Ashley Ambirge – The Middle Finger Project

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Ashley Ambirge is the witty and creative CEO of House of Moxie, Inc. and founder of The Middle Finger Project Blog. Through The Middle Finger Project she has helped small business owners take their first steps toward success with some encouragement, humor, and a dash of sarcasm. Recently she took time out of her busy jet setting schedule to sit down and talk to us. Here is a bit about her inspiring story.

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What inspired you to start your own business?

Well, after being at my first job for a while I got a big head and realized I could do copy writing on my own so I decided to quit my job and start my own copy-writing business. I failed miserably.

So, I went back to work for an ad sales company. After I had been there for a couple years I starting getting a big head again and felt like I wanted to do more. My only purpose there was to make other people money and I wanted something more rewarding and meaningful than that. So I finally decided to quit my job again and that’s how The Middle Finger Project began and now it has grown into a million dollar online business.

Love that name, by the way. What exactly is The Middle Finger Project?

The Middle Finger Project is a place for anyone who is thinking about starting their own business or wants to live life more but are too scared to take those first steps or aren’t quite sure how to start. We serve as a community and support for everyone wanting to take those next steps.

You’re awesome at names. You also recently launched a new site called Life Hooky – what exactly is that?

I love to travel and did a lot of research on the positive effects that traveling has on a person and it truly helps people grow. Everyone kept coming to me saying they wished they could travel as much as I did, so I wanted to give people a way to do that and put their money where their mouth is.

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It seems that travel is a big deal to you. How has travel impacted your life?

The other week someone asked me what it is to live a life with purpose and my response to that was to live a life ON purpose. We can get so caught up with just going with the flow that we forget to live our life and get caught up in every one else’s flow of life. With traveling you are forced to make different things a priority and get out and see things that you normally wouldn’t go and see. It truly just enhances your life a lot.

What is your end goal or your mission for all the work you do?

This is going to sound childish but there is one thing that ties everything together and that is at the end of the day I just want people to have fun! It’s not the end of the world if something doesn’t work. You can recover from that. We take life so seriously and I just want people to have some fun.

I know that you have overcome some adversity and failure; did you ever consider giving up?

No, I never thought about giving up. The first time I failed I just got pissed off. And then in the beginning when TMF wasn’t doing well I got pissed off again and realized I was done. I was done screwing around and I was going to get serious. So I decided to move to Chile and started doing things the right way. As a case study, I updated my progress week by week and made it public for people to follow. It gave me motivation because I couldn’t slack off. And I’m actually in the process of turning those weekly updates into a book to help others who are getting started see what worked and what didn’t work.

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What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

Proving it to myself. I have to prove myself every single day. There is never a day where there is not a single thing on my to-do list and everything is constantly changing. I have to keep improving and prove to myself that I can do it. Keep making your goals bigger and bigger and keep going after them.

We are looking for statement makers. What’s the one statement that you would encourage girls to live by?

Create a platform – the world is crazy and loud and competitive and you have to make yourself known.

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What’s next for you and the future of TMF or Life Hooky?

Right now I’m obsessed with expanding the platform and optimizing and creating that community feel. I want TMF to be a household brand.

Ashley is making a loud statement that everyone should do what they want and have fun doing it. Because life is short and we should enjoy it while we can. What have you been holding back on doing?


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Everyday Art – An Interview with Erin Hoppe

Erin Hoppe

Erin Hoppe was recently recognized in our hometown of Columbus OH with the Emerging Arts Leader Award. She serves as the Executive Director for the VSA – a community of inspired artists that seek to bridge art and disability. Spend three minutes around her and you’re inspired. We recently had the opportunity to chat with Erin, and here’s her story.

When did you first become interested in art?

I guess you could say as a kid. I was always kind of a nerd. I’m not really into creating my own art and never really was but I have always had an appreciation for it. My parents raised me that way.

You are the Executive Director for an organization called VSA. What exactly does the organization do?

It was founded in 1986 as a non-profit organization and we now have 34 locations throughout the U.S. and are an international organization. We work to advocate for accessibility and equality, advance careers in the arts, help communities, and improve academic achievements of Ohio’s students through art integration.

So, what exactly do you do?!

We provide professional opportunities for artists by helping to set up booths at local events so they can sell their work without having to pay the fees that would keep them from doing it on their own. We have art education residencies and we’ll have master artists come in and teach students geometry through dance or how information can be presented visually, verbally, or kinesthetically.

What’s one of your proudest accomplishments?

In the fall we had our 2nd Annual film festival called Reel Abilities, which started in New York and shows international award winning films about people with disabilities or by people with disabilities and then we held workshops and panels to go along with the event.

What’s your biggest challenge right now?

Well I’m the only full-time staff there so I wear a lot of different hats. And I don’t really look good in hats so I’m trying to make it work. I wish I could have a larger team to work with but the funding just isn’t available right now so until then it’s a lot of self-motivation and working with a small team.

Did you always know you wanted a career in the arts?

No, not at all. I attended college in California, where I’m from, and originally thought I was going to school to become a pharmacist because that’s what my whole family does. But once I started I realized that was not for me. Then around graduation my mom began asking me what I was going to do and I still had no idea. It wasn’t until I talked to one of my professors that he introduced me to art administration. So I moved to D.C. after graduation for an internship and realized it was a perfect fit.

Has this job changed your perspective on your career or life?

A lot of people don’t realize that art is so much more than painting or theater; it is writing, or architecture, or even branding. I always say we should shut down everything that has to do with the arts for 2 days so people can see how important it really is. We wouldn’t have any music, our streets would be a mess because we wouldn’t have the architecture behind them; everything we do and use has some form of art behind it.

This job specifically has really opened my eyes and changed the way I looked at the world. I never thought I knew anyone with a disability but it doesn’t always have to be an obvious disability. I realized a disability could be anything and happen to anyone at anytime. And art feeds your soul, so sometimes we need to not focus on all the big issues like implementing healthcare programs.

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career?

I love the advocating aspect of it. Going to meetings and talking about why art matters and can make a difference even if people aren’t always interested. It’s important to be involved and you can advocate every single day in different ways.

What advice do you have for young women today that are trying to make a difference?

I guess I would say if a job seems too hard just go for it anyway. If it’s what you really want to do just go for it. It’s essential to take part in democracy so get involved.

You recently were awarded the 2013 Emerging Arts Leader in Central Ohio by the Greater Columbus Arts Council, how was that experience?

Yeah it was definitely an honor. I’m very humble and don’t like talking about myself but it was nice to be recognized.

Erin is making a statement that art should be accessible to everyone; that at the core, everyone is an artist. What kind of artist are you?


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From Beanie Babies to Boarding School – The Beth Masters Story

Statement Maker The Beth Masters Story

Customized Girl is seeking out “custom girls” – women who are doing extraordinary or interesting things. This month, we caught up with Beth Masters. Beth runs the Dikatole Scholarship Fund – a non-profit organization she established to help children get out of the dangerous squatter camps of Johannesburg. Here’s her story:

Where, or what, is Dikatole?

Dikatole is located in South Africa on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It is considered a squatter camp and is riddled with drugs, crime, and extreme poverty. [Squatter camps] are for people with nowhere to go, and unfortunately many orphans are forced to call squatter camps “home.”

What is life like in Dikatole?

The first thing you will notice is the smell – an overwhelmingly terrible smell of raw sewage and garbage. The streets are covered in sewage, and there is garbage everywhere. I’ve seen a stray dog being torn apart by another dog. Drugs and violence are predominant – it’s just NO place for children to live.

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How did you become so involved with children in South Africa?

It began in 2006 when we made our first trip to South Africa for my son’s (Jake) high school project. While we were over there we saw a small child crying because he simply wanted a toy but there were no toys for him to play with. We realized we could bring these kids joy by supplying a simple toy so we decided to go around and start handing out beanie babies to AIDS orphans in South Africa. We later took it a step further and began throwing pizza parties for the children as well.

What were the children like when you first met them?

At first they were very shy because they weren’t used to being spoken to, hugged, or even read to. They needed to be socialized. One of the women who ran a nursery in Dikatole referred to them as kittens that needed to be loved and cared for.

How did this transition into the Dikatole Scholarship Fund?

After one of the pizza parties on our way back to the airport we saw a boy walking home with one of our bright party bags but he still had a look of desperation on his face. He was walking “home” with his feet in raw sewage. This image haunted Jake and I because we realized this boy had nothing to go home to. On that flight home we decided we needed to stop giving out toys and start giving kids an education to benefit their future.

Why did you decide education was a solution?

These kids needed something more and we felt like we needed to do more and we could do more. They needed a chance to better their future in hopes of getting them out of Dikatole. We just knew that education was one of the most important things we could give them.

Are there public schools in Dikatole? Why not just enroll these children into these schools?

There are public schools in Dikatole, but they are worthless. They are government run schools with no teachers, no books, and no supplies. If children are really going to overcome these circumstances, they have to get into good schools. That’s become our goal … getting these children into great schools.

So what is next for these children?

We decided we needed to get these children to a day school outside of Dikatole. When we started we made a pact with 8 children that if they stayed out of trouble, worked hard, and did well in school we would be there to shake their hand at their high school graduation. This day school wasn’t going to be easy though. They would have to walk 2 miles to school everyday and it was going to cost about $400-500 a year for each student. But we knew we could do it and they wanted to do it. We quickly saw that this day school was a good start but we needed to do more. We needed to get the children out of Dikatole completely. They couldn’t go to a day school and come back to Dikatole with all of the violence and drugs. It is especially bad for the girls because they are endanger of being raped or trafficked. So we needed to raise the bar, from beanie babies to boarding school.

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How many children have you helped so far?

When we initially started we made a pact with the 8 children who are now about to enter 7th grade. We since then have expanded to 15 children who are slating for boarding school and have an estimated 9 children to actually start boarding school within the next year.

How else have you impacted these children’s lives?

One of our boys, Andrew, was tragically hit by a car and put into a government run hospital with no doctors, no medication, and no help. He was basically left alone grasping for his life. We got him out of this hospital and into a private hospital where he was able to get the care he needed to save his life. We also have provided an eye surgery for one of our girls who had a vision problem that was affecting her education and life.

What have been some of your favorite/most memorable moments?

Well I’ll tell you my funniest moment and my most memorable moment. The funniest moment is when I asked one of our boys if he remembered our promise about graduation and his was reply was “yes” but he was concerned that I would be in a wheel chair when the time came. These kids aren’t used to seeing someone as old as I am. I’m only in my 50’s but they are used to their parents passing at an early age.

My most memorable moment was when NBC was filming our project and they asked one of the boys to tell them something about me that they (NBC) didn’t know and the boy responded by saying that I am a great mother. This really touched me because even though I only see them 3-4 times a year, they think of me as their mother figure. It truly made me realize the difference I am making in their lives.

You’ve talked about so many challenges and hard things that you’ve seen.  Do you ever consider quitting or giving up?

No. Never. I’ve cried a lot, but I never considered quitting. I consider these kids a part of my family and think of them as my own children. You would never just quit on your own child.

What advice do you have for women today?

Your journey will never look like what you thought it would. It will always continue to change and morph. You may not know what your journey is but just go with it, roll your sleeves up and do something!  You have to just get out there, observe your surroundings, and find things that need to be done. Your message and your purpose will come to you.

Beth Masters is a truly Customized Girl making a statement in our world. What questions do you have for her? Ask them in our comments section below!

And, check out her recent interview on the today show

 


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Statement Maker – Katie Brennan

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Customized Girl is seeking out women who are doing extraordinary and interesting things. Last month, we were thrilled to work with Katie Brennan who is the Assistant Director of Fundraising Events at the OSUCCC-James. Katie was our go to person for our fundraiser with the Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research.

Here’s her story:

How did you get involved with the Fundraising events at The James Ohio State University Wexiner Medical Center?

In 2006 I was diagnosed with Melanoma Cancer and was treated by the OSUCCC-James.  I have held the passion, mission and amazing dedication and talent that The James provides close to my heart ever since and when the opportunity to work in fundraising came along, it truly was a wonderful fit.

What is the best thing about working with The Spielman Fund?

The people.  Everyone has an incredible passion, determination and desire to help us in this fight against breast cancer and being able to work with these individuals every day is incredible.

You raise funds for other organizations in addition to the Stefanie Spielman Fund, right? Can you tell us a little about those organizations?

The Stefanie Spielman Fund for Breast Cancer Research is actually a fund within Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center – James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute (the OSUCCC-James) and there are many other disease specific cancer research and support funds that are included in the various fundraising by our Community Partners.

At Customized Girl, we sell a lot of custom t-shirts. If you had one statement to share with the world, a statement you would wear on your chest, what would it be?

“Hope is a good thing, it maybe the best of things…and no good thing ever dies.”

Customized Girl Statement Maker Shirt Katie

Thanks for being a part of our Statement Maker interview series, Katie. And thanks for making a difference in the world!



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WE ARE GOING TO DO THINGS A BIT DIFFERENTLY AROUND HERE.

We heart statements.

Statements are interesting little things.  Simple words strung together to leave an impact, encase a memory, or instigate a response.  Sometimes they are hilariously funny and inappropriate.  At other times, they are heavy and significant.  Sometimes, they have an air of sadness about them.  And still, sometimes statements are just plain cute.

At Customized Girl, we see all kinds of statements everyday.  Our customers often send their stories with their orders; talking excitedly about their hopes for their design and custom shirts.  This is interesting because these women aren’t passionate about shirt fabrics and print methods (which are the kind of things we geek out about). Rather, they enthusiastically talk about the idea behind their shirt design.

All of these women, stories, and statements have helped us discover something; statements have a unique way of connecting and moving us.

We like to think that we can help these statements make a beautiful impact.  From now on, our blog posts will fall into one of four main categories:

  • THE CUSTOM LIFESTYLE: Statements and thoughts that will make you laugh out loud and shake your head. There are numerous stories and trends going on right now that will fill you with emotions and we want to bring them to surface.
  • STATEMENT MAKERS: Interviews of women across the world who are making statements in small or large ways in their cities and communities. These powerful women should be celebrated for taking the initiative on a cause that is making a difference. We hope these women will inspire you to create a statement and message that is your passion.
  • BEHIND THE SEAMS: And, of course, we’ll still share some of our favorite designs to spark your statement-making potential. Since we’re constantly adding new designs and products, we want you to know what’s available to customize so you can make your statement and at the same time, look great in the latest styles!

There are few more changes you might notice today. The Customized Girl tagline has changed to “Make your statement.” And we’re launching a series of new “About” pages too. Check ’em all out:

We’re not just doing things differently with our blog and our brand. In the printing business, there is always room for improvement, and over the past nine months we have greatly improved our print quality thanks to state of the art techniques and our new drying system. We’re pushing the boundaries of digital printing to new levels!

Together, we are a community of statement makers.  We’ll be looking forward to your statements as you respond in the comments and across our social feeds.

We hope that you’ll join us as we celebrate statements!

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