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Business Buzz | 'You're the CEO' - Cultivate Illinois' local chapter supports women-led businesses

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Owning and operating a small business is no small feat.

A general knowledge of marketing and sales along with support from friends, family and the community is essential for success.

Chris McKinley, owner of Kinley Jewelry and coordinator for the Southern Illinois chapter of Cultivate Illinois, knows a thing or two about both sides of this coin.

McKinley started her business — Kinley Jewelry — over ten years ago, designing and creating earrings, necklaces, charmed tea infusers and bracelets using ethically sourced gemstones, wood, feathers and metals. She is inspired by nature and the geographical designs therein.

McKinley has a home studio and travels throughout the year to art and music festivals, craft fairs and art fairs to sell her wares. She also sells on crafter sites like Etsy to increase her brand awareness. While working tirelessly to learn the tricks of the trade, manage her social media sites, check inventory and create her pieces, McKinley wears many hats as the woman behind Kinley Jewelry.

"You're the CEO, the creative director, the marketing director. You do everything that a corporation has a huge team of people to do and you have to do it all yourself," said McKinley.

This wealth of experience as a business owner inspired McKinley to apply for a volunteer position with Cultivate Illinois in October 2020.

Cultivate Illinois was first launched in 2018 by Laura Edwards, a resident of Central Illinois. Edwards was looking for a way to help support female business owners and to feature natural, organic and ethically produced products.

Cultivate Illinois grew quickly and in July 2020, the network expanded to include Cultivate Chicago, Cultivate Southern Illinois and the original Cultivate Central Illinois.

McKinley was hired on as the Southern Illinois coordinator and besides increasing efforts to include more women in the Illinois Women Owned Business Directory, she also curates the quarterly crates for Cultivate Southern Illinois and manages the social media pages which feature female owned businesses.

"I couldn't help but believe that I was perfect for the job given my experience with my shop, selling for other makers and business people and just being familiar with crafters and artisans in this area," said McKinley.

Cultivate Southern Illinois' territory covers the region south of Effingham, including the Metro East area. The business directory includes a wide variety of female-owned businesses that offer goods and services for a variety of needs. Professional photographers, makers of fine bath and body products, painters, seamstresses, life coaches, dance instructors and plant experts are just a few of the women involved.

Being included in the Illinois Women Owned Business Directory is a way for customers to find goods and services from local professionals and artists and provides a way for the women who own these businesses to come together and share ideas and inspiration. For no fee, women can list their business contact information and links to social media pages and websites on the directory.

"This group is all about supporting each other. Women just naturally, I think, support each other in any endeavor. Being able to relate to somebody because you're doing the same thing, and sharing the same experience, it makes sense to share that," shared McKinley.

When McKinley isn't working to include, support and feature women business owners in Cultivate Southern Illinois, she is curating the quarterly crates that Cultivate offers for each season. Customers have the option to purchase the crates individually every winter, spring, summer and fall or to pay for an entire year of crates up front at a reduced cost. Each crate includes sample size gift items from five to seven businesses and provides a preview of artists and creators to encourage crate shoppers to purchase more from the vendors they discover.

Crates are a fun way to gift yourself a box of goodies at the turn of every season and what the recipient doesn't want to keep, can easily be turned into gifts for birthdays and holidays. Crates are also a fun way to surprise a friend or family member who is craving a taste of handcrafted, local Southern Illinois products.

"Certain people that have bought the crates consistently, they send them to people who previously lived in Southern Illinois and it makes a really nice gift because it's things that remind them of home. Sending some love from Southern Illinois," said McKinley.

Cultivate also offers a winter retreat that takes place each February where members come together for camaraderie, workshops, seminars, yoga, wine tasting and networking. While the 2021 winter retreat was held virtually, women business owners from across the state are looking forward to the 2022 that will be held on the grounds of Allerton Park and Retreat Center in Monticello. Attendees are encouraged to share new goals, cultivate ideas and learn new skills that will help in the success of their businesses.

Following the vision that founder, Laura Edwards, first initiated with Cultivate Illinois, women have been inspired to move forward with plans, expansions and dreams for their businesses that may not have been possible without the support of other female creators and professionals.

McKinley is continuing the Cultivate mentality in Southern Illinois to promote friendships and alliances for a talented group of women who are working to create a better life through creative expression. While some businesses are full-time employment for the members, others may be looking for a creative outlet and some additional income. The members of Cultivate Southern Illinois come from all backgrounds and lifestyles and all have something to offer customers and other business owners alike.

"It's something I feel passionate about and I like to support women like myself who are trying to do something that they feel passionate about. Women working with women to create products for women. It just makes sense," McKinley said.

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