I met Ashleigh before either of us had sprouted a baby bump let alone the toddlers that run our lives currently. I mean that in the best of ways. Of course. And, we can thank the blogging world for our friendship...proof that invaluable gifts come from this little side hobby.
I immediately gravitated to Ashleigh because she was real. Authentic. And sweet as pie. It helped that our husbands got along famously, too. To say we miss them would be an understatement. You see...they've moved out of the country and on to bigger and better things. Perhaps you should read her story about how travel has shaped her into the newly, minted entrepreneur she is today...and all out of one suitcase!
Tell us a little about Fosterie + HN and the mission of both companies. I know Fosterie has a very distinct mission. How did you come up with both and how hard was it to get started? From your material sourcing to the website. I want to know it all.
Fosterie is my 'products with purpose' passion project. As we traveled through Central America last year, I was affected by the poverty and health crisis' we were seeing and wanted to find a way to help. Retail buying and sourcing is my background and after stepping away when I became a mom and nomad, I began to miss it after nearly a year. So this was a way I could make an impact in my new situation using my prior skills and experience. For each Fosterie item sold a portion of profits (from 10% to a flat $5 depending on the item) is donated to my charity partners. Once the initial idea was in place, things happened fast! I launched in November with a simple website and travel inspired seed bead bracelets. Recently, I was able to upgrade the site and am continuing to add and source products influenced by and produced in the places we visit. Most recently I've fallen hard for the bright and beautiful Mochila bags, handwoven by the women Wayuu Tribe in the desert region of La Guajira in Colombia. It's an amazing story and culture but it's suffering due to droughts and economic conditions. I hope that by bringing the bags to the forefront and providing financial assistance on the back end, we can help keep the tradition alive. Though the Fosterie mission in serious, the motto is fun. It’s all about color, tassels, fringe... things that bring me, and hopefully others, joy!
As for Harwell & Nell, it's a dream I've had on the back burner for a few years now and am currently in the right place at the right time to do it. Through working on Fosterie and meeting people around town, I realized the capabilities here in Colombia were workable with what I wanted to achieve. And once I committed, things were able to come together rather quickly. HN is near and dear to my heart, as it's inspired by the 'opposites attract' love story of my grandparents, which is what I hope translates in my designs. He was a classic gentleman, she was a sassy spitfire. So with each bag, I try to combine a little bit of class with a little bit of sass, pairing gorgeous leather exteriors with fun interiors. At this moment, production is very small batch. Piece by piece, I'm working with Colombian partners, sourcing all the materials and designing locally, supporting a community of small business owners, shops, and solo entrepreneurs. It’s ethical and sustainable and is truly being built from the ground up, literally running around town, asking for a guy another guy recommended, or searching for a place from a crinkled business card. It's fun and it's gritty. The challenges have been interesting given the language barrier; I speak virtually no Spanish, and most of the people I work with speak no English so Google Translate is a very important member of my team! I launched the first set this week on Etsy, as it felt like the perfect platform for handmade items with limited production. It's a marketplace I dipped my toes into years ago creating stationery and paper goods and I've always had a soft spot for the community - it feels good to be back among friends!
1. What was the moment you knew you wanted to be an entrepreneur let alone in the accessory industry?
I think it’s something I’ve always wanted, but wasn’t confident enough to go for it. However, with so much of my life completely changing in the past sixteen months, from leaving Chicago, to having a baby, to becoming a full time nomad, a lot of fears have naturally dissipated and I realized it’s kind of now or never. Last Fall is when it really hit me, like, I’ve got to do this, and do it now. I never imaged I’d do anything with jewelry, but interestingly enough, it’s where it all began. Bags on the other hand, I’ve always been a fan and had hoped to create my own line someday. It took a little longer for that part to come to fruition but I do believe things happen for a reason and everything I learned at the start helped prepare me for what was coming. Had we not taken this whim of a trip to Colombia, I never would have found the Mochilas for Fosterie or started the production for Harwell & Nell. It’s fun to look back and connect the dots!
2. What one Fosterie/HN product are you the most proud of and why? Or...what's your favorite of all time?
Oooh, tough one!! I think I have to go with the Harwell & Nell clutches. I truly love all the products in both lines, but these clutches are truly mine, from the design to selecting every single detail down to the thread color, so they feel more personal, and most like my baby. But Mochila bags are a very close second. I just cannot get enough color!
3. How would you describe a typical day? What's your morning to evening routine? (don't leave out your traveling lifestyle!)
From September up until the last 2 months, we were moving roughly every two weeks so our days were very random, meaning so was my productivity! Having a home base in Medellin recently has helped us develop somewhat of a routine but since we’re both basically home with our toddler every day it’s hard to draw the line of who does what when and it’s a struggle because I do love a good routine. Lately we wake up around 6am, snuggle with our daughter, have coffee, check our phones, schedule the day’s posts on social media, etc. If it’s a home day, I try to log in and handle any urgent items during her morning nap, meanwhile the hubby makes us lunch. She just started baby school in the afternoons so I’m banking on those four hours per day for primo productivity! This is when I update the website, edit images, add new products, create upcoming promotions, and address any challenges. If I need to buy supplies or visit my production team, which happens 2-3 times per week, I’ll head out in the morning before the city gets too busy so I can make it back in time to pick her up. Since we are in a new town, we do try to plan some sightseeing/exploration times or combine errands with adventures when we can. In the evenings we usually hang out on our roof for a sunset glass of wine. After dinner, baths, and the baby’s in bed, if I can hold my head up, it’s back online for a tiny bit. Then I usually fall asleep, Kindle in hand, only 2 pages past the previous night!
4. How do you describe your personal aesthetic?
Out of necessity, it’s changed a lot since we left the US. I share a suitcase with my husband and daughter so I’m currently rotating tons of solid color lightweight, breathable tops that I can liven up with accessories. Also known as, pretty basic.
But boring travel wardrobe aside, I think it falls somewhere in the Elegance with an Edge realm. I love great cuts and timeless pieces, but like to freshen them up with unique accessories or an unexpected pairing.
5. What individuals, tastemakers, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public figures inspire you?
Because I’m a new entre/mom-prenuer, I’m recently drawn to people on the same path, like yourself! People who have broken out of a previous mold and are trying new things and forging new paths. Outside of that, Olivia Palermo’s style (and hair) inspire me. Gabrielle Bernstein's spirituality and positivity inspire me. And Gary V’s ‘no BS’ motivation inspires me.
6. If you weren't in the accessory industry...and could be anything else...what would it be?
A writer. I love putting words to paper (or screens). My first creative outlet was my blog, which has taken a back seat at the moment. But I so miss that form of therapy!
7. It's creative time...what's on your Spotify? What inspires you?
Being out of the United States for awhile now, I kind of feel out of the music loop so lately we've been playing the New Music Friday playlists around the house. Plus I've been homesick for Tennessee so when that happens I like to squeeze in some country to get me back to my roots. Otherwise, this is going to sound so dorky, I've recently been learning how to play the ukulele so I'm listening to some fun uke tunes for inspiration. When we lived in Costa Rica for a few months last year I became friends with a guitarist who inspired me to sing harmony with her. We would practice new songs each week and perform them at an open mic night on the beach. We only did it a handful of times but it was such a fun, new challenge which is what motivated the uke purchase so I can play on the go. Now every song I hear I'm like, *googles ukulele chords for....*. I'm trying to master Biebers 'Love Yourself' right now. *Hides*
8. Favorite restaurant on a Friday night + why? (as it pertains to Columbia, Costa Rica, etc)
This question makes me miss Friday nights in Chicago! Once you've been spoiled by that foodie city, nothing else can hardly compare. Though there are some great restaurants in our current city of Medellin, Colombia, lately we're in an end-of-week-routine of enjoying a homemade dinner and heading to our rooftop for wine and winding down. Our toddler can play, and we can relax with some vino and an amazing view in the comfort of home.
9. Wine or classic cocktail?
10. Favorite weekend getaway destination?
At this point, home! Traveling full time makes you realize how valuable a home base really is.
11. Bonus question - 5 must-have apps that you need in your life to function?
Google Translate - I’m living in South America and barely speak Spanish, so this has been a life saver!
Facebook - for keeping in touch with family and friends
Instagram - for finding beautiful, new inspiration and making new friends
Google Keep - for all my lists
Google Photos - for organizing my millions of photos. (I also love that it creates fun little collages and videos for me without any effort!)
12. What's next for Fosterie + HN?
Though the brands are operated separately, I’m able to join forces behind the scenes to leverage production and logistics which opens up new opportunities I can sprinkle in when appropriate. Recently for example, based on the popularity of the mochila bag, combined with my HN leather suppliers and production team, a new leather version of the mochila is joining the collection. I’m so pumped because we took a traditional Wayuu woven strap, typical of a Mochila, and developed the bag portion in genuine leather. It’s something that came up on the fly, but it’s such a great new addition that’s exclusive and totally one-of-a-kind. Outside of new products, I’m slowly but surely working on expanding the wholesale side.
Find out what Ashleigh's up to online and in the social world:
Harwell & Nell: harwellandnell.com
Interested in learning more about Fearless Friday? Check out my last feature here.