took a mug shot of them and wrote down what they actually do. Continue reading

meet christina and jacob: investing in entrepreneurs through tourism

“If you want to change the world, take something powerful and nudge it.”

I’ve seen this quote attributed to a few people—but no matter who said it, that’s what Christina Taddy and Jacob Taddy are doing.

Christina and Jacob are working on transforming the travel industry with living wages, alleviating poverty—so they hope these businesses will eventually not need them and they can move on to other locations, other countries. “We want to call and hear, ‘Well, we’re booked…’,” Christina says.

Jacob and Christina are working on transforming the travel industry with living wages, alleviating poverty—so they hope these businesses will eventually not need them and they can move on to other locations, other countries. “We want to call and hear, ‘Well, we’re booked…’,” Christina says.

This brother-sister pair and I shared a table at Colectivo (Kate’s favorite coffee shop in Milwaukee) to talk about Onwards, the nonprofit the two built together. Onwards uses tourism to address global poverty, beginning in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Onwards breaks the seemingly insurmountable challenge of alleviating poverty into three parts that make a pretty phenomenal model: They offer microfinance services, training, and ultimately revenue for the businesses they invest in. Their lending model gives lower-interest-rate loans and only accepts repayments when Onwards provides business via trips they plan. “With our first loan recipient, Raquel, we booked two nights with a couple dozen people and a few staff trips. She’s paid back $450 of her $950 loan so far,” Jacob says—and that’s only from a portion of her proceeds. “This lending model shares the responsibility but takes the risk off the vulnerable, more impoverished entrepreneur.” Onwards has only been around for a little over a year, and they’ve already given two loans, planned two trips, and are about to host four launch parties across the country. These two were just the inspiration I need lately—they waste no time. Continue reading

meet steph: chicago aviator

Steph at Coffee

Stephanie hails from Silverthorne, Colo., a small town near Breckenridge. But she says she loves Chicago and plans on staying!

I just made a very serious, long-term commitment.

I decided to join a book club. But really. If you’re a busy person and you’ve ever been in a book club, you know the struggle of completing one whole book every month is real. But I am determined to read more, so I shall persevere!

Anyway, at my new book club, I met Stephanie Hlavacek. And Stephanie is an aviator.

Stephanie flies private. She works in the aviation department of JD Norman Industries, an auto parts manufacturing company headquartered in Addison, Ill. Mostly, she flies the CEO and other executives in their private Hawker 800 XP aircraft to their various plant locations around the Midwest, and she also occasionally transports them to Canada, Mexico and England, too. But the road to becoming a pilot is long and can be turbulent (see what I did there? But Steph advises not to worry about turbulence—the planes and pilots can handle it. Really.).

Steph’s journey to the sky began when she was 10 years old. One day, out of the blue, she told her parents: “I want to be a pilot.” In high school, when it was time to think about college, she was still dreaming about aviation, so they sent her to a single flight lesson to make sure she really loved it. Of course, she was hooked and wanted to begin training immediately. She attended the University of Illinois’ aviation program in Champaign, Ill., where she did all of her flight training. After graduation, she worked at the university as a flight instructor for two years, then moved to Chicago and got a job at the Aurora airport—instructing and flying charters and eventually a private jet. A few years later, she was offered the position as one of JD Norman’s first private pilots. Continue reading

meet sara: yogini, teacher and nomad

Sara and Alysse at Cathedral Square in Milwaukee

Koha (as in Koha Yoga) is the Maori word for gift. After missing a flight from L.A., Sara headed to Venice Beach and caught eyes with Whakapaingia. It was “love at first flight,” as they say on their website. An instantaneous partnership and Koha Flying Yoga were created (in 2009). Baby Kotahiataahua, meaning “Beautiful Oneness,” followed soon after. Most of us call her Tahi!

A big part of Sara Laimon Luke’s story begins on a farm in Zimbabwe.

But we’ll get back to that in a minute.

Instead of 8,456 miles away, I first met Sara at a park 4 blocks from my apartment. In 2013, during Milwaukee’s Bastille Days, Sara and her husband Whakapaingia (Whaka) were sharing their acroyoga moves on the grass, inviting anyone to play. Together, they own and run Koha Yoga, and what I experienced was basically grown-up gymnastics mixed with the airplane move you do with your mom when you’re little, infused with some realllllllly good-feeling back stretches, and I’m so happy I joined in! From there, I went to my first-ever Koha Yoga acro workshop with Jessy, and I spent a week-long retreat with Sara and Whaka in Costa Rica this March. It was a trip of a lifetime.

And yet, until a couple weeks ago when I met Sara at the home where she grew up—above a bait shop on a lake halfway to Madison—I didn’t know about Africa or a huge section of her path. Continue reading

meet monique: milwaukee ph.d.-to-be

Monique has worked hard to be fully funded through her entire collegiate career, which gave her the spaces and time she needed to study, read, research and organize. “I’ve been able to find opportunities that nurtured passions but also put food on table,” Monique says. This woman is an inspiration.

Monique has worked hard to be fully funded through her entire collegiate career, which gave her the space and time she needed to study, read, research and organize. “I’ve been able to find opportunities that nurtured passions but also put food on the table,” Monique says. This woman is an inspiration.

Monique Liston is power and light. I don’t really know how else to say it without getting into corny territory.

She has a gift for taking seemingly insurmountable problems and bringing them down to earth; while some people suggest I share a few traits with the Energizer bunny, Monique’s energy is passionate, unrelenting, focused and true. Kate and I are grateful for this blog to give us a reason to sit down with people like her.

I first got to soak up some of Monique’s awesomeness at the most memorable session I’ve attended at the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee: Toward a Dignity-Based Framework for Serving Boys and Men of Color. Monique and Dr. Decoteau Irby, the assistant professor leading the project, presented a workshop that brought in nonprofit organizations to talk frankly about race, dignity and opportunity. The duo is creating a scale to measure dignity, especially when it comes to working with boys and men of color.

Monique graduated with her Master’s in Public Administration from University of Delaware and returned afterward to where she was born and raised: Milwaukee. Her first job back was Project Assistant at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Women’s Resource Center. She then moved on to UW-Whitewater to teach in the Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, returned to UW-Milwaukee to be Assistant Director of the Resource Center, and is now a research assistant with Dr. Irby at the Research Center for Urban Education and Leadership Development. She also does consulting on similar work—and during all of this, she has been pursuing her Ph.D. in urban education and leadership development since 2011. She plans to finish by fall 2016. Continue reading

our first pwp party!

Last Thursday, we hosted our first-ever real-life PWP party! We have talked with each other and the women we interview about bringing everyone together for more than two years now, so we finally set a date and made it happen. June 30, oh, you were a good day.

It was so exciting and fun to bring together nearly 40 people—including women we’ve featured from Milwaukee, friends, and panachies-to-be—in one of our favorite Milwaukee spots that we also happen to have featured: The Ruby Tap. Brooke, Sarah and their staff graciously hosted our gathering and put together the most delicious cheeses, charcuterie, olives, almonds and popcorn to pair with our glasses of rosé, pinot and more. Yum yum yum—same thing next week?IMG_8865

Top Five Moments: Continue reading