Monthly Archives: March 2013

meet abbie and stacy: chicago kids’ clothing entrepreneurs

Within the first five minutes of our interview, Stacy Nordlund, 30, was singing the song her mom taught her to help remember how to spell her name. She and Abbie Kelley, 31, have been friends since childhood. Now, as grown-ups, they’ve combined their backgrounds in fashion and psychotherapy to create Little Monsters Gear, a children’s clothing line representing the fun, lovable qualities in every adorable kiddo.

I had a blast spending time with them and couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Abbie and Stacy and me and Alysse—way different personalities that complement each other at work and in life.

Read on to find out how they turned their talents and bond into a thriving business.

Much of Abbie and Stacy's monster inspiration comes from their families, who have nicknamed them Abba Dabba and Tillie (and a couple more).

Much of Abbie and Stacy’s monster inspiration comes from their families, who have nicknamed them Doodlebug and Tillie, respectively.

People with Panache: Let’s start with a little background. Where did the idea come from for the clothing line?

Abbie Kelley: Well, I’m the third of 15 and my dad had nicknames for all of us. After college, I started making characters and shirts for my brothers and sisters based off their nicknames. After that, I did it for friends and other family so it just started picking up that way. That’s where it started—as a passion project.

Stacy Nordlund: So she’d been doing this, and I’d seen it and said, “Abbie this is amazing. You have to do something with this! Let me help you.” I went to school at FIT in New York. At the end of 2011, we started making it official, turning it into a brand, streamlining things and making it more available to the public. So it’s been really good so far.

AK: It became a business when Stacy came on. We had the 10 monsters and then we did our official retail launch in January of this year when we went to STYLEMAX, a trade show in Chicago, to open it up to boutiques.

“It’s gonna be a monster world. Watch out!” —Stacy Nordlund

PWP: Your monsters have such unique personalities. Where do you find the inspiration for each one?

AK: I think my brothers and sisters—kids in general. I work with a lot of kids as a children’s psychotherapist. Each monster is a whole character, and that makes them unique. It’s not just a design. They each have their own stories. We think, “What would this guy look like? How is his personality?”

On their site, Abbie and Stacy say, "Goober’s thirst for knowledge and discovery means this monster gets into just about everything!" We believe it.

On their site, Abbie and Stacy say, “Goober’s thirst for knowledge and discovery means this monster gets into just about everything!” We believe it.

PWP: Who’s your favorite monster?

AK: Daredevil is my favorite right now. I think because it was so nerve-wracking coming out with our first launch; it was a very vulnerable feeling in general. Stacy’s the one who gave me a lot of courage. So I think me channeling Daredevil right now is appropriate.

PWP: Did you ever dream one day you’d start a children’s fashion brand?

SN: I always wanted to have my own business. Always. But it just really happened organically. It was the right thing to do for us.

AK: It’s pretty in line with something I would have done. Not necessarily how it manifested. But Stacy and I have always been really driven and have that entrepreneurial spirit.

SN: We like all the little details, and we like to be in charge. Every day we’re like “Oh look what we learned how to do!” All the little things where other people might think that’s crazy and annoying, but we’re like, “I can feel my brain expanding!”

AK: And what we’ve found, especially when we went to STYLEMAX, is that other business owners really embrace each other and the community in general.

SN: It’s so rewarding to be vulnerable and put yourself out there. And when you get responses, it’s all worth it.

Their book is the first in a series about the 10 monsters. Abbie uses her background in children's therapy to present monsters as being exciting, not scary.

Their book is the first in a series about the 10 monsters. Abbie uses her background in children’s therapy to present monsters as exciting, not scary.

PWP: How has the journey been so far?

SN: We’re on a rollercoaster—a fabulous one. You have a lot of ups and downs and everything in between, figuring out and navigating through all the decisions that we’re making. We’ve made some decisions and said, ”Okay, we won’t do that again,” or “Oh wow, that really worked out like we were hoping it would!”

AK: I really like black-and-white decision making, and I think one of the hardest things for me has been that I’ll be really excited about something and then there’s always something more. There’s never an end, a place to sit back and be done. That’s been a process for me. Every decision you make opens a door to something else.

PWP: What would you say is the mission of your monsters?

AK: A big part of our brand—and even ourselves—is empowerment. Celebrate the world around you, and celebrate kids and their unique perspectives.

SN: Kids with unique personalities grow into adults with unique personalities.

AK: And we want to celebrate the uniqueness of children, or monsters, and create a monster world. It’s definitely a world I would want to be in. I love imagining it—seeing the world through children’s eyes. That’s really what’s so fun about it.

SN: It’s gonna be a monster world. Watch out! Stinker’s bounding down the street.

“Whenever I think I know something concretely, it changes. I know this job is only going to keep getting better and better.” —Abbie Kelley

Meet Stinker—the character, not the little boy. He's Stacy's favorite!

Meet Stinker—the character, not the little boy. He’s Stacy’s favorite!

PWP: Would you say this is your dream job?

SN: Yes, 100 percent. This doesn’t feel like work because we’re so passionate about it. I could do it 24/7 and be incredibly happy.

AK: I would say this is one of my dream jobs. And I think what’s fun is that we get to create a world like this, and this job is going to keep evolving for us. That’s what I love about it. It’s not stagnant. Whenever I think I know something concretely, it changes. I know this job is only going to keep getting better and better.

PWP: What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from starting your own company?

SN: Trust yourself. And keep going. KEEP GOING. Also let yourself be vulnerable. That’s been a big word in our lives lately. Just being okay with vulnerability.

AK: Not taking it personally. I’m finally okay with that. You either get our brand and you get our monsters, or you don’t. It’s a business. Stacy helped me, but that’s a big reason why I didn’t put it out there initially.

SN: Trust yourself and stay true to yourself. This is very much us. It’s either going to make you smile or it might not and that’s okay.  And you have to be able to learn from yourself and laugh at yourself.

PWP: What makes you happiest?

SN: My relationships. With my friends, with my family.

AK: That’s what I was going to say!

Stacy and Abbie send their merchandise to friends and family for testing—and they may or may not have been joking about trying their bibs themselves. Hmmm...

Stacy and Abbie send their merchandise to friends and family for testing—and they may or may not have been joking about trying their bibs themselves. Hmmm…

Abbie and Stacy obviously love kids, but at this point in their lives, Cuddle Bug, Daredevil and the other Little Monsters are their pride and joy.

Abbie and Stacy obviously love kids, but at this point in their lives, Cuddle Bug, Daredevil and the other Little Monsters are their pride and joy.

SN: Was it? Aw, I love you! And making those strong. If I don’t see my friends or my family for like a week, I’m a hot mess.

AK: Definitely relationships make me the happiest. My friends, my family, I wouldn’t be who I am today without my family. My poor husband having to support me with all this… What if I had said money?

SN: Money, money, money. Every day I’m hustling.

Check out Little Monsters Gear for monster bios and way more—the only thing it’s missing is a clip of Stacy’s fabulous singing.

[Photos provided by Abbie and Stacy]

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meet sammi: milwaukee jane of all trades

In exchange for designing her blog's logo, Sammi made her creative-department co-worker cookies. Baked ravioli definitely would have worked, too! Yum!

In exchange for designing her blog’s logo, Sammi made her creative-department co-worker cookies. Baked ravioli definitely would have worked, too! Yum!

So far we’ve featured women making their dreams come true through starting businesses, creatively climbing their career ladders, and more. They’ve transformed their passions into day jobs.

We all have unique paths and are at different stages of designing them. While some lucky ladies can do the thing they love most from 9-5, others enjoy their day jobs and bring other passions to life outside their salaried positions. Enter Sammi Dittloff.

She’s a marketing analyst by day—but that’s just one facet of super smart, fun, talented Sammi. This gal really knows how to use her time to the fullest! Actress, cook, writer—Sammi wears many hats.

We got the chance to chat when Sammi had me over for a dairy-free dinner—she can’t eat dairy but I didn’t even miss it! So tasty.

Read on to learn what Sammi does and how she does it. Her story might not be that different from yours!

People with Panache: Can you give us a brief synopsis of all you do in addition to your day job?

Sammi Dittloff: Well I’m working on my new blog all about dairy-free living: dairyfreestate.com.

And I’ve been doing theater since I was little. When I was three, I was the Virgin Mary in our nativity play. I always wanted to act ever since kindergarten. I remember they had these cards, like career cards, with different pictures of professions. The kids each got to pick one. The closest they had to an actor was a ballerina, and I said, “I do NOT want to be a ballerina, I want to be an actress!”

I also worked at The Onion for years, but stopped last winter. I love supporting a brand I truly love.

"You know, he's my adviser," said Sammi, laughing, when she was in the kitchen. Alas, Walter didn't help with the food prep.

“You know, he’s my adviser,” said Sammi, laughing, when she was in the kitchen. Alas, Walter didn’t help with the food prep.

PWP: And that’s just scratching the surface! How did you whittle it down to your main things?

SD: I started dating my boyfriend, Steve, and then I kind of had to figure out what was important. And I needed boyfriend time! I think about, What do I like doing? I try to take time off from things, too. I’m doing three shows in a row right now, so that doesn’t seem like I’m taking time off but I don’t have plans to do anything after that.

“I know I do a lot, but I think even if I didn’t do as much I’d still make time for things that are important.”

PWP: Kate and I saw you in an adaptation of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” last Friday—you were awesome! Can you pick a priority out of all your commitments?

SD: I’ve got a tattoo on my back in Cyrillic that says, “You can’t please everyone.” I usually try to get involved in things I know I have time to do. In the past, I’ve run myself ragged instead of telling someone I can’t do it anymore. I was so buried doing things for others I wasn’t doing things for myself! I have one job now, I’m much more to-the-point, and I’ve given myself time to relax.

I know I do a lot, but I think even if I didn’t do as much I’d still make time for things that are important.

PWP: What do you find yourself making time for most when you’re not at work?

SD: I’ve been really into the blogging lately. Steve also got me a sewing machine for Christmas, so I’ve started to sew a little bit and that’s really fun! I just made one of my friends an infinity scarf for her birthday. I like crafting; I like cooking. When my life is spinning out of control, it feels good to come home and cook.

“Dairy-free food tastes so much better than it used to.”

Walter's hobbies include licking jeans, sniffing everything, and jumping as high in the air as he possibly can.

Walter’s hobbies include licking jeans, sniffing everything, and jumping as high in the air as he possibly can.

Here I'm photographing Sammi photographing food for her blog. We're so meta.

Here I’m photographing Sammi photographing food for her blog. We’re so meta.

PWP: Speaking of, your blog is such a neat concept in Wisconsin, the dairy state. Why dairy-free?

SD: I started when I was a freshman in college. I lost a bunch of weight between high school and college and that’s when I noticed that something I was eating wasn’t making me feel well. I just got more and more sensitive as college went on.

The first thing I get from people is, “I feel so bad for you!” I didn’t want to either! But dairy-free food tastes so much better than it used to.

(Ed Note: I believed that after Sammi cooked me dinner loaded with vegan cheese and shared some delish chocolate-chip dairy-free cookies—though I wouldn’t have doubted her before. Check out her blog here and you’ll see what I mean. Yum!)

I ate yogurt for a while. Yogurt is really low in lactose, like cheese, or a little butter on bread. Sometimes I would eat something and take Lactaids, and then it stopped working. But I did learn I can eat goat cheese! I love goat cheese!

PWP: How do you have successful personal relationships while balancing a full-time job, a really awesome blog and acting?

SD: I try to balance it out and make plans in advance, like going to brunch on a specific day. That’s the only way I get stuff done. I’m going to do this thing on this day, and it’ll happen.

Kate and I are the same way. People with Panache is our passion project, so balance is key in our lives, too. Sammi is an inspiring example of how you can get it all done when you choose to pursue those things most important to you.

P.S. If you want to catch Sammi in her next show, she’s in “H.H. Holmes”  from April 26 – May 11 at the Alchemist Theatre.

[Photos by Alysse]

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meet steph: milwaukee art community creator

Make time.

Pete Yahnke Railand made this screen print that hangs in Steph’s store.

Make time. 

I met with Steph Davies at her shop, The Waxwing, in Milwaukee. That saying comes from just one of the many pieces of art on the shop’s walls.

Steph and I got into a great conversation about making things happen for yourself in life, following your dreams and making time to do what makes you truly happiest—though maybe not the richest. It was so refreshing! Our lives constantly change, and it’s up to us to make time for what’s most important. And even though it’s hard, if you don’t do it, who else will? Maybe you won’t start a store as adorable as Steph’s or pursue that 9-to-5 dream career just yet, but every day you have a thousand chances to take a step in the right direction. (Please don’t make me say YOLO.)

For now, let’s step into Steph’s store and hear her story.

People with Panache: What motivates you?

DSC_0525

The art on the Waxwing’s walls rotates every two months.

Steph Davies: I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to find a way to create art and get by. For the longest time after graduating from college that meant working two or three odd jobs and making art at night. But I always felt very split in two.

Then in October 2011, I turned 29, and I quit my day job. And I called my mom. I said, “I’m giving myself a year before I’m 30 to just make art. I feel like I just need to try it.”

Life experiences told me that no matter what you’re doing, it works out. I mean, it was a really dumb time to quit a job and have no backup plan, but I thought I have to make it work—there’s no choice.

PWP: And it obviously worked out!

SD: I was helping out in this space before it was my space. It was a little gift shop, and I would work here two days a week. I sold my art here, and I was feeling really happy.

And then the women who owned the shop were not going to keep it going. It had been a rough year, they weren’t making what they thought they would make—they were just going to close down.

I had this mini freak-out because this was a big source of my income, and kind of how I was surviving. I thought, what if I just made this my own shop? I talked to my husband, and we calculated the rent cost and how much it would cost if I didn’t make a cent of money, if I had to pay every expense for a year. The reality was we could’ve put it on two credit cards, and we’d just be in debt—but it was tangible, it wasn’t so out there!

Within four months of quitting my job, and before I turned 30, I owned my own shop. And honestly I work far more now for far less than I ever have in my whole life. But I’m really happy at the end of the day, and I look forward to coming to work. That satisfaction of my day job has become my passion, which I never thought could be connected. It’s been a cool year. It’s been cool to see it unfold.

PWP: Why “The Waxwing”?

SD: I studied scientific illustration at The Art Institute of Chicago. I did a lot of work at the Field Museum there, and my favorite thing to draw was birds. Not a lot of people even know the waxwing is a bird—I’ve even had people come in and ask where the waxing is done!

PWP: What was the transition like from artist to business owner?

SD: At first it was terrifying because there was all this unfamiliar stuff I’d never thought about. The day to day was within my experience, but getting licenses and permits and all the tedious paperwork you had to go through was kind of intimidating!

You’re always figuring it out, but once I was open I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it sooner.

“I now have this community of artists that are part of the space that inspire me and help me feel a purpose in what I’m doing.”

PWP: Besides tax codes and all that, what else has this experience taught you?

SD: It has actually helped me learn to call Milwaukee home. I’m from Kansas City, and then I went to school in Chicago, lived there for about eight years, and moved here about four years ago.

Honestly I really struggled when I moved here because in Chicago I worked at all these different places and had friends from different walks of life. I knew my place.

When I moved to Milwaukee, not being in school, working part-time jobs, it was hard to meet people. The art community was present but it felt really split up neighborhood by neighborhood. It was hard to find a community of people.

Through having the shop, I’ve kind of created that for myself. I now have this community of artists that are part of the space that inspire me and help me feel a purpose in what I’m doing—more like I’ve made a spot for myself here.

PWP: What makes you happiest?

SD: It’s hard to narrow that down to one concrete thing!

I’m married to a musician, and when we got together we committed to each other that we wouldn’t ever force each other to be anything we didn’t want to be. We always gave each other the freedom to kind of express ourselves and just go down whatever path feels right to us—and it’s not always easy. It’s not always practical.

But we’ve been married almost six years now. Having come to this point where my husband is in a band that’s pretty successful in the city, and having this shop I come to every day, it’s a really satisfying place to be and it makes me feel like we’ve succeeded just being ourselves.

[Photos by Alysse]

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meet alex: chicago philanthropy leader

We all know someone affected by breast cancer. It’s one of the most common cancers, and one out of every eight women will fight it.

Alex Sabbag has found a way to help. Through the company she created, Alex offers communication and development consulting for nonprofits or for-profit companies executing philanthropic initiatives. (Sounds like a mouthful, so let’s sum it up: Alex gets paid to make a difference.)

Susan G. Komen For the Cure was Alex’s very first client as she ventured off on her own, and that has been an integral part of her path. Read on to hear about the rest.

Susan G. Komen For the Cure Gala

Alex stops for a quick photo op at the Susan G. Komen Chicago Grantee Awards Luncheon.

People with Panache: Can you explain a little bit about what you do now?

Alex Sabbag: I own my own business, AM Consulting, and I am working on a blog that I haven’t launched yet. The purpose of my company is to enhance communication and development initiatives for nonprofits in Chicago, raise more money, raise more awareness and spread their missions.

The blog will cover nonprofit events in Chicago and show a variety of what you can do to give back in your 20s, 30s, 50s—even 80s. It’s more of the fun side.

PWP: How did you get started consulting with nonprofits?

AS: I started working with Susan G. Komen at my old PR agency. I became very close with the people, started doing volunteer projects, sitting on committees, and eventually brought Komen on as a pro bono client with my agency.

Not only did Komen need PR support, they needed event support as well. I was able to start my own thing knowing I had my first client lined up.

PWP: What about the professional life you love keeps you passionate and energized?

AS: A lot of different things! I love working with Komen because one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Nobody that I know doesn’t have a connection to breast cancer in some form.

Then there’s the women who fight the disease but don’t have the means to do it. They don’t have the education to get screened, and they don’t know what that means. There’s a language barrier and an economic barrier in Chicago alone. African American women die from breast cancer at twice the rate as white women.


I hear these stories time and again. Nobody needs to be dying of this disease anymore! If it’s caught early, there’s a 98 percent chance of survival. Everyone should be catching it early.

The flip side is the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been working with the organization for five years, and I go to the conferences, and I hear the research, studies and information being presented. They’re not on top of it, but they’re closing the gap; they’re getting there. I think in our lifetime, cancer will always be around. I don’t think there’s one cure, but I don’t think it will be a deadly disease, especially breast cancer.

“There’s a level of confidence you have to build in your capabilities.”

Alex and her parents, Allen and Cindy, at the Friends of Prentice Gala—another client of hers!

Alex and her parents, Allen and Cindy, at the Friends of Prentice Gala—another client of hers!

It’s challenging for so many reasons to work with a nonprofit, but at the same time it’s rewarding because you’re not working for nothing. It makes a big difference when you can see change and measurable positive impacts in your community. It’s nice to know you had a hand in it.

PWP: What has it been like to start your own business from scratch?  

AS: It sort of took me two years of being on my own to find my niche. You kind of waffle around a little bit and try different things.

When I went off on my own, I would sit at my computer for hours agonizing over a press release because I had no one to read it, to proofread it, to tell me if it was stupid. I had so much anxiety over it, but ok, what’s the worst that’ll happen, a typo? Forget about it! There’s a level of confidence you have to build in your capabilities.

Everything is give and take right? If I were to still be working for someone else I’d have evenings and weekends and just a different plan for my day. Now everything blends. There’s not one social thing I go to that doesn’t have something to do with work. There’s not one weekend or vacation where I don’t touch my computer. I have gone a lot of places, don’t get me wrong; I was in Hawaii a few months ago, but I worked from Honolulu.

Alex and her Yorkie, Alfie, are dressed to impress at the Paws Fur Ball.

Alex and her Yorkie, Alfie, are dressed to impress at the Paws Fur Ball.

PWP: Would you ever have thought this would be your dream job?

AS: Not my dream job—my dream job is being a Victoria’s Secret model—but I’ve been given a variety of feedback about that. I’m too old? Sounds debatable.

But, no, if I could get this to a point where I’m consulting on a national level with major nonprofits and helping them be strategic, and on the flip side helping big consumer brands that want to do good really get the right, most fruitful program off the ground, in a way, it’s working toward a dream job.

[Photos provided by Alex.]

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