Monthly Archives: January 2014

Meet Connie Cusick- Founder,Proof Jewelry

By Holly Hurd

When her children were young, Connie Cusick quit her job at a communications company to open The Brown Bumblebee, a small company selling home accessories from France, a line of handbags she designed and vintage jewelry.

“With four shows a year, the house became my showroom and workroom,” said Connie.

As the business took off, she added 20 or more trunk shows a year outside of her home. This meant packing up boxes of large things and lugging them all over the county as well as leaving her family behind.

During this period of her life, Connie realized she was passionate about vintage jewelry and often found inspiration for her handbag collection based on the jewelry.

“My clients and friends asked me to make things for them,” she said. “When I started to make more jewelry, I saw an opportunity.” Tired of storing merchandise in her home and being away from her family, she closed her home accessories business and focused on creating a vintage jewelry collection called Proof Jewelry.

“I could take my entire inventory with me in one bag,” she said. “This was so much more manageable.”

She began scouring flea markets and estate sales, not only in the US but also in London and Paris. She started “unlocking the English silver vaults,” looking for vintage things she could repurpose in a more contemporary style.

She started selling her collection in boutiques in Westport, with much success.

“I knew that having a creative venture is something I must have in my life,” said Connie.

Her new company, Proof Jewelry “awakens the classic essence of timeless elegance and the splendor of aristocratic inspired status style.”

Her classically-inspired jewelry is a hit, based in part on the popularity of the PBS hit, Downton Abbey. The Proof Jewelry collection reinterprets vintage pieces from centuries ago. Cusick’s designs evoke a sort of bohemian glamour. Showcasing silver cuffs, large lockets based on ones made centuries ago and equestrian-inspired necklaces, Connie’s jewelry encourages women to feel confident and powerful.

“I always hear women say they wish they could do something inspiring and I think they should just do things without fear,” said Connie’s, adding that her parents were her role models. They are both entrepreneurs who taught her that anything is possible.

Given that background and support, Connie recently started a social media

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consulting business with the tag line, “Be a Business Bad Ass.” Offering a one day seminar titled, Miss Social Boot Camp, Connie plans to teach women the essentials of creating content for Facebook and Pinterest. “I love the idea of teaching and inspiring other women to grow their businesses.”

Based on her success, Connie is working to get her line into larger stores while conducting private sales. Her collections have been featured at high-end stores including: Henri Bendel, Mille Raes, Pimlico, and Dovecote. They’ve also been featured in magazines and on web sites.

“With the internet and a web site, you can be global and make sales in your sleep,” she said. “The best part is I get to stay home with my kids.”


[email protected]



Stop Beating Yourself Up

Stop Beating Yourself Up- It Isn’t working

By Kathy D’Agati, Back to Basic Wellness

How many times have you told yourself that next week things will be different?

You’re going to get up and go to bed earlier.

  • You’re going to shop for food over the weekend so your pantry will be full of good food to eat.
  • You are going to eat breakfast before work and bring a healthy lunch.
  • You’re going to leave work on time and make a nice dinner
  • You’re going to spend more time with your family and loved ones
  • And you’re going to squeeze in a little exercise too.

 Many successful people make commitments just like that.

Every time they do, it is with the full belief that next week all of this is actually going to happen.

 It almost never does.

Why not?

What do you say to yourself about why you didn’t follow through?

Is it because your crazy boss doesn’t have a life?

Is it because your time is being drained with your kid’s endless list of activities?

Is it because you are just too lazy and undisciplined?

Are you sure?

 What if the problem isn’t really any of those things?

It is impossible to change a behavior if you don’t know what the blocks are to doing things differently.

It’s easy to believe your knee jerk response to a problem and state what seems to be the obvious. My guess is you would come up with a different answer if you were willing to step outside the box you keep yourself in.

Try this little experiment.

Schedule 15 minutes of every day to check in with yourself. Pick the time of day when you are most likely to do this on a consistent basis.

Start by closing your eyes and taking a deep, cleansing breath. Now ask yourself a few questions.

How are you feeling?

Stressed? Are you saying “yes” when you should be saying “no?”

  • Tired?     Are you giving yourself enough down time to recharge batteries?
  • Lonely?  When was the last time you got in touch with your friends?
  • Hungry? Are you skipping meals because you are too busy to take care of yourself?

You get the idea. When you spend a little time every day thinking about what’s going on in your life, you will see a pattern start to develop.

 That’s when the blocks to your success will become apparent.

When we are unhappy we say we want things to be different but what we usually choose instead is the familiar. We make lots of excuses for why things have to be the way they are so we can stay in our comfort zone.

 Change is a scary thing, even when it’s good change.

Instead of saying you are scared, you sabotage yourself by creating big impossible goals. When you can’t accomplish or even begin these goals, self-doubt comes crashing in and you use all your energy to beat yourself up.

“ I can’t do this because I am too…(fill in the blank).”

 Stop yelling at yourself.

Be nice. You will accomplish so much more with kindness and compassion.

Give yourself permission to take baby steps and reward your accomplishments when you succeed. Schedule your 15- minute “me” time and promise yourself a treat when you do it. Give yourself a pedicure, some new lipstick or a trip to the movies. That little bit of TLC will do wonders for your soul.

When you get comfortable with that change, you are ready to move on to the next. Keep putting one foot in front of the other and soon you will discover that small changes done consistently become big changes.

 And after all, aren’t you worth it?

Meet Lynne Byrne – Founder, Artistic Photography

By Holly Hurd ,Venture

While shooting photos during family hikes in New Hampshire, Lynne Byrne never thought her passion for photography would lead to a successful business venture.  Byrne had worked in advertising on the marketing  and client management side. But because she is creative, she also worked with the teams assigned to promote Jell-O® and Advil.

After 12 years, she left her job in advertising to have children.

Not a person to sit still, she kept busy volunteering, chairing multiple school and non-profit fundraising events.   Documenting her kids’ lives through photos became a passion.

“I’ve created multiple books for each of our sons, cataloging every holiday, birthday, sporting event and milestone you can imagine,” said Lynne, adding that her family “spends our summers in the most beautiful natural environments.”

“Over the years, I began to turn the camera from the boys to the world around us,” she said.  “But rather than photograph a tree, I take extreme close ups of the bark, so close up that the photo almost becomes graphic or abstract.”

Lynne created photo books of her nature shots for her family to enjoy.  “My shots went no further than my own coffee table.”

During a vacation to Nantucket, Lynne spent time documenting her friend’s garden.

“The dew that coated everything was magical,” she recalled. “I took close ups of water droplets on blades of grass.  You could actually see reflections of the garden in the droplets.”  When she looked at the photos she shot, she got the courage to call her a local library where she had seen other artists displaying their work.

The library staff invited her to hang her photos in the gallery and asked her to send an artist’s statement and web site address.  “I had neither, but I spent the next two days developing both,” she said.  “I thought putting together a web site would be tough, but it was actually easy and fun using”

Lynne gathered 40 to 50 pieces for the exhibit.  She decided to frame her photos in Plexiglas® which is a big job. When the photographic shop she hired to frame the work saw the finished product, they said she should sell her work.

“With that validation, I marched myself into several local shops with my portfolio and a few stores took my pieces on consignment.  It was really exciting. “   Lynne sold her first piece, titled “Black and White Water Droplets,” before the library exhibit opened.

She admits she never planned to turn her photography into a business, but “I felt I had ignored my creative side for too long and I wanted to go back and find my bliss.  This venture has helped me do that.”

And the fact that people are willing to pay for her creativity has been incredibly validating.  Her husband and kids are really proud too.  “One of the best parts of all of this has been showing my kids that you can take risks, make things happen and just go for it.  And I believe you can find something that feeds your soul.”


Email: [email protected]


New Year, New Buzz Words and Business Models

By Jane Applegate

I declare that curation and aggregation are the buzz words for 2014. One new company is doing both: curating a collection of accessories and apparel and ‘aggregating’ them to offer them for sale to big and small retailers via their new company: Modalyst.  (not .com).

Founder and CEO Jill Sherman, has spent her career sourcing new design talent and bringing new items to fashionistas. “I worked in luxury fashion for my whole career,” said Sherman, who spent 11 years employed by the top names in fashion, including being responsible for opening new Prada boutiques throughout Asia. “It was all fantastic but not where my heart was… plus most of (the companies) were run by men at the top.”

Sherman was working at Vogue magazine, sourcing new accessories for articles and photo shoots when she decided to quit her dream job and travel around Asia with $5,000 and a backpack. While on the road, she took time to take “a deep long look at what I wanted to do next.”

While still in Asia, she was recruited by Harvey Nichols to add a line of accessories to his stores.  “It was rewarding to find the up-and-coming designers and give them an opportunity,” said Sherman, who realized she loved accessories and wanted to do something new in that area.

But, before starting her own company, she applied to graduate school to acquire more business skills.  She was the only person with a fashion background accepted into a program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. At MIT, she met her co-founder, Alain Miguel. Together, they researched the fashion industry and saw a big opportunity to represent independent designers who needed direct access to retail distribution.

Today, Modalyst offers designers, retails and ‘fans’ an online marketplace to access unique products produced in small batches by designers. “Jewelry is a top seller, followed by bags and then scarves. We look for a designer that can scale,” said Sherman. If several retailers order a particular item, the designer can produce a larger amount. The company also handles the payments between the designers and retailers.

Designers invited to join Modalyst are required to provide professional photos of their work. They pay a fee to post their wares on the site, but to give the designers a break, Modalyst doesn’t charge designers any commissions for the first year.

So far, Sherman said the site has attracted designers and retailers from more than 50 countries. She focuses on finding new and different accessories because retailers are always looking for the next great item to set themselves apart from the competition. “Name brands are out there and growing, but with ‘selfies’ (self-portraits taken and posted on line) we are all turning ourselves into a personal brand,” said Sherman.

At this point, her goal is to raise $1 million from private investors to expand operations. Sherman recently participated in a Springboard Enterprises program ( to polish her pitch to outside investors. A respected designer or a venture capital firm with a portfolio of fashion and retail companies would be ideal investors.

“We’ve been bootstrapped since the very beginning,” said Sherman, who credits the passionate of her colleagues with their initial success. “Now, we have some revenue supporting us.”

If you are a French or French-American entrepreneur under 35 years-old, read on:

Feb. 28 is the deadline to apply for the French American Entrepreneurship Award and win a package of prizes including:

  • $10,000 cash
  • Mentoring and coaching for six months by a senior executive from Club 600 (a business organization) who will provide business guidance.
  • Free office space for six months in one of the seven Corporate Suites business centers in NYC.
  • One-year free membership from Club 600
  • One-year free membership from French American Chamber of Commerce-NY
  • Media and social media exposure

The award was created to honor a French entrepreneur who died in a ski accident.

“We designed the award to promote entrepreneurship in his honor,” said Yves Coleon, founder of Transmark Partners, a branding firm. Coleon has launched new products and developed marketing campaigns for global brands including General Foods, Kraft and Haagen-Dazs where he was vice president of marketing and business development. He’s been involved in the awards program for several years.

Although ‘entrepreneur’ is a French word, starting a small business in France is very difficult. There are many regulations and once you hire someone, it is almost impossible to fire them.

“The business climate in France is very challenging,” said Coleon. “Entrepreneurs get a lot of support in the early stage, but it is difficult to raise capital. That’s why so many business owners head to America to fund their companies.”

For more information and to apply for the award visit:


Meet Dawn DeCosta–Tech Savvy

By Holly Hurd

After a couple of years of volunteering, Dawn DeCosta, decided she needed a job.  DeCosta had been an account manager for a US bank, but quit when she had her first child in 2000.  Ten years later, in 2010, Dawn applied to work in an Apple Store.

“I felt like I had landed at the mother ship,” she recalled. “They liked me for my computer skills and my ability to interact with people.”

Friends told her it’s harder to get a job at Apple than it is to get into Harvard.  She thrived at the job and especially loved teaching Apple users how to operate their products.   But the retail hours were brutal.

“I had to be there on Black Friday, weekends, holidays – it was so tough with two kids in grade school,” she said.  So, when she turned 45, Dawn thought about what she wanted to do with the rest of her life and where she saw her job at Apple going.  “I asked myself, what do I love to do, and it always came back to teaching.”

She thought she could turn her ability to teach computer into a business. So, she decided if she “did what I loved, the money will follow.”  And it did.  Focusing on Apple products, Dawn was adept teaching people how to use their iPads, iPhones and Apple computers.  She also kept up with her technical skills,  signing up for all the Apple classes she could.

Word of mouth spread about her teaching services and before long, clients were calling. Clients from the store, started asking her to set up their new Macs and their email.  She even taught users how to use and interact with the ‘cloud.’

Many of her clients are seniors. “They didn’t grow up with computers the way kids today have and they need one-on-one help.  The Apple (team) is great– but it’s loud and chaotic in the stores.”

Now, Dawn is developing social media campaigns for different companies, town referendums and political campaigns.  She also teaches classes at local Parks and Recreation sites.

“I taught Facebook and Twitter to four women at their kitchen table in an hour and half,” said De Costa,  adding that she is just launching her new venture.  ”I don’t have a web site and I haven’t advertised yet. I just got my LLC.”   Her next step is to offer her tech services to corporations.

Her kids are a bit annoyed because, “they don’t like that I know more than them.”

But Dawn goes for it. She trained for a triathlon before she knew how to swim.

“I feel you can do anything if you just wrap your head around it.”

Contact:  [email protected]