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Downtown’s Hidden Gems

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series.  Check out some of downtown’s gems below.

Weku Did That

I started producing music and working the camera around the same time. Originally from Florida, I made the move to Atlanta about eight years ago and then made my way to L.A. to expand even the more. It’s not been an easy process simply because every time you relocate its almost like you have to re-establish yourself, meet new people, trust new people, and give parts away about yourself that you probably don’t want to give away simply because you’re trying to network. However, there is good that comes out of networking as long as it is with the right people. Even if it is with the wrong people, there is always a lesson to be learned. I have had my fair share of connecting with the wrong people but I mean, it’s to be expected in the film and music industry. Read more>>

Karen Rice

“Discovering Faith, True Beauty and Confidence” During and After Cancer Without questioning, when going through a serious illness, you learn to know what faith truly is, along with finding the true meaning of beauty and how you really feel about yourself. I know this all too well because I have experienced many trials and tribulations in my life. Through it all, I gain strength that I never knew I had and much more confidence in myself, which led me to loving myself all over again. I had a new beginning, all on my own. After going through so much in my life, things were going well until it happened. I had a head-on collision with not only breast cancer but colon cancer as well, and it changed my entire outlook on life. I thought I had endured rough years before but going through cancer was the rest of the iceberg. There is nothing like it. You wonder, what in life had you done so wrong to have this placed upon you. You began asking, why me. Yet through my tragedies and all that I had to endure, it all became an awakening for me, in which I received and gained all the strength and encouragement I needed to conquer. Through it all, not only did I find the true meaning of life, I found the true meaning of beauty. Read more>>

James Chrosniak

I was born in Honolulu, HI but moved around and also traveled to a few international and domestic locations with my family throughout my life. My mother being Japanese, and my father being fluent in Japanese (reading/writing and speaking) I grew up in a household where language and culture were predominantly Japanese. The duality I lived gave me some insight on different cultures and traditions and I learned to respect and learn from the different people I met. From a few years spent in an international school in Africa, to frequent visits to Japan, to living in humble upstate New York (among other places) I was fortunate enough to see different types of cultures and people. I began to grow my interest in fashion, food, and cars. Fast forward, I spent four years at the University of Washington pursuing a media and marketing degree where I had no interest in becoming a “photographer”. Two years in, I picked up my first DSLR. A Canon Rebel T1i with a kit lens and a 50mm f/1.8 to supplement. The friends I surrounded myself with were either into fashion or modified cars and so I purchased a camera to document events, and hangouts and for sale ads for friends. Read more>>

Kelly Witmer

Born in Amish country, PA (Dad’s side were Mennonites), then elementary school by Three Mile Island during its nuclear meltdown (my mom thinks that’s why I couldn’t have kids)(I’ve come to think I was just lucky), high school in Gettysburg, art school in Philadelphia, soon after headed to LA for perpetual sunny days and eventually Joshua Tree for vistas and cheap land. That’s my life so far in one sentence. I’ve never really had a “real” job. I’ve had several small vintage stores, like Pull My Daisy in Silverlake, financed by working in bars like Jumbo’s Clown Room at night and squeezing in making art when I could. I started Airbnb hosting about ten years ago between LA and Joshua Tree, giving me a lot more time to focus on my work. Finally a few years ago, I stopped hosting and started making art full time. I hustle to sell my work through a lot of different outlets online and piece together a living through commissions, royalties, public art projects and direct sales of my website. Read more>>

Tania Richardson

Three years ago, I started pinning on Pinterest. Specifically fashion and travel. It did not take long for my pins to get noticed. When my following hit 100k views per month, I knew I had something. However, I had not figured out a way to mesh everything together. I knew that whatever I created, it had to be something that represented my three loves–fashion, travel, and business. Because I frequently search for content online, I am sensitive to a lack of information for women in my age group. When I did not find much content for women over forty, it was clear to me that advertisers either target their ads to millennials or seniors. For instance, when I look at television, I usually see a woman between the ages of 40 and 55 who looks like a soccer mom. There is nothing wrong with being a soccer mom but, not every woman is a soccer mom. Furthermore, women are not a homogenous group. We have varied interests and are differentially impacted by gender, class, ethnicity, and more. Read more>>

Roosevelt Augustin

I have always cared about skin and keeping it healthy from an early age. One of my favorite past times was going in my South Florida backyard to cut up fruits and plants found to use on my skin; my favorite was cutting up the Aloe Vera plants we had. Growing up in a Caribbean household, I experienced firsthand the powerful healing capabilities possessed by natural products and blends, and they have always been the largest part of my skincare and body-care regime. I have always appreciated the sense of smell and how it can affect people. Smell can impact someone’s mood by jogging up nostalgic moments and delightful experiences. I wanted to create safe fragrances not bound by harsh chemicals but blended with organic substances while ultimately honing in on the experience of the sense of smell. The sense of smell leverages its ability to positively affect people and to be unforgettable. I wanted my fragrances to transport people to the past through nostalgia and to the future through self-expression. I wanted my fragrances to evolve with people while completing their day. I wanted it to be memorable. Read more>>

Olivia Crist and Lauren Andrade

We met on the set of a commercial, where we were the only two female production assistants. We worked an intense 16 hours together, and over the course of the day, found we were aligned in our career aspirations, in our taste in film, and in the types of stories we one day wanted to tell. It wasn’t too long after that day that we formed a creative partnership. One of the first times we worked together was as co-producers on a feature film, which debuted in theaters early last year. Making that film was a grind of a process, but it was one of the most fulfilling things we’ve ever done. And the intensity of the experience really bonded us together as partners. We formed our production company Chick Entertainment and have since set out to try to produce gorgeously-realized human stories featuring women and other underrepresented groups. Read more>>

Jade Withrow

I started off just as a young cheerleader with big goals for myself. I grew up with a lot of determination in getting what I want out of life – you can see this reflected with outcomes I have put out for myself. I was confused for the longest time with knowing exactly what I want to do with my life. I love science and helping people so I studied nursing and became a CNA (Certified Nurses Assistant) at the age of 18 years old. Through all of these years, I have improved my skills in cheerleading to get me exactly where I have dreamt of being. I had forgotten how good of a writer I am because I had distracted myself with how society tries to pull everybody into the “norm” of getting a regular 9-5 job. It’s taken me almost four years to realize that I will make a life out of my blog, vlog, and social media. It excites me because not only am I enjoying writing again, but I’m able to look at my job as if it’s not my job – because I love what I’m doing! I’m writing blogs about cheerleading, inspiring many others to develop better habits for themselves. I plan to develop my website and blog where I have a “fan base” of all ages and genders. Read more>>

Veela Funk

Born and raised in Cleveland, I’ve always had a love for the arts, including fashion, music, film, etc. I’m in love with the idea of artistic expression; it has always been my aesthetic. My roots are in Hip hop and Funk music culture, therefore a lot of fabric choices as well as my style and design come from that. My experience ranges from being a seamstress, stylist, and costume designer assistant for different people in the industry; It was fun helping make other’s vision come to life. I truly enjoyed the process from beginning to end because it’s like telling a story through clothing with no words. Currently, I’m on the path of presenting who I am as a Designer by showing a new collection this year and bringing everyone along as I transition in my journey. Read more>>

Sebastian Melendez

Born and raised in NYC. I Grew up in Brooklyn/Queens and now reside in the Bronx. I started off with photography by no means in making it something I wanted to actually pursue or even make something out of it. I’ve always had a thing for the city, certain views, neighborhoods, buildings, etc. Casually I’d just take simple snapshots with my iPhone 4s at the time and during that same time, I was also really into collecting sneakers, and this was when the app Instagram just started to boom. So I’d use my iPhone and take photos of my sneakers throughout the city and use that as the backdrop for them. It sounds kinda funny now but during that time, it was dope honestly. A really good friend of mine noticed how I would always be out and about taking photos and posting to Instagram just for the heck of it, so he legit gave me one of his cameras one day for free. He said he could tell I had something for it and that maybe I can use it as a start to something more. I was like wow this is wild he gave me an actual camera, looking back on it now it wasn’t nowhere near the best camera out but to me it was. Getting that cam changed my whole attitude towards photography, it really sparked a flame so to speak. Read more>>

Nancy Ruffin

The FIERCE Woman which is an acronym that stands for Females Inspiring Empowering Recognizing & Cultivating Evolution is committed to leveling the playing field for women with unequal access to career development, technology and economic opportunity. We believe with the right resources, tools, and training women will blaze trails of positive change that will leave a lasting impact in our communities for years to come. Throughout the year, we facilitate a number of seminars & training programs focused on professional and Personal Development. We work with individuals as well as organizations specializing in self-awareness and emotional intelligence in the workplace, creating connections through storytelling, strategic visioning, and how to leverage technology to promote and expand your brand and online presence.​ In 2012, after the birth of my first daughter I became more aware of the kind of woman I wanted to be. As a new mom now responsible for raising a young girl into a woman, I knew if I wanted her to be fearless, ambitious, strong, kind, empathetic, confident, nurturing, supportive, relentless, among many other things then I would have to be the example of those things. Read more>>

Demetrius Stephens

I was born in Augusta, Georgia and was brought up in a military family and often traveled as a child living in places like Germany, New York, and Oklahoma. I started acting in late 2013 when I was inspired by my college professor to pursue a career I love without letting money play a part in my choice. I was always interested in acting but never actually considered doing it until that day. I remember as a kid, I was heavily influenced by Jim Carrey and watched everything he was in all day everyday. I wanted that for myself. Living in the Virginia area at the time, I started off doing mostly background work for shows like “House Of Cards” and “Veep” but I wanted more for myself. So after booking enough speaking roles to become SAG- eligible, studying my craft more, relocating to Atlanta, signing with my agent Cindy Butler at iSubmit Talent Agency, building relationships, and learning more of the business side of the industry I began to audition for larger roles for various projects. Read more>>

Briana Wiles

My business, Rooted Apothecary began under the canopy of a farmers market tent in 2012. I was studying herbalism and was making way too many remedies for two people to use. So, my husband helped me run a farmers market booth in the summertime in Gunnison and Crested Butte, CO. We make all organic and wildcrafted skin and body care remedies, all small batch and handcrafted. We our a lifestyle brand. By 2016 I was looking for the perfect retail space because I could see the vision of having a brick and mortar on Elk Ave in aspen Crested Butte. I found it late in the year and opened my first shop just in time for holiday shopping. It was such a success that we needed more room for production about a year into it and started looking for more retail/manufacturing space in Gunnison, CO—30 down valley—my home. In 2018, I opened my second retail shop while pregnant with my second—I was so sick, it was so hard that first year!! And then I had a beautiful baby girl in 2019, was on maternity leave up until about the pandemic slamming the world. This was when it got really fun, I ended up sick for a few weeks with assumed covid-19 and no testing available them—I ran my shops from home. Read more>>

Kendra Shine

In Elementary and Middle School, my insecurities were Sky High. I had terrible acne since I was 11 years old and I would watch the boys have googly eyes for the “Pretty Girls” and it was obvious, I was not considered one of them, so I thought I was ugly. What I lacked in looks, I would try to make up in personality. I was the comedian, the cool girl but never the girl anyone wanted to be with. (Oh how shallow were our younger selves, lol) I told myself many days that “I will be one of the most beautiful girls in the world and I WILL GET PAID FOR IT!” When I was 17 years, I would use my allowance to get makeup from Walmart. I had no idea what to get. I was getting Eyeshadow and lipgloss. I was scared of foundation, lol. My mom didn’t like the idea of me wearing makeup but after years of watching me always putting something on my face in an attempt to enhance it. When I was 20 years old, my mom took me to a MAC store and bought me over $200 worth of Cosmetics and a lesson from one of the Artists. Andrew was his name, I’ll never forget. This Trip to the MAC store changed my life. I learned about blending. bronzers. Foundation coverage & more. Read more>>

Shai Snead

I’ve been an Instagram star, influencer and model for years, I’m a brand rep for a local brand in DC and I’m also a musician. My brand originally started on Tumblr and progressed over to Instagram where my following and supporter base got bigger. I’m trying my best to be a famous fashion model and model for bigger more well-known brands but because of my particular look and being that I am apart of the lgbt community and that I’m a masculine presenting female it’s been a little bit of a struggle especially finding bookings. I’m moving to downtown LA soon to push my goal of being a well-known model to the next level. Read more>>

Sandhya Garg

After a successful stint on Project Runway Season 13, I decided to launch my namesake brand of “One of a kind” Dresses and clothing collections. Label Sandhya Garg is about every woman who has ever wanted to feel special in a big crowd. I, myself have several times struggled to find that one special dress that would make me stand out in a crowd of generic black/blue dresses. Fashion, color, design are in my blood. I started designing and making clothes for my Barbie doll at ten years old. Inspired by my mother and Aunties, I was always very interested in knitting, lace making, crochet, embroidery and textiles. I pursued my passion for design and fashion by studying fashion in India and London. I polished my skills at International design studios training at Alexander McQueen, Alice Temperley and Izmaylova, learning everything from different pattern cutting techniques to hand embroidery craft and vintage knitting-lace making at the Gucci factory in Italy. I decided to launch my own label after graduating from the London College of Fashion in 2011. The brand has an international presence thanks to a very successful stint on Project Runway Season 13, USA. Read more>>

Shanee’ Wilson

I am a 34 years old mom, wife, business owner and stage four lymphoma cancer survivor. I was diagnosed with stage 4 Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer only six-months after getting married to the love of my life. So it was safe to say it wasn’t the honeymoon phase I imagined. We traded in vacations and date nights for hospital gowns and early bedtimes. Let me just say that 2017 was what I often refer to as the dark year because boy oh boy, little did I know what fighting for my life really meant. My chemotherapy treatment was so aggressive that I had to leave my family to check into the hospital every two weeks for six days around the clock treatment. So while my world had completely shut down and came to a halt with being the strong woman that I am, the amazing employee that I was and the boss that I was used to being, I realized that the world around me was still fully moving forward per usual, which was a hard pill to swallow within itself. Cancer tested every ounce of life that I had in me. It tested my strength, my dignity, my agility, my sanity, my relationships with so many and my faith. It was the ultimate test of a lifetime. Read more>>

Marcos Favela

I pretty much have always loved movies growing up. When I was young, I’d repeatedly watch a movie over and over again until I knew the lines. I just wanted to feel like I was in that world at that moment. Eventually in elementary, I did a couple of plays and then in high school I decided to actually try out the drama class then I caught the bug, I decided my Jr. year that I was gonna pursue it. Even though I had no idea how to go about it, I still felt like it was gonna land me somewhere. So I ended becoming best advanced actor in my class Jr. and Sr. year. Then went off to modesto junior college and was taught under the same professor that taught Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye, hurt locker) Mr. Lynch really put the inspiration in me when he told me myself and Jeremy were his best students. I moved out from Modesto at 19yrs old and started doing extra work and then I realized that I gotta put a reel together in order for someone to take me more serious. So I started doing short films; but films that showed how strong I can be as an actor, the range was from comedy, romantic, horror, and action. I thought if I had all these ranges of emotions, I’m sure someone will notice. Read more>>

Sev7en Taylor

I always looked to get my artistic views across. As a child, I always knew I wanted to impact pop culture; Writing is my first love. After penning three novels and diving deep into the music business. I found myself creating music that told stories. After studying my influences; I worked hard to get my music to where it’s at now. Fast forward three mixtapes, countless features and two major projects; now working on my deluxe major project. I am now Sev7en Taylor and slowly becoming a household name. My craft is inspiring people all over. Being openly queer artist comes with superpowers. Read more>>

Munir Gadson

Coming from the city that never sleeps, New York, NY in the 80’s and 90’s you got the chance to see black culture at its finest. From Harlem parades to the Carnival in Brooklyn, the events just kept coming. Having a good time and creating was the norm while growing up. In 2020, I saw many of my peers creating these events and becoming entrepreneurs themselves. I felt our culture was so unique and different that we deserved to gave our own platform where we cater to just that, Our Culture. In cones Big Fish by Ticket Fishing. A 3rd party ticketing platform that serves entrepreneurs with cheaper transaction fees and quicker event payouts than the competition. On Ticket Fishing you can host webinars and meeting through zoom also. Helping you stay connected all while social distancing. Read more>>

Aes

I was born and raised in Atlanta, GA. My family was fairly musical. My grandad and grandmother played clarinet and my father played sax so when I had the opportunity to join my middle school band, I inherited my father’s old alto saxophone and started my musical journey. I would eventually branch out into other bands and instruments. I played quads in our school drumline and drums and sax in our jazz band. At the same time, I was experimenting and learning about these different bands and instruments; I also started rapping and making beats. At the time, I was rapping solely as a way to process some of the events taking place around me and the emotions therein. I also didn’t have proper access to a computer at home so I would make my beats on soundation.com (some of which I still have). By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had lost interest due to the lack of resources. My time in high school was interesting, to say the least. I got accepted to a magnet program for international studies and got bussed an hour away from my neighborhood to get there. I was still in the school band for most of my time in high school and for a couple of years, I was in the marching band. Read more>>

Alexander Harris

I started acting 5-6 years ago. I was gifted three acting classes because I mentioned it was something I’ve always wanted to do. Once I go to the class, I was partnered with a talented actress who was really sweet and made the process comfortable. We then completed a scene. That was it! I was hooked! The instructor mentioned how it appeared very natural to me. That just made me even more confident that I found the thing I was meant to do. I took classes and really listened to people around me and I took advice. I did student films and anything I could to get something on film to later make a reel. After a couple of years, I made my own short film so that I could become “SAG Eligible” and in turn get an agent. Because I learned that you most likely can’t have a chance at the good projects without an agent or manager. Since that time, I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in bigger and bigger roles. Read more>>

Justin Kawaguchi

This past summer, I had the opportunity to intern with the Little Tokyo Community Council, a nonprofit organization representing the unique stakeholders of the Little Tokyo neighborhood (residents, nonprofits, businesses, etc.). As a part of responsibilities, I supported small businesses in light of COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, many of our community establishments faced reduced customer revenue, foot traffic and general business activity. As I was transitioning out of my internship in the beginning of August and to my fall semester as a senior at USC, I reached out to my supervisor, Kristin Fukushima to inquire if there was a way I could still stay involved and give back. She connected me to a legacy small business named Anzen Hardware, a hardware store that has been the backbone of the community for decades. The only hardware in the neighborhood, the establishment has no website presence and, before this fall, was largely inactive on social media. I project managed a collaboration bundle with Anzen Hardware and another LT based small business, CRFT by Maki. Working with a team from Anzen, CRFT by Maki and a student designer, we created a limited-edition holiday bundle. Read more>>

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