Dreamcatcher Special Edition: Meet boxcar+muse

Every now and then, someone comes into your life and you're instantly inspired by their kindness and generosity, their positive spirit and beautiful soul. It's magnetic and you immediately want to be around this person. Emily Kate Warren was this person for me.

We met while I was working on P&G Beauty and always in need of a makeup artist or hair stylist for events. Emily or EKW as we called her, had a reputation for wrangling the best of the best in beauty. She, herself, was a talented makeup artist, but it was her ability to connect the beauty PR world with other amazing women that made her special. 

This ability to be a connector and a positive force to uplift women has manifested over the years and I'm excited to share more about her start-up, boxcar+muse

This video below really says it all, but keep reading to find out how you can help boxcar+muse win a $100K grant to shape their future and vision - "a culture where flexing our creative muscles, innovating, and engaging in self-discovery is as accepted, vital, and popular a practice as going to a gym."

CMJ: So tell us about boxcar+muse. How did it all start?

EKW: boxcar+muse was a pipe dream I've been musing over since about 2007. I wanted to start an artist co-op that would include seven or so amazing hair and makeup artists who I am still close with. I wanted to have an agency without an agent.

CMJ: That sounds amazing!

EKW: It does, but the more I thought about it and built it out in my head, the more I was building more of a community, and my group was all women. When I moved to San Francisco suddenly, I was very depressed about leaving my solid career, friends and clients back in NYC. I found it hard to make new friends at my age even though I'm very outgoing. I didn't have kids, a dog or any classes that I was taking or even a regular 9 to 5 where I would have the opportunity to make new connections. I started fantasizing about my idea again and realized it was more about the cooperative vibe being therapeutic than wanting to actually do any agency tasks. I found the support of my group of artists in NYC to be fulfilling, therapeutic and inspiring. So, I started to hash out a plan. I started thinking about how that would translate into everyday life, not just being about a specific career.

CMJ: I'm literally at this place in my life right now. Tell me more!

EKW: Well, when I moved from SF to LA, I had a baby and my life turned upside down again --in the best most wonderful way! I realized that my career wasn't everything -- and couldn't be or I wouldn't be a good mom, friend, spouse, daughter. I started to host regular women's dinner parties, gatherings, events and happenings. I started mapping out my plans; started bouncing ideas off friends. And then I got wind of a grant opportunity last year by la2050.org and went into overdrive. I spoke to a startup attorney friend who got me on track with an old plan and here we go!

During that time I also reconnected with my now business partner Ariel Nazryan who, all the while, had a very similar idea to build a creative gym and self-discovery center inspired by visiting a loved one in an upscale rehab.

CMJ: In one sentence, how would you describe boxcar+muse?

EKW: boxcar+muse is an indulgent and imaginative play and work space, a connector of diverse women, and a platform for fun and meaningful experiences.

CMJ: If you win the grant, what could this mean for boxcar+muse? 

EKW: Our permanent space will have a library, a meditation and inspiration room, a community kitchen and garden...actual tools that you can use to work on any project you wish (kiln! letterpress! tortilla press! roller skates?!) because we want to inspire your next idea! We want to support you in any way you need! Along with our one-of-a-kind creative journeys, we will have weekly volunteering efforts and activism clubs. We will have dedicated and shared working space for women. We will collaborate with many local organizations to nurture plans for a better and brighter future for all women. 

CMJ: Can you just open in Pittsburgh already?

EKW: YES! That is our hope. We plan to expand in at least six cities in the future but for now, we begin in LA.

CMJ: So, how do we VOTE?

EKW: Click here: http://bit.ly/2e06GNi  
Scroll down to the GREEN VOTE NOW button and BAM! It will take you less than seven seconds if you log in using Facebook or another social platform. Help us win $100K for boxcar+muse and watch women take the world by storm! 

CMJ: Done and Done!

Dreamcatcher: Erin the Bridal Shop Owner

Dreamcatcher Series
Installment 4: Erin Szymanski, owner of Glitter and Grit

Meet Erin: As you know, Dreamcatcher is one of my favorite series on CMJ, and I'm excited to announce that this is our very first Pittsburgh-based Dreamcatcher. Erin and I have only met once, but as soon as I stepped into her bridal shop, I knew I wanted to feature her on the blog. Her shop, Glitter and Grit, which opened in Lawrenceville in 2013, is a bride-to-be’s dream! It reminds me of Lovely, which is where I bought my dress, but much more intimate and special. When I met Erin, she was kind enough to take some time and talk with me about what it’s like to open a boutique in Pittsburgh and we continued the conversation over email. As always, her story is quite inspiring and just the motivation we all need on a Monday!

Name: Erin Szymanski
Current Location: Pittsburgh, PA
Occupation: Owner of Glitter and Grit

So tell us about Glitter and Grit. How did it all start? From when I first started working, I always felt like I wanted to have a business of my own. Over the years, I had so many ideas, but nothing stuck. As my friends started getting married, I would go shopping with them and look around the stores thinking that if it was me, none of what I was seeing, both in the selection and the shopping experience, would fit my personal style. I started to realize that there were a good number of designers out there that were making more unique wedding dresses, but there was nowhere in the area to try them on. I knew that I couldn’t be the only person who didn’t see herself as a “traditional” bride, and that Pittsburgh needed more options!

Did you have a business plan? Sure thing. I had actually written a few in the past for school projects and other business ideas, so it was a natural place for me to start, and to help keep my thoughts organized.

Were you in the bridal or fashion industry before launching Glitter and Grit? I had previously worked retail for about six years, and then worked in accounting for eight - but I kept going back to retail part-time because I missed it! I considered working in the bridal industry in some capacity before opening Glitter & Grit, but ultimately decided that since I wanted to approach the entire shopping experience differently, that it wasn’t necessary.

What's the most challenging part of being a business owner? What is the most rewarding? I have a hard time staying organized and finding focus! At any point in time, I’m thinking about multiple things, working on multiple projects… always with my mind on the next thing. I try really hard to stay on track with a task but can get distracted.

The most rewarding thing is, rather obviously, getting to be a part of such an exciting adventure with all of our clients! There is a specific moment when you can feel the shift of emotions; whether from frustration, fear, or uncertainty – there is a moment when a bride starts to fully enjoy the experience, when it all gets a little more real and they can picture themselves getting married to their favorite person, wearing something that makes them feel amazing.

Describe a typical day for you. Do you have any daily rituals? There’s not much of a typical day in my world, as Glitter & Grit operates by private appointment – and because of my lack of organization!  Literally every day looks different, some dominated by office work, others by appointments, others by working on photo shoots or networking with other wedding vendors.

What do you think it is about your shop that draws brides in the door? What do they say about the experience? Literally word-of-mouth and our front windows are the two main things that attract brides to Glitter & Grit, which is awesome! We focus on providing a relaxing but fun shopping experience, while we help you figure out what the right dress for you is, whether it’s in our store or not. I feel that there’s a bit of a myth that all girls have been dreaming about their wedding day, and their wedding dress, since they were young, and that they know exactly what they want to wear. While there are some lucky ladies out there like that, many of us actually have no idea, and need to do some exploring to find out – and that’s where we come in. I wanted the store to feel like you’re visiting your big sister’s house, playing dress-up in her fancy closet; comfortable enough to hang out, but still a little special. So when brides and their guests say that they don’t want to leave, that’s the biggest compliment! I think that both that vibe and our relaxed approach to exploring versus selling is what our clients tell their friends about the most.

You talk a lot about originality and not changing who you are just because you’re a bride. Can you expand on this? What do you think are the outside forces that cause some brides to conform? Simply, in the realm of wedding attire, choose something that makes you feel like you; a beautiful, special version of your everyday. Don’t feel pressured to wear a certain style or color or fabric just because someone feels that anything else isn’t “bridal.” You’re getting married. That makes you, on that day, a bride. You will be a bride whether you’re wearing a white dress, a rainbow dress, a rad suit, a garbage bag, or a Canadian tuxedo.

There are so many outside forces! Magazines, television, Pinterest, family and friends… I feel like any life event can easily be overshadowed by everyone else’s opinions of how you should act, what you should wear, who should be involved, how much money you should spend, etc…. the focus shifts from that actual, very important, thing that is happening to less significant details.

I just think it’s crucial to decide what’s important to you, and stick to it. Of course, there will be compromises, and I also think it’s worth choosing your battles. I’m not saying that everyone has to buck every tradition, but if it doesn’t make sense for who you are as a couple, don’t feel like you have to adjust how you do things only to appease other people.

What would you like to accomplish in your career over the next five years? Are there plans to expand the business? I’m not really one to set long-term goals, because my thoughts on the future change every day! I’m sure that, like before, I’ll have a million ideas before the right one - the one that comes from a place of curiosity and integrity – sticks.

Any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs? DO IT!! Seriously. I tend to encourage people who weren’t even asking for it to start a business. If you feel compelled to do your own thing your own way, you won’t regret taking the chance.  Also, set clear beliefs or standards from the beginning and always check in with them (a.k.a. your gut or your heart) when making decisions.

Photos courtesy of heredwelling - check them out too!

Dreamcatcher: Annie the Handbag Designer

Dreamcatcher Series 
Installment 3: Annie Bukhman aka Gift Shop Brooklyn

Meet Annie: She invented the leather hair tie and has an obsession with clogs. I discovered her brand on Etsy back in 2014 when I fell in love with this pretty rad tote. The next thing you know, I was at her apartment picking up my purchase, seven blocks from my apartment in Park Slope. We instantly hit it off and have been friends ever since.

I went to visit Annie at her brand new studio (yay, Annie!) where she was busy packing up orders. We had a chance to catch up and I left feeling super inspired as always. Read on to hear more about our latest Dreamcatcher. 

Name: Annie Bukhman
Current Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Designer and founder of
Gift Shop Brooklyn.

So tell us about Gift Shop Brooklyn. How did it all start? I was working in fashion industry in New York City, growing very restless at my desk job - simply executing other designer's ideas. I decided to quit my job without knowing what the next step would be or what I would do; but I had the sheer motivation of wanting to be my own boss, and not returning to a corporate job, to figure something out and make it work.

Are you originally from Brooklyn? I'm originally from Massachusetts. My good friend from childhood had moved to New York and talked me into visiting her one summer and to stay for a month, which turned into the whole summer, which turned into "Ok, I need to find a job because I am clearly staying here".  After living with my friend for about one year, I moved to the Upper East Side, which was fantastic at first, especially for a young 20-something gallivanting around the city (it was really so fun, but I'm glad its over ;).  Ultimately, I grew out of the space, and moved to Brooklyn when I got married. I have been in Brooklyn for six years now, and still absolutely love it.

What's the most challenging part of your job? The most challenging part of my job is the unforeseen, minute tasks that I'm forced to deal with daily; for instance, I'm sent the wrong fabric, or a material I always order is now out of stock and I have orders pending. All these little fires that I have to put out daily take away from time I would love to spend designing something new or getting orders completed.

On a more personal level, I struggle with delegating tasks even though I do realize I can't do everything myself. I know my brand can be bigger, and I want it to be bigger, but I can't seem to wrap my head around how to make that happen while keeping the brand still feel small, unique, and personal to the customer. I have been taking baby steps in this direction of getting help in some areas so the business can grow comfortably and organically. 

Describe a typical day for you. The first thing I do after I wake up is check and respond to emails, order any materials I need, send invoices, etc. If I don't do these tasks right in the morning, they probably won't get done that day. Once I start sewing and working on orders, which requires a lot of concentration, it’s hard to focus on anything else. 

After email tasks, I shower and get ready; I'm much more productive after I've gotten "ready for a work day." Just a few weeks ago, I moved into a studio after working from home for almost five years. It is a welcome change I was ready for, but all those years working from home I always got dressed in real clothes and shoes. It made me feel professional and thus act professional throughout my work day (even thought most days no one even saw me).

A lot of people have the mindset that working from home means starting late and working in your pajamas, both of which I've never done.

The majority of my day is spent actually sewing orders, only breaking occasionally to snap a pic for a future Instagram post. At around six or seven I wrap up my sewing, and move onto edit some photos or work on my website until my husband convinces me to call it a day and to eat something.

Where do you find your inspiration? I find most of my inspiration from a specific need or want that I, myself, have in an accessory, i.e. shape, size, style, color. When I get a shape that I love or that customers really respond to, I will introduce new colors, or try different and unexpected color combinations creating fresh variations for the well-performing style. I used to always try to 'reinvent the wheel' while designing and now I let the customers tell my what they want, by focusing on and elaborating on the styles that are selling. I've always used different textures and finishes such as embroidered fabrics and metallic leathers. I love adding uniqueness while keeping a clean aesthetic.

What would like to accomplish in your career over the next five years? If I want to sustain this business, I know that I have to begin outsourcing more of my responsibilities, but it's important to me to keep the small, local, handmade feel of the brand. 

So, we totally backstalked you on Instagram and saw you recently visited Industry City. What's this cool place all about? Industry City is amazing! There are so many small, but incredibly successful businesses there. More and more business are moving in daily, Brooklyn Flea is there on the weekends, and they have a great food hall. 

Who are some of your favorite makers? To name a few: 

Jewelry Evidence Jewelry / Black Springs Folk Art / Everli Jewelry / Claus Jewelry / ikcha

Clothing  Lauren Winter / Noemiah / Local Parity Goods

Home Herbivore Botanicals / Light Texture  / Portland Apron Company / Colette Bream

When you're not behind the sewing machine, what do you like to do? Apart from sewing, I try to take trips to the city now and then to get a look at what types of bags people are using, and how they are dressing (not that this isn't technically working). Even though I am always checking social media and pinterest, etc. there’s something so raw and inspiring about real street style. 

I also love frequenting thrift stores to find one of a kind treasures; shopping online discovering awesome, local indie designers; going to the diner for breakfast on a work day; the occasional happy hour; and of course just staying at home being married, and hanging out with our two cats.

Dreamcatcher: Lany the Chef

Welcome to the Dream Catcher Series. It is a lofty goal. It presumes that we all have dreams and a hope some day to run after them. Or perhaps it presumes that you will want to lose yourself in a dream.  No matter what: Our promise to you is that if you’ve been meaning to write a short story, start an organic sugar company or simply open up your mind to other options, we’ll get your wheels turning. 

The Dream Catcher Series features women (yep, sorry dudes) that have reached for their goals, however impossible-seeming, and are pursuing them. They don’t need to be CEO’s, but they can be. They can be professional bedazzlers or private chefs. They can be small shop owners or folk singers. The unifying thread? They earn their keep doing their own thing. These are women who have succeeded by the sheer force of their own ambitions.

Know anybody like this? Pitch us, we’ll listen. Send us an email at dreamcatchers@claramaejames.com. We want you to get inspired so that you can see that people out there are cutting loose and still supporting themselves. 


Dream Catcher Series
Installment 2: Dinner by Lany

Meet Lany: Somebody who no longer has a case of the Monday’s. Lany left her job in the advertising industry to pursue her love of Cambodian cooking and she’s on a mission to introduce NYC to the flavors and stories of her culture. 

Jamie and I had followed her to one of her jobs at a friend’s apartment in Williamsburg where she was cooking a family-style meal for him, his wife and five of his friends on a Sunday evening over the summer.

Name: Lany Phlong
Current Location: Brooklyn, NY
Occupation: Private Chef, founder of Dinner by Lany, and on the rotation at KitchenSurfing.com where she can make you and your family/friends/acquaintances five-course Cambodian meals in the comfort of your own home.

So how’d you start? Give us the down and dirty.
Growing up in Florida, I was immersed in Cambodian culture and food. I became dissatisfied with my career in advertising and decided that I wanted to pursue my passion of Cambodian cuisine on a full time basis. So, I quit my job and traveled throughout SE Asia for six months in order to reconnect with my roots and fully explore my passion for food. During three of those six months, I stayed in Cambodia, not only to educate myself on how to cook authentic Cambodian food, but also to reunite with my family. In fact, at the age of 31, I met my grandparents for the first time.

When I returned from my travels, I was brimming with excitement, ready to share all that I've learned. It first started with hosting dinner parties for friends and family, which led to small supper clubs in my own apartment that people actually PAID to attend. Eventually, with a lot of marketing and awesome clients' word of mouth, I started booking other events and various kinds of other opportunities to showcase my food. In between gigs, I interned at various restaurants in the city, because even though people were responding well to my food, I knew there was always something new to learn.   

So tell us about Dinner by Lany…
Dinner by Lany is a brand that I started in 2011 that basically offers all things food. I specialize in Southeast Asian cuisine with a focus on Cambodian flavors. I teach cooking classes privately and at various schools around town, host pop-ups/supper clubs, private dinners, and cater parties of all sizes. It's also my social media handle

What is on tonight’s menu?
Roasted Gai Lan with Shiitake, Branzino with Herb Chimichurri and Braised Pork Shoulder Curry with Fingerling Potatoes. 


Any top-secret ingredients for budding Cambodian chefs?
The heart and soul of most Cambodian dishes is a curry paste call Kreung. It's a mixture of several Asian aromatics and every family has a slightly different recipe. Call me bias, but I think my family's recipe is pretty spot on. I can't tell you what's in it yet, because I hope to one day bottle it! 

And between now and then, are there any recipes for any cooks who may want to try their hand at Cambodian cooking at home?
Sure! One of my favorite dishes is Lok Lak. I created a short how-to for Facebook here

Any tips for people who have dreams of being a private chef? Do you think that cooking school is essential?
Prepare to work your butt off. It's not at all like what you see on TV. In real life, you're in charge of all aspects of your business. You’re the busser, prep cook, dishwasher, delivery person, porter, PR rep, EVERYTHING! Things are not going to get done unless you, yourself do it. I've trekked through blizzards, thunderstorms and walked up seven flights of stairs with a 50-pound cooler filled with food, ready to cook for clients. When you're a budding entrepreneur, you have say "yes" to any opportunity that allows you to get paid for doing what you love. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help. The people that you love want to see you succeed. I have an amazing support system and I don’t think I can achieve all that I have without my husband, family and friends. Shout out to Clara Mae James for being one of my very first cater waiters! 

I don't think cooking school is essential, but if you do chose to skip that route, be ready to work for free and try to gain as much experience possible in a professional kitchen. 

It must be tiring to say “yes” to everything. How do you stay motivated?
When my parents came to this country as refugees of the Khmer Rouge war, all we had was what we could carry, our love for one another and family recipes from the country that we had to leave behind. Very early on in my culinary career, I made it my own personal mission to serve those dishes to as many people as possible. The recipes that inspired those dishes that I offer not only celebrate memories that not even war can diminish, but the story of my family’s journey.    

That’s incredible. So what has been your proudest Dinner By Lany moment? 
My proudest DBL moment is definitely when I hosted my very first pop-up event in Noho. The whole affair was a love letter to my family. I called it Yam Bai (which means "Eat Rice" or "Let's Eat"  in Cambodian) and the flyer had one of the very first photos of my mom in America. The menu featured all of my favorite Cambodian comfort foods and everyone had a great time.

Speaking of having a great time, it’s the holiday season! Anything special on your wishlist?
Blis Fish Sauce - it's Uber Fancy fish sauce that has been aged in bourbon barrels. A KitchenAid Mixer - because I really need to hone in on my pastry skills. And a pasta maker attachment for my KitchenAid - I really love making homemade pasta and I think it's time to expand my pasta horizons beyond pappardelle. 

Last question. Any upcoming projects? How can we get more of DBL?!
I just launched a take-out menu via the Homemade App. Each week I offer my favorite Cambodian home-style dishes via that app. Currently, I'm showcasing the Phnom Penh noodle soup. The broth is made with galangal, pickled radish, roasted onions and organic free range chicken. The dish is topped with succulent chicken, fresh herbs and served with a savory Asian doughnut. It’s the PERFECT dish for chilly weather or hangovers.

Yum! Can't wait to try and thanks for letting us crash your dinner party prep.

Happy Dreaming!

Photography and videography by Jamie Sylves
Written by Dina Biblarz

Because we're so obsessed with Lany, we caught up with her again on her day off. Check it out!

Shop Lany's Holiday Wishlist