5 women-owned businesses that thrived through the pandemic
National stats show female-led ventures growing, and these Madison-area women represent a few local success stories.
With parts of our lives slowing down over the past year, the pandemic gifted many individuals the time and opportunity to pour energy into their passion projects. In fact, national statistics reveal that in the summer and early fall of 2020, there was a 69% increase year-over-year in new business applications with women-owned businesses growing at a rate of 5%. As a part of that exciting trend, meet five Madison-area women whose ventures thrived over the past year.
Emily Brewer, Creek + Elm
A busy mom of three kids, Emily Brewer felt like something was missing after leaving her job as a dental hygienist to take care of her growing family. As much as she cherished the extra time with her family, she desired to tap into her creative spirit and find a way to create something new. “I’ve always been a DIY-er because I love the challenge of it. I’ve made quilts, refinished furniture, sewn my own clothing, and created all sorts of knick-knacks,” Brewer says. “Eventually, my family and friends were asking me to make things for them, and it dawned on me that perhaps I had an opportunity to really make something of my hobbies.”
What started out as an Etsy shop selling a variety of items eventually narrowed down to Emily’s most popular items – ethically sourced jewelry and handmade scarves – and the evolution of Creek + Elm was born. The concept of “sustainable style” is important to Brewer. “While I love the ‘rustic chic’ aesthetic, it is important to me to create something that is ethically sourced, which is why many of my jewelry pieces are crafted from vegan leather and cork,” she says. “Many people aren’t aware that cork is actually harvested from the bark of the tree every 10 years, so not only is it sustainable and eco-friendly, no trees are harmed.”
Based in McFarland, Creek + Elm is very much a small family business. Her husband has been a great partner in helping Brewer get the business online and running her social media accounts, and Brewer takes great pride in making many of her products by hand on her grandfather’s old leather punch. Brewer hopes her children are inspired by her passion for Creek + Elm and can be a part of the company over time. “We are so thrilled with the growth of Creek + Elm over the past year and hope many of our Madison-area customers will grow along with us,” she says.
Creek + Elm products are handmade-to-order and can be found online on her website, through social media, and in a growing number of Wisconsin boutiques.
Dez Marie Patterson, Dez Beauty
Since the age of 12, Dez Marie Patterson knew she wanted to create her own business in the beauty industry. Less than a decade later, she has done just that. Patterson conceptualized Dez Beauty, a 100% organic beauty and skincare line, as a teenager while in the national AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program, which aims to change students’ lives through closing opportunity gaps to prepare students for college and their careers. With the vision of being a CEO in tow, Patterson, now a college junior, enrolled in courses at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee to study global marketing and cosmetic science.
After losing her day job due to COVID-19, Patterson felt a strong push to finally realize her lifelong dream. Within a two-month span of reviewing business and marketing plans, Dez Beauty launched its first 10 products in May 2020. Two months later, Patterson not only recouped half of her investment, but she doubled her profits and has continued to enjoy continued growth and success of her organic beauty line.
With individuals of all genders, ages and ethnicities seeking out more natural and organic products for the body, Dez Beauty has found a nice niche in the industry and works to appeal to a wide variety of beauty consumers. “I make every single product and recipe myself. It is important to me that all of my products are organic, vegan and also paraben-, sulfate-, and phosphate-free,” says Patterson. “I continue to study cosmetic science and take great pride in ensuring my product recipes use only the best and most natural ingredients. I test every product on myself, so all products are also cruelty-free.”
At just 21, Patterson has a bright vision for the future of Dez Beauty, including bringing her products across state and country borders to serve national and international customers. She also looks forward to involving Dez Beauty in ecosystem preservation initiatives like keeping our oceans clean and hopes to engage in research efforts around the use of natural products for the treatment of skin disorders and cancer.
From body and hair care products to aromatherapy and other merchandise, Dez Beauty desires to be a brand for all. Her products can be found online on Patterson’s website as well as through various social networking platforms.
Laura Kaiser, Simply Impeccable Fudge
When Laura Kaiser is not busy as the communications director for a state-wide nonprofit or running her own social media consulting company, she is nurturing her creative passions through mastering fudge flavors and sea salt caramels.
A chocolate enthusiast, Kaiser has always enjoyed creating chocolates and truffles, but put the hobby aside when life got busy. During the height of COVID, she was eager to step away from the computer screen, which guided her back to crafting chocolate in her home kitchen. In the fall of 2020 after a friend encouraged her to sell her dark chocolate peanut butter fudge in a Facebook vendor group that responded warmly, she recognized her passion project could very well be a successful business concept. Her background in marketing and communications gave her the know-how to get some branding done quickly, and Simply Impeccable Fudge emerged from her heart and her home.
One of the unique elements of the Simply Impeccable Fudge business model is the interactivity with customers. Leveraging her social media expertise, Kaiser launched a Facebook group to maintain connectivity with the supporters of her company. Many of her fudge flavors such as Irish creme and “Unicorn,” a raspberry-based flavor, were inspired by suggestions and feedback from the Facebook community. “I do want to keep my passion project small enough that I can still manage it from my home kitchen and continue to interact with my customers,” says Kaiser.
In addition to fudge, Kaiser also enjoys whipping up decadent “two-bite” sea salt caramels as she describes them. Simply Impeccable Fudge (and caramels) are made-to-order through her website and can be picked up or shipped locally.
Melissa Jenkins, Melissa Jenkins DesignsFor Melissa Jenkins, a self-described fiber artist and jewelry-maker, her passion for creating started very early in her life with frequent trips to a local hobby shop. In fact, she was surrounded by creativity as a child. She watched her grandfather create model airplanes; her brother, model cars; her mother, art-inspired holiday gifts; and her grandmother, knitting projects. It didn’t take long for Jenkins to find her craft and join her family of makers.
She continued to explore creative avenues through interior design where she was able to tap into her love for fibers, textiles and textures, and the experience those three things can produce. Jenkins also credits her time working in a bead store as inspiration for her jewelry-making, the confidence to sell her work and the original launch of her first official business on Etsy. When she arrived in Madison, she set aside her love for creating for a while as she pursued a career in technology. While she enjoyed her job, she missed the opportunity to nurture her creativity in her daily work. As Jenkins quickly discovered, Madison has a strong and supportive community of makers and she soon added a new skill and passion to her fiber art repertoire — weaving.
“One of the hardest things about being a maker and a creator is the pressure to be unique, but creativity is about being true to yourself,” says Jenkins. Being true to herself meant harnessing her early and constant love for working with fibers and jewelry mediums and turning it into a company she could continue to draw inspiration from. Through the encouragement of members of the Madison maker community, Melissa Jenkins Designs (or MJD) was launched, a line of fiber art and metalwork for the body and the home. With a spirit to share her passions with others, MJD also offers weaving workshops at all levels for those who desire to learn the craft or to add a new technique to their current weaving skills. As Jenkins says, “Everyone is an artist. The common fiber that runs through all of us is creativity.”
As Madison opens back up, Jenkins hopes to participate in more pop-up shops and events again. On her website, customers can find a variety of fiber and metal jewelry, accessories and decorative weavings for the home. “Launching my business in Madison allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone in a big way. I am deeply grateful for the connections that have encouraged me to get started and to thrive over time, especially over the past year,” Jenkins says. She hopes that other makers continue to innovate and create. “There may be people doing what you do, but no one is doing it like you.”
Gabriela Ruíz, Gabriela’s Conchitas As a child growing up in Texas, Gabriela Ruíz developed a love for baking, especially pan dulce or “concha” (Mexican sweet bread). She continued this love for baking while living in a housing co-op in her college days in Austin, Texas, where she baked goodies twice weekly for more than 70 of her fellow housemates. In 2018, she made the move to Madison. She soon discovered conchas were hard to find within an hour’s drive of the city. Now living a plant-based lifestyle, Ruíz saw a market opportunity to launch a business, Gabriela’s Conchitas, baking vegan conchitas — miniature versions of the traditional conchas found elsewhere.
Conchas combine a soft and mildly sweet bread with a crunchy cookie-like topping. Traditional conchas are usually vanilla or chocolate-flavored, use artificial coloring and resemble a seashell, hence the name (concha means “shell” in Spanish). “Gabriela’s Conchitas use all-natural colors and flavors which are different than traditional conchas,” Ruíz says. “My version of a pink conchita brings flavors and color from strawberries and raspberries. Similarly, a yellow conchita is my golden milk recipe which is flavored with spices like turmeric, ginger, cardamom and cinnamon.” By using all-natural ingredients, Ruíz is able to experiment with different conchita flavors such as butter pecan, blueberry lemon and Mexican hot chocolate among others.
Aside from the assistance of taste testers, Ruíz describes her business as a “solo project” — she hand-shapes and bakes every conchita herself out of a Madison-based commercial kitchen. Her first concha experiment launched in December 2019, and through trial, error and perfecting her technique through the observation of Mexican panaderos, Gabriela’s Conchitas was made available to the public in February 2021. Her conchitas are now able to be enjoyed in several Madison eateries including The Victory Cafe and Green Owl Cafe on Atwood Avenue, as well as Mother Fool’s Coffeehouse on Williamson Street.
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