Monthly Archives: November 2013

meet elysia: detroit ceramic artist and entrepreneur

Elysia Vandenbussche on People with Panache

Wise Elysia words: “Everyone loves to start stuff, it’s so exciting. It’s kind of like speed dating. Follow-through takes the real commitment.”

“This is good, but you can do better.”

Elysia Vandenbussche, owner of Local Portion, threw away many projects in art school on her way to becoming a crazy-talented ceramics maker. One professor constantly pushed her, telling her again and again not to fire her pieces, to reclaim the clay and give it another shot.

“I was so angry,” Elysia says. “But that was good advice. I kept pushing myself, and now that I’m alone in my own studio, I’m still pushing myself and looking at the details. I recently showed him one of my cups and he couldn’t believe that I made it.”

Who has pushed you in your life, encouraging you to reach your potential? Share in the comments. We’d love to hear the advice that stuck with you! 

People with Panache: When did you first fall in love with ceramics?

Elysia Vandenbussche: I started when I was a kid. My mom put me in a community class around my neighborhood. And I loved it. I was a pretty rebellious child, so I never took the basics of ceramics; I would just go to the basement of the studio, put my earphones on, blast music and do my own thing.

In high school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I ended up going to a private art school in Detroit, the College for Creative Studies, at first for photography, then film. But then ceramics found me again, instead of me really choosing it. It’s like a good relationship, like how did I get here with this person?

PWP: When did you start actually selling pieces?

Elysia Vandenbussche on People with Panache

“My name, Elysia, means double portion. I love portion because a cup, a bowl, is a portion size. What I make is a portion of myself. What am I? I’m local. Local Portion sounds simple, and I’m all about simplicity.”

EV: I started selling in high school through family and friends. They would see stuff and ask to buy it from me. After I graduated from college, it took me a while to get the business set up. I had trouble finding a studio. It took me two years to find something. This past January was the first time I was able to get a space to start creating. Since then things just really took off. It’s been quite the journey with ups and downs and failing and failing again and succeeding and getting good clients and losing out on jobs. It’s been a whirlwind of figuring it out.

PWP: How did you do it? It’s like real-life Business 101.

EV: I’ve never learned more than by just having hands-on experience doing this and not giving up. It was really logical for me to make this my profession, not only because it’s my passion, but it’s the only language I understand. My job options as a ceramic artist were limited here in Detroit and outside of Michigan too. I could go to grad school and become a teacher, that was the best option, and I didn’t want to do that. Sometimes I think about grad school, but for now this is my own version of grad school.

PWP: Is this your sole source of income?

EV: Right now, yeah. This past summer I got really big jobs and big clients so it was great. I was slammed, and I worked every weekend of the whole summer. The last show I did was for Red Bull House of Art, which was an amazing experience.

PWP: What is Red Bull House of Art? We’ve never heard of that.

EV: They have two Houses of Art in the world, one here in Detroit and one in Brazil. They have a curator, a really well-recognized artist, who reaches out and finds seven or eight artists every so many months—it goes through a cycle—and they sponsor you and have a huge exhibition at the end. They do a ton of press. They cater to you and give you money for materials; it’s amazing. That was my first experience. It really showed my playful side.

PWP: That is so cool that Red Bull does that. How did they find you?

EV: From around town and seeing my work at shows. In art school I learned that you go to a gallery, and you show your work. But this is a unique situation with Red Bull because they sponsor you. They only take out a small percentage, and they package it up for you and ship it out if it sells. Most galleries take a larger percentage, and I have to double or triple my price. But I don’t want it to be that price. I want as many handmade cups in people’s hands as possible. This is more than a cup made in China; there are people behind this, it’s affecting our economy.

“It’s a story, it’s a journey, it’s a learning process.”

PWP: Is there any part about owning your company that maybe doesn’t come as naturally to you?

EV: I may be good at ceramics, but I’m not that good at business. I was talking to someone recently about this, and I was being really hard on myself. He said you’re good at business because you’re smart, you know what you want and you’re staying grounded to what you’re building.

Elysia Vandenbussche on People with Panache

Elysia made more than 200 unique, hollow tiles for her Red Bull exhibition.

I could become anything. I could become the next Heath Ceramics, one of the biggest ceramics companies in the US. Or I could go international. But I could still go international staying this small. There are organic ways to grow, and that’s how it happened back in the day, especially for a craftsperson and designer. I don’t want to just become a huge warehouse. It’s about the artistry. It’s a story, it’s a journey, it’s a learning process. Every day I’m learning something new about the direction I’m going to go, choices I have to make. One important thing is that I learn how to say no. It’s so tough because I don’t want to. I might have an opportunity for a big job, but I have to look at if it’s a fit. Is this the right job for me?

PWP: How do you say no? I think that’s something we could work on too.

EV: I don’t know if there’s a real answer. Every individual is different. You have to keep practicing and be aware that you can say no. Knowing that you have that option is the first step. You have to be willing to disappoint people too—sometimes even yourself. You do sometimes feel like you missed out on something. Even with press options, there’s only so much you can do.

PWP: Well, thanks for saying yes to us!

EV: It’s really great what you guys are doing. It’s also a lot about not giving up—my biggest thing. There are challenges every day, but you have to keep going. You’ll get through it somehow.

PWP: What’s your favorite thing about owning your company?

EV: I love being dependent on myself. I’ve had so many different jobs in my life. This takes discipline. I want to invest in myself. I love doing creative projects for other people, collaborations, and having the freedom to create and own my own company while investing in myself and others. That’s what fuels me. It’s endless.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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doodle day: throwing clay

We can’t believe how perfectly last week’s doodle matched this photo from the post—especially when Lucca hadn’t even seen the pics! This upcoming week we’re featuring a woman who works magic with ceramics. (Not quite like in the GIF. So funny!)

Have you ever thrown clay?

throwing clay on people with panacheWhen we visited Elysia Vandenbussche’s studio in Detroit—where she makes everything from ceramic bowls to installation art—she showed us the process she goes through to make the things her company sells. Check out her website, and get ready to meet her on Tuesday!

[Doodle by Lucca.]

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meet sarah: documentary filmmaker empowering women everywhere

Sarah Moshman on People with Panache

“Just hearing those stories, you can’t help being like what’s that for me? What’s my film, what’s my space shuttle launch, what’s my skate across the country? Everyone has that. It’s just whether or not you bring it out.”

Sarah Moshman is a woman after our own hearts. She traveled 7,128 miles in a minivan with five girls through 22 states to shoot 17 interviews in 10 cities over the course of more than 34 days. Whew! We thought driving seven hours to Minneapolis was a trek. Continue reading

doodle day: jump for joy

When we discovered what Sarah Moshman was doing, we couldn’t not interview her. She recently finished filming a documentary called The Empowerment Project. To make it happen, Sarah and her all-woman team drove across the country and interviewed—yep, you guessed it—smart, strong, inspiring women in every field you can imagine. We were jumping for joy! Check out the GIF below.


[Doodle by Lucca.]

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meet nikki: hosting des moines’ longest happy hour

Nikki Syverson on PWP

Nikki sits on the Drake Regional Alumni Board and stays active in the Des Moines nonprofit scene. She recently chaired the Bubble Ball, a cool-sounding event inspired by bubble wrap. (It benefits ChildServe, which helps children and families with special needs. We love that!)

My favorite happy hour is wine happy hour. Though a refreshing pinot grigio is my tried and true, I have recently been getting friendlier with reds. Alysse is happy about that—her fave is cabernet. We discussed our go-to wines and tried some new ones with Nikki Syverson, Event Director for Winefest in Des Moines, Iowa. I ended up drinking a delicious rose from Slovenia while we talked about her job and long history with wine.

People with Panache: What do you do as the Event Director for Winefest?

Nikki Syverson: I’m the director of the whole organization, so I manage all the ins and outs: from board recruitment and managing the board, to sponsorships, day-to-day mundane stuff such as accounting, and all of the event planning and event details for all of Winefest, which is now an eight-day festival with year-round events.

PWP: How long have you been involved?

NS: This will be my third festival. I was hired three years ago by Winefest. Before that, I was with the symphony for six years and simultaneously had my own event-planning business for four years.

PWP: Was this the perfect next step?

NS: My business partner and I did mostly weddings and some nonprofit events. It was getting to be a lot. Our business really took off when my daughter was born, and I wanted one thing to focus on. I was approached by Winefest, which I always enjoyed going to. I have been passionate about wine my whole life. My grandparents taught me about it when I was a kid. So it was a perfect fit.

Then, when I came on board, we made it an eight-day event. The next year, we added year-round events. It was really successful. We made it so we can offer something for everybody!

PWP: What do you do with the proceeds?

NS: Part of it goes back into our savings, and the other portion of our proceeds goes to Bravo Greater Des Moines. They’re the regional arts council, so they distribute the money to the symphony, the ballet, the opera and the arts center in a formula that they have. We just gave $12,000 to Bravo a couple weeks ago.

Nikki Syverson on PWP

“The fun thing about wine is that there’s always more to learn and you can never know everything,” Nikki says.

PWP: Wow! Is this your dream job?

NS: It used to be. I think I’ll have another dream job after this though. I love it, and I love what I do. I don’t know what the next step will be. I see myself doing this for a while. I know there’s something that will be even better after this.

PWP: That’s the fun part about accomplishing one dream job. You get to move on to the next! And meet so many wonderful people along the way.

Do you find that you interact with a wide variety of people?

NS: I work with a whole spectrum. With Winefest, I collaborate with everyone on my fabulous board and a variety of industry vendors. I’ve loved working with people on the wine side, culinary side—even sanitation side. I love the guy who gets our toilets! I’ve worked with him for years, and he’s a sweetheart.

PWP: What’s your favorite part of the job?

NS: Event days. I just think it’s fun. We had an event two weeks ago, and I was running around thinking  “I love event days!” Which is good because that’s my job!

PWP: Are there any life lessons you’ve learned that you want to make sure you teach your kids?

Nikki Syverson on PWP

We had a blast (and delicious cookies) at Table 128 in Des Moines, one of many places where Nikki has built meaningful relationships.

NS: Do something that makes you happy. Make sure you find a work-life balance. As a working mom, that’s the hardest thing. Finding that balance, because you always want to be at two places at once. With my job especially, there’s so much stuff at night. All of our board meetings are at night. All of our staff meetings. It’s Winefest. People want to have wine at these things! It’s not always acceptable to day drink. (Ha!) But finding that balance. I’m very lucky to do something that I love, and I think life’s too short not to. And my husband has been really supportive of that, too.

PWP: What makes you happiest?

NS: Right now I’d say being with my family, days where we don’t have anything on the schedule.

Before the Winefest fun begins again in 2014, check out what Nikki put together this past season! Save the date for May 31 – June 7, 2014, for the next one. We know we will—and let us know if you’re going, too!

[Photos by Alysse.]

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doodle day: happy hour… or happy week?

Who doesn’t love a delicious glass of wine to unwind at the end of the day? Nikki Syverson, Event Director of Winefest in Des Moines,  Iowa, knows her wine, and she knows how to have a good time. Check out the GIF below, inspired by Nikki’s story, and check back on Tuesday to catch a glimpse of her event planning skills!

Winefest on PWP

[Doodle by Lucca.]

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meet ashley: running a nonprofit in milwaukee, across america

Ashley Kumlien on People with Panache

Ashley got into school to pursue her doctorate—but chose her job traveling the world on a cruise ship instead! And that led her where she is today.

“I remember in high school thinking I would never start my own business because I wanted a 9-to-5—something secure that I could leave at work,” Ashley Kumlien says. “That is literally the opposite of what I do. I take it everywhere with me. I absolutely love it.”

That’s exactly what I remember thinking when I was 17! Get a stable job, and make enough money to do what I want. And that’s a nice plan. But sometimes, if you’re me, your “plans” turn into two hard-won dream jobs that mingle and blend into one beautiful life. (And I just made a vision board last night, so who knows what else is coming!) But that’s another story. First, let’s hear Ashley’s.

People with Panache: Can you give me a brief synopsis of what you do?

Ashley Kumlien: I run MS Run the US, and I’m also a personal trainer and nutritional consultant.

PWP: How’d you get the idea for MS run the US?

AK: I always feel like God’s been training me for it my whole life, I just didn’t know it until I put the pieces together. My mom has lived with MS since 1980, so growing up I saw her symptoms taking away many of her abilities. At the same time, I always loved fitness, I always loved running, so that’s what I went to school for. I was competitive for awhile, and I kept doing it because I loved it.

My first job out of college was on a cruise ship, and while I was traveling the world, I realized one of the best ways to see a place was to run it. During a run one morning, I thought about starting a run in California and then running to Denver, and then to Omaha, seeing friends along the way. It turned into a run across America. When I thought about doing it for my mom, I got really excited. I left my job less than a month later, moved home and started the nonprofit. I’ve been working on it ever since.

PWP: When was this?

Ashley Kumlien on People with Panache

Ashley’s first run took 6 months. She did 24 miles a day, 6 days a week.

AK: I started MS Run the US in 2009, and my first big event was in 2010, when I ran across America by myself. Then I took a little time off because I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with the nonprofit. I knew it was going to be a huge commitment. After six months, I knew I was ready and spent a year and a half putting together a relay, which happened this year. We had 15 runners, including myself. Our shortest segment was 130 miles run in five days; the longest was 310 miles in 14 days. That group raised more than $175,000 for MS.

PWP: How’d you pick the path?

AK: I basically just found the straightest path from LA to New York and engaged running clubs and whatever other outreach opportunities we could. I think it’s important to keep it consistent so we can build relationships, so communities know when we’re coming through and how they can help us. A lot of people are very helpful and generous. I think people want to be part of something, whether it’s running a marathon a day for six days or cooking a meal and letting us stay in their house for the night.

PWP: Where does the donation money go?

AK: 100 percent of our donations go to research to find a cure for MS, so my job is to secure grants and private donations to support the expense side of the nonprofit.

Right now our donations go to the National MS Society. And they have sub-chapters, so we donate to some of the chapters that work with us throughout the relay. Denver, Chicago, Wisconsin and Pittsburgh are some chapters that host events, rally people and get the community excited and involved.

“It takes someone extremely special to run 26 miles a day consecutively for a week.”

Ashley Kumlien on People with Panache

Her favorite place to run? “Omaha is amazing. It’s always the people. Cities can look a certain way or try to have a certain feel, but it’s the people and community that make it important and special.”

PWP: How do you find your runners?

AK: I don’t have enough data to say the most efficient means of promotion, but I would say a third of runners knew me from my run across America. I would say another third found us through social media and PR, and the last third may have come from the speaking series I did last year.

It’s interesting how it all pieced together. I want to keep working it till it gets to that tipping point where a lot of runners are interested in applying.

PWP: Yeah—it sounds exceptional!

AK: One hurdle is the distances; another is fundraising. It takes someone extremely special to run 26 miles a day consecutively for a week AND raise $10,000. I think people need to be challenged more.

PWP: Do you have any fun fundraising stories?

AK: We had an Iowa runner who connected with an Omaha running group and together they hosted a 24-hour treadmill challenge. They partnered with Lifetime Fitness, and the challenge was to be on a treadmill for 24 hours. It was just $15 to register for the event, and all of it went to the runner’s donation fund. Sixty people participated. Some people didn’t do the full 24 hours, and some weren’t always moving—they brought sleeping bags and slept on the treadmill. But they were being active for 24 hours, doing something bigger than they could imagine.

One runner doubled her best distance and went 100 miles on the treadmill in 24 hours. Five runners went from 26.2 all the way to the 50 miler. Two half marathon runners completed their first marathons.

PWP: How has your mom influenced this?

Ashley Kumlien on People with Panache

Next up: a 5k series, where people can run one or do the whole series.

AK: She’s a very positive and gentle spirit, so when people meet her I think it’s impactful. She does have a lot of disabilities but remains a positive, faithful, bright person. When I left college, I realized how much people tend to complain about things that are not necessarily important. Here’s my mom who has so many things she could complain about but doesn’t. I think if people have adversity in their lives in general, they start to see the contrast between things that are important and things that are REALLY important.

PWP: What makes you happiest?

AK: I live my passion, so I guess what I do does make me happiest, but I think if I had to pick one thing certainly my relationship with God. If I had to get rid of everything else and not do anything else and just work on that, I could do anything.

One thing that I also want to share is that even though I think that most people would think running across America solo is a great achievement, I personally think completing the relay and fundraising what we did was the biggest success. The logistics and coordination… it took a lot to challenge people to do this, to encourage and convince them, to be there hand in hand. I think it’s my greatest achievement.

[Photos by Alysse.]

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