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Women’s work

Paul Conrad/Aspen Times Weekly
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Women are many things: mothers and daughters; wives and friends; employees and business owners. Many are all of the above. This is perhaps especially true in the Roaring Fork Valley. But balancing the personal and professional is no easy task; in fact, it is one heck of a balancing act. But it can be done, and the three women entrepreneurs profiled here prove it.

Jill Pomeroy has always loved to bake – her mom used to call her “my little brownie baker.” But Cloud Nine Brownies, the one-woman show she runs out of a tiny kitchen at the Aspen Business Center, was built on far more than a little girl’s passion for mixing flour, chocolate and eggs. “Owning your own business is a lot of work,” Pomeroy said. “It can be very stressful. I need to make the brownies, and there isn’t much flexibility in that. And there are always financial concerns. But there are a lot of other benefits.”For Pomeroy, the married mother of two young boys, the benefits include crafting her own schedule. And there is also the sheer pleasure of creating something people love: “What I do makes people smile, and that’s very fulfilling.”But it took a while for Pomeroy to realize that dream.A professionally trained chef, Pomeroy worked in various kitchens before deciding the restaurant industry was not a good fit for her lifestyle. Instead, she moved into the business world, eventually becoming controller at a local construction firm.”I learned so much about business; it was a huge blessing to have had that experience,” Pomeroy said. “But I always wanted to own my own business.”So, armed with knowledge in both the culinary and business worlds – and an undeniable knack for baking brownies – Pomeroy left the construction firm in the summer of 2003 to start Cloud Nine Brownies (so named for the Aspen connection, the street she lives on, and, of course, their heavenly taste).

“We really thought we had something,” said Pomeroy of her sinful creations, which come in six varieties – Walnut Caramel, Peanut Butter, Toffee, Chocolate Chip, Espresso Dark Chocolate and Raspberry. Don’t ask Pomeroy how they taste, though; ironically, she’s allergic to chocolate. But, like any artist – she calls her creations “an artisan brownie” – Pomeroy has a feel for her medium (just ask anyone who has tasted the final product).Like most startups, Cloud Nine Brownies began as a very small operation. That first summer, Pomeroy baked her brownies in the kitchen at the Yellow Brick School in Aspen, where her sons attended day care; her husband Jim, who mans the company’s booth at the Aspen Saturday Market, brought just 100 to sell the first day.”It was amazing … they were gone by 11 a.m.” recalls Pomeroy, who now sends Jim to the market with up to 200 brownies each week. And though the Saturday Market remains a key piece of her retail business, it isn’t the only place Cloud Nine Brownies have taken off. Local clients now include the Cheese Shop in Aspen, Endeavor Cafe at Aspen Highlands, Tasters, Snowmass Liquors and the Ullrhof in Snowmass, and Epicurious and Saxy’s downvalley. Internet sales have seen her brownies shipped off to customers in California, New York, Afghanistan and Honduras, among other places. In the weeks before Christmas, Pomeroy will bake, package and ship some 6,000 brownies.She attributes her success to word-of-mouth in a small town like Aspen.

“Aspen is a great community,” said Pomeroy, who has been in the valley since 1995; her husband grew up here. “It’s just so supportive and giving … it allows for this type of thing to happen.”That said, Pomeroy says perhaps the most rewarding aspect of her job is not just baking brownies (or seeing the look on people’s faces when they try them), it’s operating her own business on her own terms. “We believe strongly in giving back, so we’re trying to do our part,” she said, explaining that a percentage of all sales goes to Roaring Fork Kids, a local child-care center, and boxes of brownies are donated to the Acumen Fund, a global venture that helps people living in poverty, and other nonprofits. “This has been a life lesson in many ways – a really good life lesson.”Cloud Nine Brownies can be reached at (970) 925-2549 or http://www.cloudninebrownies.com.

For Detha Mika, the idea that she’s a professional knitter is still a bit startling. Of course she’s been doing it for more than three decades now, building Sno Knits into a one-woman hat-making empire of sorts.”I took home ec in high school, did a little sewing,” said Mika, a longtime Roaring Fork Valley resident who now lives in Basalt. “But I never saw myself doing it for a living … I always figured I’d do something in the outdoors.”But talk with Mika a little longer, and the connection between her love of the outdoors and her work as a knitter becomes instantly clear. Mika moved to Aspen in the 1970s to ski; she took a job as a seamstress for the then-popular Mountain Lids to support her lifestyle.When the company folded just a few years later, leaving Mika with her own knitting machine and new set of skills, the entrepreneur in her took hold. She whipped up a few hats, stuffed them into a backpack, and set off to Snowmass to sell them. The rest, as they say, is history.”Everybody went crazy,” said Mika, recalling one specific trip to a ski industry trade show in Denver. “Only a handful of hats were being manufactured in the United States, and the ski industry was beginning its big boom … things just fell into place.”Fast forward a few years and Mika’s business was booming. Not only was she creating custom-knit ski hats and headbands, she was contracted by several local retailers to supply hats. She went to ski industry shows and was bombarded with orders. And she was charged with designing and manufacturing hats for Aspen-based Obermeyer Sport, a giant in the ski clothing industry. “I had to rent a warehouse, employ people … it was crazy,” recalled Mika, who by this time was married and raising a son. “But I wanted to do my own thing again.”That “thing” still involved making hats, and it still allowed her to work for herself. In fact, by downsizing, Mika was able to actually make hats. “I learned bigger isn’t always better,” she said. “I enjoy making hats and seeing someone get excited about a hat they help create or that they like to wear. And it got to a point where I wasn’t able to do that anymore.”Now, Mika spends every day during the ski season at her knitting machine at Gene Taylor’s on the Snowmass Village mall, designing and sewing caps for walk-in clients. She has set of standard designs and she custom designs others; the options in colors, patterns, yarns and styles are virtually endless. She also sells her hats at Incline Sports, Snowmass Sports, Scandinavian Designs and Bonnie’s on Aspen Mountain. Her World Cup hats are legendary.But it’s slower pace than during her hat-making heyday. She works hard in the winter (though she’s not afraid to put up a sign on a powder day telling customers she’s gone skiing), stockpiles retail supplies in the summer, and takes time off in the shoulder seasons.Again, it’s about lifestyle. And after growing her business to great heights, and then scaling it back to a one-woman show, Mika’s now found a great middle ground.”It’s a lot of hard work, of course, but I really do enjoy my work,” she said, adding that even with the popularity of helmets, “people still need a good hat to put on after they take off their helmet.”It’s just me, and that’s a really good thing.”Sno Knits by Detha can be reached at (970) 927-4465 or http://www.snoknits.com.

Love ’em or hate ’em, bumper stickers are here to stay. Aimee Dale realized that while driving around one day and noticing yellow “Support Our Troops” ribbons everywhere. “I thought to myself, ‘I wonder why no one is doing any other designs?'” recalls Dale of that day in 1995.Before long, her mind was racing with design ideas. But who wants a permanent sticker affixed to their car? “I knew there was a way to get the message out without a traditional bumper sticker,” Dale said.Thus, Karmagnets was born. The bumper stickers are simple magnets, easily affixed and removed from a vehicle (Dale recommends removing them at least once a week to be cleaned; she also suggests moving them to different spots periodically to avoid faded paint marking the outline of the magnet). They are waterproof and will not fade, peel or disintegrate. “You just stick them on and take them off whenever you want,” said Dale, who designs the magnets from her home office in Basalt. “Your bumper sticker can change with your mood.”A devotee of yoga and wellness, not just any slogan would fit with Dale’s vision for her new company, though. Dale is a firm believer in the Buddhist concept of karma: What goes around comes around. Thus, the first Karmagnets – the Karma Loop Series – is an artistic representation of the circular concept of karma. The slogans are similarly karma-conscious: “Believe in a Better World,” “Live in Peace,” “End Poverty,” “Cure Cancer,” “Protect our Planet,” “Protect our Children,” “Cure AIDS” and “Freedom.” There is also a “Katrina Relief” magnet, with 100 percent of the profit from sales going to The Red Cross to help with relief efforts.In fact, a portion of all sales is donated to charity. Among the nonprofits that have received funds from Karmagents are The One Campaign, Lance Armstrong Foundation, Oprah’s Angel Network, AIDS Research Alliance of America, Farm Aid, Natural Resources Defense Council, Save the Children and Public Citizen Foundation.”There are so many wonderful organizations out there that are committed to crucial global initiatives,” noted Dale, the married mother of two young daughters who is committed to creating a more peaceful, compassionate world. “It is inspiring to think that via Karmagnets, I can contribute to the efforts of those organizations.

And in the logic of karma, it doesn’t just end there, Dale added. “If everyone does a little something, such as buying a Karmagnet, and displaying it with positive intention, the energy will conspire to create a better world.”Of course the Karmagnet concept isn’t confined to “karma.” Customers can custom-design a car magnet (perfect for “gift bag stuffers, fundraising items and offer a great way to advertise your business to a captive audience stuck in traffic!” states the company’s website). An online site allows you to choose your slogan and color. And Dale currently is at work on several other magnetic bumper sticker series, such as Religious Symbols Series, Protection Series, Yoga and Spirituality Series, Political Series and Nature Lover Series. But it’s not all so heady – a line of humorous magnetic bumper stickers – the Just for Laughs Series – is also on the drawing board.”It’s really about having fun,” said Dale, who seems to be having plenty of fun with her business venture.Karmagnets can be reached at (970) 309-4154 or http://www.karmagnets.com.Jeanne McGovern’s e-mail address is jmcgovern@aspentimes.com


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