Fact. You don't need to meet someone in person to feel connected.
I spoke with Meg on the phone after an introduction from Shauna Armitage (A marketing mom and entrepreneur also featured on this blog). I expected our conversation to be about her current position at Urban Southern. False. We talked about life, love, hurt, health, motherhood, art, work, culture and more. It's taken me more time than usual to share this blog. I'm okay with this. Meg's story is unique. I had to absorb it, first. It's with great honor to share her story and have the privilege of connecting with such an inspiring, and strong woman.
You grew up Amish, lived a conservative lifestyle until your 20's, do you remember your break out moment?
When I read that damning letter of excommunication, signed by a long list of names, it didn't truly register in my mind that I was cut off from everything I had ever known.
See, that's what a lot of people don't understand when they hear a story like mine. From the outside, they see someone gloriously "breaking loose" and "finding freedom" to do whatever they want to do. What people often don't realize is that small bubble was the only safety and security that I ever knew. Everything beyond that bubble was fascinating but mostly pretty terrifying.
My culture shock happened in layers of unsettling break out moments, but two in particular stand out.
1. The moment of buying my first pair of jeans. I was 20 years old and newly excommunicated. I had just tried on a pair of jeans for the fun of it in the dressing room of a clothing store. I looked at my reflection in the mirror and tried to imagine being comfortable with other people seeing the form of my butt and legs. I couldn't quite imagine it, but I bought that pair of jeans anyway. They went straight into my closet and I wouldn't end up wearing them until several months later when I could work up my nerve to wear them.
2. The moment of going to my first party. That was a total shock to my system. By now most people know through watching the reality TV shows that not all Amish-Mennonite girls are "good girls". However, not all of them are secretly wild, either. I never went through a crazy rumspringa. I was actually one of the good girls. (Not everyone in my former circles would agree because after all, the ending of my story to them was my marriage to a rebel and the following excommunication.) I never messed around or cussed or drank alcohol. All of that changed in my early-mid twenties. Soon after I was 21 years old, I went to what would end up being my first party and the first time I would get completely wasted — at the entertainment of everyone else. Even though I was completely uncomfortable, I went along with what everyone else was doing because I had been conditioned from an early age to conform to my environment.
Based on your experiences do you believe our inner world shapes our outer world? Or, does our outer world shape our inner world?
My inner world shapes much of my outer world today but when I was growing up, my outer world completely shaped my inner world. From what I have experienced, both of these facets still shape my life.
Ten years ago, my break out moments lead to the awakening of the ability to shape my outer world. That knowledge was and continues to be so empowering.
My outer world continues to shape some aspects of my inner world, like the relations I have with cultures around me. Traumatic losses in my outer world have definitely shaped my inner world. Last year I lost my brother to a tragic work accident. I know I'll be grieving in both seemingly sad and beautiful ways for the rest of my life.
Pain acts like a pair of windshield wipers for my perspective, giving me a greater clarity for my destiny. If I allow it to, pain can carve out a greater capacity for joy, compassion, and beauty in my inner world.
How has traveling and motherhood transformed your life and what would life look like today without these transitions?
It's hard to imagine what my life would be like without being a mom or traveling. Traveling and experiencing other cultures has helped me to value my own journey. Becoming a mother has taught me to appreciate the value of human life and celebrate every moment of this experience.
I've always wanted to be a mom and an artist. Those two things have been my passion for as long as I can remember. Like all good things, motherhood didn't come easily to me. I lost 4 babies during pregnancies before my miracle daughter finally came into the world 8 years ago. I can imagine that if I weren't a mother today, I'd probably live a pretty detached life from society and thrive on traveling the world even more than I already do.
Traveling has been expanding my world since birth. My family moved for the first time when I was less than a year old and continued to move frequently. Since I was 10 years old, I've never lived in any place longer than 3 years. It's definitely fun to say that I've had over 22 moves between my birthplace in upstate New York and living abroad in Tokyo, Japan. In the past 12 months I have traveled back to Tokyo, then New York City for NYFW, Nashville, London, a stop in Qatar, and Uganda, Africa.
I want to give my daughter the gift of experiencing other cultures, so I'm happy that her very first memories were made during the years that we lived in Tokyo, Japan. This summer she spent the summer with her dad and stepmom in Okinawa, Japan.
I would not be the person that I am today without these transitions. Instead of seeking a life of comfort, I seek growth.
You mentioned being a keynote speaker, at what point did you realize sharing your personal story of single motherhood and domestic abuse would benefit not only you but many others?
I have found myself speaking out about my story by accident. I'm not a natural public speaker and there's plenty of room for improvement, but I experience an internal urge to share my story. Even when I'm trying to lay low, I'm presented with opportunities that invite me to tell it. Telling my story has liberated not only myself, but others.
I'll never forget the day I opened a letter in the mail from a woman who shared with me that she was ready to give up on life a few months prior. One night she asked God for one sign to keep going and that night she came across a piece of my art on Instagram with part of my story in the caption. She said she knew that was her sign of hope.
Telling my story and sharing my art is not about me. Sharing my authentic self presents a light for someone else in a similar journey who needs to know that there's hope — that they can make it one more day, that they can overcome whatever they are facing and experience even better things ahead.
Where are you currently living and what are you working on now?
I landed in Denver three years ago and I might just break my three year pattern of moving because I absolutely love it here!
A year ago I joined my cousin, Regina (also born Amish), to build her leather lifestyle brand, Urban Southern. She has said that I changed everything about the brand when I came on board, and that's true. I tend to change everything that I touch, and hopefully it's always for the better! I designed a new website and suggested a new brand story, from a generic leather goods brand that her and her husband built to our story of having been born Amish and growing up as best of friends. We discontinued the products for men and kept her line of leather bags for women. It became a brand for women by women.
Shortly after the new website launch and fresh social media campaigns, we were invited to accessorize shows at New York Fashion Week. Regina designed a new collection to launch right after the runway shows, inspired by the simplicity of geometric shapes. It was a hit.
As we were accessorizing models before the second show, one of the designers suggested putting me in the show because they needed more models. Suddenly I was whisked away to hair and makeup before taking a 20 second crash course in how to walk the catwalk.
At New York Fashion Week, I started wearing an Amish hat from my friend's Amish neighbor and it's become my signature. It's my way of embracing my heritage while making my statement as a rebel who stepped out to mark her own path in the world.
Urban Southern's growth in one year has been incredible. Since we joined forces, our goal has been to build a community around the brand. We've focused on being authentic, telling our story, and nurturing our audience. The company went from 45 online sales in the first year and a half to over 2000 products sold in the past year and 2 months. Urban Southern's email lists have grown from less than 500 subscribers to over 5,000.
Most recently we were featured on Fox Business.
9 years ago I began painting as a way to heal from loss and abuse. This year I’ve had some incredible opportunities to do more things with my art.
Right after Fashion Week this spring, I painted live as a survivor of abuse for the Rose Andom Center Spring Gala. My artwork was auctioned for $4500 at the end of the gala as a fundraiser for the Rose Andom Center, which provides a safe place and resources for women who have experienced domestic violence.
The mayor of Denver and Governor of Colorado were in attendance and I had the opportunity to meet Governor John Hitchcock after I painted and shared my story.
This summer I traveled to Uganda, Africa and painted a 27’ mural in a school there.
In July I painted live during another fundraiser, this time for The Her Initiative and Healing Waters International during the #FITFORHER campaign.
What do you like to do outside of work that directly impacts your career?
1. Self care. Through the past 4 years, I've been learning the importance of making my personal self care a high priority. When I'm exercising and eating well, I feel better and that creates a positive domino effect that impacts every other area of my life.
2. Create. I love to paint. Being able to create freely is what keeps the rest of my life flowing. Creating room to pursue my passion always opens doors of opportunity for my career.
3. Volunteer. I also spend time volunteering for causes that I really care about. When I was living in Japan, I volunteered with a small group that was working to raise awareness around human trafficking. Here in Denver, I'm involved with various projects through my church and local nonprofit organizations on a regular basis.
What is one challenge and one lesson you’ve learned from your experience as an entrepreneur?
Last year I outgrew one of my mentors and that was a very difficult transition for me. Looking back, I can see that we both saw it coming but I didn't realize what was happening. I was so confused because the better I became at what I was doing, the more it seemed like I was being despised and pushed away. I was faulty in my arrogance and I didn't handle myself in the most mature way. I now believe it needed to happen because I was growing into a new level of maturity.
This quote says it quite well, "She became dangerous to them when she no longer needed or cared for their approval. — J. M. Storm"
In entrepreneurism, it would be dangerous to think that I don't need people, but I am realizing that I don't need their approval. There's a very fine distinction there. The careful balance of my own mindset has developed through misunderstandings and misplaced expectations as well as successful partnerships. I understand that I will outgrow people and people will outgrow me. Instead of feeling confused over these transitions, I'm deeply grateful for each person and each interaction that has developed who I am as an entrepreneur.
What is your proudest personal and professional accomplishment?
I don't know if being a mother could be considered a personal accomplishment because I consider my daughter the greatest gift I've ever been given, but on the days that I can fall asleep knowing that I've been a good mother to her, I definitely feel a sense of deep peace.
Painting a custom painting and sharing my story as a survivor of abuse for the Rose Andom Center has been one of my greatest creative accomplishments because it filled me with so much purpose.
Being featured on Fox Business with Urban Southern has to be my proudest professional accomplishment so far.
I would like to share repeatedly 1 message to the world, on your behalf, what should I share?
What is one "I couldn't live without it" App you use?
I might sound shallow here, but I can't live without my Spotify app. Discovering music has changed my life. I have created playlists for my different moods, for the memories I have of different cities, and more. I listen to music constantly. When I'm traveling, I download the playlists that I want to be able to listen to when I don't have access to wifi to cell data.
What is your favorite inspirational/motivational quote?
“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven?” - Kahlil Gibran
In one word, describe yourself: