Growing up in the Harriet Tubman housing development, LaKeeda “Lake” Kelley and her sister, LaKeisha “Mariah” Huq, were raised to believe in themselves and the power of education to improve their lives.
It was a mantra repeated by their mother, Lucy Bolden, and reinforced in the positive quotes the single mom hung in their home.
“So much of who we are has everything to do with our upbringing in Chattanooga,” said Kelley, now a resident of Atlanta.
“I was the first in my family to go to college, my sister was second. No matter how much money we had in the bank, there was no opportunity we were made to feel we couldn’t explore,” she said.
Now the sisters are on the brink of the biggest opportunity of their lives.
Their collection of upscale children’s bedding, Jewel & Jem Cultural Kids Decor, was one of 21 businesses chosen for the inaugural Macy’s Workshop out of thousands of applications.
The Macy’s Workshop is a five-day vendor-development program in which multicultural and/or female business owners are prepared to do business with Macy’s stores, according to Yahoo.finance.
Kelley and Huq sat down in business-development sessions to learn from celebrity entrepreneurs Lisa Price of Carol’s Daughter, a line of beauty products, and Daymond John of FUBU, a clothing company, as well as the president of Macy’s.
“Macy’s has asked that our line expand into family bedding, not just kids’ bedding,” said Kelley. “We’ll be doing a lifestyle brand for Macy’s.”
She said the Jewel & Jem collection will launch with test markets in Macy’s flagship New York store, Herald Square, and in Atlanta’s Lenox Square.
Their success is a result of hard work and entrepreneurial spirit.
Kelley was a member of CSAS’ first graduating class in 1991. She said her mother spent the night outside in line to make sure her daughters were accepted into the magnet school. Huq later transferred to Brainerd High School, where she graduated.
Former CSAS principal Wilhelmina Moore said she taught Kelley in sixth-grade math.
“She had such flair, just so creative. She always wanted to do the extra things. And their mother was just top-notch. She always encouraged those girls to be their best,” recalled the educator.
Kelley left Chattanooga to attend Emory University in Atlanta, where she received a philosophy degree. She worked in financial planning and for Verizon before being laid off. She also moonlighted as a decorator.
“I started decorating million-dollar homes in Atlanta around the Buckhead and Sugarloaf Country Club areas. Before launching our line, my sister and I would decorate either a whole floor or the whole house,” said Kelley.
As word of mouth spread about their talent, they started getting more calls from parents asking the pair to design their children’s rooms. Many of their clients were multicultural families.
“After visiting their rooms, we found the rooms didn’t speak to the family’s cultural components, it didn’t reflect the child’s heritage. The rooms didn’t reflect their goals or who they saw themselves as,” said Kelley.
The sisters saw an open market and founded Jewel & Jem to fill it.
They designed an upscale line of children’s custom bedding that would reflect a child’s ethnic heritage, his roots as well as his dreams.
It’s this distinction that sets their designs apart from other popular children’s motifs.
The Jewel & Jem collection includes bedding, furniture, window treatments and art choices for the walls. The wall canvases may be personalized by parents with a favorite inspirational quote for their child.
Art choices depict a black ballerina, a multicultural equestrian, an Indian princess wearing a sari.
Their big break came when Phaedra Parks, a cast member of “The Real Housewives of Atlanta,” asked the sisters to design the nursery for her son, Ayden.
“As soon as it was seen on TV, we got calls from as far as Puerto Rico for that bedding set and all the components from the room. We’ve gotten other celebrity clients from that exposure,” said Kelley.
Kelley said their collection is currently available on their website, jewelandjem.com, and in Atlanta boutiques. It is expected to launch in Macy’s by spring 2012.
“Sitting there with the president of Macy’s Inc. made me realize that no matter how lofty your goals, no matter what your dreams, it is possible to attain them — even for two girls who grew up in Harriet Tubman,” said Kelley.
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...