Cheri Leavy and Whitney Long love Charleston. They love it so much, in fact, that they're hosting their creative, entrepreneurial summit The Southern C here for the second year in row.
"We were so warmly welcomed by everyone," says Leavy. "And all of the participants love Charleston." Why wouldn't they? According to Leavy and Long, Charleston has one of the most vibrant creative professional communities in the country. "Charleston is the epitome of Southern creative style," says Leavy, pointing to the city's venues, people, and overall vibe.
The Southern C Summit is a result of Leavy and Long's online community, the Southern Coterie. With about 5,000 members, the social network connects (mainly) Southern entrepreneurs and creative minds with one another. Online members share everything from recipes to DIY projects to resources for brand marketing. The women say that after talking online, many members requested that Southern Coterie host an in-person conference, so that people could develop relationships beyond their computers. The Southern C summit was born.
Leavy and Long want to get creative minds together to connect, collaborate, and create. They've chosen speakers for panels that really zoom in on the specifics of what creative entrepreneurs are looking for. "You can go to any event and listen to someone speak, but we want our audience to have strong takeaways. We want them to gain knowledge," says Long.
And Long and Leavy can attest that this knowledge-gaining works. "We watch relationships flourish at the summit," says Leavy. "There is a direct economic result from these interactions," she says. For instance, a local jeweler set up a pop-up shop in Charlotte after meeting an attendee from there at a past conference.
Leavy and Long want the panels to help small business owners and creative minds grow their enterprises in all kinds of ways, which is why they've enlisted smart local panelists. Harper Poe, of Proud Mary, will be speaking at a panel called "'Cause It's Good Business," a discussion of cause marketing and business with a mission.
"We don't believe in 'giving back,'" Poe says. Instead, Proud Mary helps communities in Latin America and Africa by giving artisans access to international markets. "We're giving artisans consistent work at a fair wage," says Poe.
The artisans that contribute to Proud Mary work in traditional crafts, but with a modern design aesthetic. NGOs and nonprofits help Proud Mary identify communities where local artisans can benefit from access to a larger market. Poe says that Proud Mary tries to collaborate with as many big-buying companies as possible, including, most recently, Urban Outfitters and Madewell. "We're a global, textile-focused company. We choose locations with strong textile histories," she says.
Poe is excited to see what kinds of ideas she and the other panel speaker, Craig Evans, can come up with. Evans is the founder of Y'allsome, a lifestyle brand with Southern-inspired products that gives 15 percent of its proceeds to help Southern foster kids find permanent homes. Because one company gives back in the traditional sense, and the other does so in a less literal way, attendees will get to see different ways in which their companies can expand into do-gooding for the local and global community.
Long calls the summit's attendees a "creative, brilliant group of people." The majority of the participants are women between the ages of 30-55. "And we have college girls with LLCs in their dorm rooms," says Leavy. Attendees range from start-up companies to lifestyle bloggers to ghost writers. One ghost writer, Bessie Gantt, will be speaking on the panel "By the Book: Expanding Your Brand."
"I'm more of a background member for the book-writing process," explains Gantt, owner of the writing and editing service wordibird. Gantt's focus is on narrative-driven books — everything from memoirs to cookbooks. She says that the panel's speakers, which include two authors, a photographer, an art director, and a literary agent, will cover the kinds of questions people ask when they think about publications. "Books invite people from further away to see your ideas," she says. "You expand the conversation."
Leavy and Long say the South has a rich history of "doers and makers," and with modernization, what were once necessary skills have evolved into deeply respected artisan and craftsman trades. This weekend, those modern doers and makers will gather together to forge connections and spark new ideas and change. "The attendees are influential [at the conference], but also in their own communities," says Long. Attendees share their knowledge with other participants, and, Long says, "They know the power of that." The ideas don't stay inside of the conference, but rather travel to communities around the South — and maybe even around the world.