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The Trailblazers: Rewriting the Narrative

The editorial team has a special attachment to our new series, The Trailblazers: Rewriting the Narrative, because so many of us feel that media portrayals of women have been too one dimensional. Today, women are doing incredible things in all fields – from science and technology to finance, law, business, athletics and more.  With the Trailblazers series, we hope to highlight and celebrate female role models, encourage more equal and just representation in the media, and help foster a more tight-knit community locally helping women find mentors, business partners, friends and more.

Amber Sullivan

I’ve been into photography for as long as I can remember. I took photography classes in high school, college, and also sold digital cameras at Best Buy. Photography has always been a part of my life. My parents gave me my first (film!) SLR camera as a high school graduation gift and also paid for a full photography program with an online photography school. Because of that program, I’ve always admired newborn photography. I saw the skill it required and I knew that I wanted to master it. Shortly after my son was born in September 2013, I was let go from my full-time job and needed a way to work from home. I practiced newborn photography with my own newborn son! That following January, I made a photography website using my son’s photos and also photos I had done for family and friends. I went on to take a photography business course at Wake Tech and learned the legal way to start a photography business. Read more>>

Cassidy Burel

I have always been interested in the fashion industry. I grew up in a small town in North Carolina where the hottest fashion trend was a camouflaged hoody in different colors. And so from what you can consider the outside of the fashion industry looking in, it seemed like such a world of beauty. It wasn’t until fourth grade when I really discovered my passion for the fashion world. During a Christmas party that year, I was wandering around my mother’s friend’s house as the party was commencing, and I stumbled into the hostess’ closet. Her name was Fran Coffey. Although Hickory isn’t exactly known for having the newest fashion trends, Fran however, was a very A-list gal. Thus, her closet held more beautiful articles of clothing and accessories than I had ever seen. Of course, I was caught in the coat closet, but instead of berating me with frustration, Fran took down one of her fur coats and put it on me. Read more>>

Hannah Harmon

I have always had a love for photos. This obsession started when I was a child and I would go over to my grandparents’ house and pull out all the old photo albums. I loved listening to the stories that my grandparents would tell about all the photos. The way they could go back to a moment in time just by looking at one image truly amazed me. When I was 12 I got a little pink film camera for my birthday and started taking pictures of everything. I was able to upgrade my camera when I turned 16 and I started doing senior sessions, some wedding and family sessions. I was mostly a hobby photographer until 2018 when my first son was born and I had the opportunity to stay home with him. About a month after he was born I started to pursue my photography more professionally. Over the past couple of years, I have been so inspired by my great grandfather. Read more>>

Marta Mickelsen

I’ve been experimenting with different business ideas since I was a kid, but what really motivated me to give this idea my all was floundering in my unfinished fine arts degree while being overworked in retail jobs. I decided to give up the “smart” career options and pursue the path that made me happiest. I scrounged together money by doing personal art commissions and reinvested every penny I could into printers, supplies, and anything to build my business. I’ve made a lot of expensive mistakes along the way, but the momentum has always been moving forward. I think it’s important to take breaks, but the small success I’ve found has not been due to talent, but just from continuing to push forward. Read more>>

Sonya Coulson Rook

I’ve always loved making and creating, spending most of my childhood covered in finger paint and glue, while surrounded by pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and construction paper. I fell in love with metal while studying art at East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. After two somewhat disastrous semesters of ceramics classes, my professor suggested that I take a metals course. I hadn’t considered the media before but decided to give it a try. The first time I picked up the hammer, I was hooked and haven’t looked back since. After school, I worked as an apprentice to a bench jeweler repairing jewelry and sizing rings. When that opportunity ended, I was blown off course and found myself stuck in a retail management job that I was not at all suited for. Read more>>

Pamela Grant

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been creative at heart. Starting at a young age, I used to sketch out different clothing and home interior designs. I always had dreams of being either a fashion designer or an interior designer. Neither of those dreams has yet to come true. But, I did have someone turn one of my dress designs into a prom dress. As I grew older, I turned my creative mind from analog to digital. In came the world of MySpace. I’m sure we all thought we were trained coders back in that day. Even back then I would have others message me asking to edit photos for their pages after seeing an edit that I created. Creating has always been second nature to me. I’ve always enjoyed turning nothing into something. Read more>>

Melissa Vossler

My photography journey didn’t start when I was 10 and given my first camera – nor was it started out of a passion ignited in college. It was early 2007, and our oldest child Lucas was 3 months old. My maternity leave was almost over and it was time for me to go back to my desk job. I really really didn’t want to leave our baby, but my husband Trei was wrapping up his last year of culinary school and we lived in one of the most expensive cities in the US, so living on one income would be almost impossible. One afternoon, Trei asked me what I would do instead and I casually responded “be a photographer.” A few days later I quit my job and we drained our savings account of every single penny, investing in a Canon DSLR and a nice lens. We were young, broke, and very free-spirited, what did we have to lose? I honestly thought the camera would do all the work. Read more>>

Leah Royall

I am a wedding and travel aficionado who’s been fortunate enough to combine my passions with my career. I first got involved with planning weddings in Wilmington through a woman who was both a successful business owner at a flower shop and also an incredible wedding planner. She inspired me to establish my own company, and she prepared me for such a unique industry. Thanks to her inspiration, I started planning weddings in Raleigh, NC and surrounding areas in 2018. It has been such an incredible experience coordinating several weddings and watching each one end in true love and a desire to stand by one another’s sides through the good times and bad. Speaking of bad times, I think we can all say that we felt this way when COVID showed up. The wedding industry was disrupted and turned upside down, and instead of being frustrated, I realized it was an opportunity to truly redefine my goals and passions. Read more>>

Lena Jackson

My story is an interesting one – I actually started my business quite by accident. I had never intended to start a business or to be in the career services field. I went to college for something completely different with the sole intention of landing a role in corporate America and then working my way up the ladder. As fate would have it – life would take me down a completely different path. In college, I used to write resumes for friends and family members and they’d always get calls for interviews or land new jobs (I’d write my own resume and all I’d hear was crickets though, lol!). It’s so funny looking back because, at that time, I did not realize that I was actually creating the foundation for my business today. Read more>>

Caitlin Gregory

Growing up, I was obsessed with magical love stories. Fairy tale love stories and rom-com movies always left me with a euphoric feeling. When middle school arrived, the time came to join after-school clubs. I chose photography. Granted I used a disposable Kodak, but it was so thrilling to snap away and see what I ended up with from that single-use camera at CVS or Walgreens a week later! And you can’t forget those underwater disposable cameras! Those were a real hit. Time went on and cell phones were more advanced and popular with their own cameras. At the time, the over pixelated photographs were the world to me. I was taking snapshots of absolutely EVERYTHING! I wanted to look back and have memories that were actually in essence relivable via the small snippet picture I snagged on my flip phone. Once I graduated high school, I spent a couple of years trying out college and different majors. I did end up graduating from nursing school in the end, but I just felt that wasn’t my true love and passion. Read more>>

Valerie Remhoff

I am a Specialized Kinesiologist, IKC Certified Touch for Health Instructor/Consultant, Reiki Master Teacher, author, and educator. I work with people to reduce or eliminate stress and pain within the body that is impeding energy flow and keeping them from feeling their best and reaching their goals. I didn’t always know that this was what I wanted to do. In fact, like many people, I didn’t even know the field of energy healing existed. I started college as a chemistry major with a dance minor and graduated three years later as an environmental science major with a job as a software configuration manager. Even though I have always been intuitive, loved helping people, and have seen and sensed energy my whole life, my logical and scientific brain took over when it came to choosing a career. For a long time, I thought the two aspects of my personality were at odds with one another, the logic/science and the intuition. Turns out they are a perfect combination for a Specialized Kinesiologist!. Read more>>

Elena Loeffler

I am an award-winning photographer and specialize in portrait photography and in creating visual content for professional branding. I moved to Raleigh around 3 years ago and have previously lived and worked in Germany, Russia, Brazil, and Spain. I am originally from Russia and have a Master’s Degree in Political Science, Languages, and Economics and have worked in Germany in the area of Executive Education and Marketing. In the past, I didn’t see myself as a creative person and didn’t have much interest in doing photography. I was concentrated on academics, my career, learning languages, and discovering the world. Read more>>

Crystal Harris

Mama’s Salsa started because I was looking for a creative outlet for myself. At the time I was a homeschool mom to two and I had just had my third boy a few months prior. I was struggling a lot with anxiety & I knew that if I had an outlet for doing something I loved it would alleviate some of my anxiousness. I knew people would be interested in purchasing my chips and salsa because when I would have play dates with my other mom friends they would pay me to make authentic Mexican Food & I would send them home with jars of salsa. Since the pandemic my solo this is his turn to a complete family business and I absolutely love it. My husband and I are able to stay home and homeschool our kids and run our business at the same time. Read more>>

Julia Blaine

Strong Arm is a small family business that specializes in handmade pastries and old-world style bread. My husband Thomas and I started Strong Arm in our home as a “side hustle” back in 2014. We both had full-time jobs but wanted a little more challenge. Thomas built a small wood-fired oven by hand and we started selling small batches of sourdough bread and pastries at a Wednesday market in Raleigh. In the fall of that year, we expanded to offer a small prepaid “Breadshare” program in our hometown of Oxford. 8 people signed up and we supplied them with a fresh loaf of bread each week. One year later, the lines at both small markets started to get quite long… we added two additional area markets and we both quit our full-time jobs. We washed a LOT of dishes and slept very little. We hired our first employee in 2016. In the fall of 2019, we were 11 people working around the clock in our home, 7 days a week, with 2 babies and not many rooms left to house them. Read more>>

Lauren Doane

I’m a Raleigh native and NC State graduate. Before having children and starting Parker’s Pretties, I worked as a clinical social worker providing outpatient therapy. Starting Parker’s Pretties has been a bit of a whirlwind! Earlier this year, I decided I wanted to learn how to sew. Picture me perusing Pinterest ogling all of the cute baby things I could make if only I knew how to work a sewing machine! I purchased an entry-level Brother machine, and my mother-in-law taught me some basics. With that knowledge and some help from YouTube, I was off! Baby bows seemed like an easy place to start, and for fun, I posted up a few on Facebook Marketplace. I sold several that day! Since then, I’ve felt my creativity blooming and I work to find all the time I can get to make new items. I’ve learned how to make clothes, too, and now sell on multiple platforms. I’ll be at my first vendor fair in September at Viscious Fishes. Read more>>

Joanne Wetzel

I never set out to become a photographer or to own a photography business. Really, my story into pet and rescue photography began accidentally through my volunteer work at our local shelter, the Wake County Animal Center. A few years ago, upon burning out in a previous business venture and closing that business entirely, I found myself with a lot of free time. I knew that I wanted to do something truly valuable and rewarding while I figured out what was next for me. A friend of mine, who had been fostering dogs for WCAC, told me about the volunteer program to walk and cuddle adoptable dogs and cats at our local shelter. Naturally, that peaked my animal-loving heart, so I applied. Read more>>

Cristin Lyons

CEO, and Creative Director of Raleigh Staging & Design. The creation of Raleigh Staging & Design is a dream come true and I thank God every day that I am so lucky to have finally found my calling. It took what feels like a circular route to find my destiny, and it all happened for a reason. I grew up in the New Jersey/New York region of the country. My exposure to home décor and home design started as soon as my eyes opened. As the eldest of four kids (Irish family), and the daughter of a trained interior designer, I was not only a diaper-changing big sister but the sidekick to Mom as she shopped paint, wallpaper, drapery, and furniture…all.the.time. And I loved it. LOVED it. Along with ballet, paper dolls, and Barbie. Now, it goes without saying we all have our own hardships growing up. Picking out a few from my personal boatload, I would say crippling shyness and fear of being judged were paramount. I tried as hard as I could to be invisible, avoid social anything, and be the outcast I was socially assigned to be. Read more>>

Angela Devone

I started the non-profit in 2019. I have over 30 years of experience in the insurance industry and a clinical background as a Nursing Assistant. While working in the Department and in a provider’s (doctor’s office) I was surprised to see many patients that were completely in the dark about their insurance. Furthermore, some were not properly prepared when they arrived for their doctor’s visit. I noticed this more so with the elder population. I would take time to explain their insurance; even as to why they had to pay co-pay. Some were surprised in how the amount of their co-payment was different for a primary care visit, a specialist visit, or the Emergency Room. I felt there was a need to engage, encourage and empower the community. Read more>>

Dawn Marie Rozzo

Dawn Marie Rozzo has lived in Raleigh, NC for the past 20 years and has been a working artist and art educator for over 30 years. She crafts collages from upcycled books and creates evocative, expressive landscapes in watercolor, acrylic, and oil paints. The experience of exploring and observing the natural world inspires and informs my art practice. My first visual inspiration is the rolling hills and woods of my childhood home in rural Pennsylvania. I have very early memories of exploring the hills, creeks, and farmland surrounding my home. I would spend hours outside. I observe that very few of us experience nature outside our immediate man-made world, whether it is our back yard or a visit to a local park. I am attracted to fleeting moments in the natural world: a lightning flash, the pose of a bird, the morning’s changing light. These urge me to paint in a loose and interpretive manner using transparent washes of paint and gestural brushwork. Read more>>

Beth Barger

One of my earliest art memories is making 3-D paper flowers. I was 4, my brother 3. It was late winter in Great Lakes, IL, with blustery wind and snow outside. My Mom was determined to keep us constructively occupied while we were cooped up in the house. My brother and I made our construction paper tulips and daffodils, which were then “planted” along the hall baseboard in a valiant effort to usher in spring. Thus, my artistic genes were awakened and my lifelong love of art and creating with my hands was born. From that day on, working with my hands and heart was a part of my life whether designing the yearbook cover for my high school or teaching arts and crafts at summer camp. When it was time to declare a college major, I couldn’t fathom studying anything but art. After obtaining my BFA in Graphic Design from ECU, I spent 15 years in the profession. With the advent of desktop publishing and less opportunity to get my hands messy with design, the profession lost its luster. As a result, my career took me further away from what I was meant to do. Read more>>

Leah Mancini

My lifelong love of fashion started at an early age fueled by my passion for creating and designing. I was taught by my dear aunt that with a little bit of creativity and a lot of hard work, sewing my own designs was a possibility. After working for over 15 years as an Executive Assistant and having my first child, I left my career behind to begin a new one – as the owner and designer behind Leluna Star. With the support of her husband and family, I create custom, one-of-a-kind items as well as unique items for children that foster creativity and spark the imagination. Read more>>

Alexandra Wurst

I always wanted to be in media, but being from a small town of Salisbury, NC I just thought it wasn’t possible to get into that industry because I never knew anyone to be in that career field. As the years go by and I get into college, Vine, Snapchat, and Instagram started becoming a thing and being able to make videos. I started messing around with it and my college was small, so we all knew each other and followed each other and I would get told how entertaining and funny I was! So, it started getting back in my head of trying to do something with media again. But also, I was talking to this guy at the time who was telling me about a new hip hop radio station in Charlotte and it was around a time where I needed an internship in college to get more credits and graduate. Read more>>

Christine Hager-Braun

I am an art quilter creating textile paintings. However, my background did not point to a journey to this profession. Originally, I’m from Germany. I was raised in a rural area and graduated as one of only 37 students from a school, which provided access to higher education. Although I enjoyed arts and crafts, going to art school, and becoming an artist was never a consideration, not by me and certainly not by my parents. So, I attended university, received an M.S. in Biology and then a Ph.D. in Biochemistry. In 1999, my husband and I relocated to the US to continue our interests in scientific research. We intended to stay for two years, but, well, you can do the math! North Carolina became our home. I was exposed to quilting only after my move to the US. I had never seen a quilt before and enjoyed looking at the geometric patterns. But more than that, I was fascinated by the idea of creating “paintings” from fabric and thread. Hence, I started art quilting in 2003 to balance life as wife, scientist, and also new mother. Read more>>

Christina Fox

I was born and grew up in Philadelphia for fourteen years, but when I turned fifteen in Arizona, I was mentored for four years by my photography teacher, Mr. Lew, and started my photography in the darkroom. From developing my own film to creating my own prints with the enlarger and the various chemicals that would leave my fingers smelling like sulfur every single day – it was magic to me. I was making magic. Through those years, with the guidance of Mr. Lew and the many “photo drives” my mom and I would go on in the desert, my eye improved for angles, depth, and the overall beauty of well, everything and everyone. As a young adult, I started my business out in Arizona and did well with word of mouth and social media, but decided to leave the West Coast behind and move to North Carolina to be closer to my family – especially my Granny. Read more>>

Ashley Maton

We believe in epic portraits and capturing real candid moments. Whenever we pick up our cameras, we strive to create beautiful and emotional images that tell a story and showcase the beauty of both the people in the images and the world around them. We’ve shot over 200 weddings and each one is a personal and special experience. We create an atmosphere that is fun, relaxed, and natural. Clients often say they feel like they’ve known us forever because they’re so comfortable. This energy is reflected in the photographs and the results are wonderful memories and joyful images. We call the Carolinas home, but love to travel every chance we get. Traveling is one of our greatest passions, especially when staying in boutique hotels, draped in character and class, of course, while sipping our favorite cocktails. Old Fashions for Bill, Martinis for Ash. Read more>>

Martha Manning

I was always that kid with her film camera! My Dad is an artist and taught me how to shoot and process rolls of black and white film throughout my childhood. I am so thankful I grew up in an encouraging family that celebrates the arts, where I learned how to practice photography, make mistakes, learn from them, and keep going. I would never have had the courage to start my business without such a supportive family around me. Photography has always been a part of my life and who I am. I truly cannot imagine my life without creating art with my camera. In high school, I enjoyed being a yearbook staff photographer and working in our school’s darkroom. I went on to minor in Technical Photography at Appalachian State University and then continued my studies with incredible artists and fashion photographers in Vancouver, Canada. Read more>>

Courtney Martin

In 2016 I started getting into photography. It was not easy getting into the world of capturing photos because it’s so much more than snapping a picture. It’s about the eye, the angles, the composition, the style, the editing. I had to find myself and the best way to do that was to keep taking photos and never stop. Thankfully I had lots of friends and family to practice on. When I was just getting started I ended up relocating to Miami. This took me to a new state where I had no friends, no people to just hit up and say “hey let’s shoot” to get my practice in…So I had to figure it out. I messaged so many random people on Instagram to be a test subject but my style of photography was still in the beginner stages and Miami is like the land of amazing creatives, so I didn’t really stand out at first. Finally, I was able to connect with an amazing model who gave me a chance at my very first shoot there. Read more>>

Allie Mullin

I began my business as a college photojournalism student. I was applying to unpaid internships as the newspaper industry was failing while doing weddings and portraits for friends and local clients. Word of mouth has brought me to so many folks over the years. I got into branding photography at the encouragement of Megan George of The Zen Succulent, who became my first branding client. Currently I do a mix of branding, portraits, and intimate weddings and elopements, as well as art prints. Read more>>

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