MENTOR SPOTLIGHT: AMY PETERSON @ REBEL NELL
When did you know you wanted to take an entrepreneurial path?
In 2013 I was living in Detroit pursuing my childhood dream of working in baseball, particularly focused on becoming the first female general manager. I had worked my way up to achieving the position of associate counsel for the Detroit Tigers. There were a lot of challenges being a woman in the industry, particularly with my ambitions. At the same time, I was living right next to a well-known women & family shelter in Detroit. I would come home from the games and connect with some of the residents. These women were very inspiring. Many shared stories how they left challenging situations in search of a better opportunity for themselves and their family members. These connections along with my own personal experiences led me to think “what if I could create a company that was solely dedicated to empowering women”.
Tell us about your venture/work!
Rebel Nell exists to provide employment, equitable opportunity, and wraparound support for women with barriers to employment (homeless, returning citizens, lgbtq+ and refugees). We employ women directly out of the shelter and provide them with workforce training, above living wage and wrap around support to help transition them to the traditional workforce. At Rebel Nell, the women we serve are trained and employed to make jewelry out of meaningful repurposed material that is sold to stores nationwide. They not only learn the skill of jewelry making but also workforce development in guest service, customer management and retail exposure. By repurposing meaningful materials into jewelry and gifts, we mark life’s important moments and connect them to your personal journey. We seek to embolden women, to embrace their infinite strength, and to define their own future. Our items serve as a reminder that there is power in being ONE OF NO OTHER KIND.
How did you decide to tackle this particular issue?
The entire premise of Rebel Nell is to assist women with barriers to traditional employment on their journey to self-sufficiency. We employ women directly from the shelter and provide them not only with employment, but also all of the wraparound support that they need assist in their transition to an independent life. This includes financial training, business education, life wellness, housing resources, micro-loans, legal aid, etc…This ah ha moment is where the journey started. The next thing we determined is how are we going to sustain the business and the work we do. I loved the idea of repurposing material and thinking sustainably about our product. I was on a run in Detroit and stumbled upon some fallen street art that was laying on the ground. I loved the way it looked, with all of its layers and history. My business partner and I discovered a way to draw out the layers creating a unique material from which our company would create one-of-a-kind jewelry. Our jewelry is all about instilling confidence from the time of creation when the designer’s vision is translated into the jewelry and that confidence transfers to the person wearing it. To date we have hired 41 women out of the shelter and graduated 36 into the traditional workforce.
What do you enjoy most about being an impact entrepreneur? What’s hardest about it?
Being a part of someone’s success journey is my favorite part. It is the addiction that feeds the really tough days. However, when we have a woman that we employ get keys to a house, or a new car or they tell us they are transitioning to another job is one of the greatest feelings in the world, knowing you were a part of it in some small way. The hardest part is riding the roller coaster and not getting too caught up in all of the challenges but trying to focus on the positive.
How do you navigate the space of being a founder and also being a POC/women/non-binary person?
Being a founder is hard, there is an added layer of difficulty for being a woman and then an even thicker layer added for running a social enterprise because you put your people and profit at the same importance. It is not a traditional business model and that is difficult. There are less funding options for women and even less for funding social enterprises. They way to navigate it is just to keep swimming, Dory said it best. You will face a lot of rejection but use that to fuel your fire.
What advice do you have for early-stage impact entrepreneurs about using their time, relationships, and opportunities at The New School to prepare for this kind of career?
Enjoy every second of it! All opportunities in life are precious and need to be appreciated in the moment. What you are learning now, the connections you are making and the memories you are creating will all serve you well in the future.
Where did you get the name Rebel Nell?
We wanted the name to be reflective of who we are and what we do. We also thought it important to pay tribute to a trailblazing woman whose ideas we could emulate in our business. My business partner and I adore Eleanor Roosevelt and everything she stood for. She was a revolutionary for womens rights, advocate for equality and a humanitarian. Her dad called her “Little Nell” and we thought she deserved a more bad ass nickname and we came up with Rebel Nell. We believe the women we employ are rebelling against what life has dealt to them and we are dealing with graffiti which is a rebellious art form.
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