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  • 20 January 2015
  • Tracy Spahr

#ViaStories: Small Business Owners Can Help Others Grow

The UPS Store is continuing its #ViaStories campaign by sharing the story of Amy Peterson’s small business – Rebel Nell – which employs, educates and empowers women in the Detroit area who have fallen on difficult times. Rebel Nell gives these women the second chance they deserve through jewelry created using repurposed neighborhood graffiti.

Meet Amy Peterson, Rebel Nell

Tell me a little bit about Rebel Nell.

Rebel Nell exists to employ, educate and empower underprivileged women in Detroit. We make jewelry from unique local materials, while providing a transitional opportunity. Our goal is to help these women move from a life of dependence to one of self-reliance and overcome barriers to employment through the fruits of their own labor. We work directly with local homeless shelters and identify women who are ready to make this transition to a new phase in their lives.

They’re incredible human beings who just need a chance in order to shine again.

How did you get started?
My home in Detroit is next door to a well-known shelter. Oftentimes, while walking my dog, I would stop and talk with the women residents of the shelter. Hearing their courageous stories, where the women often left abusive relationships or other challenging situations, was extremely humbling. I wanted to do something that would provide these strong women with the education and knowledge that they could be financially independent. My business partner and I both have backgrounds in jewelry making. One day, as I was on a run in the city, I saw a piece of graffiti that had peeled away and fallen on the ground. I took it home, played around with it, and discovered the opportunity we had to empower these women by helping them design beautiful jewelry.

What inspired you to create Rebel Nell?

After meeting the women at the shelter, I thought to myself, “How can I provide them with the tools they need to lead independent lives?” The graffiti that we find has a lot of different layers – it’s a special process to reveal those layers. I think that it’s inspirational for the women because they are able to cut whatever shapes and sizes speak to them, and then put it on silver. This allows them to truly be the designers of the jewelry.

Who or what has been your biggest influence?

Our biggest influence and support has come from the community in Detroit. We’re extremely lucky and blessed that they’ve been so supportive of our mission and objectives . Thanks to the community word of mouth related to the launch of Rebel Nell, we’ve been able to save money on marketing. We owe so much to the Detroit community, and are so glad we are able to give back.

What makes you passionate about Rebel Nell?

The women we hire. They’re incredible human beings who just need a chance in order to shine again. It’s incredible and fun to see how much they grow and how excited they are every day when they come in to work.

What is the most rewarding part of being a small business owner?

Seeing the impact that Rebel Nell can make on people’s lives. The women that walk through the door on their first day on the job are not the same women walking out at the end. They’ve changed in the best way possible – they’ve blossomed into passionate, confident women. Being able to help steer them toward reaching their personal goals is extremely rewarding.

What do you know now as a successful business owner that you wish you’d known in the beginning?

At the beginning, you know it’s going to be hard and a lot of work will need to be done, but you can never really understand exactly how much work until you’re in it. That said, every bump and obstacle you face makes you stronger and wiser. Because of that, I’m grateful for every challenge. I wouldn’t go back and change anything.

Tell me about your relationship with your local The UPS Store.

It’s been wonderful to have The UPS Store so readily available for shipping packages and making sure they arrive to our customers on time. Being able to track packages and make sure customers are happy is really a key to successful business.

You recently shared your story at the 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Summit. How do you think sharing our personal #ViaStories – that is, our small business stories – can help small business owners connect with each other?

I think sharing our small business stories is wonderful because you discover that you’re not alone; other businesses are going through the same struggles. It keeps you motivated, especially seeing where others have gone after having faced the same challenges.

Being a part of a strong network for social entrepreneurs has been a really cool and inspiring experience. Hearing other small business stories keeps you going and helps you stay motivated.

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