BABE #60: MARA STROBEL-LANKA,
Content Creator @ Momni Boutique
Shortly after I moved to Jax, I (creepily) discovered Mara on IG a while perusing local hashtags. It wasn't until I created BWH + became more involved with the small biz community here that we met IRL at Vagabond Flea in December. Fast forward 3 months, and we've spent enough time getting to know each other over coffee (+ mimosas) that she's basically stuck with me forever now. For someone 3 years younger than me, her ambition, poise, talent, strength and creativity inspire me daily; it's like hanging out with the 21 year-old version of me who is much cooler and way more put-together.
With that said, BWH has (fortunately) grown way faster than I anticipated for being only 7 months old, and I can no longer tackle it alone. I didn't plan on bringing anyone onto the team this soon, but I can't think of anyone I trust more to jump into this adventure with me than this little lady right here.
Babe you admire and why?
My BFF, Jennie DeBlanc. She’s graduating pre-med at Michigan with a 4.0 in April, is the President of, like, a lot of stuff, can throw back 17 shots without dying, and has known me six years and never once given up on me (except for a brief period when I blocked her for telling me I was the Meredith to her Cristina - now we’re both Cristina).
How do you spend your free time?
Writing, reading, sailing, painting, smothering my fat orange tabby cat, and hanging in the kitchen over something yummy and a beer with my boyfriend. Also camping, if I can get away for the weekend.
Must-have item in your purse?
Go-to adult beverage?
Being only 21, I’m just getting used to the terminology and labeling of alcohol. Until recently, I ordered everything “on the rocks,” as in, “rum on the rocks.” It’s okay, I hate me too. #Embarrassing.
Favorite beauty item?
What would you eat for your very last meal?
I’ve been a vegetarian for over a year. Having said that, for my last meal I’d tuck a napkin in my collar and eat a rack of BBQ smoked ribs, corn on the cob, a side of bacon, and a loaf of Community Loaves sourdough, whole.
Favorite social media account to follow?
@trashfortossers is a total BABE in New York City who documents her Zero Waste lifestyle and makes it look pretty. We'll count this as her BWH nomination because I want to interview her ASAP.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
J.K. Rowling. I’d bring my original childhood copies of HP, the wand I made in 5th grade, the letters I wrote the whole year I was 11, and a handkerchief to catch all of my many inevitable tears.
If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would it be?
I’d be at Miss Lisa’s ice cream shop in my hometown, nestled in a porch swing with my little sister Anna, while she tells me about her day in third grade.
Something most people don't know about you?
I wrote a book when I was in high school. But don’t be impressed, it was by no means a real book. It was two hundred pages, had no plot, and was all about me. Needless to say, no one will ever, ever read it.
Tell us about your hustle:
At Momni Boutique, I work as store manager of daily sales, inventory and customer relations. I also manage all of the branding, social media content, blogging, photo shoots and events, etc. At Jacksonville's industrial event space, Six Hundred King, I work with social media, give tours and coordinate with clients who are renting out the space for events. And at Babes Who Hustle, I’m Chelsea’s bitch. JK, I’m mostly here to ease the email, interview, and corresponding demands - and make coffee runs every now and then. (Chelsea added that in.)
What does your typical workday look like?
I take an hour or two each morning to respond to emails and keep up with other social media accounts, blogs, and babes that I draw inspiration from. At Momni, I work 10-3 on a variety of tasks in the shop (sales, shoots, inventory, etc). After that, I run to Six Hundred King to give showings, work on the blog or Instagram, or just gawk over the pretty space. I'm usually done by 6 or 7 and jump back on BWH emails for a bit, but as all hustling babes know, I never really stop working.
Have you always had a love for fashion and boutiques/retail? Was this job something you planned for or did you just fall into the opportunity?
Working at Momni was completely unplanned. I like to think I've always had an interest in style, but I had never ever planned on working in fashion except for a brief period at age 9 during my obsession with ANTM. A year and a half ago, our shop owner, Joy, was looking for artwork to fill the shop windows before the Momni soft opening. A mutual friend connected us, I painted two pieces for her, she offered me a part-time gig as shop girl, and the rest is history.
What is your work environment and culture like at Momni?
Whether it’s the shop, the space, or my dining room table drafting BWH interview questions, my work environment is super casual. I like to have a pretentious indie playlist running in the background, a cup of coffee nearby, and creative ideas flowing around me. I’m very close with each of my bosses and all of the associates who work at Momni. It never quite feels like “work" - at least not the 9-5 work that seems to be taboo these days - because I’m always surrounded by women and friends who are excited by creative projects.
How do you manage all of your responsibilities? (Shop manager, content creator, blogger, events coordinator, etc?) Have you always been organized or is it something you’ve learned on the job?
I’m still not at the point where I can confidently call myself “organized.” I get stuff done by deadline, and it's mostly because I write ten lists a day that are pretty much the same content over and over. But I only write ten lists because I’m bound to lose nine of them. It’s a constant battle of “oh shit, I forgot” and “I guess I’ll pull an all-nighter”.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
Well, I work for three completely different, creative, savvy, successful female business owners and I can't really say it happened by accident. Istrongly identify as a feminist, and I try to translate that into my work and my work ethic. I’m influenced exclusively by women in my professional life, and I like to think it’s crafting me into a BWH.
What are some of the everyday struggles with your job that we might not see?
I manage 5 different social media accounts and I’ll be the first to tell you that coming up with 10 clever, totally-not-pushy-but-totally-selling Instagram captions each day is mentally exhausting. I've become completely addicted to the app, and I struggle to separate my constant presence on it with my own sense of materialism.
What is one of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced in your work? How’d you overcome it?
Asking for my first raise was extremely difficult. At the end of the day, I had to trust that my work deserved more, and that I knew what my next move was if I didn’t get it.
Do you ever struggle to come up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks?
There are definitely days that I stare at a blank word doc with no clue which blog content or shoot concepts I'm going be able to pry from my brain. Luckily there's no lack of kickass women, killer runway collections, and talented models to turn to when I need inspiration. Taking a half hour to sit outside and read a book is never a bad idea either.
What's it like working so closely with Joy, the owner at Momni? What are some takeaways you’ve learned from her?
My relationship with Joy stretches beyond mentorship and reaches into too-good-to-be-true territory. She's taught me to be generous, to trust myself, to be flexible, to say “yes” to every opportunity, and to never ever go a day without a project (or ten in her case).
What makes Momni stand out among the other boutiques in town?
We’re the only boutique where I’ve ever seen three generations of women in a family all find something that made them feel beautiful, timeless, and totally themselves. Both our price point and inventory attracts all age groups and backgrounds, which I love. And free custom alterations? Doesn’t get better.
What's your support system like?
For growing up a thousand miles away, I feel incredibly at home here in Jax. I’ve found some great people to lean on, with my boyfriend Josh and roommate Tori being my biggest, most patient cheerleaders when it comes to my career. I should also mention that I grew up with some incredibly strong teachers and family who pushed me to pursue a talent in writing, even when I didn’t believe I had one.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
Interviewing ladies for the Momni blog, The Boutique Next Door, is my absolute favorite. I probably look ridiculous asking business owners to meet me for coffee and proceed to scribble notes on my legal pad, but it just feels right, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. Shoots are a similar experience, and feel almost too much fun to be paid for (well, almost). My least favorite? Reading poorly written emails. You know the ones.
What would you say is your biggest strength?
Creativity. I never really thought having an artistic eye would play so well into being a part of a business. I love being able to create something beautiful (photos, articles, ads, events) that draws people to our brand, while still adding my personal touch to it.
What would you say is the skill you most need to improve?
Grammar! My lack of a college degree makes me uber self-conscious about this.
Do you ever feel like you’re at a disadvantage being young and already out in the workforce?
If anything, I feel like I have an advantage working so young. The hard days of applying to hostess jobs and eating ramen 6 nights a week are (hopefully) behind me, and I've gained a ton of confidence through all the experience I've gained so far. I definitely get a little irked when new contacts are reluctant to take me seriously, but it only fuels my drive to prove them wrong.
Do you ever regret not finishing school?
I definitely regret not having a degree, but I'm still proud of myself for making the decision to drop out of college, because it was what I needed to do at the time. I thought my life would end when I first made that decision, until I found myself somehow still thriving. Maybe I’ll go back this year, or in five, or never. When it comes down to it, I wouldn’t have the jobs or the career path that I do now if I hadn’t dropped out, and that’s pretty cool.
What’s your ultimate dream job? Do you plan to stay in retail? Management? Content creation? Fashion?
All of my hustles, roles, and projects have only confirmed for me that I'm supposed to be a writer. I love each part of my job so much, but at the end of the day, writing is what I live for. If I could do that to pay the bills, I'd be completely fulfilled.
What motivates and inspires you?
I’m intensely motivated by my own independence, and being able to financially and emotionally provide for myself. I’ve been living on my own since I was 19, and nothing feels better than feeding myself dinner, bathing myself in hot water, and spending my own damn money on a vacation. It might come down to the wire more months than not, but paying the bills with my own hard work is pretty gratifying.
What does success look like to you?
An apartment full of books, a kitchen full of people I love, and a job that doesn’t feel like work.
What's a standout experience you’ve had during your time at Momni?
The first Momni Fashion Show was a huge moment for both me and Momni as a business. We put a lot of work and risk into that first event, and seeing three hundred people wowed by it was pretty damn satisfying. I had thought before that both myself and our little boutique had immense potential, but that night seemed to put it in writing.
What’s next for you?
I’ll be staying in Jax for another couple of years to participate in as much growth (Momni, BWH, SHK, etc) as possible. After that, I’m hoping to move somewhere with altitude. Whether that’s west, north, or abroad, I can’t wait to find out. More immediately, I’m currently planning my first trip out of the country and the 2017 Momni Fashion Show, which will both be friggin amazing, and don’t really feel like real life.
What are your goals for the future?
I really want to write a book. Or a column. Or even a blog. I just want to push myself to write weirder, more honest work, and hopefully have it published.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
Say yes to anything you can learn from, prioritize self care, and don’t take life advice from 21-year-olds.
In partnership with: StringStrangStrung
Solely owned and operated by local Jax native Brandy Brong, StringStrangStrung is a modern string art decor company with an insane attention to detail. Check out our interview with Brandy here, browse her collection on Etsy, and use offer code 'BWH15' at checkout for 15% off your entire purchase! Free domestic shipping + custom orders always available!