Roxannelava – Punk Rock Rebel Shoes

This is the story of Anne Cecil, a Punk Rock Girl who grew up to be a Punk Rock Entrepreneur. Anne is the founder and visionary behind Roxannelava Shoes.

Anne is a Maker and ambassador for the DIY movement. As a child of two working parents, Anne was a latchkey kid who filled her time making things. Her dad was a Pediatrician and her mom, a Child Psychiatrist for the Philadelphia School system. A product of World War II England, her mom learned needle work and knitting as a child. She carried on with these skills throughout her life and taught Anne how to knit at the age of 3. Knitting came easy for Anne. With a visual mind that thinks in three dimensions, she has always had an interest in how things are made – figuring things out by taking them apart and putting them back together again.

Anne grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, and as a teenager in the 1970’s, she was heavily influenced by the Punk Rock Movement – not only by the music and fashion, but also by the ideology. DIY was the battle cry of punk rock. Self-reliance, independence and non-conformity were the name of the game. Punk rock groups booked their own venues, silk screened their own posters and taught themselves how to play the guitar (after all, you only need to know 3 chords to be in a band.)

Now Form a band

South Street was the center of the Philly Punk scene. As a young adult and teenager, Anne would ride Septa into Philadelphia to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the TLA at midnight, shop at the punk rock retailer, Zipperhead, and see her favorite bands – The Ramones, Blondie and Joan Jett and the Runaways – at all-age shows. Punk Rock was anathema to the conservative Reagan-era and reflected Anne’s liberal world-view. She was drawn to its DIY attitude and her English ancestry (her mother is 1st generation American and her father’s family traces back to the English statesman, William Cecil) manifested itself in an affinity for punk.

Anne went to college at Drexel in the early 1980’s where she studied Design & Merchandising. She became a hat maker, a web designer and ultimately, a professor and program director of D&M at the Westphal College of Art and Design at Drexel. Anne frequently travels to the UK – to teach, to see friends and to visit family haunts. In the summer of 2014, while in London, she enrolled in a shoe making workshop at Prescott & Mackay Shoe Making School where she learned how to make sandals from component parts using the cement construction method. (If you are interested in learning more about this type of shoe construction, watch this fascinating video). 

In 2015, she was awarded a Westphal Faculty Development Grant.  She used the grant money to attend an intensive, 7-day fashion pump-making course in Ashland, Oregon. For further practice, she combined a favored handbag and rescued shoe components into a new sandal. (pictured)

Favorite Handbag Sandals

The following year, she attended a national shoe symposium, where she not only met small batch suppliers who would sell materials to businesses as small as hers’ but also, where she discovered a basket of vintage shoe lasts (a mechanical form in the shape of a human foot). Included in this basket, was a size 7 last (Anne’s size) from the 1980’s. (below)

Vintage Size 7 Lasts

Inspired by the retro last, Anne decided to make a pair of mules. As she wore the metallic orange stunners, people stopped her on the street to ask, “Where can I get those shoes?”  Anne realized that there was a desire for this show-stopper shoe. Not only was it gorgeous, but it was incredibly comfortable, made entirely from hand and built to fit your foot.  From her friend and owner of the site Shoedo.com, Georgine Kim, she was able to secure the complete size range of this last and on July 1, 2017, Roxannelava was launched.

Metallic Orange Stunners

As a small hand-made brand, Roxannelava embodies the punk tenet of individualism. As Joe Strummer said, “I will always believe in Punk Rock, because it is about creating something for yourself.”

Anne is concerned with social and environmental issues such as sustainability; she uses excess furniture ends from a local furniture maker to construct many of her shoes. And she believes in animal rights: if you are going to kill an animal to make a pair of shoes, then use all of the animal’s hide, even the imperfect parts. 

There is beauty and visual interest in leather that contains scars, wrinkles and veins, just as there is something raw, elemental and true about punk rock music. Punk fashion featured imperfect clothes – torn, cut, and held together by safety pins and duct tape. Construction and the bones of a garment were not disguised by expert sewing and hidden seams; rather they were highlighted.  With flaws, mistakes and imperfections, comes authenticity. And authenticity is valued above all else in punk rock.  Anne Cecil’s Roxannelava shoes are authentic and painstakingly made by hand, using materials that revel in their imperfections.

According to Joey Ramone “punk is about real feelings. It’s not about, ‘yeah, I am a punk and I’m angry.’ … It’s about loving the things that really matter: passion, heart and soul.” There is a lot of passion, heart and soul in Roxannelava shoes. That is for sure.

Punk Rock Girl Anne Cecil

Remaining Relevant Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes of MKC Photography

My February Ladies who Launch profile is Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes of MKC Photography. MKC Photography is an “eco-friendly, hand-made home décor company” that creates its wares by combining original photography with salvaged wood and paper.

Although Michelle didn’t major in photography in college – she was an English Lit major at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA – she has always had an interest in photography and enjoyed taking photographs as a hobbyist. Her father, a Vietnam veteran and an amateur photographer, took his 35 mm camera to war with him. However, instead of photographing the gritty scenes typical of war, he was drawn to more contemplative subjects – like ducklings swimming in a soldier’s helmet. One can see his interest in the poetic reflected in the themes of Michelle’s work. 

It was in grad school, that Michelle’s interest in photography grew from hobby to vocation. She was completing her Masters Degree in Women’s Studies at Oxford University when she began working with a cancer researcher, developing slides of cancer cells. It was there that she first worked in a darkroom and learned the technique of “burning and dodging”.  

When she graduated from university, she came back to the US and began working in Swarthmore College’s Peace Collection – a research library whose mission is to “gather, preserve and make accessible material that documents non-governmental efforts for nonviolent social change, disarmament, and conflict resolution…” 

Michelle worked in their technology and photography department. There, she studied the black and white photographs that comprised the collection and her love for the dreamy quality of early imperfect black and white photography blossomed. These images became imprinted on her brain and her own photos began to reflect the feel of these antique prints when she retrofitted her digital camera with a vintage 2 ¼” camera lens. The technical limitations of this vintage lens allowed her to create images that had the look and feel of early 20th century photography, with their square format and vignette edges.  

At the start of her photography career, Michelle considered herself primarily a fine artist – solely creating fine art prints. But as she began to show her work more and more at local craft shows and exhibitions, she heard the same objections over and over: “I don’t have room”, “I’m not sure if so and so would like it”, “How would I frame it?” Like any good entrepreneur, Michelle listened to the market and pivoted. She began producing her prints in smaller sizes which lowered their price point and she mounted them on reclaimed-wood so they no longer required framing.  She also began using pages from old, damaged library books that she had collected over the years as a backdrop for her photos – accentuating the vintage feel of her prints and appealing to the nostalgia that people in the age of Kindles and Nooks feel for the printed word.  The library book pages and the physicality of the salvaged wood made her work more tangible. Potential buyers could pick it up and hold it in their hands – feel its weight and imagine themselves wrapping and giving it as a gift. 

This new strategy increased the commercial viability of Michelle’s work (and her sales) and today, her work is sold in 60+ retail outlets across the United States and is also available online.  

I can’t talk about Michelle’s work without addressing the elephant in the room – Instagram! 

I heard a segment, recently, of the podcast “How I Built This”. The moderator, Guy Raz, was interviewing the founders of Instagram – Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger. Systrom was telling Guy about the “aha” moment that catapulted Instagram into the mainstream. The story goes that he asked his future wife why she wasn’t posting her photos on his new photo-sharing app.  She replied that they weren’t good enough to post. Now, if they were as good as their professional photographer friend so and so, she would post all the time! Aha! Instagram added a menu of digital filters which allowed even the most-inept amateur to create share-worthy photographs. 

This story was driven home yesterday as I was commuting on the train. Two college-age girls were sitting across the aisle from me. I could clearly see one of the girls as she scrolled through the pictures on her cell phone. She had what seemed like hundreds (I am not exaggerating) of selfies of her and her friend, each edited differently using Instagram filters. From where I sat, her photos looked like they were taken by a professional photographer. But no professional photographer was necessary! Just a cell phone, selfie stick and Instagram. (I wasn’t going to mention how judgmental I was in that moment, but really! How many self-gratuitous selfies does one need?)  

I had to ask Michelle: did the advent of Instagram and the ease with which literally anyone can create share-worthy photos cause prospective buyers to devalue her work? Her reply:   

“Instagram has taught everyone that any photograph that seems dreamy or creative must be the result of just slapping a filter on that baby and calling it done. I love it when buyers ask me to answer their most typical question: ‘What kind of filters do you use on your photographs?’ I love being able to explain how my work isn’t the result of filters at all…I adore seeing the look of surprise/genuine interest that invariably comes over someone when we talk about digital photography, collage, and the antique lenses I’ve adapted and continue to use – it’s tremendously gratifying.” 

When Michelle first began shooting photos, Instagram wasn’t invented.  But the world is ever-evolving; new technologies are constantly being invented that make almost anything seem impossibly easy and make us question the relevancy of artists and craftspeople.  Michelle’s ability to look objectively and dispassionately at Instagram’s effect on photography and to listen to the needs of the market is what will allow MKC Photography to remain relevant.  

Michelle’s work will be included in the MamaCita Biennial Exhibition “Process”, opening this Sunday, February 10th with a reception from 2 – 4 at the Cheltenham Center for the Arts, 439 Ashbourne Road, in Cheltenham. The exhibition runs until March 6. (www.cheltenhamarts.org). 

For more information about Michelle’s work, visit https://mkcphotography.com/

Science + Knitting: The Social Entrepreneurship Dream of Ellen Rubin of Luv2Knit and More!

Ellen Rubin is the owner of Luv2Knit & More – a lovely, little, shop, located on Route 611, Old York Road, in Jenkintown, right behind The Outback Steakhouse in the historic art deco building that once was home to Strawbridge & Clothier. There, she has created a community of knitting/crocheting enthusiasts, who come to her shop, not only to purchase beautiful yarns and notions, to learn to knit or crochet, but also to be part of the Luv2Knit family.   

The communities that gather to knit in silent camaraderie or jovial conversation are a hint at Ellen’s vision for the future of Luv2Knit.  She sees its potential expanding far beyond its modest four walls. 

First, a little of Ellen’s backstory. 

Although Ellen learned to knit when she was pregnant with her second child, Jacob, her appreciation for yarn work began years before. She fondly remembers, as a child, sitting at her grandma’s feet as her grandma crocheted, watching Laurence Welk, while helping to wind yarn into a ball.   

Ellen is a trained scientist. She graduated from Drexel University with a degree in Biology, conducting toxicology and E-coli research during her college Co-op experiences. She credits her scientific mindset with the ease with which she learned to knit and with her ability to comprehend its complex structures and mathematical constructs. She credits Drexel University with teaching her how to be a creative thinker and to think outside the box.

The fact that Ellen is both a visual artist and a scientist intrigues me; I have never given much thought to the possibility that left brain logic and right brain creativity could co-exist. When I googled, “correlation between science and knitting”, I was surprised at just how many articles appeared.  

Some of the articles spoke about visual similarities – how the patterns of knit and purl rows resemble patterns in nature – such as the growth of coral reefs, the construction of bird nests, bee hives, otter dams and other natural elements. While others addressed the connection between knitting and scientific thought processes. Carolyn Yackel, Math Professor at Mercer University in Atlanta, proposes that knitting, like science, encourages “people to visualize, re-contextualize and develop new problems and answers”, building neural plasticity in the brain and slowing the effects of aging. 

And there was a ton of research into knitting’s therapeutic value and its ability to reduce stress and anxiety. Creative activities like knitting/crocheting that require focus (including meditation), naturally elevate dopamine levels, boosting mood and happiness. 

“You are using up an awful lot of brain capacity to perform a coordinated series of movements. The more capacity you take up by being involved in a complex task, the less capacity you have for bad thoughts,” Betsan Corkhill of stichlinks.com writes about the process of knitting.

Additionally, knitting, crocheting and other handicrafts lend themselves to “stitch and bitch” social circles, reducing depression by making us feel less isolated and more connected to our neighbors and communities. 

The therapeutic value of knitting and crocheting and the social communities it creates is where Ellen feels most passionate and where she sees the future of Luv2Knit & More. She says, “I don’t know how much time I have on this earth, but while I am here, I truly want to make a difference. I can feel it in every fiber of my being.”

Ellen first saw the meaningful impact she could have when she taught a dear friend who was dying from lung cancer how to knit. Currently, she sees its transformational power in the weekly knitting lessons that she brings to the Maternal Observation and Monitoring (MOM) Unit in her partnership with Abington Memorial Hospital, helping expectant moms find relief from their physical and emotional stress.

As a true “social entrepreneur”, Ellen envisions knitting and crocheting as part of the solution to mainstream patient-care and as an integral part of a patient’s treatment plan, particularly in the field of cancer treatment. Her vision is to create more and more therapeutic partnerships between Luv2Knit and area hospitals, domestic abuse homes, treatments centers, and nursing homes and to build dedicated “Makers Spaces” at these facilities. 

For more information or to see how you can help be a part of Ellen’s social entrepreneurship dream, or to join her Luv2Knit Community, stop by Luv2Knit & More at 610 Old York Road, Jenkintown, or visit https://www.facebook.com/luv2knitandmore/.  

Creating Memories… with Michelle Silberman

Owner, Founder, Chief Cookie Officer at Snackadabra

Memories of food are inextricably woven into our childhood memories and are some of the strongest memories most of us have. The holiday season is particularly full of nostalgic, food-related memories.  

Personally, I will never forget Christmas Eve sundaes. Instead of dinner, my family would skip right to dessert: a sundae buffet with maraschino cherries, assorted ice creams, whipped cream (out of a Cool Whip tub, of course), hot chocolate and caramel sauces and red and green Jimmies.  I lovingly remember those sundaes – always better looking than their over-the-top-sweetness that inevitably resulted in a Christmas Eve stomach ache. But mostly I remember my mother putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree while we six kids sat, in it’s and the television’s combined glow, watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” for the umpteenth time. 

Other childhood food memories: pulling a soggy peanut butter and jelly on white bread out of a plastic sandwich bag in the school lunchroom; the thrill of hot campfire flames while roasting marshmallows, dipping a grilled cheese into a bowl of Campbell’s Tomato and Rice Soup on a cold, winter night, Friday night pizza and the taste of charred Acrylamide as Mom routinely left the Ellio’s in the oven for five minutes too long… And who can forget, the texture of a milk-soaked cookie crumbling in your mouth at bedtime? 

Michelle Silberman, Founder, Owner, and Chief Cookie Officer at “Snackadabra” certainly can’t. She has built her food business on precisely that last memory. 

Michelle was a 12-year old, 7th grader when she and her best friend, Dana, came up with Snackadabra’s flagship treat – the Cookie Cup. “Kids love cookies and milk, why not make a cookie that actually holds the milk?”, she thought.  Ten or so years later, give or take, while enrolled in an entrepreneurship class at Drexel’s Close School for Entrepreneurship, she and her classmates are tasked with the assignment to invent a Start-Up business. Remembering her cookie cup idea, Michelle pitches it to her classmates who then choose her idea as their group project. That afternoon, after class, excited, she returns to her dorm room kitchen and begins experimenting, late into the night and into the following days, weeks and months, until she perfects the recipe that forms the basis for today’s cookie cup. 

As an entrepreneur, Michelle is particularly good at telling the story of the birth of the Cookie Cup and her business. She understands intrinsically the power of a good story to create connection and to illustrate the basic human need to share a history.  And food is a link that connects and crosses generations, cultures and divides.  

In Michelle’s story, the Cookie Cup is not just a tasty vessel that can hold any sweet treat – ice cream, fruit, liquor, whatever you desire.  It  is a receptacle that holds the memories of a young girl and her best friend, dreaming up a clever way to enjoy their favorite childhood snack.  Today, the narrative continues, with our protagonist, Michelle, as a young, 26-year old entrepreneur running a successful business that employs both a professional staff and a kitchen staff who still bake every single cookie cup by hand, using only natural and whole ingredients.  

Snackadabra’s Cookie Cups are the perfect new tradition for you to share with your friends, family and loved ones this holiday season. Cozy up and enjoy some Hot Spiced/Spiked Cider in a Pumpkin Cookie Cup on Christmas Eve or fill a 24K Rose Gold Cookie Cup with a shot of Veuve Clicquot to toast in the New Year. Or like my family, create a cherished holiday memory by including Cookie Cups on your Christmas Eve sundae buffet bar.

Boozy Holiday Cookie Cup Recipes – click here.

For more information or to order Cookie Cups, visit www.chocamo.com.

Let’s Hear it for the Ladies who LAUNCH!

In the lyrics to “The Ladies Who Lunch”, from the musical “Company”, Steven Sondheim roasts/toasts the rich, middle-aged, woman of leisure. Women who while away their days in meaningless pursuits (such as luncheons with friends). Women who will do anything but be productive, in their efforts to stave away what they know, deep in their hearts, to be bitterly true:


…Everybody tries.
Look into their eyes,
And you’ll see what they know:
Everybody dies…

Cheery lyrics, aren’t they? But I digress: this blog is not about the ladies who lunch – it is a tribute to the opposite – the ladies that launch –  women who spend their days turning their entrepreneurial dreams into reality. Independent, bad-ass women who are building a legacy for their future and their families.

These are the stories of women who are walking in the turn of the century foot steps of the Red Rose Girls (pictured above), four original bad-asses who thumbed their roses (I mean “noses”) at societal norms to begin their own graphic design and illustration businesses.  Ahead of their times, these women also created an artist commune to share both the bills and moral support. Now that’s forward thinking!

And so, Let’s hear it for the ladies who Launch!
Everybody rise!
Rise! Rise! Rise!