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Portraits of St. Louis

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around St. Louis.

Aurelia Popp

It was Christmas break 2014, I had never had so much free time as I’d always held sometime of leadership position and was busy planning things over breaks. I was bored and got on YouTube and a “recommended for you” came up and it was a makeup tutorial. I quickly fell down a rabbit hole and became obsessed. I started practicing, watching more tutorials, and eventually started doing makeup on others. In the last few years, I’ve started to experiment in the SFX makeup world too. Read more>>

Shannon Hagerty

When I was little and we would go to my grandma’s house, the first place I would go (after giving hugs and kisses) was my grandma’s linen closet. That’s where she kept all her makeup gifts-with-purchase from Estee Lauder. She would give me any of the makeup and skincare she didn’t want to keep. That’s where my own makeup collection – and love of makeup – began. I would go home and play with all the makeup. My sister, my mom and my dolls would get makeovers. Personally, I lived for dance recitals. That’s when I got to wear lots of that makeup and get my hair done. It was literally the best. Read more>>

Paige Stemm

My story started accidentally. I had never really considered modeling as an option, even as a child. Once I had my daughter I had really become self-conscious, so I never really took pictures or wanted to be in front of a camera. One day, at random I decided to take a few full body pictures. Once I did that I noticed that it actually made me feel pretty good about myself.. A few days later I went ahead and contacted a local plus size boutique in the area to see if they were ever looking for models. Again, at this point I wasn’t taking this seriously. Well, the boutique ended up reaching back out, saying that they were having an open call, and to come out and cast. Read more>>

Eleanie Campbell

The STL Black Biz Business Directory was created due to my recognizing the need for Black businesses to have a space to be found. The mission is to connect Black businesses and consumers searching for Black businesses to support. The online business directory features a listing of black businesses, services, products, and non-profits servicing St. Louis, Illinois, O’Fallon, St. Charles and basically surrounding areas. I remember the night of the Ferguson Riots on November 24th, 2014. I was watching the news and Facebook live sharing with the world buildings burning, and the looting and riots that changed the face of West Florissant, a street I traveled hundreds of times. Read more>>

Hammy Sorkin

I was one of the many dorky science kids — while on family vacations I’d draw birds in my sketchbook and fill my pockets with rocks. At 18 I moved, on my own, to Windhoek, Namibia. I really fell in love with the desert, and brought that love back with me when I moved back to St. Louis to attend Washington University. I started at the WashU greenhouse as a work study student, and although I’ve grown plants all my life, that’s where my love of plants really took off! Through the years I’d get frustrated with ill-cared for and mislabeled (or often, not labeled at all) plants for sale. Read more>>

Kiesha House

My love for style stems from my childhood. Growing up, both my mother and my father were the epitome of effortless style. They always seemed to be one step ahead of the latest trends and they were always well dressed from head to toe, even casually. I saw my parents transition from high top fades and track suits in the 80s to the baggy jeans, door knocker earring and the latest sneaker trends of the 90s. They could rock a simple jeans and t-shirt combo and make it look like they’d spent all day putting a look together. My parents are the reason I love everything about style and what it represents. As a shy teenager, I quickly learned that even though I didn’t have a whole lot to say, what I wore could still speak volumes. Read more>>

Kendra Hunt

We started making products in 2016 when our youngest son developed severe eczema. What started as just a hobby quickly grew into a passion, a small business. We initially experimented with soothing bath bombs, then expanded into more complex formulas such as body butters, body scrubs, facial washes, and much more. Read more>>

Antonio Metcalf

When I was about 5 or 6 I remember going to the studio with my uncle and watching the recording process of his then rap group “Without Warning”. I also remember hearing their song on the radio for the first time and being completely blown away that someone I knew and looked up to was on the radio. That’s when I first got the interest in writing. I kept up with it off and on throughout the years but really started up again in Middle school. We used to rap battle each other at the bus stop. I actually didn’t start recording until I was around 19 or 20. I put my own studio together and kinda became a YouTube rapper for a while. Read more>>

Kristen Oyer

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been an artist. I’m a born-and-raised St. Louisan, so my favorite outing growing up was a trip to the St. Louis Art Museum and the London Tea Room, which is true still! I became a huge fan of Degas, Cassatt, Morisot, Monet, etc… I always knew I wanted to do art for as long as I lived, and then one day I rounded the corner in SLAM and finally saw – no, experienced – “Burning Rods” by Anselm Kiefer. That’s when I knew I wanted to BE an artist. Read more>>

Bridget Melloy

Have always had an interest in the arts and chose to study Art History and Business Administration while in school. When I was beginning my career, I met Susan Barrett, the founder of the future Barrett Barrera Projects. At that time, she had recently started a small art consulting business and hired me as her first employee. We worked to help clients develop and manage high-caliber art collections. From there, Susan took on the project of relocating the World Chess Hall of Fame from its previous home in Florida to St. Louis. She served as Founding Director at the World Chess Hall of Fame, and I joined the team to work as Exhibitions Coordinator, organizing logistics and working closely with curators and artists exhibiting at the Hall of Fame. Read more>>

Paula Dedkhad

As long as I can remember, food has always been my interest. I grew up in a Thai household where my mom would cook almost every meal from scratch because she thought lunchables were not a meal, but a snack. Let me mind you, this was during the 90’s, early 2000’s. I’d go to school with spicy basil and a fried egg for lunch. My dad on the other hand is a sushi chef. Growing up, my parents didn’t have much, but food was our comfort. I was fortunate as a kid to be exposed to a variety of Asian cuisines. We’d go out for dim sum on the weekends or an effortless sukiyaki hot pot during the week. Read more>>

Robert Riley II

In 2008, I was released from federal prison after years of addiction, incarceration, and living in misery. I was 20 months sober when I was released and with some sobriety under my belt, I knew I wanted a different life for myself and to make a positive difference in the world. I grew up in Orange County California, but my mom was living in Saint Louis with her husband, so this is where I went when I was released; I was really fortunate to have the support of my family. So many people getting released don’t have that and I can’t imagine how difficult it is. Immediately, I embedded myself in the 12-step recovery community and began working a program of recovery. I was lucky, and a plant manager, Mike , decided to take a chance on me and gave me a job, and the more I put into my job the more they invested in me through training and advances in position. Having the support of my employer gave me the consistency, stability, and foundation I needed and was instrumental in allowing me to start a new life. Read more>>

Nikki Creacy

I have always had a passion for all things beauty. Growing up I was always playing dress up, cutting my Barbie’s hair and deemed myself the hairstylist & makeup artist of the family (huge apologies to my grandpa & brother!). I graduated from The Salon Professional Academy in February of 2012! Before graduating, I began my journey as a hairstylist/makeup artist for weddings & other special events. I quickly fell in love with the bridal industry & knew that was exactly what I wanted to do! I worked for a few different companies along the way, but never seemed to find the perfect fit for myself. In 2019, I launched my first on-site hair & makeup company called Nikki Creacy Hair Design & Makeup Artistry. Read more>>

Akhila Shekhar

I hail from the state of Kerala, in India. I am a food blogger, food photographer, and a food stylist. My passion for cooking started 7 years ago, around the time of my marriage after which we moved to the US as my husband’s work got relocated to St. Louis. I was working as a research assistant in a biotech firm back then in India but when I moved here, I was not permitted to work as the dependent visa on which I arrived did not allow me to. Initially, it felt ok as I got a well-deserved break from my work life and was enjoying a lot of “me time”, but slowly it started to get boring. Although I used to cook and enjoyed it thoroughly, I was in search of hobbies and other activities to keep myself engaged. As both me and my hubby are ardent foodies, we loved trying out new cuisines and that slowly interested me in recreating them at home, to come out of my comfort zone and experiment with different recipes & ingredients. Read more>>

Rusty Pliers

It all started thirteen years ago on one bright sunny day when I got a phone call from a man named Smooth. Now Smooth is an interesting guy who knows everything about camels and pigs. Smooth invited us to come and do magic and ventriloquism shows at the Eckerts Millstadt Fun Farm in Millstadt Illinois. We performed four shows a day on Saturday and Sunday September thru October for the apple and pumpkin season. It was very soon after that we were performing all over the St. Louis metro area, and throughout the United States doing puppet and magic shows. Read more>>

Alisa Modronja

For a long time, I wasn’t sure what career path I wanted to take, but I knew I always wanted to help people in some kind of way. When I was about 13-14 years old I got in to makeup. I loved doing my friend’s makeup for special occasions like school dances. It was always a hobby, I didn’t think I could turn it in to a career. Throughout high school and parts of college, I struggled to figure out what I wanted to major in and what career path I wanted to take. I thought nursing was it for me. Once I got into the program, after a couple of semesters I realized I was not happy and ended up dropping out. I finished the rest of my community college classes, got my degree and I thought I was going to transfer to a university. Read more>>

Rena Dixon

Since my adolescent years, I’ve always been obese. In middle school I was the “chubby girl”, in high school I was the fat girl”, in college, “the Big girl” and so on! It was so annoying being describe by my weight. I’ve never really lacked confidence or hated being plus-size, but the heavier I got, the more uncomfortable I was. I could barely shop in my favorite stores due to lack of extended sizes and even started to hate the way I looked in certain clothes that I would normally love. At that point I decided it was time for a change and so my journey began. Read more>>

Angie Scott

As long as I can remember, I’ve always loved photography – I love capturing the moment and reliving memories through photographs. As a kid, I would take photos of my Barbie dolls with my Barbie instant camera, little did I know – photographing others would turn into a huge passion of mine! Videos and photos played a huge part in my life growing up, my mom would whip out the camcorder and camera at every holiday, every family get together, every vacation, and I’m so glad she did, because we have all these home videos and photos to look at after all these years! A little over 5 years ago – I finally decided to take my passion seriously and invested in my first DSLR camera, offering free photoshoots to friends and family. Since then, I’ve upgraded my gear and education, and have met countless families and couples – and made so many new friends along the way. My absolute favorite photoshoots are ones that include a couple in love. Read more>>

Adrienne Thompson

have 4 sisters and one of my younger sisters introduced me to the world of beauty YouTubers when I was about 15. Before that, I hadn’t really cared much about makeup because my mom never wore much makeup and neither did my other sisters. I gave my younger sisters $20 and told her to go pick out some makeup from Target for me. From then on, I was hooked! I loved how transformative makeup could be and how it was another way for me to express my love of art. I slowly built up my personal makeup collection to a very sizable amount and would occasionally do makeup on my friends for dances in high school. When I got to college I would maybe do 1 wedding a summer when I came home during the summer but it was never anything serious. Read more>>

Olivia Zachry

LIV•FIT[ish] is the product of my passion in the world of Exercise Science. When I switched my major as a sophomore at SIUE, my whole world flipped. I found myself networking with a whole new group of people in the community & found a job at a local studio and gym. I taught group fitness workouts & personally trained for over 3 years at two fitness facilities. When I initially interviewed for these jobs I told the owners that my 5-10 year goal was to have my own fitness business in some capacity. I had no idea what that would look like, but I knew that growing up in a family with a small business, I had the entrepreneur spirit & was working towards something of my own. Read more>>

Hayley Johnston

I’m a 28 year old Celiac living in the city of St. Louis. My story begins smack dab in the middle of my undergraduate career at the University of Illinois. I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease in July of 2013. I spent 3 painful years prior with an IBS misdiagnosis. I began getting really sick my sophomore year second semester and by the time I got back home for the summer, my parents immediately knew it was Celiac Disease since it runs in my family. I know how difficult maintaining a social life can be when your life is severely limited by what you can eat and drink. I started my blog to document my journey of overcoming the anxiety and hardships that come with having to be gluten free and exploring amazing (and maybe not so amazing) restaurants, recipes, products, and more. Since beginning my page, I have been able to connect with other gluten free content creators around the world. No matter where I am traveling to I always have someone I can reach out to for safe eating suggestions. I also compile a list of gluten free options in St. Louis on my website and Instagram. Read more>>

Matt Jordan

I grew up listening to my dad’s music – all the American Rock and songwriting classics – Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Bob Seger, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Bob Dylan. From a very young age, my dad introduced me to the importance of songwriting and lyrics. I remember being a young kid, just 6 or 8 years old, and him playing songs for me and explaining why certain lines and lyrics were brilliant, how the writer turned phrases and used words to tell a story. While other kids my age were listening to punk pop and rock, I was listening to my dad’s music and as far as I was concerned, it was the best music in the world. Read more>>

Lili Altnether

I’ve always been into all things beauty! Growing up, I went to my grandmother’s house and every single morning, I’d watch her bring out her little basket of makeup and sit in front of the window and do her make up. She would have her hair in curlers and always finish off with bright pink lipstick. Her nails were always long and oval-shaped also bright pink! She just turned 90 this month (august) and still gets ready with bright pink nails daily. I’ve always been fascinated with makeup and different make up trends and playing with hair… Read more>>

Natalie Coyne

I’ve always been a hustler. From selling Girl Scout Cookies to chocolate bars for my St. Charles JFL cheer fundraisers. I’ve always wanted to win. Don’t we all? Watching my dad go from a gas station mechanic to selling insurance to property flipping to owning four RE/MAX locations in St. Louis county now— really instilled the hustle gene and ignited my drive. Growing up, I wasn’t too sure what I wanted to do with my life but I knew I wanted to make him proud. Read more>>

Courtney Klein

In 2019, I had my son, left a job that I loved, & moved my family from NYC back to my hometown of St. Louis. I believe that it takes a village to raise a child and wanted my parents and siblings to have a hand in his upbringing — as well as aunts, uncles, cousins, best-friend from high school, etc. What I couldn’t have predicted was that a few months after we got here the world was going to shut down and I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted this next chapter of my life to look like. I knew it was going to involve getting creative about my profession because the amount of time that I wanted to spend with my son was not conducive to a traditional 9 to 5 office schedule. Read more>>

Kayla Kelly

I have always told people my story is very unique and different but yet very relatable. My name is Kayla Kelly and I was born and raised right here in St.Louis MO. I have always had a real love for the arts and being creative. All of my life I have performed around St.Louis on many stages. I had a passion for singing and one day I knew I would be on the TV screen. I am an only child, As a young girl I knew exactly what I wanted and I have always strived to see things through. Growing up, I attended arts school and continued on through my college career. I am a singer, creator, actor, creative director, and a hairstylist. Read more>>

PC Cordero

CrossFit Trenches opened its doors in May 2013. Back in 2012, I was training for my third full Ironman triathlon race. I always heard interesting things about CrossFit so I decided to give it a try. I immediately loved it. It was very challenging but fun at the same time. After I completely my Ironman race in Lake Placid, NY I went back to CrossFit. The owner of the gym I was going to told me they were opening a CrossFit gym in Lake St. Louis, just a couple of miles from my house. That day, I came home and told my wife they were opening the gym in our area and I wanted to go in with them. Read more>>

Jessica Weathers

I’m the owner of Bomb Brows, a permanent cosmetics (permanent makeup) business located in St Peters, MO. I am a certified permanent cosmetic professional, and a licensed tattoo artist. I have more than 500 hours’ worth of training in: microblading, lip blush tattoo, eyeliner, ombre brows, saline removal, and color theory. Mission: Helping women feel confident in their skin is my passion. To obtain my tattoo license and better my craft, I attended a nine-month PMU Apprenticeship locally in St Louis. I completed 50 services and more than 300 hours of training and hands-on application of my skills. I’m continuously looking for ways to provide my clients the safest and most up-to-date methods of permanent cosmetics via tattoo and microblading. I only use the highest quality of equipment, anesthetics, and pigments to achieve the best results and provide you with a phenomenal experience. Read more>>

Melina Lewis

I am 32 years young and was born and raised in St. Louis, MO. Becoming a Braid Artist was actually never on my mind as something that I could do professionally and excel in, but the love for the craft was always in my heart. Age 10 is when I started braiding, first with my little sister Meghan. She played basketball and always wanted her hair braided like Allen Iverson. I ran track and played tennis in high school so keeping my hair braided was one less thing I had to worry about. Still not realizing the gift that I have with braiding, I went off to college on a track scholarship. The first in my family to graduate from college, receiving my Bachelor’s of Science in Textile, Merchandise & Design from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff in 2012. Read more>>

Lindsey Lieu

I am, in my very essence, a creative soul. Anything artistic, I have a passion for. Beginning with painting at a young age, I continued into advanced art classes throughout life. Eventually, I received my Bachelors in studio art, concentration in sculpture, from Colorado State University in Ft. Collins. From there, I lived abroad in Stockholm, Sweden, still living a creative life and participating in an art show while there. Coming back to the states in 2012, I continued to create and build my work, joining in a variety of shows in the past few years. Read more>>

Trish Pheal

I knew very early in life that I wanted to be an entrepreneur. My mother was the inspiration behind this decision. I watched her run several small businesses during my childhood. Being a single mom and working full time made it hard to explore my creativity. Then the Pandemic hit and everything changed. I began working from home, my kids were homeschooled and I was concerned about how I would continue to provide for my children if I were laid off. I needed a side hustle. Read more>>

S3an Alexander

brllantmnds (@brllantmnds) is a clothing brand out of St. Louis, USA ran by Artist, Designer, & Creative Director S3an Alexander (@bmS3an). brllantmnds is a celebration of all things creative. This is why you see such high color in the designs and logos, so it provides the same feeling you get from party balloons or confetti. brllantmnds is the high school letterman jacket or the championship trophy I never had growing up. Every pieces feels like a win, every piece feels like an irreplaceable moment in time for me. This year is actually the 4th year for the brand since its first drop in 2017. Read more>>

Kaleb and Amy Becar

We are Kaleb and Amy, a husband and wife team with a passion for holistic living and handcrafted toxin free toys that inspire curiosity and wonder through play. We love exploring the great outdoors, are always learning and enjoy developing character and practical life skills in our daughters. As a couple, we enjoy working together and this business has shown us that we build each other up and support each other in our weaknesses and strengths. We believe that cultivating an environment for children to learn through play encourages independence, development and confidence. Read more>>

Calin Peterson

Hello!! I am a licensed cosmetologist from Saint Louis, Missouri but I currently reside In Nashville, Tennessee for college. I started off by braiding my little sister’s hair when I was only 8 years old. By the time I reached middle school I had friends who would let me braid their hair often. Once i reached my junior year in high school I had a full blown business. I attended North Technical High School for cosmetology while still enrolled at McClure South-Berkeley for my general education. I attended North Tech my junior and senior year of high school and I received my cosmetology license June of 2019. Read more>>

Mike Sullivan

I was inspired to become a vocalist after hearing the first Danzig record when I was in middle school. I played in several local bands prior to forming my current group, Secular Era. We recorded our first album in a D.I.Y. fashion while still in high school. Since then, we’ve released multiple projects in the hopes of giving our fans the same inspiration and motivation that other bands have provided us. To give support when life seems bleak and hope is sparse. I’m currently in the process of recording another full length album as well as other various projects. Read more>>

Adam Huber

When I was in 5th grade, my teacher asked my class to do a project on the Civil War. We could give a speech, a presentation, make a movie, or whatever we wanted. When my ears heard, “make a movie”, I knew that was what I was going to do. I was ecstatic. I employed my brother and neighbors to act out the battle of Gettysburg, while my father filmed and my mother played back the cassette my grandfather and I had recorded of me reading my paper on the subject the with battle hymn of the republic playing at the end. Read more>>

Aleisha Davis

I obtained my cosmetology license prior to the end of my senior year in high school (2001). I immediately got a job as a salon assistant while I was in school. Once I became licensed, I started taking my own clients and worked on a commission basis and as a part-time assistant. Taking into account that this is pre-social media, the only way to really gain a clientele was by word of mouth, or waiting for walk-ins. I loved doing hair but I didn’t like the “hustle” part of it. The money was too slow and my interest started to fade. Read more>>

Tracy Polansky

I am the Founder and President of The Polansky Group… We are marketing, PR and media specialists. When I was a little girl, I can remember going to work with my Dad, who was an executive recruiter and listening to him make phone calls or watch him as he interacted with his staff. He treated everyone with the same respect and kindness no matter who he was talking to. He would come home and talk about his day at family dinner, whether a good or bad day, with passion. I remember my Mom going to volunteer at various places including our schools and church with the same passion and dedication as my Dad had. I was taught a strong work ethic by both of my parents, a trait all of my siblings and I have today. I remember sitting and listening to those conversations intently – paying attention to what they said. Read more>>

Lena Chapman

Wow, this is a loaded question. I started out as a Mass Communication-Theatre Major at the University of Arkansas Pine Bluff. I quickly realized that this was not the major for me. I loved acting however, it was not were I belonged. On a quest to find another major. I remember thumbing through a roommate’s Psychology book and instantly becoming interested. I changed my major to Psychology and rest is history. Throughout my journey to find my purpose in the Psychology field. I realized that counseling would be my area of interest. I loved talking with people and found that people felt comfortable to open up to me as well. Read more>>

Rob Cannon

I am a professional photographer and owner of Robshotme Studios. A Saint Louis Mo, based fully equipped Photography Studio. As a photographer, I specialize in creating visual content for cosmetic, hair, skin, product, editorial, commercial and beauty advertising with my BOLD, SHARP & VIBRATE style. Since birth, I’ve had an affinity for art. As a teen my grandmother gave me Polaroid Instamatic. I would walk around and just capture photos of my neighborhood and friends. Then my passion was music even though I enjoyed taking photos I didn’t see it as more than that. Around 2012, I was working as a music producer, songwriter and trying my hand at management. I bought a camera to capture video and photo content for my production team and artist. I would post photos on my son and music content. After a few months, people started asking could they hire me for different photography gigs. I had no prior photography training. So I did what most people do in the 2010s. I went on YouTube and learned the basics I needed for each gig. Read more>>

Reese Bond, Michelle Woods and Andrea

We have all been in the beauty industry for well over a decade now- which is so crazy!! And at one point all worked in the same salon together years ago! We’re all like sisters even though Reese technically isn’t blood. 😉 We’re definitely a package deal and between the three of us we have more Passion for this industry, the stylists in it and our guests look than we knew what to do with it!! Which led us to this dream that we created together one night over a girl’s wine night! All three of us realized we can change it up in the beauty industry especially by how we all magnify each other’s strengths and minimize each other’s weaknesses. After that night our dream became real we started our business plan, found an amazing location & created our 210 plan to shake up the beauty industry!!! Our name- We came up with numbers Two One Zero instead of our names because when you walk into our doors it is a place to create your magic. Read more>>

Sami Maurer

It all began with one shirt. It was a shirt I made for myself that I never planned on selling. I wanted a classic St. Louis shirt to bring with me as I headed back to college in Alabama. I spent some time searching but didn’t find what I was looking for. I was two years into my graphic design studies at the time and decided if there wasn’t one I could buy, I would make one myself. I designed my initial product then and there. The first time I wore the shirt out, a woman asked me where I had gotten it. My gut reaction was to tell her I sold them and get her contact information. If the two of us liked the shirt, I assumed others would too. I was twenty at the time and had enough passion (and a very supportive family) to fuel this little project. I started posting on social media and taking preorders, and the next thing I knew my parents’ dining room was covered in stacks of tees. I posted my designs on Etsy and headed back to school. As I sat through my business and design courses, growing my little t-shirt company was always in the back of my mind. I gave my senior presentation on my business and my dreams of growing it. I still remember that presentation. I vowed that regardless of whether or not I ended up in a cubicle a year out of college (I did), I would continue to push to design and sell my own products. Read more>>

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