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Hidden Gems: Local Businesses & Creatives You Should Know

Every day we have a choice. We can support an up and coming podcaster, try a new family-run restaurant, join a boutique gym started by a local fitness champ or we could keep giving away our money to the handful of giants who already control so much of our commerce. Our daily decisions impact the kind world we live in; if we want a world where small businesses are growing and artists and creatives are thriving then we should support them with our time, money and attention. We’re proud to highlight inspiring creatives and entrepreneurs each week in Hidden Gems series. Check out some of our latest local gem features below.

Mariana Ayamel

My cosmetology journey began in 2011 while attending Gaithersburg High School (Gaithersburg, MD). I was enrolled as a Cosmetology student under the guidance of the late Angela Johnson. While in school, I worked in a hair salon/barbershop as a Shampoo Assistant.  As time passed and I was approaching the completion of my class, the stylist I was assisting explained that I could not be licensed and work as her assistant. The news was very frightened to me as I was still in high school and didn’t believe I was ready to be on my own. During my senior year, in September of 2014, I sat for my State Board Exam and passed on my first attempt. Shortly after, I was hired as a part-time stylist at JCPenny Salon. I was employed at the salon for approximately a year until I graduated high school. I continued my academic endeavors and went on to attend Morgan State University (MSU) (Baltimore, MD) studying Business Administration. While attending MSU, I worked at a local salon named Salon P, however, the majority of my experience took place within my dorm room. The word spread fast and soon I was known as the stylist around campus. I spent countless days and late nights servicing clients. Read more>>

Yulia Semchenko

I was born and raised in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. I design and make clothing and accessories from a traditional handwoven fabric called ikat. My business is called Yul d’UZ. Yulduz means star in Uzbek.  The story of Yul d’Uz started in Kyiv in 2015 where my husband was working for an international organization. I brought back to Ukraine a blend of cotton and silk ikat material from a trip home to Samarkand. I had long wanted to design a modern fashion look with the traditional colors and patterns of Central Asia ikat, so I found a great seamstress in Kyiv who understood my passion and designed two jackets, a summer dress, shorts, and a shirt from a blend of silk and cotton ikat.  My ikat pieces immediately caught people’s attention and relatives, friends, and even strangers on the streets in Kyiv stopped me and asked me about my jackets. I soon had relatives and friends from Austria to Colorado wearing ikat jackets. I slowly began thinking about the idea of developing a business model. Read more>>

Yene Damtew

My passion and love for hair started when I was a teenager and I went to hair school when I was 16. Growing up, every Sunday I would see my mom put hot rollers in her hair, get in the shower while we were getting ready for church, and then she would take them out of her shower cap and her hair always came out curly and amazing. So that’s when the fascination began and then it evolved into a passion as I got older.  I started braiding hair when I was in the 7th grade. My brother grew his hair out and I would watch him get his hair braided and one day I said, I’m going to try. I would try it on him and the parts would be so bad that there would be this whole middle patch left. I didn’t know how to angle the parts, but I kept practicing, and eventually, I was braiding his hair and all the neighborhood kids and the athletes in high school.  I then went to Cosmetology school at age 16 to really gain the necessary knowledge I needed to truly begin my career. Read more>>

Jill Bush

I have always been obsessed with photography, even as a child. My mother always had a camera in her hand, inspiring me to take photos at a very young age. One summer, I think in 5th grade, she signed me up for a photography class at the Smithsonian. There, I learned the basics of photography, how to make my own pinhole camera, and how to develop the film in an actual darkroom! The whole process impressed me, from the science to the artistry. I spent the rest of my childhood taking thousands of photos on my Kodak Instamatic camera, dropping off my film at K-Mart, and furiously unwrapping the prints in the parking lot 24hrs later. I guess you could say I was hooked!  After my first baby, like many moms, I purchased my first DSLR camera. I practiced and practiced, learning my camera’s manual settings, experimenting with light, and perspective, and signing up for all the photography workshops I could find. I think I watched every photography YouTube video on the internet. It was so much fun that I even started shooting family portraits for all my friends. Photography was a way for me to express myself artistically after working a desk job for most of my day. Read more>>

Jasmine Williams

The best way to describe me is as a Baltimore transplant who fell in love with the city and never left! I relocated to Baltimore in 2014 after receiving my placement with Teach For America (TFA). When I started my career in education, I was teaching math and science to first graders. By my second year of teaching, I found my sweet spot teaching middle school math. After my time with TFA, I decided to challenge myself professionally and personally. I left my placement school and began teaching at a turnaround school in West Baltimore. It was during this season of my life that I reconnected with my love for mathematics and began tutoring part-time. Stakes were really high in turnaround work since the school had performed low on every indicator of the state of Maryland’s measure. With that being said, if changes were not made, the school would be slated to close. My role as the middle school math teacher and team lead was to ensure our students were making significant and consistent growth. Read more>>

Jessica Fike

I grew up in Connellsville, PA, about an hour south of Pittsburgh, playing sports and being actively involved in school. I eventually landed at Bridgewater College in Virginia where I studied International Studies and participated in a Foreign Policy semester program at American University. Bridgewater is also where I met my now-husband, Brian. He grew up in Oakland, MD, just 20 minutes from where we live now and I was immediately drawn to the fact that he lived in the Deep Creek Lake area where my siblings and I had vacationed with our family every summer.  During my high school and college years, I was always taking pictures, printing them, and sometimes even including them in scrapbooks. But not once did I take a photography class. My mom was a wedding photographer during all my years at home and would take me along to jobs once I got older. She was using film, so I was mostly carrying equipment and blocking the bathroom door when she needed complete darkness to un-jam the film in her camera. When she invited me to use her new digital camera to actually take pictures at a wedding, things shifted for me. I had a new sense for photography and weddings!. Read more>>

Blake Roberts

I was born in Dover, DE and grew up in Pennsylvania. My parents divorced shortly after I was born. My father remained in Delaware and my mother moved to Pennsylvania. I traveled over two hours every other weekend to see my father. I would not have changed my situation whatsoever. I am very thankful for both my parents and step-parents. They all made me the man I am today. I also thank god for all the blessing in my life. I ended up going back to Delaware to get my degree at Wesley College. There I got my B.S.N. with a minor in psychology. I also played NCAA football for Wesley college. I played on the offensive line and was a captain my senior year. We were one of the top DIII teams in the country. After graduating college, I moved to North Carolina for my first registered nurse position. I remained there for two years until I decided to travel nurse. While I was in North Carolina I started up my USANA business as a distributor of the best cellular nutrition products in the world. I grew up taking their products and believe in them. Read more>>

Sunday Coleman

On a visit to Maryland that was planned to be “temporary” in September of 2020, the idea of Regen The Skin was conceived. Yep! Smack in the middle of a pandemic, Sunday loved the intimacy of joining her youngest sister, G. Coleman, who’s the owner and founder of Brow Skyn Girl. While G specializes in brow artistry, Sunday focuses on Skincare. From customizing client facials, corrective skin treatments, utilizing advanced skincare modalities such as Chemical Peels, Micro-needling, Microdermabrasion, LED Light Therapy, High- Frequency, and more. Sunday, approach every service with a focus on how she can best meet clients’ needs long term to ensure they stay looking and feeling beautiful until their return for another treatment. And, what she enjoys most is the relationship building of clients.  Prior to the birth of Regen The Skin, she lived in Los Angeles, California with her 9+ years of experience in the film industry as an actress, and 11+ years in Early Childhood Education. She returned back to her native Maryland, to partner with her sister. Not only is she growing and building clientele in Maryland, but also in Dallas, Texas. Read more>>

Jim Wheelock

I have been an avid music fan for as long as I can remember. About 10 years ago, I got heavily involved in record collecting. As a result, I have an amassed a large collection. I attend record shows, visit local shops, flea markets, and yard sales looking to grow my collection. I have recently started selling select choices from my collection through my eBay site as well as an Instagram account, @vinyl_recycle  Read more>>

Tammi Rogers

I was born to entertain. My love for the arts began early in life. My God-given natural ability to command attention shines onstage and backstage. I am known as an actor, director, acting coach, casting director, props manager, producer, singer, and speaker. Currently, I am the Resident Acting Coach for The Actors Academy Baltimore, an acting group run by Awsim Amin that offers classes to actors in the D.C./Maryland/Virginia (DMV) area. I have been acting for 35 years and has appeared in many D.C./Maryland/Virginia (DMV) local & community plays. I made my debut at the famous Arena Players, Inc. March 2016 in the stage play, Witness for the Prosecution. I have graced the stage with and have been understudies for Shirley Murdock and D’atra Hicks, in Crystal L. Bass’ Ain’t No Love Like A Mother’s Love. Read more>>

Gresham Harkless

For me, I always say that I had entrepreneurial tendencies before I even understood what that was. When I was 10 years old, I started what eventually became a family newspaper. My dad went to an entirely different country for a year when he was in the military. So, I started a family newspaper before all of the technological tools that we have now like FaceTime and Zoom and Skype to really connect with him I compiled all the family news into a monthly newspaper, but in true entrepreneurial form, I also sold the subscriptions to my family members, and also some of my family friends.  For me, I didn’t really understand what entrepreneurship was, but I was the kid that would sell CDs or potato chips on a playground or candy or beads that are designed into necklaces and bracelets. I was that kid. And it wasn’t until years and years later that I really understood that was probably something that made me unique and something that I was attracted to and, for lack of a better term made me who I am. So fast forward a lot of years. Read more>>

Amy McManus

Crimson & Clover evolved out of a love and obsession for stunning flowers, whimsical details, and a desire to create memorable experiences. The company began in 2003 as a small retail boutique in Downtown Baltimore. Over the years it has thrived under the loving direction of owner and founder, Amy McManus, and has moved to its current retail space, conveniently located in the heart of Roland Park. Crimson & Clover’s work is on the cutting-edge and exudes a subtle sophistication that has made them one of Baltimore’s most coveted florists. Her passion for flowers and how much they not only affect a space but people and their emotions so directly helped make Crimson & Clover a recognized name in the industry. Read more>>

Kiara Quick

As a young child, my aunt would always dress me up as her doll baby. I would always get best dressed in the yearbook and I loved dressing outside of the box. I always knew I wanted to have a place in the fashion world I just didn’t know what exactly.  I’ve modeled and styled before, but my true passion for fashion didn’t come until after I gave birth to my daughter. After gaining weight during my pregnancy, I wanted to lose the weight and I refused to go to the gym with sweats and a t-shirt so I took sewing classes and started making my own Athleisure clothes to workout in. Initially, this was just to boost my self-esteem and my passion for designing turned into my business FASHION MERMAID!. Read more>>

Kaleb Goods

Kaleb’s Kookies started when Kaleb’s Grandmother was furloughed from her job. She turned her love for baking into her hustle. During this time, we realized Kaleb also had an interest in baking. Once Grandma got back on her feet Kaleb (with the help of his parents) took over the business. Kaleb is now the CEO and is saving for his education one Kookie at a time!  Read more>>

Morgan Davis

Entrepreneurship and the arts have been a large part of my life. Around my junior year of high school till my sophomore year of undergrad, I ran plus-size blog and clothing line called Hey Big Trender — where I made upcycled vintage pieces for sizes 14 and up. Soon after, I received my BFA in Design with a Concentration in Fashion from Howard University in Washington, DC. From there, this created a full-fledged catalyst into creativity and business development for the past 8+ years.  Fashion, and the arts overall, is so important to me because I see it as a form of creative rebellion for marginalized folks like myself — especially other Black, dark-skin, fat women. The fashion industry is inherently fatphobic, anti-Black, and capitalistic, so I use my designs as a way to create a safe space for folks to use fashion as an artistic form of expression and liberation. Read more>>

Omolola Ashley Akinrimisi

I am Omolola Ashley Akinrimisi, the founder and head MUA and Hairstylist for Lola Luxe Beauty. I am a professional hairstylist and makeup artist with over 6 years of experience in the beauty industry. Initially self-taught, I recently certified as a licensed cosmetologist. I am passionate about using makeup to bring out the inner Luxe Beauty in all my clients!  I am from Nigeria, and I was born in Maryland. My mom was a major influence in my career in hair and makeup, although my mom is currently a Nollywood actress in Nigeria with many of her movies on Netflix, she was initially a licensed cosmetologist and she previously owned a salon. I remember always being in her salon as a child, watching her do hair and I remember reading her hair books and makeup magazines. My dad is also an entrepreneur, in the business of logistics with an international shipping company and he is very hardworking and passionate about his business. Read more>>

Joshua Veale

I’ve been singing for almost as long as I could remember. I never took any professional voice lessons, but people always told me I have a nice voice, so I figured I might as well put it to use. Around my 6th or 7th-grade year, I got into poetry pretty heavy, and that led into me rapping around my 9th-grade year. I never really took it seriously until about 2019, though, and even now, I’m still working on my craft and improving myself with every song. 2019 was also the year I started doing photography, too. I started in my senior yearbook class and loved capturing people through the lens, and after I graduated, I went and bought the same camera I used in my yearbook class and continued to develop my skills. I’d like to think of myself as a semi-professional photographer these days, or at the very least, an extremely gifted amateur. That’s why I established myself as an LLC last year. Read more>>

Sarah Collins

I got started with my after prior business ventures that did not work for me. I thought to myself let me start something I can call mines. I did my research and found out that I love making lip glosses. Once I purchased all of the materials that I needed Glamour Babes Collection was born. During Covid I worked day in and out making lip-glosses, advertising, promoting, and more to get my name out there and also offering wholesale as well. In August 2020 I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I stopped my business because of my pregnancy which I blame myself to this day for not continuing. After my son was born, I told myself I did not want to continue to work these jobs anymore and to be able to provide him with A life I never had. Read more>>

Amber Braswell

I have always loved planning events small, big, intimate, or social and making people feel good. In 2019 when COVID-19 first hit us I decided to tap into my entrepreneur side and I started a lash business called New Era iCollection which since then has expanded from Instagram to an Annapolis Mall where we have our Lash Vending Machine. In 2021 I gave birth to my baby girl Daniella and knew from that moment on that I wanted her childhood to be different from mine. I wanted to show her that as an African American woman you can go to school and get degrees but you can also be a successful woman of color CEO as well. I decided to start StudioD360 for my daughter and the D in StudioD360 stand for her name Daniella. StudioD360 is just not a photo booth company we bring the vibes to all events we work. We make people feel good, and confident when they get in front of the camera. I plan to build this small business into a large-scale business and service other major cities outside of the DMV. StudioD360 is a family-oriented business and will have a spot waiting for my daughter the moment she is ready to work. Read more>>

Alma Reyes

My story is somewhat funny because I started taking Real Estate course to accompany a friend, she was always making an excuse to not go and I thought that me going with her was my way of supporting. At that time, we both worked for a bank and I was very happy I had been there for 5 years. I was happy because they had just given me a promotion and had a decent income, I had many benefits including 5 weeks of paid vacations a year, it was really a dream. At that time, I had just had my second son Sebastian and just days before returning to work from my maternity leave, I realized that I was pregnant again with my third daughter Emely, and that was when I began to realize that my 8 am job -6pm I was keeping me away from them. I didn’t see my children until night if I was lucky, they weren’t already sleeping. Every day it was harder for me to take them to a medical appointment, I was still going to college and pregnant again… I started to more researching about opportunities to earn more money and be able to work my own schedule and that’s how I started to focus on classes, my reason was no longer to accompany my friend but to learn the business and make it my business. Read more>>

Nabria Mckenzie

Christine Nabria Mckenzie (Uadjet Aabit Maat) is a Celebrity Creative Director & GFX/VFX Senior Designer, Business Coach, Filmmaker, Mdw Ntr (Ancient Egyptian) Translator & Educator, Author, Fully Certified Aromatherapist, and Professional Herbalist. With over 20 years of experience in the professional field of visual communications, technology & designs. She has helped hundreds of people become successful entrepreneurs. And has had over 17k viewers on YouTube with subscribers following her journey locally and globally. She has taught the importance of entrepreneurship, African culture (literature & linguistics), and new business development as a business coach.  Beginning her journey as an entertainer She would sing from a child to a young adult from church, in front of ARs, even on subway trains, and downtown. Seeing how many people supported her led her to turn to music as a serious career. She believes singing is a God-given gift and one of her greatest passions. Becoming an R&B Recording artist, she gained a lot of major industry opportunities from singing and modeling. She met a lot of people that would lead to her having access the professional knowledge that she has about the music industry, artist development, marketing & so much more. Read more>>

Deborah Walmer

I grew up in a suburb of Philadelphia in a lower-middle-class family filled with trauma and abuse. I escaped my family and with the help of my best childhood friend, I went to college. I studied art and graphic design at Mount Vernon College in Washington, DC and took classes at American University to round out my graphic design program. I was nominated for the Honors program at MVC as well. I clearly remember getting the induction ceremony mail and thinking it was a mistake. My professors assured me it was well deserved. My self-esteem at the time would have said otherwise. While studying, I also danced. I started taking West African dance classes and fell in love with everything from the drums to the history and culture. I traveled with the dance company, Wo’se, to Guinea to study with the National Ballet troupe of Guniea. It was an amazing trip. During college, I started my journey as a feminist but also being anti-racist. I joined the Black Student Alliance and learned everything I could about West African Dance. I was awarded the Fine Arts Award at MVC in 91 when I graduated.  Read more>>

Kevaughna Abraham

My journey began as an aspiring rapper. Like most rising talents, I was broke. I didn’t always have the money for performance, media, and exposure opportunities but that wasn’t going to stop me. I went above and beyond to build and maintain relationships with people in this area who could help me move further in my goal. I volunteered a lot of time. I live-hosted club events for free in exchange for performance opportunities during the event. I volunteered as staff for local music festivals in order to gain access to organizers (it also landed me a performance opportunity once). I’d picked up a few graphic design skills when I started making my own performance flyers, and flyers for others. I’d moved into street team, (working with names like MTV and The Kennedy Center), photography, and I’ve even shot a music video! I eventually found myself volunteering under the marketing department of a once super popular DMV music collective named One Love Massive. I was hoping to utilize my being part of the team, as a way to utilize their platform to help enhance my career. Read more>>

Whitney Lane

I started my journey as an educator in May of 2012. I was a teacher KIPP College Prep HS in DC for 5 years before I got my Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and decided to start my own childcare center. I opened Learning Lane STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) childcare center in PG County MD in 2018. Learning Lane Child Development Center exists to provide a safe, high-quality, developmentally appropriate environment for infants, preschool, and school-age children. Our focus is to provide a stimulating early care and education experience, which promotes each child’s social/emotional, physical, and cognitive development. Our goal is to provide a holistic and innovative approach to education that will ensure our students are lifelong learners. I have employed over 10 African American employees between 2018 and now to work as teachers and substitutes at Learning Lane Childcare Center. I have also partnered with multiple black-owned businesses to provide activities like basketball, yoga, soccer for Learning Lane’s summer camp program. Read more>>

Stevie Boi

I started the SBshades brand back in 2009. I was living across from Lexington Market. I would go to Sonar with friends wearing my designs. I was asked by a performer if she could wear my sunglasses and it became one of the shots on a popular Baltimore city publication. After that, I started getting about 10,000 orders a week. I had to learn pretty fast how to run my business. Read more>>

Ashley J. Mitchell

My love for photography started at a young age. I grew up in a house that was filled with photos on the walls and photo albums all over. My granny had an old Nikon film camera and my mom bought a camcorder and that was all I needed to get started. I was that person who was always in your face with a camera, capturing moments that we will never get back but will remember for a lifetime because of the images and videos. In high school, I took photography for three years, learned the ins and outs of film photography. Developing my own film and images and that just took my love to another level. After high school, I did not take any photography classes in college but did have a point-and-shoot digital camera I would use. I was always the photographer of the family taking and printing out images in albums. Attending my sister’s wedding in 2019 and all I could really think about was the photographer. Watching what he was doing wishing I was photographing the wedding. That moment is what really sparked the fire in my heart for photography again so that weekend I picked up a camera at the pawnshop. The time we were given in 2020 allowed me the opportunity to learn the advances of the digital photography and start photographing again and here I am.  Read more>>

Kristin Vucina

I am a mom, foodie, travel, and life lover with many diverse interests! I love being immersed in nature, but also love the energy of a city. The mountains and beach both have my heart. I love to laugh with people, but also need quality time to reenergize. I love sports and also the theater (especially musicals). I basically love all foods and enjoy both cooking and baking. Growing up in Vermont, my days were spent among the quaint mountains, mostly ski race training by day and theater rehearsal at night. After attending college in Florida, I ventured to Maryland for work in the tech world (I have a Master’s in Computer Science) and have now called it home for over 18 years! I love the natural and cultural diversity this state offers, making it a photographer’s dream. Read more>>

Magdalena

I have always been interested in photography… even in elementary school, all I remember wanting was to ask Santa for a Polaroid camera. In high school, I was introduced to the darkroom, and that’s when an interest became a full-blown obsession. While in high school, I started sneaking my camera into concerts, and by the time I was a junior, I knew I wanted to pursue photography professionally. Read more>>

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