The final day of March marks the end of a month-long celebration of the contributions of women throughout history and today. All around Athens, women business owners are advancing in their respective fields.
To celebrate Women’s History Month, we are highlighting three local businesses which are owned and/or operated by women to bring attention to their contributions in the Athens community.
While the beginning of peach season is a few still months away, Athens is home to a peach that can be indulged in year round.
Katie Jacobs is the owner of Cheeky Peach, a women’s clothing store in downtown Athens. Jacobs graduated from the University of Georgia in 2005 with a degree in magazine and photojournalism. In 2010, after returning to Athens a year earlier, Jacobs opened Cheeky Peach on Clayton Street.
Jacobs always felt as though she was a student of fashion and crafted Cheeky Peach with the intent of creating a personalized styling and customer service experience
“It's all about what you need, your body and how to dress for your lifestyle, head to toe and over time,” Jacobs said.
For Jacobs, the core of Cheeky Peach is the community. One of the ways Cheeky Peach involves the community is by collaborating with other Athens’ businesses, like Shakti Power Yoga, to host various events, including ones centered around self-care.
Cheeky Peach engages the community by engaging with those who walk through their doors. People who love fashion or who want some help learning more about it can come to Cheeky Peach and form a trustful relationship with the employees who act as guides along customers’ fashion journeys.
Taylor Duty, a senior human development and family science major from McDonough, Georgia, has experience on both ends of this relationship, formerly an employee at Cheeky Peach.
“Katie and her team work so hard to make everyone who comes in the store feel like they’ve been friends for years and that special relationship makes for the best shopping experience,” Duty said.
Jacobs conducts business not with the intention of simply adding one piece to a customer’s collection, but of helping to wardrobe them by crafting a fun, personal and style-oriented experience.
“Cheeky Peach is my favorite store in Athens,” said Rachel Taylor, a junior science education major from Roswell, Georgia. “The girls who work there are always so helpful. They give you honest opinions when trying on clothes and always try to give advice on the best looks for you.”
Apart from their storefront, Cheeky Peach also reaches customers through social commerce, held via Facebook live stream and other consumer interactive platforms. This change from the traditional e-commerce of buying and shopping online has helped Cheeky Peach retain its focus on connecting to their customers, as consumers can engage, order items and ask questions in real time.
In the future, Cheeky Peach hopes to increase their base of “peaches” as more people discover their inclusive take on shopping and fashion.
“We’re growing in different ways,” Jacobs said. “I think sometimes people think that growth has to be in the way of more storefronts. It can really happen just under your roof if you look for those opportunities.”
As a female business owner, Jacobs seems to find inspiration in others like herself. A quote by Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx, occupies an entire wall in Jacobs’ office, reminding her that: “Being a woman, my greatest weakness has also been a great strength — being underestimated.”
Jacobs hopes her efforts will show her employees they don’t have to choose between a loving family life or a successful career — they can have it all if they truly wish to. Although her mission for quality and inclusiveness is personal, it is one that is inherent in the foundation of her brainchild, Cheeky Peach.
“That’s kind of always been my motto,” Jacobs said. “My goal here under what I'm doing at CheekyPeach is not just to have a place for people to shop. It’s empowering my employees.”
Jacobs is excited by the dominating influence of women in the specialty retail facet of the fashion industry and hopes to pass along the lessons she’s learned to a new class of young entrepreneurs who are adding to the diversity of the business world.
The basic essence of dance has existed since the beginning of time. The human ability to effectively communicate through movement is only strengthened for those who partake in dance training. But this training doesn’t have to be selective. In fact, Dancefx strives to create an inclusive environment where everyone can expand their dance education.
Dancefx was first established in 2000 as part of UGA student Danielle Mason Hosker’s undergraduate research project. Dancefx was initially developed as a continuing education option meant to expand from the traditional ballet and modern courses offered at UGA. The mission was to bring outside choreographers to Athens in order to make the world of commercial dance more available in the community.
Now, 19 years later, Dancefx has studios in Athens, Atlanta and Charleston that offer youth and adult classes as well as the opportunity to join companies travel to participate in dance competitions and perform at regional and local events. The nonprofit dance studio is home to 500 students in Athens alone, 200 of which are adult students college age and above.
Dancefx differs from traditional studios by catering to dancers of all skill levels. Some students may be pursuing a professional path, and others just enjoy taking dance classes as a recreational activity.
“In general we don’t require a dress code,” said Allison Hayn Smith, the executive director of Dancefx Incorporated. “We try to be really minimal with additional fees… [and] provide a platform that anybody can participate in.”
In addition to offering dance classes, Dancefx also partakes in outreach and scholarship programs that help to provide dancers with a flexibility that allows them to perform and be involved with the community. These programs include the Dancefx Scholarship Program, Clean for Class and the Boys Outreach Initiative.
Hayn said the Athens community has been a great support for Dancefx since its beginnings.
“I know a lot of people feel like they outgrow Athens,” Hayn said. “But I can tell you there is nothing more wonderful than being in a town that feels like home.”
Although Dancefx has been a successful operation for a number of years, its success has not come without some adversity.
“I think most of the classic problems of being a woman running a business apply to being a dance studio owner,” Hayn said. “People are generally more likely to assume that we are less knowledgeable or weak... Our crew at Dancefx gets the assumption that we’re younger than we are a lot and that's a little inconvenience.”
While women dance teachers may often feel that they have to prove their knowledge more than their male counterparts, female dance educators still seem to dominate the field.
“In the field of being a dance teacher,” Hayn said. “There is a comfort level of being a female teacher.”
Hayn said young ballerinas often look to their teachers as role models, hoping to emulate the way they dress, act and of course, dance.
Over her time at Dancefx, Hayn has found the staff the studio cultivates tends to then reflect their clientele. Having women staff will attract women students while having male teachers of staffers creates a more inviting space for male students.
All of these observations help Dancefx move forward in attaining their goal of creating a space for dance where there exists a good and healthy mix of all types of students. Ensuring that no one feels excluded from the opportunity to get into the groove and move.
Marti’s at Midday
There is often talk about food for the soul — things that help people to feel a sort of inner enlightenment that allows them to attain fulfillment of sorts. But food for the soul doesn't have to be knowledge or wisdom. Sometimes it really can just be food.
Athens has always had a reputation for having great food. Whatever time of day – breakfast, lunch or dinner – any carving can be satisfied.
A popular choice among locals for lunch cravings is Marti’s at Midday. Located in Normaltown, Marti’s at Midday was opened in 2002 by Marti Schimmel who grew up in Athens.
After spending some time outside of the state, Schimmel returned to Athens to begin a small catering company which soon took over the space of an existing restaurant location. Soon Marti’s at Midday started as Schimmel pooled together a lunch menu for a restaurant she thought would be a side addition to her catering business.
Now, almost 16 and a half years later, what started out as Schimmel’s side project has grown into an Athens staple.
“It just been this awesome experience,” Schimmel said. “It's been this slow evolution of this restaurant [and] catering [business] of my life and I've gotten to do every day what I love to do.”
Schimmel didn’t always see herself cooking for a living, originally intending to pursue advertising and business type relations. However, a passion for cooking seemed to be ingrained in her from the very beginning.
“[Cooking] was something from my childhood,” Schimmel said. “I was that kid that instead of watching cartoons, I watched ... cooking shows. It was just this crazy thing, that was what I loved.”
Schimmel credits her mother, who she deems the “original foodie,” and grandmother with instilling her with a love for food and perhaps more a desired to share it with others.
Schimmel finds ways to blend her love of people with her love for food, naming the items on her menu after close friends and family who have helped her along the way. Many take the form of sandwiches on her menu dawning ingredients like apricot mayo, curry chicken and smoked turkey.
Despite all these options, Schimmel doesn't like picking favorites.
“Everything we cook is special because that's just the way we like to do it,” Schimmel said. “I don't like to pick anything that's a favorite, there's not. Anything that I can make for someone that they enjoy is a favorite dish.”
At the end of the day, Marti’s at Midday wants to provide customers with quality food prepared with a passion.
“People are coming to the table to eat things that are good for them,” Schimmel said. “Hopeful when they come into my restaurant they know that that’s what they're getting.”
Schimmel also said the local community of patrons and food business owners have been supportive throughout her endeavors. During her time in Athens, Schimmel has worked for other Athens restaurants and has employed staffers of her own who later went to add to the local food scene.
“It's a wonderful thing,” Schimmel said. “The community supports you and I just couldn't have picked a better place to live and own a business.”
Despite all her success, Schimmel still takes joy in learning new things about food cuisine and how to best cater to her clientele in and around Athens.
“Every year I learn more,” Schimmel said. “You are never ever going to stop learning. The minute you stop learning you should shut your doors.”