Diana Russell – Co-founder of Rebel Nell

[quote style=”boxed”]Every entrepreneur must face moments of failure. The trick is not to give up, but try again.[/quote]

Rebel Nell creates defiant jewelry with a purpose. They make jewelry from fallen graffiti, while fulfilling their mission to employ, educate and empower disadvantaged women. Their goal is to transition the women they hire from a life of dependence to one of self-reliance, overcoming barriers to employment, through the fruits of their labor. Rebel Nell evolved from the vision of two very passionate Detroiters, Amy Peterson and Diana Russell. Together they have combined their passion for the city they live in and their desire to empower women to form Rebel Nell in early 2013.

While there are many shelters in the Detroit area that provide short-term housing for homeless women, they are just a temporary solution to a bigger problem: unemployment. These women need job training and work experience to help them leave homelessness behind permanently. Rebel Nell hopes to be part of the solution with their jewelry company.

Rebel Nell’s product line starts with repurposing graffiti, an abundant local resource here in the Motor City. They wait to collect the graffiti only after it has fallen off the walls due to the weight of layers of paint or damage caused by Mother Nature. They collect the paint from various locations around the city.

After some hard work and TLC, Rebel Nell turns a scrap piece of layered graffiti into unique works of wearable art. The graffiti, just like Detroit, looks a little rough on the surface but is made up of beautiful layers just like the intricate layers of people, ideas and history that make up the city. The signature piece of Rebel Nell is the unique shaped pendants. The different shapes are a result of giving the women employed by Rebel Nell complete creative freedom when designing the pieces. “We have seen the confidence of the women increase tremendously by allowing them to give their creative input into each piece. There is nothing better than seeing their faces light up when someone purchases a piece that they made from start to finish. It provides them with a tremendous sense of accomplishment.” – Amy Peterson, Co-Founder

The more revenue Rebel Nell generates by selling this product the more jobs they create for Detroit’s underprivileged women. Working together with local shelters, Rebel Nell identifies women ready to transition to a new phase in their lives.

Rebel Nell provides training and guidance to make jewelry, but ultimately, they want the women to have the confidence and knowledge that will enable them to leave homelessness/dependence behind permanently and move forward as strong independent women. “It is important to not focus on where these women came from or how they ended up out on the streets. It’s more important that we help them imagine a future and help them get a second chance at life.” – Diana Russell, Co-Founder

So, in addition to on-the-job training, Rebel Nell partners with other organizations to teach them financial management, how to establish credit, and other life management skills as well as business education that will pave the way for personal success.

Where did the idea for Rebel Nell come from?

The idea for Rebel Nell came to Co-Founder, Amy Peterson, two years ago when she was living next to a homeless shelter. While walking her dog Amy would often have conversations with the women who resided in the shelter. Through her conversations she learned that many times the women she talked to ended up at the shelter for reason out of their control. Upon further research Amy realized that many of these women were in need of a transitional opportunity.

Amy wanted to do something to not only help provide a transitional opportunity, but that also aimed to empower women residing in shelters. Because Amy ran a small jewelry business to help pay her way through law school, she felt that jewelry would be the perfect way to employ, educate and empower disadvantaged women of Detroit.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Co-Founders Amy Peterson and Diana Russell maintain their day jobs in addition to growing Rebel Nell’s business. Both ladies claim that their typical day is productive as a result of strict time-management and hustling. Working 40+ hours at week at a day job does not allow for much additional time, but the two work diligently on Rebel Nell in their free time, before work, during lunch breaks and on weekends. Amy’s typical day is spent responding to emails, attending meetings with key players, researching possible sales events, checking in at the workshop to make sure everything is running smoothly, organizing classes and activities for the employees and managing all human resource aspects of Rebel Nell. Diana spends her typical day researching product development, purchasing materials and supplies, responding to customer inquiries and developing social media and their online site.

How do you bring ideas to life?

For Rebel Nell, ideas are brought to life as a result of team effort. The company is currently comprised of six women, all of whom are as invested in the business as the Co-Founders. “As we continue to grow we’ve seen each team member contribute in a way that’s completely unexpected,” says Diana. She goes on to explain a time when she discussed with team members the idea of creating a new product, dangling earrings. “It was really impressive because as a result of that conversation I saw how much they were invested in growing this business. Patricia and I created the overall look of the earrings. Karen developed the technique in which the earrings would be made. We stamp the back of each piece with our logo; Amy worked with our supplier to have the stamp made. Mykira executed the finishing touches perfectly. To me, this new product symbolizes how strong our team is.”

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Both Amy and Diana agree that social entrepreneurship’s growing popularity is exciting. Detroit is no stranger to its fair share of problems and because of that it’s seeing tremendous growth in new businesses aiming to solve a social problem. “There are a number of businesses in Detroit aiming to make a positive impact. Whether it’s The Empowerment Plan with their sleeping bag coats, Fresh Corner Café providing healthy food in areas with limited access to food or one of the many others, social enterprises are changing the game in our city,” says Diana.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Passion. Both Amy and Diana are very passionate about the work that they do with Rebel Nell. That, along with the women they have hired, continue to keep them motivated to bring about positive change in their community. They have a strong desire to see the company be successful because that means that the women they hire will also be successful and living sustainable lives.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

Every job good or bad can be a learning experience.

As for Amy, she had a job as a waitress for several years. “That job is incredibly important because it teaches you how to interact with people. You learn that every person is different.” To this day, she believes that being able to handle different personalities will serve you very well in life.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

There is very little that would have been done differently. Amy says, “Things happen for a reason and we are very lucky to have timed things just right to help foster the growth of our company. That being said, all the obstacles that we did face have made us stronger and helped us learn to be more effective. Every entrepreneur must face moments of failure. The trick is not to give up, but try again.”

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Diana and Amy continue to stay true to our mission statement which is “Rebel Nell will employ disadvantaged/homeless women in Detroit to make jewelry from unique local resources starting with graffiti, educate them on business and life management skills and empower them to transition to an independent life.” When things get crazy they just reflect back on their mission and it keeps them on track.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Rebel Nell has been very fortunate to be a part of a supportive community. The co-founders state that Detroit has really embraced their concept and helped facilitate the steady growth of the company. They have welcomed the encouragement and continuously use it to develop the brand.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

“Our business is completely self-sustaining, meaning we stay in business by selling our product,” says Amy. Because of this the ladies invest much of their time attending events and trade shows as a means of growing their business. “There have been plenty of times when we’ve attended events with a sales goal in mind, only to have left with some new Facebook fans and no sales on the books. When that happens we take away what we can, challenge ourselves to learn more about our target market and try to choose events whose target market matches ours more closely.”

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

There should be an easy way to integrate all of your sales channels (direct, wholesale and consignment) into one easy to use inventory management system. If that exists, we haven’t found it yet.

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

Amy played rugby at Kenyon college for four (4) years. As a kid, Diana wanted to have a career in Archaeology and Marine Biology.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

Rebel Nell uses Lettuce for all inventory and order management purposes. As a business with many units it is often extremely difficult to track where all those units are located at any given point. Lettuce allows users to input wholesale and consignment orders while viewing its impact on inventory in real time.

Rebel Nell’s website is due to a combination of web services. Go Daddy provides domain and webhosting, as well as business email addresses. WordPress was used in the early stages of the business as an attempt to customize Rebelnell.com. Diana worked with a web developer to build a site that would reflect the brand identity. With little to no experience in web development using WordPress allowed her to add content relatively easily. When looking to launch their online store Rebel Nell added a plugin to their site called, WooCommerce. This plugin has allowed the business to grow both nationally and internationally. Rebelnell.com has allowed the team to share their story beyond state lines and has helped grow the business exponentially.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Business Model Generation is a useful guide to help entrepreneurs design, develop, and challenge their business model – to determine if their idea actually has a market, what the size of that market is, what key stakeholders are required to bring that idea to fruition, the value proposition, etc.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

The company constantly reaches out to their Detroit entrepreneur friends for guidance. They list Amy Kaherl from Detroit Soup, Meredith Kerekes and Stephen Roginson from Grey Label Group and Elizabeth Garlow from Kiva Detroit.


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