Five Tips to Find the Right Bloggers Promote Your Brand

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A really great way to garner extra exposure for your brand is partnering with bloggers and other influencers that have an authentic following that meshes well with the aesthetic of your brand. When I am looking for individuals to collaborate with for my clothing line and for other clients, I look at five different things, while they don’t necessarily need to have all five, there are definitely some deal breakers if you want to get anything out of collaborating.

  1. The first thing I look at when I am finding  brand enthusiasts or ambassadors is their style and aesthetic. There are lots of great bloggers with tons of followers, but if my product doesn’t look like something that will fit into their every day lives, then it wouldn’t be a good fit because chances are, the product wouldn’t fit into their follower’s style either. You don’t want a collaboration to come off as spammy or like an advertisement, so it’s really important that your product placement looks cohesive.
  2. The amount of followers they have on social media (specifically, Instagram). Since many people are turning towards microblogging- using social media such as Instagram to write longer posts and blogging full posts less, I feel that Instagram is one of the most useful ways to get your products in front of future consumers. I typically think that anything over 1,500-2,000 followers deserves a closer look.
  3. Once you have singled out some people to look into and they have the amount of followers you’re targeting it’s really important to look into the quality and level of engagement given the amount of followers they have. Other than collaborating with someone who fits your style, I think this is the most important thing to look at when choosing who to send merchandise to. Many people “buy” their followers on sites like Instagram, so before choosing who to collaborate with, I do two things: the first is go to their followers list and do a quick recon of their followers (I do this by looking at about 20-30 of their followers profiles to see if they are actual people that fit my target demographic or if they’re ghost followers who aren’t actually real people) the next thing I check is their followers engagement on their posts, typically I look for over 70 likes on most of their photos and a few comments.
  4. Another important thing to look at is the quality and type of photos that they have on their pages. If you plan on being able to repost their photos you want to make sure that they are clear and fit in with your feed. For example, if you have a very monochromatic feed, it might not be the best idea to collaborate with someone who uses lots of bright and saturated colors as their photos would look funny in their feed, and also while it’s not necessary to have a professional photographer take your photos, their photos should look good.
  5. The last thing I look at isn’t necessarily a deal breaker. But it is nice to check whether or not they have collaborated with other brands in the past to see how many posts you can expect and the type of wording they will use.

The moral of the story is: be smart about who you collaborate with. There are tons of amazing bloggers out there who would love to help you promote your brand, you just have to know what you’re looking for! To find out how I can help you find the right partnership for your brand, contact me.

 

6 Don’ts for your Brand’s Social Media Strategy

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I’ve always been a huge advocate of using social media to market brands and businesses. When I worked as a front office manager at a hotel in New York, I was shocked at the pushback I got from the sales and marketing department at the suggestion that they make a Facebook page and a Twitter account, but eventually they gave in and let me run it which allowed me to experiment with social media marketing before making the leap to a full time sales and marketing position. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to manage social media accounts for several companies and advise other brands, and the more that I study and analyze social media, I become increasingly convinced that your digital presence can really make or break your business.

When I am using a product I really like, I often like to check out their social media pages and cannot believe how often I am surprised to see that their pages are run relatively poorly in juxtaposition to the quality of products and services they offer. Whether you are a Fortune 500 company, a one man show, a blogger or somewhere in between, in this day and age, most of your interaction with your clients will be in the form of social media. Although a lot goes into forming a social media strategy, there are some definite no-no’s when it comes to what you should and should not post. Here are 6 definite “don’ts” when it comes to portraying your brand.

1. Don’t Post the Same Content on Every Platform- One of the most common mistakes that I see businesses make is that they have linked their social media accounts so that when they post something in one location, it automatically shares to all other social media platforms. There are a few things wrong with this- first, when you have all of those accounts linked, it doesn’t actually copy the post, it just posts a link driving you back to the original platform to view the post (so if someone is on Facebook, they don’t want to be driven to your Instagram, second, while it is important to get your brand exposure across all platforms, it’s also important to understand that each platform of social media has a different audience and some posts should be customized based on those differences. It’s also important to note that if you are posting the same content to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, your audience has no reason to follow you on all three. Consider using a program such as Hootsuite which allows you to post to several social media platforms but also lets you customize your own message for each.

2. Don’t Post Just Because You Feel Like You Need To- I am a huge proponent of planning out my social media posts every week, but sometimes I get lazy or busy and I don’t. When that happens, I sometimes get into a frenzy and feel that I need to post something just because I haven’t lately… The problem with that is that when you’re reaching, sometimes the quality of what you put out suffers. I have finally realized that I need to embrace quality over quantity and that if I don’t have something engaging to post, it’s better to hang back and brainstorm than putting out something that isn’t streamlined with my brand identity.

3. Don’t Publicly ask for “Follow Backs” or Freebie Products- Let me start off by saying that there is nothing wrong with self promotion, but there is a right way to do it, one thing you have to remember is that even if you are using social media as a marketing platform, you still have to be social. If you are a blogger and you really love someones products, sending a nice email to the company asking to do a collaboration and having your site statistics ready will get you a lot further than borderline harassing them on social media saying, “I’m a popular blogger, please send me free stuff!” Similarly, If you are a brand, writing on other people’s pages or photos asking them to follow your company “because we have great stuff that you will like” comes off as spammy and will not get you a great response. Think about how you feel when someone rings your doorbell trying to sell you anything other than girl scout cookies… you slam the door in their face and are left with a bad taste. The same thing can happen on social media and people who could really benefit from what you have to offer will miss out.

4. Don’t Post Too Much Content At Once– Sometimes when I get done with a shoot or if I am traveling I get overly excited and want to post one photo after another. This is when I have to take a deep breath and practice patience. Having an abundance of great content is a great problem to have, so it’s important that you space out your postings so that your followers are remaining just as fascinated as you. Another thing to consider is that when you are posting things in a short time span, a small section of your audience is receiving all of it at once which will put some people off and make them unfollow you and some of your audience will completely miss the post.

5. Don’t Over Share Personal Information- While it’s important to build a personal relationship with your audience, you don’t need to air your dirty laundry or post 3,000 photos of your family. If you are using Instagram or Facebook primarily for your business, make sure that you keep it professional. Your readers will be put off if you are constantly complaining and although you might treasure them, they are not very interested in seeing blurry photos of your kids. I know that this one can come off as crass, so let me try to explain using myself as an example: My favorite form of social media for my business is Instagram and while I sometimes share photos of my friends and family on my feed, and I feel that the occasional candid gives my followers a look into my life beyond the posed photos and helps me be a bit more relatable, but I always remember two things: 1.) Although I do know some of the people who follow me, I don’t have a personal relationship with everyone and although some of my life is public, the really precious things should stay private. 2.) The photos that I do post should fit the aesthetic of the rest of my feed, how I want to portray my brand and myself as a business person as well as an individual and should be appropriate (i.e.: not me at the club poppin’ bottles in a mini dress… because that’s what I do after Luke goes to sleep…)

6. Don’t Over Use Hashtags- Hashtags are super helpful and a great way to connect with possible clients and like minded people, but when you use them with #every #single #word, its an eyesore, and using ones that aren’t relevant is just pointless. Each social media platform has an optimum number of hashtags to use, for example Twitter is way less due to the character limit. Instagram has a limit of 30 hashtags and I usually put those in the comments for a cleaner look in my captions (but make sure that you put them up directly after posting because people searching hashtags will be searching in real time). A company’s hashtag strategy can really increase their revenue but using popular ones that aren’t relevant might bring you “likes” but there is no point in being popular if you aren’t being profitable, right??

The biggest thing that I always keep in mind when planning strategies for myself and my clients is that social media is the way we are able to interact with our client base on a more personal level, so I really want to make sure that they come away from these interactions with positive feelings and a good impression of  what we are all about! What are your favorite rules of thumb when it comes to managing your brand’s social media presence?

Want to chat one on one about your Social Strategy? Contact me here!

Red White and Barbecue- Styled Shoot Fayetteville, NC

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Amanda and I are a little in love with our latest styled shoot.

Nothing says 4th of July quite like a backyard barbecue complete with guys in Chubbies shorts and red white and blue everything… and let me tell you, the South does it right. Growing up in Connecticut, barbecue was a general term used for cooking food and eating it outside. After moving to the South, I have come to appreciate the difference between a cookout (burgers, dogs, etc) and a southern barbecue filled with pulled pork, smoked ribs, chicken wings and the best homemade sauces passed down from generation to generation. And there isn’t a barbecue without the vinegar based vs molasses based sauce debate (I’ll take both!).

There are few things better than waking up on Independence Day, throwing on a pair of cut off jeans, some cowboy boots and donning a big American Flag shirt to hang out and be silly with your friends all day and into the night, while waiting for some fireworks! A 4th of July barbecue isn’t a barbecue without coleslaw, potato salad, and pimento cheese, some country music blasting in the background and at least one pair of cowboy boots. We drinking love our American beer, especially local brews like Dirt Bag Ales, which is brewed just one town over from us in Hope Mills, NC, and playing yard games like corn hole, lawn darts and just tossing the football around! We wanted this shoot to incorporate everything we love about Independence Day and the celebration surrounding it, and it was so much fun that I can’t wait to do it all over again for the real thing!

 

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Part of the reason why this shoot was so much fun is because of the awesome people and businesses that were featured in it. We knew we wanted to give the shoot a down home country feel and we chose just the right partnerships and models to make it happen!

Rocky Harrigan, who competed for Miss Alaska, is not only a beauty… she has brains and business savvy too! She owns her own gun company, Build or Buy AR, and has a shooting range in her back yard, making her America’s Second Amendment dream girl… don’t you just love her shirt??(get it here!)  Oh, and the cherry on top? She’s super sweet! The sunnies that her and I wore were courtesy of Faces of Ghana, (a great business supporting an even better cause) and totally something I plan on wearing again and again!

Brittany Campbell is our hair and makeup artist for all of our shoots but she’s too beautiful not to feature, especially with her gorgeous flowing locks and in some cute shots with her real life other half Andrew who graciously offered to showcase his good looks and modeling abilities! She is opening up her own makeup and spray tan studio in the downtown area, and I am so excited! I just know it’s going to be the perfect girl cave to get pampered and dolled up! Dash of Chic Boutique located on Ramsey Street provided Brittany and I’s outfits as well as Rocky’s necklace and denim vest. They have amazing clothes and so many fun pieces for the 4th and every other occasion! Every time I go in, I want to buy one of everything!!

Mary Jane Jones is the local authority for the Fayetteville, and Research Triangle Area on all things wedding and events with her company Unveiled Design and Events. Her attention to detail and ability to make a couple’s special day become magical has earned her features on prestigious wedding sites such as Green Wedding Shoes, Trendy Bride Magazine and Style Me Pretty (swoon!). She is wearing a cute Stars and Stripes tank by Little B Love and a headband is by Holly Blossoms Etsy Shop.

I first met Buck the day of the shoot and he automatically made a great first impression when he told me he brought his ‘MERICAS Chubbies, because any guy who owns those gets an automatic A in my book. Chubbies are a cultural phenomenon that has taken the South by storm with their shorts in bright colors and loud prints that encourage young men to live by the phrase “sky’s out thigh’s out.” Personally, I always loved Magnum PI so Chubbies get two thumbs up in my book and so does Buck!

Thank you to the following businesses for their products and services:
Kelly Fox at Petite Etoile Creative: Shoot Stylist and Creative Director ♦ Amanda Amador Photography: Photographs and Creative Partner ♦ Hair and Makeup: Brittany Campbell at Sunshine Makeup Artistry ♦ Nails: Kristin Farr at Farr Out Nails (Jamberry Consultant) ♦ Beer: Dirtbag Ales ♦ Kelly and Brittany’s Clothing Dash of Chic Boutique♦ Stars and Stripes Shirt: Little B Love ♦ Pew Pew Shirt: Buy or Build AR ♦ TopKnot Headband: Holly’s Blossoms ♦ Location: Mazarick Park Fayetteville, NC

 

 

8B6A3438models left to right:Andrew, Brittany Campbell, Mary Jane Jones, Buck Jordan, Kelly Fox, Rocky Harrigan

Amanda and I have been having so much fun helping brands increase their exposure and get quality photos to use for their business through these shoots! If you would like to find out more information about how your brand can be featured in an upcoming shoot or if you are interested in the other ways we can work together to enhance your brand’s image and visibility, contact us.

Disclaimer: All rights to photographs are owned  solely by Petite Etoile Creative and Amanda Amador Photography. Any use of these photos without express permission is forbidden.


Vintage Sweet Pastels

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There is something sweet about late spring as summer approaches. Pastel colors start showing up everywhere and the weather is perfect for an evening bike ride and a cold soda on the front porch. By the end of Amanda and I’s shoot this month, I convinced myself that I should wear solely tulle skirts from now on and that I was born about 50 years too late, and I bet you’ll feel the same.

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Thank you to the following individuals and businesses for their products and services:
Kelly Fox at Petite Etoile Creative: Shoot Stylist, Creative Director and Skirts ♦ Amanda Amador Photography: Photographs and Creative Partner ♦ Hair and Makeup: Brittany Campbell at Sunshine Makeup Artistry ♦ Nails: Kristin Farr at Farr Out Nails (Jamberry Consultant) ♦ Rosette Necklaces: House of M Studios ♦ Vintage Pearls, Chair and Cameras: Diane’s Vintage Market ♦ Location: Arsenal Park and The Poe House, Fayetteville, NC

 

 

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Models From left to right: Johanna Austin, Alise Butkevicks, Jalisha Pone, Fatima Butt, Gina Lee, Nikki Haynes, Kelly Fox, Katy Stevick, Kaitlyn Lusk All Photography: Amanda Amador Photography

If you are interested in having your brand featured in an upcoming shoot, contact petiteetoilecreative@gmail.com

 

Disclaimer: All rights to photographs are owned  solely by Petite Etoile Creative and Amanda Amador Photography. Any use of these photos without express permission is forbidden.

5 Apps to up Your Insta-Game

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For some people, Instagram is a fun way to share cute family (or cat) photos with friends, but for bloggers and businesses it can be a huge way to drive traffic to our websites. This means that the photos that we post have to be on point.

Personally, my images, unless professionally edited by a photographer are hardly ever ready to be posted without some tweaking. Along with posting lifestyle photos of myself, I also believe in mixing in quotes and photos of things or trends that I love to curate a feed that is lovely and inspiring. There are many apps on the market (many of which are free!) that allow you to edit photos, add graphics, make collages and so much more. Here are my top 5 apps I use on my phone for creating my Instagram photos!

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A Garden Party

 

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In the South, there is no better way to welcome the warm weather than by throwing a Garden Party, so I did. For the past few months I have had the pleasure of working with Amanda Amador Photography for most of my style shoots. Since both of us are huge supporters of small and local business, we’ve decided to team up for an ongoing project featuring local figures and small businesses in monthly styled photo shoots in fun and unexpected ways.

For our inaugural one, we decided to welcome spring by transforming my backyard into a decadent and darling garden party complete with gorgeous flowers, and mint mojitos, and we think it turned out just lovely… but you be the judge!


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Models: (left to right) Brittany Campbell, Miriam Landru, Candita Choffy, Candice Richardson, Ingrid Marthy, Rika King, Taylor Aube, Kelly Fox  All Photography by: Amanda Amador Photography

 

If you are interested in having your brand featured in an upcoming shoot, contact petiteetoilecreative@gmail.com

Shoot Designer & Stylist, Skirt Design and Creative Marketing: Kelly Fox at Petite Etoile Creative ♦ Photography and Creative Partner: Amanda Amador Photography ♦ Hair And Makeup: Brittany Campbell at Sunshine Makeup and Tans ♦ Antiques Provided by: Diane’s Vintage Market ♦ Accessories Provided and Styled by: Candita Choffy at Stella and Dot ♦ Calligraphy on Drink Cards by: Rika King at Rika King Design

 

 

 

 

Disclaimer: All rights to photographs are owned  solely by Petite Etoile Creative and Amanda Amador Photography. Any use of these photos without express permission is forbidden.

The Art of the Non Selfie

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In a world where a word (or hashtag) is worth a thousand pictures, it’s hard to make your photos stand out without a professional photographer on hand! I personally have never been a fan of the selfie. I think that some people are great at it… but I am not one of them.. my makeup is never that on point, sometimes my eyebrows should not be photographed that closely and well, I usually end up with the crazy eye stare… (see above photo) I realized early on that I couldn’t rely on my husband to take photos unless I wanted them taken with a night vision camera due to his late work hours, and my 1 year old just doesn’t understand cameras yet.

I have been lucky to find some great photographers lately to partner with who are much more skilled behind a camera than I am.. (I bow down to their awesomeness), but before I found them, I took my own photos with a tripod and clicker (and still do when I feel the need to pat myself on the back for putting together an especially good outfit!)

Here are some tips for how to get quality photos yourself without having paparazzi following you all the time. (because I HATE it when they get me coming out of Starbucks when my make-up isn’t done)

 

Tip # 1: get a camera, tripod and a wireless remote control (make sure what you purchase works for your specific camera!!) The wireless remote is key. Most people have a self timer on their camera that they can just click and wait until it takes the photo but the remote lets you position yourself how you want, and it also does an auto focus on you instead of just the general area.

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Tip# 2: Don’t shoot in the middle of the day… the light is too harsh and not only do you squint but the photo just looks terrible– sometimes I have to shoot in the middle of the day because its nap-time and I just try to find an extremely shaded area but I have to be careful that I don’t get streaks of light coming through the shade in my face (my covered front porch works wonderfully!) early morning and early evening work best if you can take photos then.

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Tip # 3: Unless you don’t care if people think you’re nuts find somewhere not crowded. My favorite spots are my back yard, the street in front of my house (its a super not busy street), an abandoned parking lot near my house that I drag my son in his stroller to and put the tripod in the basket, and the brick on the side of my neighbor’s house… if you’re a city dweller, alleys work great, so do photos in front of cool gates and fences.

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Tip # 4: take lots of pictures. I take between 15-30 photos when I take mine. It’s usually just me changing my head position a little or adjusting my posture but it gives me several photos to choose from. Don’t be afraid to get silly and creative! If you hate them, who cares? You’re the only one that will see them!

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Tip # 5: Hide the clicker! I put my camera on a 2 second release which gives me 2 seconds from when I press the button to hide the clicker. It’s small enough that I can just move my hand in front of it, but I also sometimes use bags and coffee cups to hide it too!

 

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Tip #6: EDIT YOUR PHOTOS!! Don’t just upload them straight from your camera to the interwebs! This actually goes for selfies and any other photos too! All of those photos online that you think are so pretty are so much better because they have been tweaked. Disclaimer: I am not telling you to shave off your muffin top or give yourself virtual botox in photo shop (although I have been tempted to)… Just play with the lighting and colors. I usually need to lighten my photos a bit and up the saturation. My favorite apps to edit with are: Afterlight, Snapseed, Facetune, and Camera+.

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I should mention: if you don’t have a camera that you love, there are apps and remote controls for phones too! Here are a few that some friends use:

Mini Tripod Stand for Iphone

GoCam App for Iphone

IPhone and Samsung Galaxy Tripod Adapter

I hope you found this post useful! If you have any questions I will try my best to answer them… In the meantime I’m going to go have a photo shoot from the comfort of my back yard, you should too!! WORK IT!

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xo,

Kelly


Why Shop Small Business for the Holidays and Every Day?

I am definitely new to owning a small business, but I’m not new to supporting them. While sometimes we feel like it’s easier to run over to the big box store down the road (guilty, I love Target), its easy to find beautiful items at small business stores or on Etsy for comparable and often even more affordable prices.  If I have the extra time, I love going to the wine shop downtown and getting help picking out few bottles, getting fresh jams and produce from the farmer’s market, and buying baby products from our local cloth diapering store. Most of the time while I’m in there, one of the owners is around and out talking to customers and it’s so refreshing to see how invested they are in their businesses and I love knowing that the money I spend there is being used to support their families instead of helping some CEO of a big box store add another zero to his bank account.

In honor of the upcoming Black Friday and Small Business Saturday shopping madness, I would like to share my story behind Petite Etoile as well of some of my friends’ and fellow small business owners’ stories:

Kelly Fox at Petite Etoile Shoppe

Since graduating college, I have always been very career and business minded. When I met my husband Brendan, I was living in New York and working in a high end hotel. Leaving New York was a real leap of faith for me and one that made me feel like I lost a part of who I was for a time because it basically ended my career. When my husband and I made the decision for me to stay at home with our son, it was a no-brainer, it would almost cost more in childcare than what I was currently making, and with our frequent moves with the military, I wanted to be a constant source of stability in my son’s life. I felt blessed to be able to stay at home with our son, but after working for most of my adult life, once I finally got a handle on the “mom thing” my business brain started getting restless. I have always had a passion for style and fashion (in fact, I strongly considered going to school for fashion merchandising) so, as soon as I fired up my sewing machine during one of Luke’s naps the itch came back. I began making nursery decor and then found my passion in Women’s and Children’s clothing. This business has breathed new life into me and has given me great satisfaction and happiness. Right now, some of the money I make is reinvested into materials for upcoming designs, but the rest helps towards our groceries and gas (hopefully some day it will help towards our children’s college fund!). Through this shop and blog, I hope to make affordable, stylish clothes for women and children and to help empower other women to pursue their passions.

Colleen Hurley at Firebrand Apparel

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We are a family of 3, soon to be 4 who are currently stationed at Fort Benning but are getting out of the Army once baby is born. My Husband is job hunting and it’s still TBD what God has in store for us but we are faithful! A little over a year ago, Brantley was always drooling. Even when he wasn’t teething and his shirt was pretty much always damp and we would go through shirt after shirt. Then he came down with walking pneumonia and the doctor said it was most likely from his chronically damp shirt. So that was the last straw. I hated regular bibs and so made my first, very rough, tie-back bibdana! And Firebrand Apparel was born! Brantley’s name means “fiery one” or “firebrand” so that’s where the name is from. As it’s grown, I’ve grown more passionate about giving back and currently have two charity bibdanas where 100% of the proceeds go to a certain family’s needs. I give to auctions on Instagram monthly and hosted my first one this month for a sweet couple looking to start a family either by IVF or adoption. I’ve actually been working with a couple other shop owners who are passionate about adoption and am really passionate about it myself! I love other small businesses and have been challenging myself this Christmas to shop small for all my gifts!

Lisa Bradley and Cameron Crus- R. Riveter Handbags

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 Lisa and Cameron met in Dahlonega while enjoying an assignment with the 5th Ranger Training Battalion in the North Georgia mountains.  Cameron’s Master of Architecture degree and Lisa’s MBA were slowly seeming more and more irrelevant, especially with fragmented resumes from the multiple military moves. R. Riveter  is the one of a kind handbag company was born out of a mix of frustration, passion, and creativity and designed to help chip away at the heart of military spouse employment woes.  In a converted attic the two women laid the groundwork for the still rapidly expanding company with a 45 year old, 75 pound, Consew industrial sewing machine, some old tents, refined with a bit of real leather. R. Riveter entirely exists to provide mobile and flexible income to military spouses.  Our goal is to foster self-identity and purpose that we often feel are missing as military spouses without a career outlet.  Our company is entirely run by military spouses; from the making of the smallest purse part to the models on our advertisements.  The larger R. Riveter story has been created chapter by chapter by each individual military spouse involved in the company.  Purse parts come from all over the country, making each R. Riveter bag a symbol of the American way of life and our connection as a military community.  It is our mission at R. Riveter to inspire pride and patriotism into the hearts of each customer.  We delight in the fact that we are completely homegrown and produce high quality, well-crafted items.   Our R. Riveter collection of handbags is the foundation of a company dedicated to serving the spouses of our service members.

 

Shelby Greene at The Meanie Greene

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I live in a small Maine community with a population of 550 people. So you can imagine that there are not a ton of job opportunities here. Before becoming a stay at home mom (sahm) I worked as an executive director of an arts center, grant writer, and Americorps volunteer. My husband and I agreed that I would stay home with our children to help with education/local food. This is great in theory but also a little boring for a creative energetic person like myself. In order to allow my creative side to flourish I started an online cloth diapering shop, The Meanie Greene. Cloth diapering is a lot different than it was 30 years ago. Although flats, diaper pins, and wool covers are still very popular cloth diapering is more functional for everyday “modern” life and more mainstream. At my shop I create functional and fun diapers for babies of all sizes from newborn to potty training age. My shop just celebrated its 1st Birthday and I continue to have a growing customer base. I can’t wait to see what this next year brings! Although I am not at the point of majorly contributing to my family’s income I am still able to almost entirely support my business through diaper sales. In the next year I hope to earn enough to help pay for equipment in my new sewing space which will be completed in Fall 2015. I hope at this time I will also be able to offer sewing classes locally.

These are just a few of the faces behind the small businesses that are using their gifts to support their families and communities. So, I challenge you, the next time you need to go shopping, whether it be for holiday gifts, clothes, or even groceries… try to shop small business and support the small businesses who go out of their way to support you!


Surprise Baby Shower for a Sweet Friend

Sign Courtesy  of artist extraordinaire, Evelina 

Since Moving to Fayetteville last October, God has placed us in a great church with an awesome community of believers. Around the same time that we started attending, several other young couples started attending too and we formed a small group with them and some other couples that had been going for years.

We meet every other week for a Bible Study, but in truth we hang out much more often than that. We do dinners, play kickball, watch movies, and just do life together. Over the past few months, Brendan and I have gotten especially close with two other couples Brett and Evelina and Kelly and Evan (plus one very special toddler named Ian). All of our husbands are in the army, which instantly makes things easier because there is little explanation needed when I show up at our small group and explain that Brendan is stuck at work or that he’s jumping out of a plane. On top of that common bond, these people are real, they are funny, sarcastic, and compassionate. They understand that married life, especially with the added stress of the military is not easy and I don’t feel embarrassed to admit to them when Brendan and I are struggling.

One of these couples, Evan and Kelly, are amazing. They got married at 19 and are two of the most Christ-seeking people that I know, when I think of Christ-centered families, they are definitely at the top of the list for me.  They have a little boy, Ian,who happens to be the epitome of a happy baby, he loves basketballs, trains, and strawberries. I constantly find myself reminding Brendan (and me) that babies don’t pop out like Ian and he is almost two.

When I first really got to know Kelly, she let me know that she was training for a triathlon… while being pregnant with their second baby. I already thought she was crazy.. but she did it, and she did well! As I got to know her and see her interact with her family, and especially Ian, I was taken aback by how great of a mother and wife she was… She also happens to be one of the prettiest people, ( and prettiest pregnant person) I know. (I am so glad that we aren’t pregnant at the same time because she would put me to shame!)

One of the funnest and funniest things about Kelly is how much she loves surprises. She loves them so much that she didn’t want to find out with Ian if they were having a boy or girl and although they decided to find out what they were having with baby #2, they wouldn’t tell anyone! Kelly also told us she was really good at guessing if people were surprising her, and once guessed that her husband was planning on surprising her by bringing out two of her best friends to visit her!

As it got closer to her due date, Evelina and I decided to try to do the impossible… we were going to plan a surprise baby shower! So after getting Evan in on the idea, we started planning… and it totally worked!!! I told Kelly the weekend before that we were having a party at our house for Brendan because he was leaving for 5 weeks, so she thought that’s why they were coming over.

Since we didn’t know if they were having a boy or girl we decided to do a yellow color scheme and since they already had some stuff from Ian, we just asked people to bring a gift card to either Wal-Mart or Babies R US. Evelina is like basically the best artist I have ever met, so she took care of most of the decorations while I concentrated on food. Here are some photos of the party!

This is Evan, Kelly and Ian

Decorations

Like I said, Evelina is great with artsy stuff and when she came over on Friday to help me decorate, I was blown away by the stuff she made!

this was the dining room/kitchen set up (photo by Evelina)

Evelina made these cool little paper tissue balls to decorate the ceiling

Desk Turned gift table (photo by Evelina)
Towards the end of the day, this sign was a tie between Boy and Dinosaur (which the guys wrote in as an option along with “New Dog”)

And our favorite decoration, a photo of Ian telling his cousin to talk to the hand!

Activities

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of party games and neither is Kelly so we came up with two activities that are fun but not forced and you can do them at your own leisure. The first activity was called “Midnight Diapers” where we basically took sharpies and wrote funny sayings on the backs of the diaper so Mommy or Daddy could get a laugh during those sleep deprived hours. The second activity, even the guys enjoyed! We decorated some white onesies for the baby to wear over the first year… because it’s always cute when babies wear clothes with funny sayings on them!


The food setup from afar and craft table
Craft Table

These little sign holders Evelina recycled from her wedding worked perfectly to put instructions in for the activities!

Photo by Evelina

Some of the onesies!

Food

We weren’t sure how many people would show up so we decided to make some appetizers and Evelina made cute cupcakes with little duck toppers on them (there are still some in my fridge that I may or may not have had for breakfast the past few days). I could have gotten away with making less of most of the stuff, but we had a few people who weren’t able to come at the last minute.  Here’s the rundown for what was served:

Food
Fruit Salad
Caprese Bites
Spinach Dip
Cheese and Crackers
Veggies
Assorted Olives
Breaded Ravioli with Marinara Dipping Sauce
Cupcakes

Drinks

Lemonade
Iced Tea
Caprese Bites up close (photos by Evelina)
Sometimes I wish I had just a little more space on my counters.
Overall, I think the party went really well and I was just happy that Kelly was surprised and felt loved. One of the hardest things about being a military family is being away from your real family when big life events like this happen. Luckily I’ve found that when you create your own family wherever you move, life gets a lot easier! Kelly is due in the beginning of August, so if you remember to keep her little family in your prayers for the next few months as they transition to taking care of two little ones instead of one that would be great!!


15 Week Bumpdate and a Visit from my Parents

Hello! 15 weeks down and still chugging along! The past week has been a pretty busy week in the Fox household. We had a surprise baby shower at our house for one of our church friends on Saturday, which I will be dedicating an entire blog post on later this week, Brendan left for a little over a month, and my parents stopped by yesterday on their way to Florida.

Last week was crazy for Brendan at work and he ended up going in Tuesday and not coming home until Thursday night, and then he had to pack and leave to go down to Ft. Benning, GA for the next 5 weeks for a course, so our last week together we didn’t actually see each other too much. Fortunately I plan on making two weekend trips down to see him to help break up the time we are actually apart. It’s funny, I was talking to my friend Hunter last week, whose husband is also at Benning for a different school and we discussed how even when our husbands aren’t deployed they still end up spending a ton of time away from home. Between IBOLC, Ranger School, time in the field training here at Ft. Bragg and this other school, out of our two years of living together he has probably spent 10 months if not more of them gone. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but it’s just funny how different our normal is than some of our other married friends.

The night before Brendan left we were able to have a nice dinner together and watch a movie (Brendan fell asleep during that part)

My friends down here are so nice and thoughtful. Sunday, which was the first day that Brendan was gone and usually my hardest day while I start to get into my routine of being alone, I was definitely not alone. After church, I went to lunch with friends, then went for a walk with a different friend, then went over to friends for dinner. I was so busy all day I didn’t really have a ton of time to be sad that Brendan left. During the week it’s pretty easy because I work during the day and go for walks with friends or have church activities in the evenings, then obsess over baby stuff at night, plus I really like reading books and usually do that for a few hours.

Last night, my parents stopped over in Fayetteville on their way down to Florida. They just retired this year and recently sold their house up in Connecticut and are on their way to starting a new life in retirement in the Sunshine State. I know it’s a really tough move for them because our neighbors in Cheshire are amazing and like family, plus my mom’s two brothers live close by in Connecticut, but they’ll adjust… and probably have visitors at least once a month. Personally I’m excited especially about two things: 1) They will be really close to Disney and I love Epcot. 2) They have a lot of pools for me to float my pregnant-self in when I come to visit!

Here are a few photos from their visit:

My mom and I at their hotel
My dad more excited about the baby bump

Us in Downtown Fayetteville after eating some dinner
Of course they had to come to our house and spend some time with the granddogs, this is Abigail
and Carrie sits like a human.

And now for the moment you are actually interested in!

Thankfully my parents were here to help me take my photo this week (my Mom won the contest and it only took her two photos)… notice the bigger chalkboard?

How far along? 15 Weeks
Total weight gain/loss: gained 3ish lbs
Maternity clothes? still 2 pair of maternity jeans and a top
Stretch marks? No
Sleep: Sleeping A LOT
Best moment this week: tie between seeing my parents and seeing Kelly’s face at her surprise party
Have you told family and friends: Yes!
Miss Anything? I really really miss sushi, and pepperoni, and soft cheeses, oh.. and wine still. I’ve started putting my cranberry spritzers in wine glasses
Movement: No
Food cravings: Everything I’m not supposed to eat plus fruit, pasta, and mozzeralla cheese
Anything making you queasy or sick: the smell of trash cans and for some reason after missing out on morning sickness the entire first trimester it’s been showing up randomly this trimester
Have you started to show yet: A little bump so far.. which is growing into a medium size bump
Gender prediction: Girl
Labor Signs: No
Belly Button in or out? In, although it’s getting shallower.
Wedding rings on or off? On, although out of the two of them, I have a feeling that the engagement ring will come off first, its a little snug!
Happy or Moody most of the time: Happy except little things can make me cry
Looking forward to: Finding out the gender (TWO WEEKS FROM FRIDAY!) & feeling the baby move!

So that’s really it! I still feel pretty good although my back tends to get sore by the end of the work day, I think I need to remember to get up and move away from my desk more. I’m excited to spend this weekend in Columbus, GA with Brendan and my friends down there!