Posts Categorized: People

Sum of Your Business: Night Dive

INTRO BY ARYN HENNING NICHOLS • PHOTOS – NIGHT DIVE SWIM

Night Dive Swim logo

It’s springtime – or getting there, anyway – and that means swimsuits are hitting retail racks all over. It’s an, “ugh” time of year for many – me included. But when social media posts from Night Dive Swim, an online swimwear shop based out of Oelwein, Iowa, started rolling in, I wasn’t, “ugh” at all; I was inspired! And that’s kind of a rare thing with swimwear.

It’s partially because of the amazing designs and sunny locales featured in Night Dive’s photos, but the biggest inspiration wasn’t even about the swimwear… it was the message behind the brand: Love yourself. Be comfortable in your body. Enjoy this life. Yes!

Night Dive Swim's founder Heather Caye Brown and 2 swimmies options made of REPREVE

At left – Night Dive Swim founder Heather Caye Brown. Above – Two options for Night Dive swimmies. All the printed swimmies are made of REPREVE, a fabric created by transforming recycled bottles into fiber.
Photos courtesy Night Dive Swim.

 

We caught up with founder Heather Caye Brown in between trips (and late-winter snowstorms) – you might find her networking/working in California or Miami; or home in Iowa, where she grew up; or across the world in Bali, where her eco-friendly swimwear collections and accessories are made. “It’s definitely a lot easier to be in Bali and work face-to-face with the amazing people that help make my designs and vision come to life,” Heather says.

Let’s back up to that eco-friendly bit: Their entire Spring 2019 bikini collection is made of recycled fabrics, and they ship every bikini in a cute, reusable pouch made of biodegradable material. Their solid-color “swimmies”, as they call them at Night Dive, are made with VITA, a sustainable techno-fabric made of Econyl recycled nylon – recycled ghost fishing nets from the ocean! According to the Night Dive website, it is soft, hyper-resistant, and a unique mix of compression and comfort, and, because of its innovative construction, it is twice as resistant to chlorine and sunscreen compared to other swim fabrics. All of the Night Dive printed swimmies are made of REPREVE, a fabric created by transforming recycled bottles into fiber. The process embeds properties like wicking, adaptive warming and cooling, water repellency, and more at a fiber level. Cool!

While you’ll find Night Dive Swim products primarily online (nightdiveswim.com), they do occasional pop-up shops as well – last summer, there was one in Des Moines and one in Long Beach, California, and this past winter folks could visit with Heather and shop Night Dive at the Aerie store in Miami. “Aerie is known for not retouching or Photoshopping photos – #aeriereal – so Night Dive and what we stand for was a perfect fit,” Heather writes, with what seems to be her trademark enthusiasm. Even via email, you can feel her excitement and passion for her business. (And we are big fans of anyone who uses multiple exclamation points in multiple sentences!) We know we usually feature folks who have been running their business for several years for Sum of Your Business, but we were so inspired by Heather, we just had to share. We can’t wait to see what she does over the coming years!!!!! (< oh, yes!)

Turn the page to read Heather’s super fun answers!

Name: Heather Caye Brown
Age: 37
Business: Night Dive Swim
Years in Business: 1
Website: nightdiveswim.com

1. Tell us about the “leap” moment. When/how did you decide to jump in and become your own boss?

I had been happily working in the fashion industry – designing, climbing the corporate ladder, and leading design teams for large companies the last 14 years, and I came to a point where I really wanted to do something different that I’m very passionate about – championing self-confidence and body positivity. I saw so many opportunities to be more inclusive, especially in swimwear, my favorite thing to design, and what I personally spend a lot of time in. There are swimwear companies that don’t even offer a size extra large, and most don’t show a lot of body types on their social media platforms. I wanted to show that no matter what size you are, a swimsuit is for everybody/ every BODY.

Spreading that message became more enticing to me than any promotion could be, along with the freedom and new challenges and learning experiences that running my own company would bring.

2. What’s the best thing about being your own boss?

The best thing about being my own boss is most definitely the freedom – both in flexibility of what hours I’m working to where I’m working from. Luckily enough, this past year of working on my collection and building my brand was able to be done from anywhere in the world – so I spent half of the year off/on in Bali – the factory producing my eco-friendly Spring collection is there – and I was able to focus on creating my website, visiting the factory and reviewing samples, and of course I made time for surfing, snorkeling, and all the amazing things Bali has to offer. The other part of the year I was able to work and spend time with family and friends in my hometown in Iowa, and that’s when I decided to have Iowa be the location for my headquarters and where I would keep inventory.

The headquarters for a swimwear company being located in Iowa sounds a little strange, but being near family again after 18 years of living out of state, along with having those extra hands and help during the busy swim season, was irresistible. On top of that, another thing I’m passionate about is trying to build a sustainable fashion brand, and be as eco-friendly as possible – so having a centrally located office in the US, we’re able to ship our product to our customers in the most efficient manner possible. I also love the idea of lifting up the community in any way possible – from speaking to high school students about a career in fashion and pursuing their dreams, to adding more business at the local post office.

3. How about the worst?

Despite the freedom, work ends up being on my mind 24/7 – yet I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Besides that, another challenge I encountered was the shift of working solo versus working with a team. One of my favorite things about the last 14 years in the industry was the people on my team and who I’ve worked with. That shift from constantly working with people, bouncing ideas off of each other, and basically having a work “family” was a huge change. Thankfully enough, I still have that fashion family and friends if I ever need anything.

4. Was there ever a hurdle where you just thought, “I can’t do this?” How did you overcome it?

Never!

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered plenty of setbacks and challenges…but I just adapt and shift. My mom taught me at a very early age to have a Plan A, B, and C.

5. Any mentors/role models you look to/have looked to?

This question is tough because there are a ton of people that have inspired me…but someone who really has embodied the type of leadership I look up to is Chad Kessler, a friend of mine, and the President of American Eagle. I met Chad in 2004 when I started my first job as an assistant designer at Hollister / Abercrombie & Fitch. He was always someone who stood up for what he believed in, had your back, and was smart, savvy, and supportive. He truly demonstrated being a successful and inspiring leader.

We’ve worked together in various ways since then – at Urban Outfitters, and even now, he’s as supportive as ever cheerleading on Night Dive Swim.

6. What’s the one thing you wish you had known before you started?

I thought I already knew this, but it really doesn’t drive the point home until you’re living it –EVERYTHING is going to take ten times longer than expected and cost ten times more than planned.

7. How do you manage your life/work balance?

Good question!! Since I enjoy every second of working on my company, I need to cut myself off from time to time from being so focused and engulfed in whatever I’m working on. There’s always something new I need to learn, or a new idea I want to design, so making sure to take time for a mental break or fun outside of the fashion world is something I’m constantly working on.

Night Dive Swim's message is love yourself

We love the message Night Dive Swim puts out there: Love your self! Photos courtesy Night Dive Swim.

 

8. What keeps you inspired? Any quotes that keep you going?

The main thing that keeps me inspired is hearing from women that Night Dive Swim is already making a difference for them. The message I’m sending with social media and my website is body positivity and self-love, and I’ve received messages from women all over the world saying how much they appreciate seeing all body types and inclusivity on our Instagram/Social media, and how it gives them confidence. These messages seriously make everything I’m doing worth every second and every dollar I’ve invested in building this brand.

9. Where do you hope Night Dive will be in five years? 10?

Besides the financially successful goals for Night Dive, in five years I would love to be able to expand the size range to include even more plus sizes. We currently offer size small to extra large, and offering a broader range of sizes is actually quite expensive. My goal is to be in a place that taking on that expense is not an issue.   

In 10 years, my goal for Night Dive would be to be a part of (or create) a foundation for championing body positivity and self-love. There’re so many things I want to do to give back, and I can’t wait to be in a place where Night Dive can do even more.

Walk Your Talk: Women Mayors

How women are changing the political scene: Conversations with four female mayors in the Driftless Region

By Maggie Sonnek • Originally published in the Winter 2018-29 Inspire(d)

On a warm, sunny August afternoon in Wabasha, Minnesota, mayoral candidate Emily Durand sits in a lawn chair at the local Farmer’s Market. She sips on an iced chai she purchased at one of the stands and nibbles on a homemade cookie bought at another, and she chats with folks as they pass – locals and tourists alike – sharing her vision for the charming Mississippi River town. But more powerful than anything Emily could say, is how she listens. The joys, the frustrations, the worries – she hears them all, and she ensures her neighbors and friends that if she’s elected mayor, she’ll always keep an open ear, and an open mind.

Fast-forward four months to November 6, 2018. Election Day, the day Emily joined a wave of female candidates breaking barriers in this year’s mid-term elections. Candidates like Ilhan Omar from Minnesota’s 5th Congressional District, who, along with Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, became two of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. 29-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, New York’s 14th District, became the youngest woman elected to Congress. Abby Finkenauer, another 29-year-old, defeated incumbent Rod Blum to represent Iowa’s 1st District, and Cindy Axne was elected to represent Iowa’s 3rd District. They will be the first women from Iowa elected to the House of Representatives…ever.

On an even more local level, women here in the Driftless are lacing up their boots (or sneakers) and striking out to lead their communities as mayors. We walked and talked with four such women – some the first to hold the office in their town’s history – to learn why they’ve decided to take up the mayoral mantel, and what they hope to achieve. One thing is clear: In addition to making their voices heard, they want to hear yours too.

Emily Durand, Mayor-Elect in Wabasha, Minnesota, says whether she won or lost the race this fall was beyond the point. She wanted to show her nine-year-old daughter, Thea, that having a voice is important.

“We, as women, have to get comfortable feeling uncomfortable. We have to learn to ignore the doubts and negative voices,” Emily says. “Sometimes politics can feel like an old boys’ network. I hope that instead of shutting women down, this inspires them to find their own way into leadership.”

An expert in the realm of research and project management, Emily toyed with the idea of running for office while she and her husband, Scott, were living in the Twin Cities. But when Scott became part owner of a dental practice in Wabasha, the couple and their young daughter moved the 60 miles south, and political plans took a backseat while they settled in.

This year, though, six years after the move, the timing was right. Emily ran for Mayor of the town of 2,500 – and won. She’ll be the first female mayor in Wabasha. Her plate is full: She plans to continue working as a project manager, and she and Scott have two children now – their daughter, Thea, and now four-year-old son, Heller. But moving away from the idea that life needs to look a certain way is freeing, she says.

“Women get asked the question, ‘How will you do it all perfectly?’ And the answer is, you will not,” she says. “And that is totally fine. Once you realize that perfection is not the goal – and it’s actually not healthy for it to be the goal – you can start moving forward.”

Lorraine Borowski, former director of Decorah’s Public Library System, was definitely qualified to run for Mayor in Decorah, Iowa. But she was scared, she says. And uncomfortable. She hated door-knocking. So she added a talking point: Bright red New Balance tennis shoes.

“I was confident in my ideas and what I had to say, but I was terrified at the thought of actually doing it,” Lorraine says of campaigning door-to-door. “But once I put on my red shoes and got out there and just did it, I was fine.”

Lorraine suspects other women leaders feel the same way. Like her, they have the skills and passion to lead, mobilize others, and make decisions, but they sometimes let fear take over. To combat these doubts, Lorraine found a mentor, a retired teacher who is active in state and local politics.

And once she was elected in 2017 as the town’s first-ever female mayor, she continued to surround herself with knowledgeable people, who made sure that even if she didn’t know the answers, they would.

Her favorite part of the job? Listening to her community (there’s a trend here).

“I love having open discussions,” she says. “I love allowing people to talk and creating space to listen.”

When Karen Mischel returned home to Viroqua, Wisconsin, after being away for 17 years, she jumped right into local government. The former Merchant Marine was proud to be from the small (population 4,500) Wisconsin community – and excited to be back. But she knew the progressive town, bordering the Ocooch Mountains and nestled in one of the best organic farming regions in the U.S., needed a change. Karen was ready to disrupt the status quo in a race against the incumbent mayor, who had held the position for two decades. This past spring, she did just that: She won the election and became Viroqua’s first female mayor.

“The former Mayor had a reputation for just going through the motions,” Karen says. “He didn’t show up for community events. He didn’t want to make waves or cause anyone, including himself, to feel uncomfortable.”

Karen knew Viroqua, with its historic downtown complete with unique shops and award-winning restaurants, deserved a leader who would move the community forward.

“How can we do that if our mayor doesn’t even show up?” Karen asks.

She cut through the white noise by holding listening sessions, and, simply enough, answering her phone. These people just really wanted to be heard, she says.

Her full-time job as an organic farm inspector gave her further opportunities to connect with the people of Viroqua. Vernon County, which encompasses Viroqua, has the highest concentration of organic farms per capita in the country.

“These farmers and their families are so devoted to their work,” she says. “Even though each farm operates differently, they’re all working toward the same goal. That’s how I’d like to see our town work too.”

Northwest of there, in Spring Grove, Minnesota, it was an argument that led Sarah Schroeder to politics. She got into it with the city administrator about proposed admission prices for the town’s new swim center. At the end of their conversation, the city administrator suggested she run for mayor. She initially laughed it off. But, after some thought, she decided to run. Sara jokes that she did most of her campaigning from her mother’s beauty shop.

“I think it all comes down to who is willing,” Sarah says. “Who is willing to hustle? Who is willing to have discussions? Who is willing to listen?”

Sara, who works as a graphic designer at Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse, is clearly willing to jump in and do the work. She serves on the board of the Ye Olde Opera House in Spring Grove, and sits on the town’s economic development authority, planning and zoning commission, and fireman’s relief association board.

She ran for mayor in 2015, when she was just 33 years old, and won. She was re-elected this fall.

“I would get asked, ‘Aren’t you too young to be mayor?’” she says. “By continuing to break down barriers, as women – young women – we are proving that we have a voice. We have ideas. And we can move communities forward.”

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Maggie Sonnek is navigating life in the slow lane. A transplant from Minneapolis, she loves living in the Driftless Region where she can hike in the bluffs and swim (not in the winter!) in Lake Pepin. She’s a wife to Eric, mom to three kids and writer.

Mentoring: Thanks for Being A Friend

Northeast Iowa Youth Mentoring program celebrates 20 years of services

By Aryn Henning Nichols

Kathy Schwartzhoff sits in an office in Helping Services for Youth and Family, a stack of papers neatly piled in front of her – details and history at the ready as she shares stories from her two decades working as mentoring coordinator in Northeast Iowa. The office is situated in a cozy house on a corner lot in Decorah, but Kathy’s not “home” there often. She’s more likely traveling around the region playing – but really, working – matchmaker.

It’s not matchmaking like you might think. Kathy is a friendship matchmaker. She makes mentor matches for kids looking for time with an adult, or a fun reason to get out and explore, or kids simply wanting to make another friend.

“Lasting relationships,” Kathy says. “That’s the life force of mentoring.”

“One man – every time I see him, he gives me an update like, ‘My guy called to talk about college with me,’” she continues. “They’re still in each others’ lives. And that’s just one person sharing his story. I hear the same kinds of stories from people who have only done mentoring for a year.”

The concept behind mentoring is really pretty simple: Connect a youth with a responsible adult, and build a healthy friendship. Mentors are not parents, psychologists, or social workers. Rather, they’re role models, sharing their time and experiences with a young person.

Winneshiek County celebrated 20 years of providing kids mentors in January of 2018, and the two-decade anniversary for Howard and Allamakee was November 2018. Delaware County began in 2009.

Kathy has led the Winneshiek program from the start, and she’s been in charge of all three of the Northeast Iowa county programs for the last 15 years.

But it all started at a meeting amongst various local non-profits and agencies.

“Someone said, ‘We’ve been hearing about mentoring programs. Is anyone interested?’” Kathy says. “Eight or 10 people raised their hands, and we were off.”

“It took two years to get it going. We built it from scratch,” she continues. “We looked at a lot of programs across the country – pamphlets, information… I mean this was before the Internet. We gathered everything and picked what we thought would best suit the program we wanted to build.”

Everyone took little portions, and slowly, they put together criteria and training, and launched the program with just 10 mentors and mentees.

“We had no money. No other volunteers. No staff. Now try doing that,” Kathy says with a laugh.

The process for mentors goes like this: After potential mentors fill out an application, they complete an interview with Kathy and a two-hour training. Once approved, their basic requirements are that they spend four hours per month with their mentee and they sign on for at least a one-year commitment. Mentors can be individuals, couples (or two friends) or a family.

“As soon as I get an application, I call them on the phone,” Kathy says. “I’m in the business of building relationships, and I want to build a relationship with you as well.”

Decorah resident and business owner Paul Bauhs has been a mentor since April of 2017. His mentee, Jacob – or Jake – is eight years old.

“I signed up to be a mentor for a couple of reasons,” Paul says. “First, since I’m single with two grown kids who live out of the area, my life seemed to have gotten pretty self-centered. Mentoring seemed like a good way to ‘give back.’ Secondly, I like the idea of being a supportive friend to someone just starting out in life, sharing ideas and skills and interests, doing projects, and just plain having fun.”

They have a regular Wednesday evening ping pong match, and hang out on weekends when the schedule allows. It’s rewarding for both mentor and mentee.

“The best part of being a mentor for me, I think, is being that supportive friend that Jake can count on for serious discussions if need be,” Paul says, “as well as someone to enjoy all kinds of fun activities with.”

Jake agrees. “I like getting to do all the fun stuff like rollerskating and ping pong,” he says. And what kid wouldn’t? As for Becca, Jake’s mom, she says she wanted her son to have a positive role model outside of the family. Paul and Jake have hit it off well, and that’s in large part to Kathy’s specialty: Making a good match between mentor and mentee.

“A big part is personality,” she says. “The criteria can fit, but that doesn’t mean the personalities will.”

To become a mentee, youth must be between ages five and 16, live or attend school in Winneshiek, Allamakee, Delaware, or Howard County, and both kid and parent(s) must agree on the child having a mentor. The mentee / parents fill out an application, and then they have an interview with Kathy, where she asks the child questions about interests and wishes for an ideal role model. Kathy spends a lot of time listening and observing – she’s honed her skill over decades of experience in making a good mentor/mentee match.

“People sometimes say, ‘Kathy, how do you do that?’” she says. “Part of it is watching people’s mannerisms…How they talk. How they are. It’s not always what they say, but how they are. That helps me know if it’s right.”

Since day one, more than 1000 kids have been connected to a role model through youth mentoring. There are currently 76 kids taking part in Helping Services Youth Mentoring here in Northeast Iowa. And the impact of these friendships made between mentor and mentee goes deeper than just the two of them. Add in any other kids in the family, parents, and friends, and you’ve got a pretty wide-reaching, positive influence.

This January marks the 17th anniversary of National Mentoring Month. There are currently about 25 to 30 kids waiting to find a mentor here. For four hours a month, a mentor could help these kids add more positive experiences to their lives.

“It doesn’t have to be a fancy-schmancy outing,” Kathy says. “We had one mentee who was so excited to simply wash a car with his mentor one sunny day.”

There are also opportunities to “try it out” or sign on with less commitment though events. These are fun group outings like picnics, trips to local museums, and more. A Mentor For A Day is a person who has agreed to attend a mentoring event as a friend to a youth whose regular mentor could not attend, or one who is on the waiting list for a mentor.

These events are popular for mentors, mentees, Mentors For A Day, staff…pretty much all who attend.

“I asked Jacob what he thought about a recent event they attended, and his reply was, ‘I just liked being here. Being with the people I was with.’” Kathy says. “It just as simple as that.”

“We have this opportunity to make a difference in these kids’ lives,” she continues. “What they are facing at home? What are their challenges? Where do they find joy? All I know for sure is that Jacob found joy that day.”

Aryn Henning Nichols thinks the Helping Services Youth Mentoring Program is great, and encourages you to check it out if you’re even just a little bit interested. Let’s spread more positivity in this world!

Go to www.helpingservices.org/youth-mentoring-services/ to apply or get more information.