Side Hustle Heroine: Caitlin, Personal Stylist Boutique Owner

Occasionally our passions run so deep that their roots reach back before we were even born. For personal stylist boutique owner, Caitlin Costello, her passion originated with her mother, Maura, who attended The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and introduced her daughter to the world of fashion at a very young age, perhaps even with her very first outfit.

“I haven’t changed much since I was kid—I have always been into fashion. The ultimate girly-girl, I was always dressing up all of my dolls and playing dress-up in my mother and grandmother’s closets. I realized I truly loved fashion when I would watch old movies with my family (especially Roman Holiday). The styling portion came later in college when my friends would ask me to shop for or style them—it clicked that this could be a career path.”

Following graduation from college at the University of Alabama, the Texas native followed her mother’s footsteps to New York City, where she immediately began a career in fashion, working in both design and sales for luxury and contemporary brands including Emilio Pucci, Tibi, and Lela Rose.

After years of styling her friends and family on the side, she saw an opportunity to fill a void in the market and began developing a business plan for a personal styling business. In 2017 she launched Affiner, a personal styling service designed to help men and women refine their wardrobes. Her first client was a friend of a friend, and from there her business began to grow.

“I started by envisioning our clientele as women aging from 25-65 but quickly realized there was an opportunity for men as well, and that age really didn’t need to play a major role.”

Starting off with just two employees, Caitlin was forced to confront the less attractive side of owning her own business.

“I think a lot of entrepreneurs don’t realize all of the roles they will take on when starting a business. Not only did I have to continue the development and growth of Affiner, but I suddenly had to become an accountant, a human resource specialist, and a legal expert. It was overwhelming to say the least, but at the same time, such a wonderful learning experience.”

While wearing many hats, Caitlin grew her business quickly as clientele expanded and now Affiner resides in a communal office space where Caitlin and her staff are able to bounce ideas off each other and work creatively side by side.

“As a growing start-up, every day is different, which I personally love. I would say I don’t have a day-to-schedule, but typically I go into the office, answer emails, meet with my team, and then tackle the never-ending to-do list!”

The name she chose for her business streamlines unpredictable days into a steady reminder of Caitlin’s personal beliefs about universal style.

“I chose Affiner—French for refine—because I believe everyone has their own style. Someone’s personal style doesn’t necessarily have to follow trends, but I believe there is a way to refine every style, as well as every wardrobe and closet.”

And in a place like New York City, style is overflowing in the streets, providing Caitlin and her team with infinite ideas, colors, and muses. But this surplus of fashion hasn’t overtaken Caitlin’s own personal style.

“When I get dressed, I want to look in my closet and see multiple outfit options available with the pieces I own. I have found that clean-cut, classic pieces work best for this method. I can mix and match items with ease, and because they are more minimalistic, these pieces tend to stand the test of time. New Yorkers wear a lot of black, so I think that has become a staple in my wardrobe. However, I dress for me, not for my location.”

Caitlin and her team try to incorporate this sense of genuine style when dressing their clients as well.

“I think everyone has a core personal style, but it can always change with current trends and time. What we aim to do is refine and define our client’s wardrobe, while staying true to their authentic style.”

The key to this process lies in forming a relationship with clients that allows the staff at Affiner to develop a wardrobe that speaks to their clients’ true self.

“Through our site, we have a questionnaire to help identify a person’s style without really knowing them, which helps our team tremendously. However, to truly understand a person’s style, you have to connect with them on a personal level. After a client completes our questionnaire, a stylist connects with them one on one to further explore what they are looking to obtain from this service.”

For Caitlin, this client-stylist relationship is the foundation on which her business was built.

“For stylists it’s all about the customer’s experience. Being able to use styling to make a client look and feel his or her best ultimately influenced my decision to become a stylist. My biggest reward is the instant gratification my team and I get to see from our clients. I love to see people confident, comfortable, and happy with what they are wearing—it makes me love what I do!”

Caitlin in Ten

  1. Hometown: Dallas, Texas
  2. Favorite Color: “I will always buy something if it is offered in blue, However I would say I wear the color black most frequently.”
  3. Favorite Season: Spring. “I love the lightweight materials and the pop of colors that can be introduced!”
  4. Favorite Occasion to Style: Everyday life. “Special occasion dressing is exciting, but seeing people in their day-to-day element is my favorite.”
  5. Favorite Brands: Proenza Schouler, Theory, Vince, L’Agence, and Brunello Cucinelli
  6. Style Icons: Grace Kelly, CZ.Guest, and James Dean
  7. Hobbies: Hip hop and zumba classes
  8. Currently Learning: Calligraphy
  9. When she’s creatively blocked: “I will call my best friends and say, ‘Let’s meet for a glass of wine!'”
  10. Define Style: “Style to me means expressing yourself without saying anything.”

For more on Affiner and Caitlin’s personal styling business, check out her website. To stay up to date, follow Affiner on Instagram and Facebook, or reach out to Caitlin via email to connect or collaborate.

Side Hustle Heroine: Rebecca, Singer & Songwriter

Growing up one of five children in coastal Alabama, Rebecca Czarka had to find her voice early, and that voice was born in a house filled with music. With a guitarist for a father, she was introduced at a young age to all of the greats: Elton John, the Beatles, the Eagles, and Carole King. She and her sisters used to make up songs together, the lyrics and melody directed by Rebecca. This led to piano lessons where she struggled with theory and an intimidating teacher but quickly found her footing memorizing songs and learning the mathematics of notes. One assignment gave her the freedom to write her own piece, and after that she knew she wanted to be a songwriter.

Her first live performance of a song she wrote was in a talent show in high school.

“This was the moment everything changed for me—a switch was flipped on inside of me, and I knew it was something I couldn’t turn off. The moment I looked out into the crowd and saw the faces staring back at me—really tuned in, engaged, frozen—I was addicted. I fell in love with that transaction, the exchange between music and listener that transcends regular conversation. I realized music was a channel of communication that can impact people, and I wanted to be part of that.”

After high school, Rebecca followed her family roots back to Louisiana and attended Louisiana State University to earn a degree in communications. Following graduation and encouragement from a friend to pursue music, Rebecca packed up her life to take her chances in Nashville, Tennessee—no job and no friends, just a keyboard and a car.

“It was stupidity, really. Sometimes I look back and marvel at my blind audacity, my fearless guts. But really I just had peace about the decision, which I saw as a divine calling.”

While there were many bruises along the way, the community Rebecca found in Nashville provided her with the camaraderie and support she needed to grow thick skin and a respectful appreciation for the peers honing her craft.

“I was submerged into an ocean of extreme talent. I got a lot of negative feedback and some constructive criticism. My voice grew stronger because of it.”

Although a career in something as competitive and cutthroat as the music industry can be a lonely one, she doesn’t have to take the stage alone, due to an instrument she believes chose her.

“I’m comfortable behind a piano—it creates a nice, long barrier between me and the listener. Occasionally I’ll stand and sing at a friend’s show, but I prefer to sit and hide behind the keys. It’s a familiar, comfort-thing, I think. And to deliver a gripping performance, you have to be comfortable.”

Rebecca also brings her past along with her wherever she goes, adding a level of familiarity to her lyrics that conjure fond memories of innocent joy and simple happiness.

“Everything about my childhood has bled into my music. All artists create their art through a personal lens, and mine is made up of all these incredible, Southern flavors: New Orleans jazz, Southern Creole comfort food, a healthy dose of warm weather, salt water, and beautiful people.”

While an echo of Southern spirituality is also undeniable in her music, Rebecca doesn’t see her piano as a pulpit.

“I happen to be a born-and-raised Catholic, and my faith and surrender to God has been the one source of peace and strength when everything else fails. I know a lot of people question Truth, but I don’t see my music as a means to preach. It’s an honest expression of the struggles, questions, and profound love I’ve experienced in my own spiritual journey.”

This honest display of emotion doesn’t always come so easy on the stage.

“Performing your own songs can be an outpouring of your heart and a bearing of your soul. There’s definitely a level of vulnerability involved, but it’s also a hard-earned skill. Sometimes I find myself lost to the emotions in a performance, but other times I am an actress on a stage performing an emotion. The latter isn’t a disservice to the song, but rather another way to honor it. It’s like a relationship: sometimes you feel the love strongly, other times not. But you choose to love anyway.”

A new love entered Rebecca’s life last year in the form of her and her husband’s baby girl, Edith.

“A friend said to me recently that having a baby is one of those life changes that draws a line down the middle of your life; nothing is the same after that. It changes the way I look at my career, it changes the way I look at the world—for the better. My devotion to my husband and baby are the most important, most creative things I do. Everything else comes after that.”

This prioritization of love is already contributing to Rebecca’s music, inspiring her latest song, “Mother’s Love.”

“I was about eight months pregnant when I wrote it, and I climbed behind a piano, bump and all, to capture the moment as I was living it so that one day I could show my baby, ‘That’s you! I wrote that when I was pregnant with you!'”

Her beloved fans receive a similar type of devotion. She even partnered with them recently to raise $35,000 in funds to create a duet of dual-concept EPs, two new singles, and an upcoming LP.

“My experience in crowd-funding has changed the way I approach a body of work. It wouldn’t be possible for Indies to make albums without fans these days. Even with the monetary support of a label, crowd-funding is a way to more intimately connect with fans and invite them inside your process! I am exceedingly grateful to all of those who have gotten down in the ditch with me and propelled me toward my goals. After all, I do music not just for my own enjoyment, but also to serve others. So why not have them along for the ride? My fans have meant everything to me because they have given my gift a purpose. Without ears, there would be no music.”

As fans, we’re so grateful to provide ears for this artist to continue making an impact in the music industry.

Rebecca in Ten

  1. You May Have Heard Her on TV: Her single “Break” appeared on the Fox TV series Bones in the “The Cold in the Case” episode. Also, her Valentine’s Day single, “What Love Looks Like,” was played on the 2015 season finale of Pretty Little Liars.
  2. If not music: Interior Design or Home Stylist
  3. Love-ly Fact: She began writing a song for her husband the night they met.
  4. Love-lier Fact: She performed the full song for him at their wedding.
  5. Writer’s Block Remedy: She learns a new cover or reads a book (poetry or fiction).
  6. Unpack Her Bag: She always has a rhyming dictionary with her.
  7. Social Media Secret: She keeps a separate account where she follows only beautiful things for inspiration.
  8. Role Models: Norah Jones, Carole King, Eva Cassidy. But also: “A lot of my role models are my friends. The ones I see up close and who I know are authentic both in their music and outside.”
  9. Currently Working On: “A project called Clementine that I’m working on with writer, pianist, and artist, Nicky Holland. It’s a collection of songs we’ve written and produced together that sound like…the feeling of the sun going down on a warm summer night, while you’re sipping brown liquor on the rocks. Think Randy Newman meets Dusty Springfield.”
  10. She Forgot To Include: That high school talent show she mentioned? I was there, and she forgot to add that she won. And then performed it again at her graduation ceremony to a standing ovation. (Sorry, Rebecca, I had to.)

Motivation Monday

I realized later that all sorts of folks want to tell you that you cannot do something. For me that is even more incentive to prove them wrong.Mollie Jenkins, Ceramics Artist

 

Meme: Cooking & Nutrition Blogger

When I called Meme Inge for her Side Hustle Heroine feature, I was given the delightful opportunity to step into one of the happiest, ridiculous places of fun I’ve been to in a while—and I live in New Orleans.

During our scheduled thirty minute call that quickly stretched to an hour, she had a snack, killed a bug on the ceiling, halfway apologized for saying shit (no apology necessary, Meme), and she had me wishing I lived in Solana Beach so I could be her friend in real life, which seems to be pretty similar to the bloopers she posts on her site each week.

With over 8,600 followers on Instagram, one sold-out cookbook, and features in media outlets like CNN, Huffington Post, Shape Magazine, etc., Meme is a registered dietitian nutritionist who wears bacon onesies, unashamedly raps like a white girl, and celebrates food in a way that is finally, finally what it should be: fun.

When Meme was six years old, her mother, who was a 36-year-old high school biology teacher at the time, decided to defy the odds and pursue her dream to go to medical school. As a little girl, this led to Meme’s interest in health, as well as a strong conviction to follow her dreams. She attended the University of Alabama where she earned a degree in nutrition and then went on to receive her masters at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. It was here that she realized she didn’t in fact like working in a hospital at all and instead preferred her internship experiences in food coaching.

“At the time I had the same relationship with food that most girls my age did: extreme control, dieting, weight-loss driven rules, zero fun.”

She began following several food blogs online, and while she passed around countless recipes of her own to friends and family who encouraged to start her own blog, she put it off for the time being.

After graduate school she made the move to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she began private nutrition coaching centered around the same type of relationship with food: limited carbs, reduced-fat cheese, strict control, zero fun. Her heart wasn’t in it, and she soon quit seeing patients and jumped into a fitness obsession at Barre3, quickly moving from student to teacher to studio manager. During this time, she also secretly worked on creating her own food blog, Living Well Kitchen, posting her recipes and health tips purely for her own enjoyment.

In 2016 she realized this was not the final stop for her career, and she felt an itch to spread her wings. On her 29th birthday, she left on a road trip with her sister and twin niece and nephew to relocate to California (because it was her birthday, no one was allowed to fight in the car). The trip ended in Meme’s new home of Solana Beach, California, just north of San Diego, where she continued teaching Barre3 and earned extra income through paid advertisers on her blog. The barre studio closed in February of 2017, sponsorships and advertising on her blog became her primary source of income, and Meme was able to focus on another dream: co-writing a cookbook with her grandmother.

“For so long I wanted to write a cookbook with Nan, but there was no way I could test all her recipes without the fear of gaining weight and losing control of my eating. Our cookbook is a happy medium between everything tasting good and not feeling bad afterward.”

This sense of balance came when Meme began focusing more on her own relationship with food and developed a new approach to nutrition centered around mindfulness and intuitive eating. Which is why you will now see sentences on her blog like “Cleanses make me cry” and “Diets are miserable, “and you will not see anything related to body shaming, food guilt, or restriction.

“If you eat a cookie, does that make you a bad person? No! If you robbed the bakery where you got that cookie, then you might be considered a not so great person.”

Now she shares her knowledge by seeing clients again, offering phone consultations and meal prep advice, and encouraging clients to focus on self care by doing things that make them happy. To Meme, it’s all about identifying your values and working from there.

“Having fun, being authentic, being thoughtful, being kind—those are the things that are important to me. Is skinny important to me? In theory, yes; in reality, no. It’s stressful, it’s exhausting, and at the end of the day it’s not important to me, so I quit. I actually started listening to my body and (more importantly) trusting that my body knows exactly what it needs. I started asking ‘Can we bring the joy back into our food? Can we just let food be something that nourishes our bodies and occasionally nourishes our soul (I’m looking at you wine & cheese)?'”

As a self-proclaimed “recovering perfectionist,” the Internet can be a hard place to make your office but again Meme has chosen a different approach: bloopers.

“I spent five years doing what I thought I was ‘supposed to be doing,’ and then I started the bloopers. When you’re making a video,  you have to laugh at yourself. I say stupid things, onions fly out of the pan, I start to dance or do impersonations. I decided if I can’t make it look perfect, I’ll make it look real.”

Thanks for the breath of fresh air, Meme. We all could use a little more of you (and your bacon onesie).

Check out Meme’s blog, follow her on FacebookInstagram, Pinterest, and YouTube, or reach out via email for a good dose of laughter, nutrition, and a whole lot of fun with food.

Meme in Ten:

  1. Hometown: Mobile, Alabama
  2. Real Name: Margaret (her older sister nicknamed her Meme and it stuck!)
  3. Currently Reading: Beneath the Starlet Sky
  4. Favorite Cooking Utensil: A SHARP knife
  5. Favorite Ingredient: Avocado Oil
  6. Favorite Recipe: Anything in the Instant Pot
  7. Biggest Cooking Influence: Her grandmother, Nan, and her dad
  8. Other Hobbies: Hiking, the beach, sunsets, drinks on her patio (anything outside!)
  9. Favorite Humans: Her twin niece and nephew, Buddy and Joy
  10. Advice: “Life’s too short to eat bad food! Oh and life is a lot more enjoyable if you’re laughing!”

Meredith: Athleisure Boutique Owner

One of the first things you will notice about Meredith Sparks is her smile—it’s the thousand-watt kind. The second will be her energy, and the third will be her confidence. All three are huge, bright, and contagious, which is probably why she recently became the founder of a boutique built around empowering women through fitness. The (tennis) shoe fits.

When Meredith was a little girl growing up in Montgomery, Alabama, her parents signed her up for tee ball. After a couple hours spent picking flowers in the outfield and perfecting her cartwheel, her parents switched her to dance, and for the next twenty years, she danced her way through high school, college, and even post-college in the Steps Intensive program in New York.

While in New York, she decided to retire from dancing and took an internship in fashion, where she realized she had a true passion for the business side of the industry.

“New York City was an endless supply of style inspiration, and being surrounded by it everyday helped me understand how influential fashion and style is in everyone’s life. I was able to explore parts of my personal style and try new things, and I think this helped me understand what works and what doesn’t for my body and my style.”

Things got serious with her boyfriend who was in Birmingham, so Meredith took a job at Hibbett Sports, analyzing sales data and inventory capacity, and moved back home to Alabama. Influenced by the volume of active women in Birmingham, she began to formulate an idea to bring the athleisure that had been so popular on the fitness scene  in New York to the South.

“My goal was to bring women athletic wear that makes them feel amazing. Athleisure has come so far in the last decade, and instead of wearing something that looks mechanical and utilitarian, women can express themselves at the gym in a way they haven’t been able to before. I want to make women feel powerful and sexy and unstoppable, and I think athleisure does that.”

With a hardworking lawyer and entrepreneur for a dad, and a fashion and fitness guru for a mom, Meredith had plenty of inspiration and advice to draw on. “Growing up my parents encouraged me to do what made me push myself. They wanted me to be happy in my work, but they never wanted me to be comfortable in my work, which is something that I’ve always kept with me.”

In the beginning, discomfort showed up in the form of lack of support.

“The biggest challenge was feeling like no one was taking me seriously. I’m not sure if it was because I’m young or if it was because I’m a woman, but after a few meetings with people who brushed me off, I started to have to believe in my own ideas, and then everything changed. I think this pushed me to have confidence in myself and my decisions. When you do this, other people can feel it, and they start believing in what you’re doing.”

Which is exactly what happened when her advisors pushed for online only versus brick and mortar. “Once I had the opportunity to really interact with customers at pop-up shops, I knew that I had to open a physical store.” So she did, just last week.

“The store has a very clean, ‘West Coast’ vibe and in many ways is very minimalistic. I really wanted it to look like a gallery with the clothes as artwork. I also wanted to bring some of the edge of New York to the South—that part of my life has really influenced the direction of the collection.”

As far as deciding on a name for her business, Meredith chose Eleven Eleven because of its meaning of “synchronicity, simplicity, and spiritual awareness.” And the ambiance of the store alludes to that as well, providing lit candles, music, and art.

“I am very passionate about how my clients feel when they walk through my doors. The product I’m selling is a premium one, and I believe the experience should match.  I really try to get to know each client and what they are looking for, so we can connect them with something they will really love. We don’t have bins of leggings that our clients have to dig around in or racks overcrowded with merchandise. The simplistic approach to displaying our brands makes the process feel luxurious, instead of stressful.”

As a small business owner, Meredith is not only invested in her clients; she’s also invested in her neighbors.

“Running a business is hard but having someone who does it next to you everyday is so uplifting. I’ve discovered a network of female business owners whose support is fierce, so I put together an event called Movement Collective. We host MVMT CLTV every other month in a new space around Birmingham. The ultimate goal is to bring health-focused, women-owned businesses and our clients together. We have a free Pilates class, a braid bar, ‘healthy cocktails,’ healthy food, and pop-ups. It’s been a great way to not only introduce our clients to new things, but it has opened so many networking and support doors for the owners and entrepreneurs.”

Surrounded by a tribe of strong female business owners and holding the keys to her very own brick and mortar boutique, Meredith is a far cry from the days of not being taken seriously. When asked what advice she would give now to herself when she was starting out:

“Just keep going. You know what you’re doing, and this is a damn good idea.”

We think so too.

For more on Meredith, check out Eleven Eleven Clothiers online, follow along on Facebook and Instagram, or reach out via email to connect or collaborate!

Meredith in Ten:

  • Favorite Childhood Outfit: “Little Mermaid” Flounder costume paired with red cowboy boots and a very ’90s ski jacket
  • College Claim to Fame: Member of the Rebelette Dance Team at the University of Mississippi
  • Fashion Icon: Her mother
  • Exercise Obsession: Spinning
  • Eleven Eleven’s (Other) Meaning: While dating long distance, she and her husband (then boyfriend) used to kiss the clock at 11:11 wherever they were.
  • Favorite Item in the Store: The sign behind the counter built by her brother
  • Biggest Dream: Create an athletic clothing line designed by women, produced by women, for women—all in Alabama
  • Advice for Side Hustlers: Follow your gut, trust it, and don’t look back. If you second guess yourself, others will too.
  • Fun Fact: You can be an Eleven Eleven Ambassador!