Posts in interviews

Over the past two years or so, I've been VERY picky with those I surround myself with. I've carefully selected networking events, did what I like to call a "friend cleanse" and have truly practiced the whole "who you surround yourself with says a lot about who you are" philosophy, and what I found has been incredible!

I swapped the negative nay-sayers with people who tell me I change the world,  and the unmotivated moochers with incredible entrepreneurs and leaders their fields and in doing so, I've had the chance to surround myself with like minded women who are here to kick ass and take names later - case in point, Evi Simjan.

When Evi and I first met, it was girl crush at first sight. Not only did we have similarities in the music and sense of humor departments, but I admired her drive to create a product that encompassed what every busy woman needed - a shoe that was as comfortable as it was beautiful! Keep reading to see how she tackles everyday challenges, draws inspiration for new designs and to find out what's next for the Evi Simjan brand!


Honestly Unfiltered: How did the idea behind the Evi Simjan brand come about?

Evi Simjan: I love shoes, always have. I have been wearing heels for as long as I can remember. The only thing that used to matter was how they looked, and the higher the better. After moving to Chicago and having to carry a bag with 2 to 3 shoe options at all times, I decided there had to be a better way. Why were heels so uncomfortable? My mission became to design a high fashion, comfortable shoe that women can wear all day.


HU: What was the most challenging part of starting the business? 

ES: Getting out of my own way, quieting that little voice in the back of my mind that kept telling me not to do it…because what if I fail? We all have dreams, and this was one of mine, and if it fails, what next? The fashion world is a difficult place to be, so getting past the fears was the most challenging part.


HU: What’s one of the biggest unexpected challenges you were faced with when starting your business? 

ES: Manufacturing, finding someone that would create the product that I had designed. I had made some changes to my lasts to make them comfortable, they are very different from what was out on the market. I kept hearing “this is not how it’s been done” because I wanted to change the way women wear shoes.


Photo by: Yesi Flores


HU: Tell us a bit about your design process. How do you start? Where do you draw inspiration from? 

ES: I am not someone that can just sit down and say “today I am going to design” I draw my inspiration from life, things I see, people I talk too. I carry a little notebook with me to sketch or write out my thoughts. If I don’t have my notebook, I ALWAYS have my phone, so I will take pictures or write notes about what I want to create the next time I have a chance to sketch it out.


HU: What class, life event, business advice etc, do you think most helped you prepare for the challenges of being an entrepreneur?

ES: My parents were my inspiration - I come from a family of Entrepreneurs. My parents came here from the former Yugoslavia and like most immigrants, came to the US because they wanted to live the American dream. I watched my father work hard everyday of my life to build a business and create a name for himself. He learned the steel industry and the English language at the same time. My mother started her business after my brother and I were older. Both of my parents were fearless when it came to business…or at least that’s all I saw. I watched both of them defy the odds by becoming successful business owners without a college education. They taught me that the only limits are the ones you put on yourself. With hardwork, drive and determination anything is possible.


HU: Being an entrepreneur brings a new, more difficult, situation to deal to with one almost daily. What would you say has been the biggest “surprise” or unexpected scenario, you’ve come across so far?

ES: My biggest surprise has been how difficult it is to get women to try a new brand. As a new designer, I realize that it’s going to take some time for my brand to become a household name, but I also know that everyone that wears my shoes can’t get over how comfortable they are. It’s only a matter of time before I have a page in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.


Photo by: Yesi Flores


HU: You work full time in addition to running your own company, can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you?

ES: Everyday is different, there is nothing typical about my day. When we are working on manufacturing/production, my day usually starts at 4am with text messages, phone calls and emails from the factories in Macedonia or Italy. I work with them for a few hours before going to work at the hospital. I manage a diagnostic imaging lab from 8am to about 5 or 6pm. I go to the gym or to a pilates class. I’m home to work for a few more hours and in bed by 10pm, if I’m lucky, to start it all over again the next day.


HU: Have you ever had a day where you felt like giving up your business and if so, how did it come about and how did you overcome that fear? 

ES: Right before we launched the first collection. One week before the launch I received the first shipment of shoes, all we had was the black ones! They had not finished the other colors so I was frantic. I was ready to give up, who did I think I was? I was in way over my head! But my cousin (my voice of reason) convinced me that we could launch with the black and bring the rest out later in the season. So we had the launch party as scheduled, it was all a blur to me but from what I can remember it was a fabulous event. We brought the colors out 2 months later at a pop up shop in Detroit. Everything worked out in the end, but it was not the way I envisioned it.


HU: What piece of advice would you give to other women looking to start their own company?

ES: Do the research, you can’t always be prepared for everything, but the more you know the easier it is. It’s not going to be easy, it’s not always glamorous, but it is rewarding.


HU: Where do you see Evi Simjan in the next 5 years?

ES: With the next collection, I will bring out a unisex lifestyle sneaker. In 5 years after I’ve established myself in the world of women’s shoes, I hope to create a men’s line as well.


Photo by: Yesi Flores

MORE WITH EVI SIMJANFavorite food? Toss up between sushi and tacos. Favorite travel destination? Florence, Italy. Guilty pleasure? Scandal. Most used app on your phone? iTunes, I can’t think without music. Favorite piece in your closet? Celine Coat. If you could go anywhere in the world that you haven’t been before, where would you go? Sad to say I haven’t been to Paris yet. Top three favorite shoe designers? Manolo Blahnik always, Azzedine Alaia and Nicholas Kirkwood right now. Top three songs on your playlist right now? It’s too hard to chose 3 songs!! But right now…anything Rihanna, Jay-Z’s whole 4:44 album, and Mary J Blige will always be on the list. You never leave home without these three things. Iphone, chapstick, mascara.


Photo by: Samantha Jean Photography

Being surrounded by female entrepreneurs, I often hear the term "Wonder Woman" thrown around -and no, I'm not talking about the movie - I'm talking about real-life women who leave us guessing how they don't pass out from exhaustion or drink an entire bottle of wine by themselves at night. These women do it all - they have families and run their business all while managing to help support others along the way. I'm sure you all know at least one, and with that said, I'd like to add another to your roster - Candice Collison, founder and CEO of Mod & Ethico!

Not only is her story amazing, but I've worked closely with Candice since she started her fashionably responsible company almost a year ago. I've seen first-hand all the hard work she's put in and all the good she's been able to accomplish in such a short time. She's already made an impact on fashion bloggers, consumers and the city of Chicago and by the looks of it, she won't be stopping any time soon!

Keep reading to learn more about Candice as well as the vision of Mod & Ethico....


Honestly Unfiltered: How did Mod & Ethico get its start? 

Candice Collison:  I started M+E while still in business school at Kellogg. I knew I wanted to start my own business, and I was frustrated with the lack of fashionable socially and environmentally responsible brands – in one shopping destination. This became my inspiration.


HU: What was the most challenging part of starting the business? 

CC: I was slowing myself down feeling as though I had to have the perfect business plan in place before launching. When I finally decided that I would launch with a minimum viable product, I gain agility and speed. This attitude has also allowed me to adapt my model and value proposition as time has passed.


HU: When creating Mod & Ethico, what did you and do you hope to accomplish with its business model in the fair trade industry? 

CC: I hope to accomplish a few things: 1.) Awareness around issues in the fast-fashion industry; 2.) Educate my customers on the good and unique stories around the brands M+E carries. Ultimately success will mean that people think more about their consumption, and M+E is top-of-mind as a destination for conscious fashion.



HU: What class, life event, business advice etc, do you think most helped you prepare for the challenges of being an entrepreneur? 

CC: One class that drove me to action as “Launching New Products and Services” at Kellogg. This course helped me think through “white space” opportunity, and provided me with a framework to focus on a problem area that meant a lot to me, and that is in a growing industry of slow-fashion and responsible consumption.


HU: Being an entrepreneur brings a new, more difficult, situation to deal to with one almost daily. What would you say has been the biggest “surprise” or unexpected scenario, you’ve come across so far? 

CC: It’s tough to pick just one; there are highs and lows of business performance, and the sheer energy that an entrepreneur must dedicate to a nascent business. Keeping up the energy and pace in the face of challenge is tough every day.


HU: You work full time in addition to running your own company, can you tell us what a typical day looks like for you? 

CC: Typical day: work 9-5PM at Facebook. 5-7PM I typically spend at the physical M+E location. I rarely cook these days, so I more than likely grab something from Whole Foods, and head home to check eCom orders, optimize ads, and respond to emails from partners and vendors. My work day typically ends around 10PM when I head to bed. I value fitness, but I have not been as regimented since launching M+E, but I try to get a work out in at least a few times a week.


HU: Have you ever had a day where you felt like giving up your business and if so, how did it come about and how did you overcome that fear? 

CC: Every day I question whether “this is going to work,” but I try to not focus on the short term challenges as representative of the longer term outcome. I try to celebrate the little wins, and test and iterate on what’s working. At the end of the day, this is hard work, but it’s worth it.


HU: What piece of advice would you give to other women looking to start their own company? 

CC: Never underestimate the value of networking, and seeking help from others. You will need guidance from mentors (those who have started businesses), from subject matter experts, and even competitors. This rich network will help guide your way.


HU: Where do you see M&E in the next 5 years?

CC: I envision M+E as a leader in conscious everyday fashion in Chicago, and online. I also would like to be closer to the overall Fashion Revolution movement, and to impact change beyond Chicago and the US. Finally, I would love for us to have our own slow fashion line. The concept is still to be determined, but I have some ideas.


MORE WITH CANDICE COLLISON: Favorite food? LOVE thai. Pad Prik King is a favorite dish of mine – that sounds pretty good right now. Favorite travel destination? I lived in San Francisco for 4.5 years before moving to Chicago, I love going back and exploring my old home. Guilty pleasure?Currently, it’s watching The Bachelor, which I really never do. And probably snoozing way too long. Most used app on your phone? Instagram. Favorite piece in your closet? I am loving everything Suki + Solaine. I am expecting my first baby next month, so I am super into their flowy silhouettes, and joggers. If you could go anywhere in the world that you haven’t been before, where would you go? I am dying to visit Greece. Top three favorite Chicago designers? (clothes or accessories) Suki + Solaine, Cities in Dust, and Coat Check Chicago. Aside from Mod & Ethico, favorite Chicago boutique to shop at? Penelope’s on Division is adorable. I love their assortment.


As time goes on, fashion has become more about function (hey athlesuire!) but that often means that the overall look of the design can at times be compromised especially when it comes to multifunctional work bags for women. Lindsay Lingle, founder of Holly & Tanager, not only suffered from the same problem but saw the current frustrations many women faced when searching for the perfect bag. So, she (along with the H&T team) set out to create bags that are designed to keep up with women and their busy schedules.

On top of being fashionable and functional, each bag is made in the USA, supporting US communities so it's truly a bag you can feel good about purchasing - score! Keep reading for the full story of the locally sourced handbag and accessory line...


Honestly Unfiltered: How did Holly & Tanager get its start? 

Lindsay Lingle: Holly & Tanager was the result of traveling a lot for work and not being satisfied with what was in the market for handbags. Kathryn (H&T's co-founder)  and I always describe the current solutions as “black hole” bags. We wanted to do something about that. So, Holly & Tanager was started.


HU: What was the biggest challenge? 

LL: The biggest challenge was starting. First, it’s kind of scary to leave your job, but we knew this was something we wanted to give our best shot at. Also, Kathryn and I both came out of corporate and worked in marketing and sales, so product development wasn’t exactly a skill set we had. But we set out to learn, we went to trade shows, attended educational sessions and found partners to help us navigate the space. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but we just keep pushing forward. It has been the greatest ride, and Kathryn and I have learned so much along the way.


HU: What makes H&T different from other handbag lines? 

LL: There are a couple of aspects that make our bags different. First and foremost, our design approach is function first, so what is the problem we are trying to address. We want to make sure the pockets make sense, they are placed where they should be, and they are large enough to fit things you actually carry – like your cell phone. We also look at versatility, we want our customers to get the most out of their H&T bags, take the Sidekick 2.0 – it is a clutch and a cross body bag, without the awkward hardware hanging off it. Second, we source quality pieces that make up the bag, your hardware won’t chip, your zippers will slide easily and your leather will look fabulous.

HU: Does the name Holly & Tanager have a special meaning? How did you come up what that name? 

LL: Holly & Tanager has a special meaning, it is the intersection that I grew up on. I actually had my first lemonade stand there too! This just felt right, the place where I learned about business should be the name of my first “real” business.


HU: What’s one thing you’ve learned being in business for yourself that you didn’t know before the H&T journey began? 

LL: How a business works. All my roles prior to H&T was one sector of the business, so I went deep into an area of our business as opposed to understanding how all the pieces come together. Now we are managing idea, through product development, through manufacturing to sales – and all the in between. I was talking with another entrepreneur and he had a good analogy. Before I was trying to keep one plate spinning, now I am trying to keep 30 plates all spinning at the same time. I feel that I have grown as a business person and woman in business – I wouldn’t trade it, even on the hardest days.


HU: Did you ever had a moment of doubt that made you second guess starting your business? If so, how did you overcome that? 

LL: I think I have had many moments of doubt, but I think that is being in business for yourself. One of the scariest moments was actually launching… I kept thinking what if no one likes what we have poured our blood, sweat and tears into! But the little moments of success help, hearing people say that they have never had a better wallet – that’s our specialist for those that want to check it out. Those moments keep you going.


HU: What’s been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur? 

LL: Seeing people carry something I dreamed up in my head and now someone has it, and loves it. That is truly rewarding.


HU: What misconception, if any, do you want to set straight for other aspiring entrepreneurs who have reservations about getting started? 

LL: Have a plan and get started. Learn from those in your industry. It’s ok to ask questions and to not know the answers. You don’t have to know everything to get started. But also know yourself, starting your own business is not for everyone, and it is not as glamourous as people think. It is hard work, but if you’re willing to do it, it will be the best decision you ever make.


Photos by: Samantha Jean Photography

MORE WITH LINDSAY LINGLE: Favorite H&T bag? The Specialist. Most used app on your phone? Instagram. Coffee or tea? Coffee – I have a caffeine addiction. Guilty pleasure? Cat YouTube videos. Favorite travel destination? Southern Indiana, my second home. What can’t you leave home without? My cell phone, sunglasses and my specialist. Favorite inspirational quote? “Little girls with dreams become women with vision” Biggest entrepreneurial inspiration? My mom. She started her own equine stables after my sister and I finished college, she didn’t have to do that, but she wanted to follow her dream, no matter where she was in her life. Check out Forward Stride StablesFavorite food? Pasta. Favorite item in your closet? My J/Slides platform sneakers - LOVE THEM


Some women have more shoes than Carrie Bradshaw, others collect jewelry like it's their job, but I've always been more of a handbag girl myself!  Growing up, I never left the house without at least one bag on each arm and 20 something years later, not much has changed except the fact that I now have a greater appreciation for the materials used and craftsmanship behind the handbag design. That's how I came across J. Markell.

Not only are the J. Markell handbags beautiful to look at given the gorgeous skins used,  but the thoughtfulness and care that goes into the design of each piece is truly amazing. Being a busy woman herself Julie Neff, the brand's founder, made it easy for each bag to transition effortlessly from day to night  and fit into any woman's wardrobe.

Keep reading below for more with Julie and the J. Markell brand!


Honestly Unfiltered: Can you give us a little background of how your business came to be?

Julie Neff: My business came about almost by accident. As my kids started to get older, I knew I wanted to go back to work but just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. Not too long after thinking of going back to work, while on a girl’s weekend trip, I met someone in the handbag industry and my mind started spinning with ideas.


HU: How did you decide to start a handbag and accessory brand?

JN: It was an easy decision. I had been in the business of sales since college so it was something that came naturally to me and I also wanted to create something that everyone could love and that wasn’t limited by size. I also knew quite a bit about different kinds of leather having been in the shoe industry for 12 years previously.


HU: What’s a typical design process look like for you?

JN: A typical design process starts when I realize I’m missing something in my own closet as far as functionality. When I design, function always comes first, but it also has be chic and beautiful at the same time.

I’m all about functionality but it also has to be beautiful. One of my best selling bags,  the Ella, was designed to be comfortable while wearing it. Some cross body bags cut into your shoulder and don’t look sophisticated at all so when designing this bag for example, I chose a curved gunmetal chain. The gunmetal would mix well with any other metal the woman might have on and the flat chain would offer a comfortable alternative for women who placed comfort above all else. The chain also looks great as a makeshift “necklace” if you want to place the bag on your lap during dinner. That way you don’t have to worry about leaving it on the back of your chair.


HU: Once you started your brand, what were the top three components that helped it grow and become the success it is today?

JN: Function, beauty, and the true love of selling. I love to sell –it’s truly an art. Plus, I love knowing that I’m making the client happy.


 HU: What was one of the biggest challenged you encountered along the way? How did you overcome it?

JN: Sourcing. I could walk into high-end stores like Barneys and Neimans and I knew exactly what type of leathers and skins I wanted but had no clue of how to go about it. It is very over whelming. I remember being on the phone for hours, asking questions and following leads, but when I finally found the right fit for the J. Markell brand it was the most rewarding feeling. Even though it took more time, it was important for me to find a supplier that didn’t believe in harming animals just for the skin. All the skins I use come from a food source so that nothing goes to waste.


HU: Did you ever think about giving up? And if so, what made you think that? 

 JN: Yes, and truthfully still to this day I get overwhelmed. Right at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey, my husband (who’s also my biggest supporter) sent me a video of Marc Cuban talking about the keys to success. Believe it or not, the video has helped so much that I actually keep it on my desktop so that whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed I can watch it. The push to keep going also comes from hearing stories of other powerhouse women that have also started their own businesses and have started out working out of their kitchen just like I did!


HU: Since starting a business, what have you learned about yourself that you didn’t already know?

JN: That I can do anything I put my mind to and am capable of handling much more than I originally thought I was.


HU: Now that you’ve been in business for almost three years, what do you think has attributed the most to your success?

JN: A positive attitude and great support system. My husband, as I mentioned above has been such a huge part of the company since it’s start. I love to sell, but I’m not a numbers girl so my husband handles all of that. Aside from the amazing support system I have backing me, I think my designs have a lot to do with the success of the business. They are well thought out, functional designs that my clients keep reordering.


WWN: If you could go back in time and tell yourself one thing before you started your business what would it be?

JN: Don’t compare to yourself or your business to anyone else. Try and wear your blinders while on social media that’s the source of most unrealistic expectations for new and small business owners. It’s important to stay on your own track and make products that you believe in and are true to who you and your brand are.


HU: Being an entrepreneur, every day is filled with little bits of doubt as you continue to tread on un-charted waters. What was one of the moments that reassured you that you had done the right thing by starting your own business? 

JN: I knew I had done something right when I started to receive re-orders from boutiques and clients who had already purchased other styles or colors from me. I tend to get a lot of referrals and nothing is better than good word of mouth for a brand – it’s been a very organic growth so far.


HU: What’s next for the J. Markell brand?

JN: That’s a great question! As of now, I’m in 40 stores around the country as well as have my online presence. I hope that within the next 3 -5 years I can double my business and reach an even more global market!


Photos By: Samantha Jean Photography

Boutiques of Mention:

CHICAGO: Frances Heffernan & Krista K
NEW YORK: Maddy’s 390
BOSTON: LuxCouture
SAN ANTONIO: PennyLane Boutique

MORE WITH JULIE NEFF: Favorite guilty pleasure? Being with my girlfriends during cocktail hour. Favorite down time activity? Going for a run on a sunny day (Summer) OR watching tv on my couch with my new faux fur blanket and my family. What’s your drink of choice? Vodka martini shaken very very cold two lemons and a side of crushed ice. Other than Chicago, what’s your favorite city? Aspen. Favorite handbag brand aside from yours? Henry Beguelin. What’s your go-to look for a day of designing? Ripped jeans, grateful dead t-shirt vintage Blackhawks sweatshirt and slippers. If you weren’t designing luxury handbags and accessories, what would you be doing? Designing something. Not sure what, but something


Recently, in search of perfect skin, I've become a bit of a skincare junkie. I'm sure you all know because I've been annoying AF with it on my Instagram Stories but, whether it's a new supplement, cleanser, or makeup brand I'm all over it! Most of the products I test out, use until they're gone, and then move on to the next and best thing, but when stumbled upon Raw Complexions I knew it wouldn't be leaving my routine any time soon!

Some supplements don't have much nutritional backing and can be sketchy to add into your beauty routine,  but Raw Complexions was created by Kristina Temelkovski an Accredited Nutritionist with a Bachelors of Biomedical Science. She has treated, consulted and prescribed to a range of young females and women suffering from skin conditions that were ultimately affecting their day to day lives and individual self-esteem. Thus, the brand was born!

Luckily enough for us, I've got her on the blog talking about how she handles being an entrepreneur, and how she feels how beauty is perceived across the media and how it impacts young girl's self-esteem.


Honestly Unfiltered: What inspired you to start Raw Complexions?

Kristina Temelkovski: When I started Raw Complexions I was a fresh university graduate. I had just completed my Masters degree in Human Nutrition. Suffering from rosacea most of my life, I researched whether there was a link between nutrition and skin health. A years’ worth of research went into completing the first product Skintox Beauty Food. I understood through the research conducted that there is such an important link between internal health and the impact it can have on your skin.


HU: What’s the most important message you hope to get across to women with the brand?

KT: The more educated you are about a topic, the more confident you are in that topic, right? SO GET TO KNOW YOURSELF. Understanding yourself and why you feel and act the way you do about life, friends, love, or work — and having empathy enough to understand why other people may act differently to the same situations — will lead you to have confidence in the topic of SELF. The more educated you are about a topic, the more confident you are in that topic, right? SO GET TO KNOW YOURSELF. Understanding yourself and why you feel and act the way you do about life, friends, love, or work — and having empathy enough to understand why other people may act differently to the same situations — will lead you to have confidence in the topic of SELF.


HU: What has been the biggest challenge?

KT: Uncertainty. All of us, and especially business leaders find great discomfort in uncertainty. Because of global debt and economic struggles, uncertainty is more pronounced today than in the past.


HU: What’s your best piece of advice for any other woman looking to start her own company?

KT: Don’t get yourself into huge debt. Let things progress naturally and organically. Be smart and cautious with how you spend your money.


HU:  If you were starting your brand all over again today, is there anything you would do differently that you hadn’t thought of the first time around?

KT: To be honest, no. Every mistake made teaches you a lesson for the future. It helps you grow and develop.


HU: What does a typical day look like for you?

KT: Definitely nothing exciting! Work and spending time with my partner and poddle Ziggy. On weekends I do love brunching and lunching

HU: Your company promotes a positive body image for all women. How and why was that so important to you to incorporate in your brand?

KT: I have struggled with self-esteem issues my whole life. Binge eating, bulimia, depression and anxiety. Through my struggles I wanted to create a brand that built a community where women felt open about these issues and realized they are not alone in their struggles. Although to this day I still struggle with mental illness, I can help people through that struggle and raise awareness.

Studies show that beauty product marketing, in particular, makes female shoppers feel bad about their appearance by suggesting to women that without the product, they are not as attractive as they should be. It was more important for me to build a brand empowering women than it was to make sales.


HU: What has been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?

KT: Helping customers through their skin health issues.

HU: Running your own company can be a very challenging thing. How do you accomplish a work life balance?

KT: To say that isn’t a challenge would be lying. Last year I really struggled with keeping that balance and finding time for myself. When the year started I made it a goal to create more “me” time. Yoga has really helped me with that. Helps me to release and balance.

HU: Where do you see yourself and Raw Complexions in the next few years?

KT: I want Raw Complexions to be a globally recognized brand with a full internal and external range of products.


MORE WITH KRISTINA TEMELKOVSKI: Biggest inspiration? Oprah Winfrey. Morning person or night owl? Definitely night owl. First thing you do when you get up? Check emails on phone (terrible habit. Most used app on your phone? At this stage Obsessed with property. Favorite beauty product? Alpha H Liquid Gold. So good for congestion. Best piece of advice you’ve been given? You can have everything you want in life, just not at the same time. Favorite food? Always changing. At the moment I love Vietnamese. You never leave home without….? A goodbye kiss from my partner.