In March 2021, CBA and CWE created First Leap as an entrepreneurial readiness program for startup and emerging creative businesses from the Pittsburgh area. The twelve participants represented a wide range of creative practices, from soap making to landscape design to woodworking. Outlined below are brief profiles on their businesses and links to visit their websites.
Borealis Candle Co.
Established by Norah Whitmore, Borealis Candle Company uses ethically sourced materials and hand-pours small batches of candles in Pittsburgh. The candles are carefully designed to elevate any space while remaining environmentally sound. All packaging is recyclable, and the candles are 100% biodegradable. After First Leap, Norah plans to double her revenue over the next year by expanding her product offering and building a more cohesive brand story to fit within an extensive marketing campaign. She aims to hire her first employee to help with the growth.
Kool Image Dolls
Founded by designer and sculptor Dominique Scaife, Kool Image Dolls is a family-run multimedia brand that focuses on positive self-identity and cultural representation for Black youth. Each Kool Image Doll has a distinct personality that children can connect with through playful YouTube videos and other educational tools. First Leap helped Dominique in her efforts to work with a manufacturer to have the dolls produced in the United States and raising the capital for this step. Along with manufacturing and capital, Dominique also plans to work with a lawyer to better understand regulations for children’s toys.
Established in 2017 by artist Atiya Jones, TWELVE\TWENTY STUDIO is a multimedia visual art and design studio that offers unique products and services with a focus on furthering Black visibility in the creative community. TWELVE\TWENTY creates design-forward products such as journals and art prints while also working with clients to create site-specific murals and installations. Over the next six months, Atiya will focus on the
fundamentals, including bookkeeping basics and incorporation options highlighted in First Leap. Site-specific installations will top her brand’s new offering.
Mary Mack Wear
Printmaker, activist, DJ, and educator Mary Tremonte began making screen-printed textiles and artworks under the Mary Mack Wear brand as a natural offshoot of her wide-ranging artistic practice. Her inclusive, queer-centered designs translate into a range of fun products intended for daily use like hankies, scarves, embroidered badges, art prints, and most recently, paper stationery. Mary plans some big moves after First Leap, including a rebranding of her business and incorporating more than wearable products. She is also considering products in collaboration with other local makers and designers.
Hanna Dausch grew up in a family of makers and a home with precise lines, smooth curves, and distinct details. Inspired by this background, Hanna founded a woodworking studio in Pittsburgh, where she crafts furniture and homewares. Hanna came to First Leap with a wide range of designs available in her online store. Over the next year, she plans to build out a more streamlined and permanent product collection, along with a new rotating offering of one-of-a-kind pieces, such as furniture. With a more robust line of homewares, Hanna will build connections with interior designers and art and design galleries.
Karen Womack is a quilter and sewing teacher with a wide range of experience. Her business, Quiltstyle, promotes her passion for sewing and textiles through multiple offerings like workshops, afro-centric fabrics, and commissioned quilt projects. The home sewing boom that emerged out of the pandemic helps propel Karen’s business forward, including the production of PPE. With a solid First Leap plan in place, Karen will take her
fabric business to the next level by working with a graphic designer to translate her designs into saleable fabric patterns. She will update her website and turn her instructional workshops into online content.
Sosh Made was founded by Stefani Schneider, a realtor who was in search of personalized gifts for clients celebrating the purchase of their new home. Dissatisfied with her options, she designed her own products and learned to make them with CNC tools. After only a year in business, Stefani offers a product line of unique and personalized décor and gifts for housewarming, holidays, and remembrance. Stefani tackles her First Leap goals in two stages. First, she will form an entity, rethink branding, and grow her social media presence. She will then streamline her products and launch a targeted marketing campaign.
Shannon Richardson creates hand-crafted leather bags and accessories using only the finest leather and trims available. She started Sha’Lari Couture in 2011 after her custom diaper bags and bridesmaid clutches quickly took off with friends and family. She now ships products worldwide to forty-seven states and seven countries. Post First Leap, Shannon will move closer to being a full-time creative business owner, including hiring specialized help with photography and social media marketing. She will use the added bandwidth to dial in her branding and create new products for the Spring and Fall of 2021.
Ritual Soapworks is an all-natural soap company with a big focus on natural ingredients. Each small batch of soaps is hand-crafted by founder Jessica Halsband with the intention to provide a deeper moment for the countless tasks her customers perform every day. Along with soaps, Jessica creates unique crocheted plant baskets and hand-sewn bandanas. Jessica’s First Leap focus for the year is improving the branding and marketing for Ritual Soapworks. She is working on creating more brand cohesion, a monthly newsletter, and an increased social media presence with the help of automation and other tools.
Studio PDP is a Pittsburgh-based letterpress and illustration studio in Millvale, PA. Founder Sophia Pappas worked as an editorial illustrator since 2014 and bought a letterpress in 2016. Sophia works with art directors and other clients to create playful illustrations along with her own line of stationery and other letterpress collateral. Sophia’s Frist Leap plans include forming an LLC for her new Studio PDP business along with a website to reflect her new brand and product offerings. Sophia will develop a cohesive product line for the Spring and produce a second line by the Fall for the holiday season.
Social Living is an artist-owned brand that designs clothing, artwork, and other goods with a touch of humor and irony. Founder Darrin Millner creates artwork that attempts to understand and portray common mindsets that many of us may have but cannot express or visualize. With Frist Leap, Darrin hopes to make the leap from a day job to running Social Living as a full-time career. To do this, Darrin will build out a business plan which outlines the fundamental financial, legal, and operational next steps for his business.
Stone Grow was born out of Suzanne Pace’s passion, drive, and determination to lead a woman-owned, sustainable stonework and fine gardening business. Stone Grow has four interconnect offerings for clients: fine gardening, stonework, design, and landscaping services. With a team to support her, Suzanne focuses on the creative elements of designing unique exterior spaces and stonework. Suzanne’s Frist Leap plans will focus on the financial aspects of her business and build off the financial modeling covered.