Workin’ 9 to 5!

Shoals Area Women Are Breaking the Entrepreneurial Glass Ceiling

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Take a glimpse into the past, not too far from present day, where reality for a southern woman was being subjected to the housewife mentality with professional careers few and far between. Millennials have been preceded by women who have fought for their right of equality in the workplace, all to be labeled the “unemployable generation.” The millennial generation has a bad reputation due to a small population of individuals who refuse to contribute to today’s society. However, this reputation is being tested in the Shoals with the rise of creative, young women who reject the millennial stereotype of lackluster laziness.

Milly Baine

Milly Baine

Milly Baine and Julia Coldiron are two local women challenging the jaded label that has been tossed on the millennial generation. Both are recent grads of the University of North Alabama, where they strived toward a degree that will thrust their dreams into a thriving reality. Julia is in passionate pursuit of becoming a registered dietitian with an appetite for designing disease-specific meal plans for patients that wish to fight their illness through natural means.

“I want to help the world make a shift from relying on pharmaceuticals and ‘quick-fixes’ to living a life that makes those things obsolete,” says Julia.

On a journey to enrich people’s lives through clean-eating and beneficial life choices, Julia stays grounded by her favorite quote – “As with any trying time, take it one day at a time.” One lesson Julia learned through her past accomplishments is not to be afraid to lean on others in times of weakness, instead of attempting to be independently successful.

While studying marketing at UNA, Milly Baine blossomed through her startup, Southern Trash. Her unique personality and eye for unconventionally-chic taste in clothes inspired her to thrift garments and revamp them to eventually create an online wardrobe to sell to the community through her website,

It’s inspiring to see so many women shaping Florence.

Milly washes, steams and tags her clothes, as well as photographing outfits on models for online shoppers. Though she works mostly from home, Milly describes her favorite days as accepting private shopping appointments, where she makes her customers tea and allows them to get first pick on her array of apparel. Milly gives credit to her grandmother for teaching her to thrift and sew, along with local Patti Clark for giving her a start in retail at just 16 years old. She admits her work can be overwhelming, but she attributes her success to her supportive friends and family, in addition to her theme song “Just a Girl” by No Doubt.

“I am Southern Trash, and Southern Trash is me,” she said.

Milly also has pop-up stores in local businesses, such as Dixie Garage, and coming this spring she will be opening up a store front location with a wider range of clothing, even men’s attire.

“The more you give, the more you get. The more you get, the more you have to give,” Milly said.

Milly also has advice for being critiqued, “Take into consideration where the criticism is coming from. Do they know what they are talking about?” said said.

“If yes, then take it and run with it. You cannot improve if you are not aware that you are doing something wrong. If no, then brush it off. The important thing is to not let criticism tear you down.”

She also has a positive view on women in this area, saying, “In the South in general, we see a lot of the glass ceiling effect and unbreakable gender roles. Thankfully we live in a community with a lot of women in charge. It’s inspiring to see so many women shaping Florence,” she said.

“Women run Florence Mainstreet. Many women own successful businesses downtown, like My Favorite Things, Idyllwilde and Eleven54. These women are all so influential in making Florence a great place for women to succeed. They have all inspired me to pursue my goals and open my business in Florence.” Through her dedication and modesty, Milly is making her fellow millennials proud.

I think it’s important to question society’s ideals about what a woman “should” be or how she “should” act.

Kate Hill

Kate Hill

The musing does not stop there. Kate Hill and Piper Akers are also integrating their progressive expression of art into the South. Kate launched her photography business in 2015, starting off as Blue Mood Photography and developed into MK Hill Photography. Having a knack for portraiture, Kate shoots weddings, families, senior portraits and more. By targeting an edgier demographic here in the Shoals, she can express herself in the more “creative, fashion-driven” shoots where she can build off a particular theme or concept and add a little mystery or magic. A typical day for Kate seems boring, so she aims for every workday to be unique, from hiking in the woods to get the perfect backdrop, to listening to psychedelic jam bands while creating some rad photographs in her editing stage.

Kate, also an aspiring model, is not only behind the camera. She manifests an extraordinary personal brand for herself. While working with a local photographer in Birmingham on how to pose subjects in front of the camera, she was noticed by the talent agency Red Models. Since then, she has been traveling across the Southeast building her personal portfolio while working with some renowned photographers.

“In the South in particular, there are certain beliefs and standards that impose limitations on women. I think it’s important to question society’s ideals about what a woman ‘should’ be or how she ‘should’ act,” Kate said.

“There’s no need to adjust yourself to fit a certain role. Never shy away from your inherent power and essence for fear of making others uncomfortable. Let’s redefine what it means to be a successful woman,” she said.

Work hard, learn to take criticism, be persistent and think long term.

While crafting photography, modeling, music, art and travel, Kate combines all of these influences into her “aesthetic” and reinforces her desire to create. She is redefining the emblematic photography known to everyone in the South, and creating her own original, inspiring art that incorporates her love for being both behind and in front of the camera.

Piper Akers

Piper Akers

Piper expresses her art using a different method. Having an aptitude for drawing and a unique take on illustration, she started practicing Henna drawings on her friends and family a few years ago. With a peak of interest in the community, she branched out to Florence’s First Fridays and the Renaissance Fair with the name “Henna Gypsy.”

Still committed to her Henna, Piper keeps a strong online presence through Instagram and Facebook, updating new designs and making appointments whenever she is available. Like Kate, Piper is multidimensional in her area of work. While creating designs on individuals using Henna, she realized that was her calling – creating personalized art for people to represent on their body. After this realization, she decided to take on an apprenticeship under Stephen Gilchrist at Noble Sparrow Tattoo. A year into her tattoo apprenticeship, Piper is starting to perfect her craft and create a persona where she will be recognized for her distinct style of art.

“This industry is all about self-motivation and discipline.” she said, “Work hard, learn to take criticism, be persistent and think long term.” Piper is representing diversity in her generation by flourishing in a male-dominated field.

The “unemployable generation” is taking it upon themselves to build careers in what they believe in; whether it is nutrition, photography, fashion or art. Millennials are misunderstood because their creative process relies on conceptualism, instead of traditional ways of thinking. A new era of entrepreneurship and startups is happening right here in the Shoals, with a youthful twist on conventional practices.

Julia Coldiron

Julia Coldiron

The stereotype strapped on to this generation forms into motivation for accomplishment. Not only are millennials inspired by the lack of dependence the baby boomers bestowed upon them, they are taking careers the older generation founded and altering them into modern employment. Julia Coldiron wants to bring holistic treatment to the area, instead of relying on medication that could be harmful. This type of nutrition could encourage the south to be more mindful of their health, and in turn create a better environment. Milly Baine wants to bring a diverse selection of apparel to the area so people can be expressive through their appearance.

Millennials hone in on their individualism and eccentricity, which can inspire them to create, think and believe in themselves. Kate Hill is allowing people to see who they are through her eyes. Artists like this can show you a side of yourself you have never seen before. Piper Akers is sharing her love for art, while encouraging others to work together to create pieces of illustration that reflect their individuality. These women encourage the younger generation to be themselves, instead of conforming to society’s traditional thinking.

It is important to look back in the past in order to appreciate what is happening in the present. 2017 is “The Year of the Woman” because women everywhere are breaking the mold and shining in their own right.