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The Valley’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 the Valley’s gems below.

Karina Harris

The Hunt Collection started early this year in January before all the craziness began. I was looking for dainty pieces that I could wear 24/7 without irritating my sensitive skin or costing a fortune. When I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for, I thought to myself – why not make my own? I had a ton of fun designs in my head and had a feeling that my friends would love them too. In the horse world, so much of the jewelry is either geared towards western riders, for kids, or just not my style. There are so many cool new Millenial brands offering high-quality pieces at direct-to-consumer prices on the market, and I wanted to bring that to the equestrian world. Read more>>

Alexis Meraki

I’ve admired fine art and animation since I began acquiring memories. I’d watch the Disney animated classics just to pause at each frame to study the linework of their artists when I was seven years old. I then got into studying comic book art when I was 11. My favorite thing to do was drawing characters I knew and loved but also began growing a passion for going thoroughly in-depth with my own character creations and their biographies. I was only five years old when I began turning my drawings into full-blown “comics”/stories that I’d create (each one filling up at least a ream full of printer paper) and I haven’t stopped since! Because of my love for storytelling through a visual medium, when I was in high school I began leaning more toward wanting to be a filmmaker. I began my art business by purchasing every color of Jacquard Fabric Paints and doing custom fan art denim jackets for fellow fanboys/girls! It took off so quickly. Read more>>

Paige Cary

I am grateful that my parents gave my older brother, Chase and I the freedom to find our own way over the years, which really encouraged us to hone into what makes us who we are today. I went to college at AMDA: College & Conservatory of the Performing Arts in New York City and Los Angeles to pursue a career in acting. While pushing to get my foot in the industry for acting, it never fully occurred to me until after I graduated college that writing has always been my safe haven when it came to managing my emotions. The past couple of years have been dedicated to focusing on my mental health. Once I came to terms with the traumas that have come into my life, there was no denying the urge I felt to use my voice through my writing to help others. Read more>>

Jordan Swanson

When I think back on all the hobbies I had as a child, I most fondly remember that I was constantly writing song lyrics and poems. Both my parents were musicians and always had music playing. I would hear lyrics that really moved me and search for them online. I’d use websites like Genius.com (when it first came out) and SongFacts.com. It fascinated me that words could have so much impact on an audience. Those song lyrics inspired me so much, and so I would re-write the lyrics to fit my own narrative. That propelled me into writing my own poetry with its own rhythm. I started a collection of poems in a notebook that I still have today, and I haven’t stopped. I am now on my 8th journal full of prose & poetry! Read more>>

Todd Anthony

My journey as an artist started before I was formed in my mother’s womb but the light bulb didn’t illuminate in my head until I was sitting at my desk working as a social worker in 2009. I remember sitting there and thinking, “there’s so much more in me that I have to offer to this world” and at that moment, I decided to be an actor. Creativity was flowing through my veins but I was sitting on it. I got started immediately, I would travel back and forth to New York from Philadelphia every week for acting class. I did that for about 3-4 months before eventually doing private lessons with one of my great friends, Dustin Felder who was an acting coach in Los Angeles. Read more>>

Joshua Han

At an early age, about ten, I began training in percussion. My teacher, at the time, saw some promise and recommended I train with a man named Norman Peck. He played with people like Chick Corea and other contemporary jazz players but trained me in the fundamentals. I then auditioned for the Bay Area Wind Symphony (which no longer exists) and got to play in front of thousands of people as well as travel and perform many cities in Australia. Also, at a young age (9-19), I studied Martial Arts and taught my style. We also performed in front of large crowds demonstrating our style of mixed martial arts. Read more>>

Brian Salay

I grew up in the small town of Pueblo, Colorado. A place very big on the arts, but not so much on the world of film. From an early age, I had always been fascinated with telling stories and entertaining audiences. Before I was even a teenager, I was directing stage plays for my family in the tiny, cramped basement of my grandpa’s house, which had a completely moveable ‘shower’ curtain I might add, stretched across the length of that small space, just to create a little magic. At just fourteen years old, my brother, grandpa, and myself made our first feature film. Of course, it had virtually no budget and no resources, but it didn’t matter. That film changed my life. Read more>>

Bertrand Todesco

I was born in the early 80s in the countryside of France, in a tiny village of the southeast called Fourques. I have been drawing since… as far as I can remember! I got interested in storytelling very young too, as I was playing with G.I.Joe action figures for hours, creating sets with blankets, playmobils and legos, or creating houses with shoe boxes and furniture with ice cream sticks or clothespins. I was even reproducing my favorite French-Belgian comic book covers in tiny miniatures for my GIJoes to read! The 80s and 90s were great decades for kids’ imagination with great adventure movies like Indiana Jones, The Goonies or E.T. And there were the cartoons. I was 10-ish when the TMNT hit the screen and I was crazy about it, skateboarding in the streets, willing to be a ninja too. Read more>>

Lucy Daniels

I have been in the industry for 17 years and my love for hair started around ten years old. I come from a family of artists and when I started doing hair, the artist inside me awoke. I love creating and making people feel beautiful. As a hairstylist, we should never stop growing or learning and for me I believe having this mindset was key to my success. Without my clients, I would not be able to make my hair dreams and visions come to life. They trust and give me artistic freedom to create beautiful hair and for that, I am beyond thankful. Read more>>

Brandon Miree

Playing football was my first passion. I remember watching a football game as a kid and nearly crying because I thought didn’t have big enough shoulders. I didn’t know they were wearing shoulder pads. I always had an interest in storytelling, from hearing my parents and family members tell me stories growing up. I found that if you told me a story, I was more likely to remember something. My mind thinks in terms of teaching, influencing, and engaging through storytelling. Now doing it through a visual lens is just an extension of who I am. In my last year of undergrad, I needed an elective and took a creative writing class. The professor kept challenging us to improve our work and as I learned, “The art of writing is rewriting.” I turned in work that I felt really proud of. It just felt good, as if what I was saying in my head and in my heart was exactly on those pages. Read more>>

Tim Kang, Darshan Bagivalu and Sacha Cosentino

Tim has been running a family-owned restaurant out of Burbank, which like so many others had taken a hit during COVID. Late one night while burning the midnight oil with his roommate Darshan (an entrepreneur and avid meal prep service subscriber), they discussed how small restaurants and how people consume meals will have to adapt in this new climate. They both came to realize that local restaurants were being left out of this growing industry. And if brought together, could actually provide a variety of meals for anyone. By the end of the night, Meal Kit was founded as a service to offer a convenient weekly delivery service for conscious consumers who love to support small and local businesses. Read more>>

Nelson Saidy Jr.

I’ve been around fashion since I was a kid. My parents use to own a dry cleaners in Oregon called Denise’s Cleaners. I was in Mr.Rags for 3-4 hours at a time. Over the years, I accumulated a lot of knowledge about streetwear and fashion brands. My niche is streetwear. In 2011 in Los Angeles, I started fashion blogging under a different name called Deadstock Swagger. Persistence is what got me where I am today. Read more>>

Sarah Javid

About three years ago, my business partner Amber Crabtree and I started our own production company, Butterfly Beats & Beauty Production, to produce music, events, television, and film projects, and we were looking for musicians and a recording studio for a new project. We met Ezra Robison and Fili Landeros in the summer of 2017, who were established musicians and owners of a recording studio in Ventura, CA, called Lion City Recording Studios. The day we all met there was this insane energy and creative force. With all of our various experience and backgrounds, it became clear that we needed to join forces and create an all-inclusive, in-house music group in the heart of the 805 area which was sorely missing, not only help artists and bands with all aspects of the music business including recording, distribution, legally protecting their music, events, and promotion. Read more>>

Stephanie Mackamul

I first started in the sunless industry in 2009 at a local salon where I instantly fell in love with airbrush tanning. Building relationships with clients, the #glowup moments, helping people feel beautiful and confident – its a rewarding feeling I can’t even explain. In 2013 I knew I had to turn my passion into my career, specifically wanting to be working for myself offering mobile tanning. I left the salon and started a 7-4 desk job while spending the evenings and weekends working my side hustle (Spray Tans by Stephanie) – driving all over LA/Ventura tanning as often as possible building my own clientele with the goal to eventually be successful enough to be working for myself full time. Read more>>

Chris Haas

I grew up in the Philadelphia suburbs and quickly developed a love for writing and filmmaking. In 2011, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue playwriting and independent filmmaking. For the last nine years, I’ve written for hire and written and directed four short films. Most recently, my play “To All the Lights in the Windows” was produced at the Loft Ensemble in North Hollywood and was nominated for Best Writer of an Original Play at the Valley Theatre Awards. Read more>>

Christina Dronen

I grew up a military kid, moving every 2-4 years. I met and married my husband in Minnesota and we moved to Los Angeles over 13 years ago. So now I’ve lived here longer than anywhere else. When I was in college in Minnesota there were times when things were hard and adults in my community, through church, really stepped in and gave me support. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their investment. Living in Los Angeles has put me down the path of minimalism, which I am truly grateful for. With high rents in West LA we had the choice to learn how to live in our small place or completely leave the area. So, we learned how to live on less and it made our space more livable. Through that journey I became enchanted with tiny homes on wheels. Read more>>

Tina (T. L.) Quach

If I were to describe myself in a few words, I would say I’m a Californian Dreamer with a New York Hustle. Born and raised in San Francisco, I always wanted to be a storyteller or an artist; however, it was a huge concern among my family as they were Vietnamese refugees whose main focus is on survival, especially fiscally. Ultimately, I cannot stop myself from being me. Ever since tearing up while watching the ending About Schmidt, I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker and connect others too through stories. Upon discovering different types of films at UC Berkeley, I soon fell in love with psychological thrillers as it’s the genre that challenges ideologies and morals. With Asian cinema as my main influence, I want to infiltrate the American Thrillers genre with my perspective as an Asian American woman. Read more>>

Charlotte Xia and Nicholas Duenas

I am Ziwei Xia, my stage name is Charlotte Xia, I was born in Jinan and raised in Beijing, China. My mom was a Chinese Traditional Singer and Businesswoman, and my dad was an Artist and Businessman. I am an International Actress, Published Model, Country Singer, Artist, and Fashion Designer. I moved to California in 2010 and studied at the Department of Motion Picture and Television at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. Then I moved to Los Angeles in 2012, where I studied at Santa Monica College. I went to Barbizon School of Hollywood for modeling and acting then I graduated from Musicians Institute of Music – Vocal Performance. Read more>>

Billi Brooks

Although I’ve been writing for years, I didn’t start creating content until 2018. After my first short film was filmed, I feel in love with having my writing brought to life. I was constantly looking for a team to create content with on a regular basis but was unsuccessful. With no professional experience, I was trying to figure out a way to keep establishing myself as a writer with promising content. So in December 2019, I came up with the idea of creating monologues and connecting with actors looking for reel content, acting practice, etc. We are a creative collab; we post the monologue performances and the actors also post and or shares their performances. While I was trying to find time to figure out how to tackle my idea, COVID19 took over and I lost my job as a nanny, so with that being said all I had was time. Read more>>

Shantay Unique

I was in a domestic violence relationship for ten years and didn’t feel pretty, didn’t feel wanted and I decided what I used to cover up the pain the hurt, the bruises was makeup and it made me feel beautiful and pretty so I decided to start my own cosmetic line to help other women who don’t feel as confident, confident! Read more>>

Maya Benperlas and Kalli Quigg

Viva Rescue became a reality after we started working in CA wildfires and natural disasters saving hundreds of animals and after working with hundreds of abused and neglected horses. We started to realize the work we were doing was vital and VIVA was born! We found such a need for CA disaster rescue as well as innovative, specialty equine rescue and rehabilitation. Read more>>

Sapra

My passion started at an early age and followed me through high school when, as my fellow classmates were taking their final exams, I was already on tour with productions around the globe. By then, I was accustomed to being different from kids my age as I’d been playing drums, tabla, and bongos at various events long before my friends were even old enough to attend. This cycle of performing and touring lasted five years as I completed my school exams in a vacant classroom long after school had gotten out for vacation. Read more>>

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