(L-R) heirloomed collection's Ashley Schoenith, Maridadi Trading's Vena Kim, S.Carter Designs' Sarah Hovis Olsen, and Honeycomb Studio's Courtney Hamill gather at Kimball House restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia.
Words: Laura Scholz | Photos: Caroline Fontenot
At the heart of Atlanta's thriving creative community are its women - a fact we felt worth celebrating. Storied bootmaker The Frye Company agreed. As the brand opens its first Atlanta outpost in the new Ponce City Market development, we teamed up for the Southern branch of a campaign called #MeetOurMakers - one that tells the multi-platform story of four local women creating the next generation of heritage brands.
Travels spanning the globe. Heirlooms passed from one generation to the next. Nature’s treasures embellished with some bling. Possibilities in a shapeless lump of clay. These are just a few of the inspirations for Atlanta’s next generation of female artisans.
From textiles and clay to feathers and diamonds, Courtney Hamill (Honeycomb Studio), Vena Kim (Maridadi Trading), Sarah Hovis Olsen (S. Carter Designs) and Ashley Schoenith (heirloomed) are crafting some of the most innovative and stylish designs in the Southeast, making waves far beyond. Their work has been praised by everyone from Garden and Gun and Southern Living to Design*Sponge and back — but we’ve been fans all along.
Potter Courtney Hamill at work in her Atlanta, Georgia studio.
A chance ceramics class in college changed everything for Courtney Hamill. The political science major signed up for the art course on a whim, and kindled a fire for the craft. But, it’s not the beginning of the story that matters, it’s the end… or actually, the current chapter. Now, weeks away from giving birth to her first child, the Atlanta native has turned that college-borne curiosity into a thriving business with designs heralded by national media right from the beginning.
You say you took that pottery class on a whim? What about it stuck with you?
I wish I could remember why I signed up for that class. It would make for a much better story (laughs). Then, I took as many electives in ceramics as I could. Donna Polseno, one of my teachers at Hollins University, offered me an internship with her after graduation. Which was just crazy, because there were so many people with more experience … I moved to Floyd, Virginia to live in an old farmhouse and apprentice with her and her husband, Rick Hensley.
Handmade porcelain bud vases and apothecary jars line the shelves in Courtney's workspace.
But you ended up walking away from it. Why?
I just didn’t see a career in it, and felt I needed to do something more financially stable. I moved home and had a brief career in nonprofit fundraising. I worked for the MS Society and the High Museum [of Art]. I did some consulting. I was pretty miserable.
So what led you back to ceramics?
I had just turned 30, and knew if I didn’t pursue my craft then, it was never going to happen. So I quit my job with six months of savings in the bank and opened up my studio in a shed in the backyard of my house in West Midtown [Atlanta]. I did all the demo-ing myself — insulation, wiring all of that. I kinda know just enough about power tools to be dangerous.
"My Frye boots are feminine with a tomboy edge" Says Courtney. "And comfortable. At nine months pregnant, I need comfortable!" Boots: Sacha short in Dark Brown.
Was there a moment when you knew that you were going to make it as an artist?
A few months after we started, Southern Living ran a profile on the studio. I wasn’t actually seeking any press. It kind of just happened. After that, the orders started rolling in. That was almost three years ago, and I’m still here. Oh, and when Liberty of London added us to their stock list. I still can’t believe that. Plus, it was our first international account.
What inspires you?
Shapes. The possibility of creating something 100% unique and different. Not knowing what the finished product will look like until I dig my hands into the clay.
Kiln-fired work awaits finishing touches.
How you would describe your aesthetic?
Minimalist, clean, modern. But, I do love some gold fill.
What’s your favorite piece in your collection?
Well, I do love them all. I have to, because I make the same things over and over again. But I’m partial to the porcelain apothecary bottle with the gold cross. It’s very mean. Clean, minimalist and modern, but with a bit of girlie bling.
Maridadi Trading's Vena Kim puts the finishing touches on her line of hand-dyed garments.
The daughter of a Korean diplomat, wanderlust is in Vena Kim’s DNA. The world traveler and former ex-pat left the States to attend college in Europe and didn’t look back for almost a decade, eventually returning to her hometown of Atlanta and turning her travels into a beautiful line of globally-inspired clothing and home goods.
What was the genesis for Maridadi Trading?
I went to college at St. Andrews University in Scotland and basically never came home. After I graduated, I moved to London to work at the Korean Embassy. I decided that wasn’t the sort of life I wanted, so I moved to the Middle East to pursue my career as a journalist. I wrote in the Middle East, and then I moved to Oman and Cairo, Egypt... I sort of lived all over. Eventually, I started to miss my family back home in Atlanta and moved back. Many of the pieces of clothing I had bought overseas were just worn out or broken, and there was nothing here to replace them. So, I started making my own.
"I love ease and comfort. I’m wearing a flat boot from Frye. I love the worn-in look, I think flaws are beautiful, and I like the masculinity of the boots because I am a tomboy at heart." Boot: Veronica Belted Tall.
What’s your favorite piece in the line?
Definitely my caftans. I’ve been really loving my caftans lately. They come in two lengths. One hits just below the knee, and the other is floor length. They’re just so real and whimsical and versatile. You can dress them up or down. There’s a real glamour to them, but they can also be construed as casual wear.
Were you always interested in fabric and textiles?
I’ve always been interested in textures. And I think that comes along with textiles. And it’s just something I’ve gravitated to. This line is really fulfilling my soul.
Maridadi Trading HQ in Atlanta.
What was your favorite place that you lived?
That’s hard to say, because they’ve all been so different. It really depends on my mood, to be honest. Edinburgh will always have a special place in my heart. I spent four years in Scotland, and Edinburgh is most beautiful, magical city. I loved Cairo. It was amazing. We did a lot of desert traveling when I was out there. And London. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the best city on earth.
Is there any place you’re dying to go that you haven’t been to yet?
You know what? I’ve never been to Alaska. I know that doesn’t sound very glamorous, but I’m dying to go to Alaska. It’s funny — I’ve been to far-flung and unique and off-the-wall places, but I’ve really made a concerted effort in the last couple of years to explore America. I’ve been all over the country and have just been blown away. I can’t believe I hadn’t discovered it sooner.
Vena's hand-dyed caftans await her loyal customers, rabidly scooping up garments as quickly as she makes them.
Where do you go when you feel like you need to get away or need inspiration or relaxation?
I haven’t felt pressure just yet. Because I am relaxed in general, creativity hasn’t been a challenge — ask me in five years! I teach yoga, and I practice meditation, and I think because I have that practice in my life, I feel very centered. I do feel an inner peace.
Sarah Hovis Olsen perched in her Atlanta showroom and studio space.
Truly a family affair, the mother and daughter team of Sally Evan Hovis and Sara Hovis Olsen wield power tools like pros, but are equally as comfortable with precious stones. Their unique and feminine touch to antlers, feathers, oyster shells and other natural treasures — which get turned into glamorous diamond and gem-studded accessories — is at the heart of S. Carter Designs.
Have you always been into jewelry and design? How did you get started with S. Carter Designs?
I’ve always been into it. About five years ago, one of my friends had this amazing necklace, and I loved it, so I bought one. But it had a fake tusk, and a fake gold chain, and it just kept breaking me out. So I made one that was similar [with real materials], and people kept wanting to buy it from me. I starting going to gem shows, and selling more, and eventually, I went from working full-time at Rebecca Boutique [in Buckhead] and doing this on the side to working in this business full-time.
Sarah and her mother make use of natural elements like oyster shells and shed antlers in their jewelry.
Was there a point where you realized it was more than just a hobby and that you might actually be able to make a living doing this?
Yes. My dad took me to get drinks and he said "Sarah, if your mom is willing to do this with you. Now is the time. You need to stop doing retail and give this a shot. If you don’t give it a shot now, there’s no point in wasting both of your time doing it ‘on the side.’” That’s when we starting doing it full-time. And it worked!
Where do you get your inspiration for pieces?
All over. Nature. We’re back in the woods here in our studio. That helps for inspiration. We just see things that we love and use them.
Where do you source your materials?
All over. We go the gem shows and have met a bunch of people from all over the world that we’ll buy from. We’ll even find things in the yard at our homes or in our families’ homes. We have deer antlers from my brother’s backyard that his dog found that are naturally shed, and we’ve used them in the collection. Another brother lives in Louisiana and hunts alligators, so we get the leftover skins and teeth.
"My Fryes are perfect… fashion-forward, kind of edgy…. just like S. Carter Designs." Boots: Kendall Lace-Up.
Did you collect things as a child?
Oh, definitely. That’s kind of funny that you asked that, because the other night, I was having dinner with my parents, and I went upstairs to my old bedroom and found this box of things I collected as a kid. In it was this horseshoe from a dude ranch we visited in 1992, and my dad was like “how in the world do you still have this?” I call it my “memory box.”
Do you call people you know and ask to forage for things?
Not yet, but we do have people send us things — from their farms or the beach or their travels. Someone sent us a whole box of oyster shells; we’ve added diamonds to them and included in our collection.
Who’s your favorite person that’s ever worn one of your pieces?
It was really exciting to see Debra Messing post a picture [on Instagram] of her wearing one of our pieces.
Leathers and string get braided and beaded in the S.Carter studio.
Are you self-taught, as far as jewelry making?
Kind of. My mom is really hands-on and really creative. She uses the bandsaw, the drill press, all those machines, and has taught me what she knows.
What’s it like working with your mom?
Most of the time, great. Of course we have our disagreements, but it’s rare we argue or get into fights. It’s fun! I used to stay over here for dinner all the time, and now that I’m a newlywed, I’m like, “workday’s over, I need to get out of here.”
Are there certain brands you really admire?
Brunello Cucinelli. Everything they do feels so natural. The neutrals, the natural colors. All of our pieces are in that same color palette of grays, browns, taupes, etc.
Ashley Schoenith in her Atlanta, Georgia studio.
Ashley Schoenith, heirloomed
What does a serial entrepreneur do just weeks after giving birth to a third child in three and a half years? Launch her company’s re-brand, of course! At least, that’s what makes sense to Ashley Schoenith. This busy mom of three’s first “baby”, IceMilk Aprons — a company inspired by her grandmother, Cele — launched nearly a decade ago and has now morphed into a lifestyle brand, heirloomed.
How did you get started with IceMilk Aprons?
My grandmother was a huge inspiration for getting my business off the ground. I used to go visit her in Tallahassee, [Florida] and we would work on designs together. Originally, we sat together in her house and sewed all of the aprons by hand, with her doing the majority of the work. Her seamstress skills were high, as she used to have a luxury tie business long before I was born. My grandmother was a truly unique person, especially for her time. She was a beautiful blend of business, creativity and fun and, of course, the best grandmother of all. I always loved to play in her pantry as a child because it was filled with jars and containers which were each labeled by hand. This is the inspiration behind the jar packaging from our original IceMilk aprons collection.
Artisan kitchen goods are inspired by (and pair well with) vintage pieces Ashley finds for the kitchen.
Tell me about transitioning to heirloomed?
It was kind of scary, because we had been IceMilk for almost ten years, so if anybody knew us, that’s what they knew us by. And having a corporate branding background, it was definitely a big decision. We kept IceMilk Aprons as a collection within the new brand, and that name, and that part of the brand is important. But, at the end of the day, the essence of the brand is the same — an heirloom product that’s passed down for generations, inspired by the past… loved and cherished. That’s really the heart of where heirloomed is.
What’s it like being a mom of three under four and trying to get everything in?
It’s great. You definitely have to prioritize and plan a little bit more. Some days are different, their schedules are different, but it actually maximizes my time because I can get things done at times no one else is working.
What’s it like having two entrepreneurs in the family (Schoenith’s husband, Shane, owns WoodKith furniture)?
It’s fun. I think he’s been enjoying it, him being a bit newer to the business. It’s been fun to collaborate on things together and bounce ideas off each other. And our brands go together…
"I still have a pair of Frye boots I’ve had since college, and they still kick around" says Ashley. "They’re a quality product. You can traipse around a building project or go to a factory or sit at home and sketch in them. And it’s a brand that transcends trends. I’ve worn mine every season... those are the kinds of products I’m drawn to, they're the essence of what my brand is about." Boots: Billy Pull-On.
How do you come up with new concepts or brainstorm new ideas?
Old, vintage things. Heirlooms in our house. Social media. We’re pretty big on collaborations, too. We’ve been doing a Southern Artisan Collection, which has been really great… finding other makers and people making things that are cool in the South is part of the creative process. Helping with the vision and general design, and then just letting people that are into detail-oriented crafts run with the concept and make it so much better than anything I could have imagined. I think that’s really the cool thing — seeing where the idea can go.
Was there a moment where you felt like you could do this for a living and not just a hobby?
When I quit my job. I have never really been terrified of it [entrepreneurship]. I find the possibilities exciting. I think you have to be like that when you’re doing it for yourself. You have to believe in what you’re doing. I mean, I wouldn’t go full force into something that I didn’t really love and believe in.
Anything coming up in the collection for people to look forward to?
We have some new things coming out for the holidays. We have a new design for the original collection that we’ve had in the vault for a long time. It will be the first piece we’ve done in the IceMilk Collection really since the original collection. Long term, with the re-brand, we’ll be looking outside the kitchen and seeing what that looks like.
Ashley's IceMilk aprons are sewn from muslin and linen.
Do you have any entrepreneurial brands or inspirations?
I take bits and pieces from everywhere. Obviously, the Martha Stewart lifestyle approach. I love that she made knitting and crafting en vogue again, and I think her approach to a lifestyle brand is interesting. Everything I’m seeing coming out of the handcrafted and maker communities has been really interesting. I’ve been following people on Instagram… what they’re doing and how it’s working for them.
How do you think social media and platforms like Instagram have changed how people shop and create?
Instagram is just so visual, which is how I think — and the video platforms are, too. It makes you have to be even more careful about your brand and keeping it on point because it melds the personal and professional. And then just the increased power of the consumer. It puts it a lot more into their hands. But it’s so powerful, especially when you can make it cross-platform. Damaris Phillips, the Food Network chef, has been wearing our aprons for five seasons … [both] social media and that collaboration have brought us more visibility than we could get with just traditional media.
How did you get into design originally?
My mom is an artist by trade. She was an art major in college, and she paints and she draws and works as a graphic designer, so I think that creativity was always part of our family. My dad’s more corporate and business-minded. I’m probably a happy medium between the two.