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Note from the editor Lesley Jane Seymour
I’ve always gotten high off of helping other women — whether it was mentoring up-and-coming writers and editors while I was the editor in chief of More magazine or raising money for international charities while I ran Marie Claire. It was rewarding and empowering to see how small gestures like mentioning someone’s name to a higher-up for a company-wide promotion or sending proceeds from a T-shirt sale to victims of a tsunami in Thailand could change lives — literally.
I had no idea until I met the wonderful Caroline Miller, who wrote the December piece “7 Reasons Why Helping Other Women Will Make You Happier,” that there was science behind those feelings. She studies the science of flourishing, and she explains that you can actually do something great for your health by openly supporting women. You will have to read it!
The science helps explain that why one of the overarching goals of CoveyClub — to connect women in every way possible so they can support each other’s dreams —is also good for each one of us.
Don’t miss either gift guide in this issue, as they are both very special. The first one is the “Best of the Best from Clever Reinventors”— which means every time you purchase from someone profiled here you will help her reinvent her place in the world and help her along toward her success.
And then there is one I simply couldn’t resist. We had just come off of an amazing Coffee & Conversation virtual salon with Dr. Barb Depree, who talked to 17 of us about the secrets and truths about menopause. At the end of the salon, she did a random drawing for sexy giveaways: a vibrator and lubricants. When I saw the absolute delight on the face of the Covey member (I won’t tell names) who won that gift, I just knew I had to ask Dr. Barb for an article called “Super Sexy Gifts for Menopausal Women.” Read it: you won’t be disappointed. And leave the link in your partner’s email somewhere. You will want something for yourself.
Have a wonderful holiday season. xo
From gorgeous jewelry to handmade honey-infused whiskey, these products are not only fabulous but support women fabulously
CoveyClub is all about supporting reinvention, so we’ve pulled together a fantastic gift guide featuring women (and two brothers) who have either reinvented themselves to pursue a new business or were passionate enough to launch something as a side-gig in their already busy lives. Enjoy!
Carolina Wickenburg & The Hippo Project
Cuban-born Carolina is a classically trained sculptor. In preparing for a girlfriends’ reunion where everyone wanted to exchange a gift, Carolina wanted to offer something that her friends could wear. Using her sculpting talent, she came up with the hippo pendant and was delighted to learn that in Egyptian mythology hippopotami were often considered protectors of mothers and children. Prices start at $165 for a baby hippo (1 1/4″) in solid brass and green nano stone eyes and go up to $6,500 for the regular-size hippo (1 1/2″) in 18k gold with emerald eyes. Order soon, as there is a two-week lead time. Carolina donates 15 percent of hippo proceeds to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout for a 10% discount.
Julia Parish Jewelry
Julia hand-makes exquisite jewelry at her studio in Red Hook, New York. Specializing in 20k and 22k gold with precious and semiprecious stones in innovative settings, Julia does everything herself — including making the alloy, castings, and settings. Julia came to jewelry-making after meandering in and out of various jobs and undertakings, including being a waitress, earning a master’s degree in English from Radcliffe, working in fashion public relations, and owning a vintage clothing and antiques business. While in the vintage trade, she wanted to rework some of her jewelry pieces and took jewelry-making classes. This led to an “aha” moment, where she realized she had the passion and talent to pursue jewelry-making professionally. Prices start at $275 for large sterling silver hoop earrings and go up to $8,000 for a one-of-a-kind 22k-gold dragonfly necklace with a 20k-gold chain. Julia sells online and by appointment.
ALM Bijoux by Anna Moine
Born in France and raised in both France and the US, Anna worked as a marketing and public relations executive for skin- and hair-care companies for years before becoming a consultant to the spa industry. About five years ago, Anna discovered the beauty of druzies, stones with a coating of fine crystals or crystal-lined geodes. This led to a trip to Brazil, where she stocked up on minerals and created her signature wrap druzy bracelet that launched the ALM Bijoux collection. Anna designs her one-of-a-kind pieces and outsources the making of the settings and castings. Proceeds or gifts in kind are donated to a variety of charities. (PS: Anna is also Covey’s Spa Ambassador.) Prices range from $39 for a briolette necklace to $395 for 18k vaporized gold druzy pieces. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout for a 30% discount.
Evie Marques by Susan Swimmer
Longtime magazine editor Susan Swimmer was looking for an entrepreneurial business to launch, but she didn’t know she had an idea right under her nose. Upon her mother’s death, she inherited her mother’s big, bold necklaces and wore them regularly, receiving compliments wherever she went and questions about where they were from. So, she decided to launch her own necklace business called Evie Marques, a combination of her mother’s nickname and because her mother left a “mark” on the family — and Susan gave that mark a French spin. The resin-bead and hand-knotted cotton cord necklaces come in 18 colors and cost $225.
Emily Kuvin Jewelry
Emily practiced journalism, on-air reporting for Court TV, and the law before founding Emily Kuvin Jewelry, the culmination of a passion that dates back to her high school years. In 14k gold or sterling with precious or semiprecious stones or pearls, her pieces are designed in her home in New Hampshire and made in America. Prices start at $292 for a Mini Stella Necklace in sterling silver with semiprecious stones and go up to $3,400 for the Piccolo Grand Stella Necklace in 14k gold, diamonds, and colored gems. The Classical Collection ranges between $606 and $3,030. Enter FRIENDS18 promo code at checkout for a 15% discount. A portion of December sales is being donated to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Francine’s Outrageous Fudge Sauce
Francine Ryan, who had a career in magazine publishing and also cofounded (with her husband) the New York-based marketing agency The Ryan Group, always made fudge sauce as holiday gifts for her clients. It was so good that clients encouraged her to transform this gifting activity into a business, reminding her that Stonewall Kitchen, now owned by Heinz, started off as two guys selling preserves at local markets. The fudge sauce is truly extraordinary, and eating it out of the jar is allowed. There’s no website yet but you can order by phone or email, and there’s free gift packaging for the holidays. firstname.lastname@example.org. 917-796-7586.
Annie Bystryn & Cider in Love
While studying abroad in Ireland and working in London after college, Annie Bystryn developed a taste for cider, the fermented apple-based drink with a low percentage of alcohol. More recently, during a trip through Normandy exploring the Route de Cidre (Cider Route), Annie became passionate about the locally-made, artisanal heritage ciders. But it wasn’t until 2016, after a weekend trip to the Hudson Valley with her husband where they tasted New York-made cider, that she decided to turn her passion into a business and develop Cider in Love, an online curated collection of small-batch hard-to-find ciders, almost like an Etsy for this delightful drink. This, after a dozen years in marketing and digital and consumer engagement in the beauty industry. Cider is a bubbly beverage that has a dry, crisp flavor and does not taste at all like apple juice; there are also still versions of cider. It is wonderful served as an aperitif, with dinner, and for celebrations. Cider in Love, launched last June, offers ciders and other apple-based beverages in single bottles starting at $15 but has created “trios” for the holiday season, which cost upwards of $42. Ice cider and pommeau start at $28.
Claire Marin & Catskill Provisions
Former New York City publishing executive Claire Marin gave it all up for the bees. Disillusioned with where the publishing industry was headed, in 2010 she turned her bee-keeping hobby into a business, Catskill Provisions, and defines it as “an artisanal food and craft spirits company with honey at our core.” Yes, Catskill Provisions produces amazing honey, but there are other delectables such as New York apple cider vinegar infused with honey and herbs or honey rye whiskey. For the holidays, we’re tempted by the whiskey-infused chocolate truffles! Prices start at $6.99 for the honey ketchup to $25 for a 9-piece box of truffles. The award-winning whiskey, about $45, is available at www.whiskeylovers.com, or you can find a retailer via www.nyhoneyryewhiskey.com. You can read more about Claire’s reinvention in TheCovey in “From Queen Bee to BeeKeeper.”
Melisse Shaban & Virtue Labs Hair Care
Melisse Shaban was a top executive in prestige skin- and hair-care for 25 years. Several years ago, a chance encounter on the beach led her to Dr. Luke Burnett, a retired US Army Colonel who was running a regenerative-medicine lab in Winston-Salem, NC. Burnett’s team discovered a way to extract human keratin in its purest form — it’s called Alpha Keratin 60ku™ — and found that it can help heal burn wounds, regrow tissue, and repair hair. Launched last year, Virtue Labs — which Shaban calls a “biotech company to repair hair” — uses this form of keratin (extracted from ethically sourced human hair) in their products. This writer, with unruly, broomstick-like hair, is a convert. Full-size (8 oz.) shampoos start at $36, conditioners start at $38, treatments start at $40, and styling products start at $34.
Jackie de Jesu & Shhhowercap
When you don’t want or need to wash your hair every day, former advertising art director Jacqueline de Jesu has just the thing for you. She reinvented the shower cap and in turn, her career. The Shhhowercap is made from a superior nanotech, 100% waterproof, antimicrobial fabric. Thanks to the cap’s shape and design, your hair will not get wet, unlike what happens with typical plastic drugstore shower caps. The cap costs $43 and comes with a 90-day no-questions-asked trial period.
Cindy Edwards and Stephanie Duttenhaver: Sapelo Skin Care
This dynamic duo met over lunch with writer Pat Conroy. After convincing him to headline the Savannah Book Festival, they realized they were a great working team. This, after years of being housewives and very active with local events and philanthropies. Frustrated with the trend toward abrasive skin-care methods, they wanted to create a skin-care line that was natural and kind to the skin, promoting gentle rejuvenation. Sapelo, named for an island off the Georgia coast, has local and oceanic ingredients such as seaweed, oyster-shell calcium, Georgia-grown honey, gardenia stem cells, and magnolia oil. The Sapelo collection retails for $38-$260. Check out the CoveyClub podcast Reinvent Yourself, A Beautiful Reinvention, in which Cindy and Stephanie reveal all of their start-up secrets.
Iana Dos Reis Nunes & House in the Clouds
One of the luxury and fashion worlds’ top publicists and marketing strategists and proud mother of three, Iana Dos Reis Nunes yearned to create a beautiful luxury product of her own. She launched The House in the Clouds last year, a luxury knitwear collection of simply designed and beautifully made alpaca or cotton sweaters, pants, blankets, and scarves for children aged six months to two years old. Everything is made in Brooklyn, something that Paris-born Iana is extremely proud of. House in the Clouds is her after-hours work; Iana recently established her own PR and marketing consultancy, Iana Consulting, within the brand-development agency Starworks Group. Prices start at $68 for the Neel cotton scarf and go up to $825 for the Neel travel set — sweater, pants, and blanket — in alpaca wool. Fifty percent of holiday sales will be donated to RxArt, a nonprofit dedicated to helping children heal through visual art.
YiLing Chen-Josephson & The Picture Book Club
Former attorney, writer, and editor YiLing Chen-Josephson has loved picture books since she was a child. She gave up the corporate world to launch The Picture Book Club to capitalize on her passion and the trend of subscription boxes. The Picture Book Club offers themed or custom book subscriptions including groupings like the self-explanatory “Women Who Changed the World” or “The Life Aquatic,” which features tales from above and below bodies of water. Prices start at $11.99 per month for a custom paperback/board book subscription and go up to $23.99 per month for a custom hardcover subscription. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout to get $10 off any order over $100 through December 25th.
Elie Sullivan and Charles Warren: 2662 New York
Longtime Wall Street executive Elie Sullivan gave up finance for frocks and joined forces with designer Charles Warren to launch 2662 New York, a collection of dresses and separates made from luxe materials that are created for real women, not stick figures. Their trick? Designing and scaling on a size 8 fit model, unlike the industry norm of using a size 2 model. This technique means 2662 clothes, made in New York, actually fit women who are not runway models. The dynamic duo also has one of the greatest bags out there, the Sullivan tote: a perfect carry-all in full-grained Italian leather and German merino felt for $625 that’s crafted in Los Angeles. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout to get 15% off. Read more about Elie and Charles in The Covey, “Reinventing the Way Clothes Fit.”
Sage and Cody Disch: Ace & Everett
TheCovey is all about women, but we couldn’t resist the socks from these young male reinventors, brothers Sage and Cody Disch, who quit the safe corporate path (in consulting and legal studies, respectively) to make the best men’s socks in America. The Ace & Everett Supima cotton socks are as American-made as possible, from the yarn to the manufacturer. The yarn for the merino wool and silk socks comes from China, but they are finished at the company’s dye house supplier in North Carolina. All socks are made in a North Carolina factory on rare double-cylinder jacquard knitting machines that are uniquely able to produce such intricate designs. Thanks to a little nylon and spandex, these socks fit beautifully and don’t fall down. Prices range from $24 to $38. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout to get 10% off through December 15th.
Barbara Harman & The Butler’s Closet
After years running Parfums Nina Ricci in the US, followed by executive roles in nonprofit development, Barbara Harman wanted to start her own business. Her love of fashion and desire to keep her clothes and upholstery in pristine condition led her to create The Butler’s Closet, an online purveyor of clothing-, furniture-, and accessory-covers, developed with the help of museum conservators, in museum-quality 100% chemical-free cotton percale. The website has other fashion- and furniture-care accessories including these just-added shoe shapers for men and women, also in chemical-free cotton. Prices for a pair range from $18 for small to $20 for medium. They can also be bought in a three-pair set for $49 and $54, respectively. Free shipping for U.S. orders over $50 until December 15th. Read more about Barbara in TheCovey in “Museum Quality Storage for Your Clothes.”
Gigi Mortimer & EyeJust
Gigi Mortimer — a career fashion accessories designer (Ralph Lauren, Vera Wang), founder of fashion retailer Glamourpuss, and the director of design inspiration for Tory Burch — has gone high-tech with the 2017 launch of EyeJust, a blue-light blocking protector for iPhones and iPads that cuts out 37 percent of blue light and 100 percent of UV light emissions. Scientific studies have shown that blue light damages retina cells, leading to macular degeneration. Blue light also disrupts sleep by tricking the body into thinking that it is daylight, and thus suppressing melatonin and disrupting circadian rhythms. Early research also indicates blue light can damage skin the same way prolonged exposure to UVA light can. Mortimer began researching the effects of blue light on people after noticing that her son couldn’t fall asleep, and she had a hunch it was because he was on his screens late at night. The EyeJust screen protector uses the same technology as blue-light blocking eyewear, but at $24.95 for iPhones and starting at $37.95 for iPads, it costs way less and avoids the self-consciousness that might come from wearing glasses. It applies to iPhone and iPad screens like any other screen protector, and image clarity and color is undisturbed. Enter promo code COVEY at checkout to get 15% off through December 19th.
SPFs in your creams are BS and other insider tips from a master skincare developer
Full disclosure: I am a junkie. A skincare junkie.
Open my medicine cabinet and you shall find a plethora of neatly arranged jars — all professing to de-puff my eyes, erase lines, and defy the aging process.
My friends have been telling me to become a beauty blogger for years. So, naturally, I jumped at the chance to chat (and chat) with Harriet Ploeger — a European skin care guru with 25 years of experience working in skin care product development, formulation, and distribution for the leading brands of the world.
Two years ago, Ploeger, who has a radiant, ageless complexion herself, became the executive director of the Swiss skin care line Instytutum — a select, yet comprehensive line of products (with prices ranging from $45 to $140) devoted to delivering “real results” with a minimum of steps. The line is currently available globally in beauty retailers and online, launching this season in the US at Knock Out Beauty.
Covey tracked down the outspoken Ploeger by phone from Europe to find out not just about Instytutum, but about what Ploeger knows really works — or doesn’t about the best anti-aging cream and her skincare secrets.
TheCovey: Can you tell us about Instytutum, its origination, and the science behind it?
Harriet Ploeger: The brand was [founded by Nataliia Derkach, MD, Ph.D.] and developed four years ago by a prestigious lab in Switzerland known for innovative skincare systems using powerful cosmeceutical ingredients.
Every product is super-packed on its own and multi-beneficial — with ingredients such as glycolic acid, niacinamide, hyaluronic acid, and raspberry stem cells — [that will impact your skin] no matter what [your] ethnicity or age.
TheCovey: Why would women over 40 choose Instytutum (relatively unknown in the US) over the multitude of skin care brands on the American market?
Harriet Ploeger: Once you are over 40, you need to target ALL skin concerns — not just a few as when your skin is younger, and you need to truly resurface the skin before you can see results. If you are not renewing the skin — such as with our Triple Action Resurfacing Peel, which is like having a professional at-home treatment — you can’t change your pores or your texture or remove age spots. And after 40, you really need active ingredients such as Vitamin C that will target dullness.
TheCovey: Is there an MVP in the line, or a top seller?
Harriet Ploeger: We don’t really have any star products. We are a small line [and so] each product is outstanding in its formula and texture. But our Triple Action Resurfacing Peel and Truly-Transforming Brightening Eye Cream sell very well.
TheCovey: What was the impetus for revamping the fairly young brand as well as its packaging?
Harriet Ploeger: I had loads of conversations with large retailers who absolutely loved our products, but today the consumer really wants to see the list of ingredients on the packaging and learn about what the product’s job actually is — such as brightening, firming, etc. — which we did not have on our packaging before I joined the company.
For consumers who are buying products themselves off the shelves with no salespeople assisting them, this is very important.
Also, since it takes about one year to develop a truly great formula, I thought why not upgrade some of our formulas during the process. We also discontinued some products and added some new ones.
We are launching the new Powerful Retin Oil in the next few weeks which is incredible, especially on the neck and decollete.
TheCovey: How does the line compare cost-wise to other products in the sector? What role does cost play in creating the best products?
Harriet Ploeger: It’s an extremely complex question and answer. But does the price affect the quality? Absolutely not. This I can tell you without mentioning any names. Just because you spend $400 on a cream, does not mean it is the best. Pricing depends on how many active ingredients are incorporated, the cost of raw materials used, packaging, marketing, etc. that comes into the overall cost of the product. But you can absolutely find products in the drugstore for $20 that truly do the job. Look at L’Oréal for example. They make really great products that so many women use.
But our line is very reasonably priced in its category using cosmeceutical ingredients.
TheCovey: Is there anything particularly Swiss about Instytutum? How does it compare with other luxe skin care lines that emanate from Switzerland such as La Prairie and Valmont?
Harriet Ploeger: You cannot compare us to those brands. I know them extremely well. They are fantastic brands, no doubt about it. But they are not new age brands; they have existed for 20 to 30 years.
Instytutum comes from a different time. We are not a luxury skin care line from Switzerland, but we use the Swiss lab because of its outstanding formulation in terms of its active transport systems, active ingredients, and testing.
TheCovey: Your tagline is “result-driven skincare.” Can you explain how women can get the best results out of their skin care routine? What are your secrets?
Harriet Ploeger: This is no secret, but good skin care always starts with a good cleansing. But if you don’t resurface the skin, your follow-up products such as serums and creams are not going to penetrate the skin effectively.
Resurfacing your skin is the star! You need to use a peel two times per week. Use our Flawless Pads every day, and always do a good cleansing and toning packed with good, renewing ingredients, such as tripeptide-1.
TheCovey: How long does someone need to stick with a skin care line before they see results?
Harriet Ploeger: Of course, this all depends on where your skin is at when you start off with a new line. If you’re 60 and have never done anything before and have deep hyperpigmentation, you will see results, but over a longer period of time. Skin care is not a knife, however. If you commit to a good routine, and I see this all around me, you will see results after four weeks — we have shown some clinical results [for our brand] on our website. Some people have even seen results in 10 days.
TheCovey: You mentioned that having an SPF in a skin care product is not always effective. Why is that? And how should women protect themselves from sun damage then? What else is BS?
Harriet Ploeger: The main reason our skin gets old is because of light — UVA, UVB, infrared, and office light. So, you need to protect the skin with sunblock, but it doesn’t mean SPF 15 or 20 (which will not offer much protection from age spots); it means SPF 50. But when you formulate a cream that has an SPF filter, it becomes very heavy on the face (which I do not want to do with our brand).
At the same time if you want to have active, effective ingredients in your products, they will be blocked from going into the skin because of those heavy filters.
So, do your whole skincare routine and then over that, you have the most fantastic, translucent sprays and powders on the market today. I use La Roche-Posay Anthelios, which is the number one brand in Europe, and I spray it over my makeup. Also great, especially in the US, are mineral brush-on powders with an SPF 50.
TheCovey: Is it OK to mix and match products from different lines? What are the risks from a consumer point of view?
Harriet Ploeger: Absolutely! People have their favorites. I even have products that I have used for 25 years because they are iconic. I used to work for Chanel and since then I have been using their eye-makeup remover Dèmaquillant Yeux Intense Gentle Biphase Eye Makeup Remover. It really does the job very gently but is very effective.
I also love Shiseido Benefiance Concentrated Anti-Wrinkle Eye Cream because of its beautiful texture.
Besides our triple peel, which is so fantastic, I really do love the Philosophy Resurface: The Microdelivery Peel dual system as well. I have tried many, many things, and I mix and match products all the time. There is no harm in it as long as it makes sense. All the products on the market are regulated by law.
TheCovey: What insider skin care secrets and principles do you use that our readers can truly benefit from?
Harriet Ploeger: What is truly effective on my own face? On the weekends, I love to do a very thorough triple peel and then use our Flawless Skin Mask.
After that, the effect is amazing! The combination of these two products I use when I need an immediate wow effect, say for a presentation.
When I have the time, I also really like to do microneedling, microdermabrasion, or have a Fraxel laser treatment, which I think really helps keep the skin youthful and can transform the skin over time.
But it needs to be done with a good dermatologist.
TheCovey: If you had a late night out, what is the one product you would use on your face each night before hitting the pillow?
Harriet Ploeger: Eye cream. Definitely.
TheCovey: You also carry an ageless complex vitamin. What kind of results do you have that show these supplements actually work in achieving beautiful skin?
Harriet Ploeger: It’s a dietary supplement, it’s food, which means it’s supportive to all of the other things that you are doing like drinking water and doing sports. But there is no pill in the world that’s going to give you a facelift! We have made a cocktail of beneficial ingredients that will help support certain functions of the skin. Shop Instytutum here.
Bad memories and crass commercialism made her hate the holidays. Until a stranger asked her to knit a stocking
Christmas in America is like the desert sun.
Regarding the latter, you can take as many measures as you’d like — from slathering on SPF 500 sunscreen to having a beach umbrella surgically implanted in your skull — but ultimately the heat and light will suck you dry. Regarding the former, in my experience, no matter what techniques one employs one can never fully outrun or block out what I count as the single greatest, most reliable annual nightmare in our culture. So well known am I among my friends for my holiday loathing that often their December rituals include checking in on my mental state.
I have my reasons for loathing the season. The main one is this — Christmas, without fail, triggers my PTSD, a condition I suffer courtesy of a wildly abusive childhood. The everyday tension my eight siblings and I endured living with a mentally ill parent at the helm ramped-up every Thanksgiving. My father’s state worsened as he began his slide into what I now know (and also experience) as seasonal affective disorder. Invariably, by Christmas Eve he was explosive.
The emotional fallout of a childhood riddled with Christmas torture means that every year, no matter how old I am, an unstoppable gloom descends upon me, beginning in late November and reaching a crescendo on December 25th. Often, I lock myself away and cry.
Compounding my distress are unbidden recollections of how my pain and my attitude ruined more than a few Christmases for others. Chief among my unintended victims is my son, a man now, who, I am sad to say, had to endure my yearly breakdowns as surely as I had to endure my father’s. When he was little, I’d try to just skip the whole thing, rationalizing that we were neither religious nor did I wish to lie to him about that fake entity, Santa, too often trotted out to coerce children into “being good.” But then, feeling guilty for depriving him of what his peers had, sometimes I’d make a mad last-minute dash to try to give him some semblance of Christmas — drugstore trinkets hastily strewn beneath a saggy little tree — these sorry efforts never enough to mask my depression.
As the decades wore on, I endeavored with genuine effort to ease my December discomfort. I discovered that traveling to foreign countries where I did not speak the language and where the holiday is less blatantly commercial worked relatively well. Many years, I ran away to nearby Mexico. Once, I was lucky enough to spend Christmas in Paris with my then-boyfriend, an Israeli. Being Jewish, he didn’t give a rat’s ass about the holiday or trying to get me to enjoy it. We partook of his cultural tradition of getting Chinese takeout. So relieved was I to be so far away from the over-the-top celebrations back home, I didn’t even recoil when some dude dressed up as Père Noël hugged me at the Eiffel Tower.
When I couldn’t get away, I’d fall back into my cranky ways. A few years ago, wildly affronted by a nativity scene on display at the State Capitol in Austin, I convinced some friends to join me in protest against this clash of church and state. A musician friend agreed to lead us in song. We assembled only to discover the crèche had vanished. Turns out it was the day the Capitol was closing down for the holidays and they’d put the decorations away. Undeterred, I scooped a poinsettia from the trash, placed it where the manger had been, and declared this our symbol against which to rally. We sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.” I took comfort in our solidarity but also noted the irony: Passersby surely mistook us for Christmas-loving carolers.
Last year, I stumbled upon my best solution to date. The foundation for this fix was laid several summers ago, during a broiling Texas July, when I received a Facebook message from a woman I’d never met in person. She was dying of cancer, and chemo left her too sick to knit. Her third grandchild was about to arrive. Would I, whom she knew to be an avid knitter, make a Christmas stocking for that baby, one to match the stockings she had made for his siblings? My desire to help overrode the initial recoil I felt at the prospect of taking on this holiday-themed project. I completed my task shortly before she died. A few months later, on Christmas Eve, her daughter-in-law sent me a picture of the newborn snug in that stocking. I wept.
But I did not, thank you very much, allow this to turn me into a believer ready to give Scrooge a run for his money in the attitude change department. As noted, I have entirely too much baggage to ever go that far. Still, it was the spirit of that project that spurred me to undertake another knitting-related cure last Christmas. I spent the day at a recovery center for low-income addicts, giving knitting lessons to anyone interested.
Weeks before the big, dreaded day, I’d mentioned on Facebook my intent to do this. My fellow knitters were so stoked that they donated mountains of supplies. My friend Denise made beautiful project bags to distribute. I knew I seemed like the selfless heroine of the day for “giving up” my holiday to help newly sober addicts. But that was not my goal. The act was far more selfish than selfless and, as in a tear-inducing Lifetime Network movie, you better believe I received far more than I gave that Christmas day.
How grateful I was for a distraction from all the holiday hubbub going on outside the walls of that center. By the time I was done teaching, the day was nearly over. Such sweet relief.
Perhaps the only thing I find as annoying as boisterous tales of Christmas joy are stories with Grinchian underpinnings, accounts in which people such as myself are at long last convinced to embrace the festivities. Let the record reflect this: I will never, ever, ever buy into Christmas. But I can say with deep gratitude that I now understand deeply the best way for me to deal is to find some way to serve others, to get outside of my own head. My gift to them also serving as my gift to me.
And she’s quite relaxed about it
The first female Iron Chef, Cat Cora is back breaking barriers — this time bringing cannabis into home cooking.
We’ve already seen non-hallucinogenic, THC-free CBD (Cannabidiol) oil, which is derived from cannabis, go mainstream. It’s making its way, legally, to grocery store shelves in conservative Indiana and themed “CBD cocktail parties” in suburban New Jersey. It’s a hot topic not only for cannabis-friendly newspapers such as the Denver Post, but also the Wall Street Journal and Food & Wine.
According to surveys from Gallup, support for legalization rose from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000, to 64 percent in 2017. A Civic Science poll and the General Social Survey found similar levels of support in recent years.
Cat Cora came of age as a chef in the ’90s during one of the last big culinary movements, when cooking with creams and heavy sauces was losing favor to a healthier approach. Cora carved out her niche “showcasing how the healthiest food on the planet, Mediterranean food, can live in the same space as delicious food.” (A new study reported in the journal Nature suggests a link between a Mediterranean diet and lower rates of depression.)
When Cora began, there were no female executive chefs running their own kitchens. It would be 10 years before she opened her first restaurant. Even today, when women represent 47 percent of the workforce, the statistics in the restaurant world remain unbalanced, with only 19.7 percent of restaurant kitchens run by women, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.
CoveyClub spoke with Cora about shattering glass ceilings, her history, her transitions, and her latest adventure, cooking with cannabis.
TheCovey: You’re on the cutting edge again in your cooking story, integrating cannabis into your health and wellness platform. What prompted this latest twist?
Cat Cora: My dad was a big Greek guy who loved food and loved life … [but] he battled cancer [at a time when] medical marijuana, which could have helped him at the end of his life, wasn’t available to him. He was in a lot of pain and had [lost] his desire to eat. [Now] my brother has multiple illnesses and my mom is battling cervical cancer. She can barely eat without being sick. Seeing that happen in front of you is the most helpless feeling and a horrible way to live.
So, I am really advocating for people like that, for the merits of medical marijuana, a plant-based product. As a chef, it’s exciting because [cannabis] is so versatile, with true health benefits. And so I can do so many incredible things to help people, and I can do it with food. It can give people a quality of life at a time when they are very ill.
TheCovey: You are on the forefront of this new food revolution that goes beyond edibles to cooking with cannabis. What does this new movement look like for consumers?
Cat Cora: There are a few styles of cooking with cannabis. My style of cooking is purely medical, a nutritional style of medical cooking [with] dosages in foods to help people with specific illnesses. You can put cannabis in with a type of extraction through olive oils, dressings … through leaves, using it as an herb. The chefs I have been learning from are bringing something science-based and measurement-based to the food world — much like baking and pastry — as a winemaker brings to the wine world.
TheCovey: You are a proponent of non-THC CBD, the non-hallucinogenic form of cannabis. You’ve mentioned that it helps you with your PTSD.
Cat Cora: From age six to 11 I was sexually abused and was too scared to speak out. I struggled for many years to love myself and my own skin. I still get scared, and I struggle with it to this day. There are many ways I balance myself, including working out, meditating, and talking to my wife. But there are times CBD gives me a quality of life when I start feeling that way. Like vitamins, you add CBD in doses, whatever the packaging tells you to take. Even though they are derived from the same plant, CBD is different from THC and you need to follow the recommended dosage carefully.
TheCovey: Is cooking with cannabis something that will be coming to home kitchens in the near future, the way Julia Child brought fine French cooking into our homes?
Cat Cora: There are companies and brands [including mine, which is not yet named] working on safe, health-focused, foolproof meal kits … for the chef at home. They have not come on the market yet, [but it’s] a seed that is being planted to eventually give people the ability to grow and cook with [cannabis] at home, safely and responsibly. We [are at] the forefront of this. As of now, the safest way to have cannabis in your food is to have an expert do it. There is definitely a space and need in the marketplace for meal kits with cannabis. Kits and delivery meals are on trend and this would be no different, especially for medical cannabis and people with various illnesses who aren’t able to leave the house or need more help in meal preparation. But also busy folks who want convenience.
[That said], it’s going to happen. [Right now] it’s the new prohibition. We have to talk about how many positives there are over how many negatives. There should be regulations, but I think it should be legalized for everybody. Cannabis is something that can truly help people.
TheCovey: Do you see a future where there are cannabis restaurants where you order cannabis dishes off the menu?
Cat Cora: There are chefs in LA who are already serving CBD-infused menu items at Café Gratitude, Gracias Madre, and Pattern Bar. There [will be more] restaurants that are solely dedicated to cooking with cannabis. There is no doubt in my mind that that’s going to happen. If they are done right and deliciously and responsibly, they could be a great attribute to the industry.
TheCovey: From the outside looking in, it appears you’ve woven a seamless transition from one space — physiology and nutrition — into your life as a chef focused on healthy cooking. Was it as easy as it looks?
Cat Cora: My degree in physiology and nutrition … is really where I got into fitness and wellness. [But] cooking was one of [my] first loves. [So,] when I got out of college my plan was to … open up a restaurant in [my hometown of] Jackson, Mississippi, [like my] godfather [and] my grandfather who had restaurants.
Remember [though], there were no “celebrity chefs,” yet. [In 1993 the] Food Network was just starting. Cooking was really still a blue-collar career and no one, I mean no one, would invest in me. [Even after] I cooked for them [to show them] my vision! It could have been a female thing, but I never let that [cross my mind]. I just thought they were all crazy. Some of them have called me since then and said, you’re right, we were all wrong.
[Around the same time,] Julia Child came to Mississippi for an event with Robert Mondavi and Marion Cunningham. I went up to Julia and told her I was an aspiring chef. And she took time with me. I was different than the other women there to see her because I wanted to lead a whole restaurant at the time when women were still more about baking and pastry. Julia told me, “you have to go to the Culinary Institute of America, it’s the Harvard of culinary schools. I believe in you … Pay it forward.” It was a lightbulb. A huge transition moment. I [applied] the next day. I took a year and prepped for CIA working at a local private club. I left the dream of a restaurant in Jackson behind and got a French classical cooking foundation [at CIA] … the complete opposite of health and wellness: heavy creams, sauces, truffles. There were six women in my graduating class of about 200.
TheCovey: What did you learn through all these transitions?
Cat Cora: When the square peg isn’t fitting in the round hole, that’s when you really have to reflect that maybe this isn’t [your] purpose. I reset my dreams and goals. When I look back on all the years, it really is as powerful as that. If you can let go a little bit and let it manifest and really dream big, those transitions will unfold in front of you in really interesting and profound ways.
"When I was younger I strived for perfection. And now I realize my imperfections are the most interesting thing about me."
From candles that melt into massage oil to hot nighties that stay cool, we’ve got the goods
The team at MiddlesexMD is always on the lookout for products that help keep menopausal women comfortable and happy. So when TheCovey asked us to prepare a list of fun and sexy gift ideas for women, we said game on. Share this list with your partner or your best girlfriend “of a certain age,” or adopt the strategy I’ve used for years: three gifts for others, one gift for me.
The science of flourishing shows we get a hormonal boost from boosting other women's accomplishments
I was in the second day of a three-day workshop for academic leaders, many of them women, when the urgent notes starting piling up on my table during breaks. I was buttonholed on elevators and whispered to over coffee with the same question over and over: “When are you going to go back to the topic you raised during the first day — about how women kneecapping other women is a problem we need to talk about more openly?”
In the era of #metoo and #timesup, I’ve occasionally been chided for reviving the “mean girl” conversation that some women feel lets men off the hook for their abusive behavior and unfairly focuses on the stereotype of petty catfights. Some also think that talking about this subject risks taking the spotlight off the extraordinary political gains of women in the recent midterm elections, which some people believe demonstrates the solidarity of women toward other women’s goals across the board.
But even as serial predators like Dr. Larry Nasser (the chiropractor who molested hundreds of female gymnasts and young women for decades) and Bill Cosby (the comedian who drugged and raped an untold number of unwilling female victims) are brought to well-deserved justice, I’m finding that women want and need to talk about how not supporting — and actively bullying — other women is part of what is keeping women from being successful. This is a “both/and” moment.
In fact, in 30 years of writing and speaking to audiences around the world, the only question that has ever resulted in a 100 percent show of hands is: “Do you think that women undermining other women is a problem that holds us back?”
I began to focus on this issue more earnestly when the women’s movement roared back into focus after the election of Donald Trump. His misogyny and abusive treatment of women coincided with research finding that women are not just stagnant but they are going backwards in terms of economic parity, and female CEOs in the Fortune 500 have dropped to a low of 5 percent. It also came at a time when I was invited to a Harvard-Yale women’s salon in the Washington, DC, area, where the topic of women hurting other women generated a frenzied reaction of sold-out tickets and requests for video feeds.
As a woman, I’m familiar with how often we are told that the problems holding us back are the result of something we are not doing: Are we leaning in enough? Dressing appropriately? Building the right network? Finding the best fairy godmentor? Attending the right conferences to “link in” to our advantage? Giving and taking correctly? Enrolling in enough micro-courses to stand out from others? Building enough humility to be a “good to great” leader?
But a recent article in The Atlantic magazine challenged one of the most common criticisms made of women of late — that they lack confidence and a willingness to take risks — and reinforced that it’s what we do to each other that is the bigger problem. Research finds that women often fail to speak up, lean in, articulate their accomplishments, and ask for more because of a “backlash effect.” The backlash is multifaceted: confident women are seen as pushy and not empathic enough, and self-promotion is linked to such unpleasant characteristics as bossiness and aggression. And women often snipe at and damage the careers of women they see as competitors because of “scarcity theory,” believing that any woman who succeeds will be a threat to their own security.
For the researcher Meghan I. H. Lindeman, the implications are clear: Without any changes to women’s fear of backlash, “they are unlikely to successfully self-promote, no matter how confident they feel,” she says.
Although many women can point to other women who have guided them, encouraged them, pushed them forward, and been proud of their accomplishments, what many are more familiar with is the pervasiveness of “frenemies” — friends who are actually enemies — people whom a Self Magazine-Today Show poll found that 84 percent of women admit to having in their lives. These women aren’t always open antagonists, but if they go silent, change the subject, or fail to acknowledge and share your good news, their reactions are as emotionally damaging as being openly attacked.
I have witnessed and been the victim of female bullies at all stages of my life. But as a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in Applied Positive Psychology, it’s my mission to “apply” research from the science of flourishing to help change negative conditions in our lives. So instead of just looking away from this topic, I’ve come up with a solution that I believe works for everyone who wants to support the success and goals of other women, and the good news is that it will make you happier to adopt this simple habit: Whenever you hear about another woman’s success with her own goal — something she has worked hard to achieve and that is meaningful to her — automatically share it on two social media networks with #share222, and then do it again every week.
Why will this work if we build this habit, and why will it make us happier? The research from Positive Psychology on flourishing reveals a number of important reasons why supporting other women’s success will be a boon to our own emotions:
"In terms of how effectively companies turn a dollar of investment into a dollar of revenue, start-ups founded and cofounded by women are significantly better financial investments. For every dollar of funding, these start-ups generated 78 cents, while male-founded start-ups generated less than half that — just 31 cents."
Breaking The Rules
What happened when I didn't correct a boss who assumed I was one of the kids
I left my husband on a Monday morning in February 2015. The night before, I’d said my last words to him: “I’m ordering a pizza.” He hadn’t spoken to me in days.
And so I left. I couldn’t take one more day of gaslighting, or neglect, or feeling like I was haunting my own house. I stuffed my hatchback with as much as I could fit and then drove out of San Diego, where I had lived for almost a decade. Six days later, I was standing in my childhood room in Connecticut.
My family had moved into this house just after my fifth birthday; I was moving back in time to celebrate my 35th.
I’d pulled the plug on my flatlining marriage so hard I nearly yanked the outlet out of the wall. Too old to be a boomerang child, I was a boomerang adult.
The funny thing is, when I graduated from college, moving back home wasn’t something I had ever considered. It was the dot-com bust, and I knew plenty of people who took their BAs straight to their parents’ basements. But I toughed it out, living in the upper reaches of Manhattan on less than $2,000 a month before taxes.
I pretended everything was great but I hated New York. I was in an unhappy live-in relationship but couldn’t afford to move out. I got frustrated by innumerable interviews (and second interviews) that never turned into better-paying work. So I turned a spur-of-the-moment decision to apply to graduate school into a total do-over on the other side of the country. In one fell swoop, that choice ended my relationship, my fledgling career in publishing, and my New York City residency.
I Return Home for a Rethink
Admittedly, the move back to my parents’ house didn’t make a ton of sense. But sense-making hadn’t been my strong suit for some time. I never saw myself as an academic, but now I was in a sociology PhD program. I definitely never saw myself as a Californian, but I’d loved The O.C., so why not? I had a vague idea that taking a break from the workforce would reset my salary trajectory, but I had no actual plan beyond getting a free (albeit not-at-all-career-furthering) master’s degree.
Before I knew it, two years had turned into six.
When I finally gave up on academia (an even worse job market than print publishing), I didn’t have a PhD, but I did have a marriage license — and you already know how well that turned out. Ashamed, I cut off even my closest friends. And then I just sort of disappeared.
I moved back to the East Coast and started applying for jobs. But my bicoastal, overly-academic professional background wasn’t easy to explain. So I didn’t! I never lied, but my answers often contained substantial omissions designed to skirt questions like “why did you leave California?” and “where do you live now?” My strategy landed me a magazine job — yup, just like the one I’d had almost ten years earlier, but this time, Connecticut-based.
I turned in my Boomerang card, put on my big-girl pants, and took off, moving into a garage apartment on the other side of Connecticut. I had a real salary, a real commute, and a continued commitment to not letting anyone know much about me.
I Get Hired as a Millennial
And that’s how I became a “millennial.”
My new role was as an associate editor at a specialty magazine. Flashback — that was the exact title I’d held ten years prior in my last New York City job. In my new gig, I was junior to everyone else in my department, but I didn’t care. I was grateful for the job. I didn’t relish tasks such as answering reader mail and compiling product credits, but I did them happily because I Had A Job. My willingness to do drudge-work without a shrug (and my persistent adult acne) may have been why, I soon discovered, colleagues assumed I was in my early 20s. Yes, I looked young — I’ll admit this one non-flaw in my life — but the decade in SoCal didn’t hurt, either. Clothing that’s modest by Cali standards is shocking in New England, but not unexpected on a 25-year-old. I’m tech savvy (I can use a smartphone and a computer without cursing at the machines) and, it turns out that because I hadn’t worked in an office for ten years, my professional etiquette was more than a little off.
I fit the description of a millennial — except for my actual age.
So when coworkers shot questions my way, I answered them with political finesse. “How are you doing, moving out of your parents’ house?” Not quite the situation, but close enough. I said I was doing great! “Are you having fun putting together your apartment?” Well yeah, totally! Even though the reason I didn’t have any furniture was that I’d left it on the other side of the country. When we hired a real twentysomething who was relocating for a full-time position at the magazine, I was the one asked to sit down with her to talk about “what it’s like being a young person around here.” After all, we’d both relocated in our “early 20s.”
The Ins and Outs of Passing for a Millennial
Being a fake millennial had pluses and minuses. The minuses were immediately clear. I had few to no responsibilities. I was trusted with nothing that seemed remotely complex because there was a basic assumption that I had no idea what I was doing. (Seriously, had no one looked me up on LinkedIn?) One of the first tasks I was handed was organizing some files. Nope, not on the computer. Literally putting some pieces of paper into actual physical folders. During a photo shoot, someone my exact real age cracked, “You probably don’t even remember cameras having film!” I kept my mouth shut.
I convinced myself that “shutting up” was a plus. As long as I kept up the act, I didn’t have to admit to anyone, including myself, who I really was. It’s not that I cared about my age as a number. I cared about who and where I was supposed to be at my age: Successfully married with a steady job, a home, and children. Instead, I was a soon-to-be divorcée who had just shrugged off her boomerang status. Forget about having children — I was the child!
Being a fake millennial eased the critics in my head. It allowed me to ignore the messier parts of reality. And it wasn’t just something I play-acted in front of other people. Even alone, I cordoned off anything I didn’t want to deal with. I avoided social media; I refused to confide in friends. I did nothing that would remind me of who I really was.
But my divorce loomed, and eventually I had to go back to California to face the husband I’d left. And to reality. Slowly I began to acknowledge what had happened, and what I had done. I confided in a colleague (divorced) and my boss (married) about why I’d left. I reached out to some of my geographically far-flung friends and told them how I was really doing.
I discovered that most of my life fit into a single portable storage unit because the majority of my baggage is emotional. But more importantly, I found that when I spoke honestly about my life, people listened with sympathy and empathy; they didn’t judge me. In fact, they didn’t think it was unbearably shameful to have been a boomerang adult. Nor did they appear to be in complete disbelief that I hadn’t had a successful marriage, or left graduate school. They didn’t cast me out of their village. They didn’t burn me at the stake. Acknowledging who I really was — in normal, non-job-interview contexts, anyway — didn’t elicit the response I’d feared (not only for the past two years, but quite possibly the past decade). I’d taken elaborate pains and exhausted myself with a complicated tangle of lies, and it had all been totally unnecessary. I hadn’t just been judging myself, I’d been carrying out the sentence.
So here it is: I’m a 38-year-old divorced woman who was a boomerang adult. I’m not proud of it, but I am incredibly grateful that I had the option to move back in with my parents when I needed to. I’m not a millennial, even though I spent a solid year being Younger. While it was never nearly as sexy as the TV rom-com, I lived the basic premise.
But even in a fictional universe, you can’t fake it forever. The ruse falls apart. Maintaining the appearance of being someone you’re not is draining. I was putting so much energy into living the fantasy that I wasn’t dealing with my reality.
Being a divorced 38-year-old isn’t glamorous. But it’s who I am and I’m finally comfortable with that.
Navigating the Sandwich
I was tired of unboxing my mother's silly ornaments. Would I have regrets on Christmas morning?
My mother bequeathed her collection of Department 56’s Dickens Village to me. Five bins full of charming ceramic structures modeled in a storybook style, with an emphasis on cute and cozy — saggy roofs, half-timbered upper stories, windows that glowed a warm welcoming glow from the 5-watt bulb stuck inside. She had displayed it every Christmas — under the tree at first, then as the population grew and urban sprawl arrived in the form of several country cottages, it had to be relocated to her front bay window.
But as she got older and frailer and couldn’t manage it, I had volunteered to step in and do the staging for her. I’d drag the bins from the spidery crawl space, haul them up the stairs, replace light bulbs, repair chipped chimneys, locate all the cast (the Lady with the Muff had gone missing, as did one of the village policemen — perhaps an affair?).
My mother would not be satisfied until every piece, every building, every figure had been arranged.
My father hated it. To him it was clutter. It took up too much space. It competed with her Nativity tableau on the coffee table. She had insisted. For her, when house lights dimmed and the only glow came from inside the tiny ceramic Dickens’ windows, it was magical.
For me, it was too much work. And now it was mine.
The first Christmas without my mother, I put it up as a tribute to her. It got rave reviews from the family, making the hassle of hauling, unpacking, placement, blocking the large cast, all worth it.
The second year I leaned in hard, upping the production value by carving hills out of Styrofoam, adding levels to separate the thatched roofed country houses from those in London (it just made more sense!). I made cobblestone streets — cutting each cobble out of sheets of something I found at a hobby shop — bought battery operated lights because I had always hated the tangle of cords and bulky bulbs.
No one noticed the improvements. No one mentioned anything about the improved lighting.
I scaled back a bit the next year, using only the London cast and requisite set pieces. The country houses and people were not germane to the plot.
Year four it was more of a bare-bones production. Scrooge. The Counting House. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Tiny Tim, a few other street urchins. Carolers. I had expected complaints. I had expected family members to notice their favorites hadn’t been brought out. Nothing had been said. Had we moved on?
Perhaps we didn’t need it in order to remember my mother?
This year, it will stay in the bins. In the crawl space. I’ll have enough to do. Baking. Cleaning. Cooking. Stocking the larder. Driving out to the countryside with my husband to cut down a tree that was perfectly happy standing in a farmer’s field, then dragging it inside, putting bolts in its trunk, stringing lights, hanging ornaments on the branches. But I know there will be that moment, after all the gifts have been opened, all the cookies eaten, everyone back where they belong — my father at his apartment, the kids miles away, and I’ll be sitting there, perhaps with a hot toddy, a dog, (possibly two?) curled up on my slippered feet, basking in the warm glow, wishing I had dragged out the Dickens Village.
This is the fifth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal. Her previous articles for Covey include installment Dreams from Her Mother, No Guns for Old Men, Call Me. Maybe, and Divide and Conquer?
Woman of Passion & Purpose
Devin Hibbard launched Street Business School to teach women skills. But the lessons she learned were invaluable
Devin Hibbard is the kind of woman who keeps spare change in the cup holder of her car just in case she drives by someone in need. “It takes one second and five dollars to shift your perspective,” she says, explaining why she gives money to men and women who are homeless. “I meet their eyes and tell them to have a good day. It transforms me. Changes my entire day.”
She cites Pope Francis as an inspiration: “He says to ‘give [others] what you can and give it to them with dignity, don’t judge what they need it for.’”
Treating others with dignity and compassion seems to be inherent in Hibbard. In 2004, she and two of her friends (Torkin Wakefield and Ginny Jordan) founded the nonprofit organization BeadForLife after they encountered a woman sitting on a Ugandan street making jewelry out of paper. They learned that this woman, Millie Grace, was widowed and the sole support for her four daughters, two nephews, and sons from a brother who had died of AIDS. She had fled the war in the north and was living in a slum.
Five months later, BeadForLife was born — selling paper-bead jewelry and other fair-trade goods to the US market. In subsequent years, they’ve built entrepreneurial business training programs — most recently the Street Business School — to give more women like Grace the skills and confidence they need to create their own local businesses. It’s BeadForLife’s mission to help lift one million women out of poverty by 2027.
Hibbard talks to TheCovey about the decisions that got her where she is today and what we can all learn by stepping outside of our comfort zones.
TheCovey: What in your life brought you to that moment in Uganda when you met Millie?
Devin Hibbard: My parents met in the Peace Corps. When I was two, my parents took me to Kenya and we lived in a remote village. I continued to go back to Africa throughout my life. There’s something about it that has drawn me. I feel like I have red dust under my fingernails that I can’t brush off.
TheCovey: How did your parents inspire you?
Devin Hibbard: They reinforced the ideal of “to whom much is given much is expected.” Your privilege gives you the opportunity and responsibility to give back. They both lived lives of service. Dad would take Medicare patients and run free clinics. We certainly were comfortable financially, but I learned to value money and every dollar. [I learned] there are so many things I don’t need that aren’t going to make me happier in the world.
TheCovey: How does this affect your own parenting?
Devin Hibbard: We’ve lived a good chunk of our lives in Uganda so my kids have seen the other side. My son has seen kids who desperately wanted to go to school but their parents couldn’t afford it.
TheCovey: What’s your advice to parents in the US struggling with the pull of materialism?
Devin Hibbard: Take your kids out in the world. Don’t sit in your air-conditioned hotel — meet real people, volunteer. You don’t even have to go around the world, you can look in your backyard and see economic differences. That can be life-changing.
TheCovey: What appealed to you about world travel?
Devin Hibbard: At 19, I dropped out of school for two quarters and went to Nepal where my parents were doing medical relief work. It changed my life. I thought I knew everything about how the world worked. I remember landing on the tarmac at the Kathmandu airport and waiting as cows crossed the road. No one moved because cows are holy there. I couldn’t get my brain around that. I spent time in remote villages and realized I knew so little. It was humbling and scary. It sent me on the path to knowing there was a lot to learn about how the world really worked — and I was only a mile into the marathon of understanding.
TheCovey: When did you know what it was you wanted to do with your career?
Devin Hibbard: April 2004. I had finished my master’s degree the year before and was working with international groups like CARE and Save the Children doing consulting work and strategic planning. I was doing informational interviews in Uganda to see if there was a potential [job] opportunity. [My husband I] had decided we were gonna move back there in the fall anyway. Ginny Jordan and her mom were there. The three of us had no business experience. We started with nothing but we have this phrase: “the river seemed to be carrying us forward to selling beads and we said yes.” This has really guided our business: we [said] yes to things we didn’t know anything about.
TheCovey: You’ve been doing your work for over a decade — what keeps your passion alive? Do you ever feel discouraged?
Devin Hibbard: I feel discouraged and afraid everyday. Saying out loud that I’m going to reach one million [women] is probably one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. There have been dark times. As hard as my problems are, I think about a woman in Uganda who can’t sleep because she’s worried about feeding her children. That makes me think of my problems as less severe. That gives me one more day. To see these women who have been beaten down their entire lives buy a house for their children — their confidence against the most difficult circumstances is so inspiring. If they can do it, I can get through this day.
TheCovey: You’ve been quoted as saying that it’s not money women have trouble accessing, it’s confidence. Explain why you think that.
Devin Hibbard: Microfinance has swept around the world. I would guess almost everywhere people live they can go out and get a loan. Capital is out there. The problem is women in poverty don’t have access because they’ve been told they’re a girl and therefore not worthy of education, or [they’ve] been beaten, raped, or forced to flee because of conflict. They’re not taught [they] can be anything. If you give a woman who doesn’t believe in herself all the capital in the world, she won’t do anything with it. Once [she] believes [she] can be successful then you can teach [her] the skills. We teach them how to grow and reinvest.
TheCovey: How do you teach confidence?
Devin Hibbard: We visit [women] in their homes to coach and build their confidence. Local Ugandan women do the coaching. We want to find two to three things we can appreciate about her: her kids’ health, her garden — people don’t normally get compliments. We also bring in alumni to tell their stories. You can see these women get wide-eyed. When they see someone like them who’s done it, that makes all the difference.
We also create a culture of human dignity; we think a lot about the language we use. We all call each other “coach” — we have as much to learn from them as they [do from] us. We’re all human beings and all deserve dignity and respect.
TheCovey: What have you learned by working with Ugandan entrepreneurs that you never would have learned otherwise?
Devin Hibbard: How to think about hardship and struggle and how to laugh and celebrate in the midst of real suffering. There’s a value that everyone can bring to the world by giving something to someone else. What we have is enough.
TheCovey: Is the formula for entrepreneurial success among women in Uganda different from the formula for success for women in the US?
Devin Hibbard: All women entrepreneurs need confidence, knowledge, and a network — it’s universal. If you ask why someone didn’t do something you find it’s because they didn’t believe in themselves. You need support and coaches. Here in the US we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that corporations and businesses that have women in leadership make more money. And yet we still consider confidence a soft skill. It drives me crazy! It’s a critical skill.
TheCovey: What’s your advice to American women who struggle with confidence?
Devin Hibbard: There are women in the world who literally don’t know if they can feed their kids and they are still taking risks. For me at least, it contextualizes the risk I’m taking and makes it easier to say, “I might fail at this, but it won’t mean my kids aren’t going to eat.” My goal is not to avoid being afraid. My goal is to be afraid and to keep going anyway.
TheCovey: How can people in the US help your efforts?
Devin Hibbard: There are three specific ways that we would love to invite people to get involved: We’re looking for organizations serving people around the world that may want to incorporate our Street Business School into their work. We’d love to hear about groups doing cool work, especially in Africa and eventually Asia, and get those referrals.
Donate to support our work. It costs us $346 to educate one woman, and that allows her to go from making $1.35 day when she starts to $4.19 a day (above the UN poverty line) two years later. That investment pays itself off over and over again with the woman’s ability to support herself and her family forever.
We need people to believe in our work and partners to tell our story. Share what we’re doing, introduce us to a friend.
TheCovey: What’s next for Street Business School?
Devin Hibbard: We currently have 41 partners in seven countries. In the next three years, we will go up to 180 organizational partners across Africa and Asia. We have huge expansion plans and are working hard to bring Street Business School to organizations all around the world that are supporting people living in poverty. We have a social franchise model. We know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to global poverty so we are taking the proven intervention that is Street Business School — those components that are critical— and asking our partners to bring their expertise of their local communities — the politics, the religious and gender norms — and customize the program based on their needs.
Caroline Adams Miller, MAPP is a speaker, educator, coach and the best-selling author of six books, including My Name is Caroline, Creating Your Best Life and Getting Grit. She has a Masters degree in Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, graduated from Harvard University and teaches in the Executive Education program at the Wharton Business School.
Kate Wood is a one-time New Yorker, recovering Californian, and prodigal New Englander who’s spent the past two decades making it up as she goes and supporting herself through writing. In her current gig as a magazine editor, Kate’s happiest moments come when she’s able to uncover awesome small businesses, artists, and artisans and share their work with a national audience. Off the job, she enjoys spending time with her dog, backyard farming, and crocheting socks.
Katie Weisman is a lifestyle and fashion writer based in New York. A former editor for Women’s Wear Daily in Paris, she’s worked on both sides of the Atlantic and has written for W Magazine, Town & Country, and international editions of Vogue and the New York Times, among other publications. Married to a Frenchman, Katie is fluent in French and the couple has raised their two children bilingually; she’s unsure, however, which language the family’s dog and cats speak.
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