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Meet The Next Wave of ATL Movers and Shakers

Lauren Finney Harden And Kelsie Barton | April 1, 2021 | Lifestyle

The next wave of innovators has arrived, bringing a flood of fresh energy to Atlanta.

THE FASHION-FORWARD THINKER

Alexandra Dillard Lucie Vice President of Merchandising, Dillard’s

PHOTO BY MARY CATHERINE BROWNFIELD

It’s super rare these days to have a family business that goes back three-quarters of a century, but for Alexandra Dillard Lucie, vice president of merchandising for department store Dillard’s (dillards.com), it’s her family’s legacy. An Atlanta resident since 2011 (you might recognize her husband, Craig, a former television anchor), Lucie has always had retail in her blood. “My paternal grandfather founded Dillard’s in 1938, and my father was vice president by the time I was born. … My mother was actually a buyer for Neiman Marcus for many years, and then retired when she became engaged to my father.” Lucie believes she inherited her best traits from those she knows best: her parents. “I feel fortunate to have my father’s understanding of numbers and finance, and my mother’s love of art and design,” she says. “I love both aspects equally, and this has allowed me to develop products that are both beautiful and profitable.” Countless business trips growing up with her father and sisters to learn the tricks and tools of the trade and internships at places like BCBGMAXAZRIA and Vince Camuto—plus a stint living in China to help her understand sourcing and manufacturing—have ultimately resulted in Lucie helping bring Dillard’s into the 21st century. Recently, she’s been instrumental in the launch of several fresh brands and collaborations for the retailer, including LDT and a collaboration between Atlanta influencer Emily Hertz and Antonio Melani.

How have you injected fresh energy and vision into Dillard’s?

The vast majority of my focus for Dillard’s has been on developing new, exclusive partnerships. Our mission is to create product lines that are the best in the industry and fulfill voids left by the market, and our exclusive brands are anything but generic. We believe in product over price or promotion and feel strongly that this sets us apart from our competition.

What is your personal mantra?

Ayn Rand has been a tremendous and profound influence in my life. A couple of her famous quotes have become references of mine and they feel especially profound in the current environment we face. ‘We can evade reality, but we cannot evade the consequences of evading reality’ is one I feel is most relevant at this moment.

What excites you most about the future of fashion?

I look forward to getting dressed up and going to events and parties again. Although I have enjoyed the intimacy of quieter family time at home, I miss the energy of social gatherings where everyone dresses in their finest attire and celebrates life’s greatest joys together.

Trend to ditch and trend to stay?

As a society, I hope we can move away from the dramatic infusion of sweats, athleisure and sneakers and transition into an era of more formality. I would love to see more of the romantic Bridgerton influences stick around.

THE AMPLIFYING ENTREPRENEUR

Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon Founder and CEO, The Village Market

PHOTO BY CAROL ROSE

You know the phrase “It takes a village”? Dr. Lakeysha Hallmon, whose friends call her Key, sought to create a new village—and a more inclusive one at that. Called The Village Market (thevillagemarketatl.com), Hallmon’s community creates space and opportunities for Black entrepreneurs to thrive. “I was inspired to start The Village Market after noticing the lack of diversity among vendors at festivals in the Atlanta metro area,” shares the founder and CEO. “From there, I began to research and discovered years of inequality for Black-owned businesses, from inaccessibility to capital to inequalities of real estate opportunities.” A former educator, Hallmon started hosting entrepreneurship and wellness classes at Urban Grind coffee shop in 2016, organically building a network of Black creatives and business owners along the way. Pooling her resources, Hallmon launched The Village at Ponce City Market in November 2020, a one-stop shop showcasing apparel, home goods, body products and more from over 29 Black-owned brands. “We knew that opening a storefront in the middle of a pandemic was a risk, but it was a risk we were willing to take,” she says. Now reaching 38 states, The Village Market’s impact has certainly expanded far beyond Atlanta, and a new business incubator targeting Black “solopreneurs” will only further that growth. “I am grateful that I have a role in uplift ing Black-owned businesses that are vital to our communities,” says Hallmon. “This is a reminder to myself, and so many others, of what’s possible when you operate from a place of excellence.”

What skills or talents do you possess that make you an innovator?

I have the ability to both dream and execute. I do not waiver from my vision and am dedicated to being a student.

How would you describe your problem-solving style?

I am an analytical thinker and I use my most reasonable judgment on how to solve the problem. What’s most compelling, I am inspired by problems as I view them as moments for refinement. I love challenges and discovering the root cause of a problem. When the root cause is discovered and a problem is addressed, the foundation of the business gets stronger. I love this process.

What are your go-to sources for creative inspiration?

Nature, theater and TED Talks

What is your personal mantra?

All things are working together for my good.

Who inspires you?

Stacey Abrams, Chelsey Hall, Eunique Jones Gibson, Tabitha Brown, Jewel Burks, Joy Harden Bradford, Chris Gilmore and Pinky Cole are a few of the special innovators who inspire me each day.

THE REAL ESTATE RENEGADE

Nicholas Brown Founder, &Brown Luxury Real Estate Team, Compass

PHOTO BY HOME TOUR AMERICA

Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in England, Nicholas Brown lived on three different continents throughout his childhood. Now, the well-traveled gent has settled down on his fourth continent—right here in Atlanta, the city that he and his family have called home for the last 16 years. “This is no longer the little sleepy capital of the South,” Brown says. “I like to say that one can have as much or as little of this mini cosmopolitan town as they’d like: world-class dining, entertainment and sports but similarly superb family life, schooling and outdoor recreation.” Brown makes it his job to know the ins and outs of Atlanta’s luxury scene: As the founder of Compass’ &Brown team (and-brown.com), which launched in February, the passionate real estate agent has already honed in on the high-end residential market and distinguished his brand by providing an unparalleled level of service. Another factor that gives &Brown its edge? An exclusive partnership with The Private Client Network that “uniquely positions us to deliver a seamless experience across our clients’ entire real estate portfolio,” Brown explains. “There are some excellent top-producing agents in this city. Most, however, are not looking to push the bar, to innovate and to really up their level of luxury marketing and service,” he continues. “We want to elevate the client experience and deliver stronger, more tangible results and generate the track record to prove it.”

What is the ultimate goal for &Brown?

To be synonymous with the best like-for-like brands, affluent clientele and distinctive properties we get to represent throughout our great city

What skills or talents do you possess that make you an innovator?

Strong communication, excellence with people, witty humor, and a deep understanding that expert knowledge, guidance and support will help you win

What is your best strategy for clearing your mind or getting your creative juices flowing?

Rising early, working out and starting the day getting organized and prepared before the world is awake and chaos ensues

Who inspires you?

Living: Warren Buffett; departed: Winston Churchill

What’s next for &Brown?

World domination. Ha! Seriously, we are looking forward to forming a very strong foothold in the Atlanta luxury market but already have business plans in the works for office openings in both 30A and Palm Beach. Atlanta will get to benefit from those expansions, for sure.

THE TECH WIZARD

Tope Awotona Founder and CEO, Calendly

PHOTO COURTESY OF CALENDLY

Where we once used to say “Have your people call my people,” it’s now “Please book via my Calendly link.” It’s used by more than 10 million people around the globe per month, including the majority of Fortune 500 companies and nearly all 1,000 companies in the SaaS 1000. And the CEO and founder of Calendly (calendly.com) happens to be Tope Awotona—a Wheeler High School and University of Georgia graduate who grew up in Nigeria and moved to Atlanta in 1996 at the age of 15 with his family. “My family chose Atlanta for the same simple reason most immigrants choose their new city in the States—Atlanta is where we had family,” he shares. “I feel very lucky that Atlanta is where we ended up. After college, I stayed because Atlanta had everything I needed—family, great friends, incredible growth, affordable living and easy access to the world through Hartsfield.” Awotona launched the company in September 2013 after a series of jobs left him unfulfilled. Fast forward to 2020, and Calendly was valued at $3 billion—yes, billion!—after seeing a whopping $350 million investment. And things are only looking up for 2021. Says Awotona, “Calendly will continue to focus on accelerating growth and finding new industries and markets we can serve.”

Why did you choose to base Calendly in Atlanta?

I knew I needed to accelerate the growth of the company by tapping into the collective wisdom of other like-minded entrepreneurs. I instantly fell in love with the Atlanta Tech Village. A tweet caught the eye of an investor at Atlanta Ventures, which gave me a boost to take Calendly to the next phase and made us officially part of the Atlanta tech scene.

How did 2020 change or accelerate things for your company?

With remote collaboration at an all-time high, Calendly has seen explosive growth as businesses and consumers try to adjust to this new norm and keep both business and personal life straight. In the past year, Calendly has reached new milestones including doubling revenue and head count, while continuing to grow by bringing on new customers like VMware, Teach for America and Best Buy.

What’s next for Calendly?

I am personally focused on investing in Calendly’s corporate culture, with a focus on programs that promote diversity. Last June, Calendly was proud to donate a total of $100,000 to Black Girls Code and My Brother’s Keeper Alliance as part of the Obama Foundation.

How do you give back to the Atlanta community?

I’m especially passionate about helping the next generation succeed. I mentor with Techstars Atlanta and have mentored close to two dozen young entrepreneurs to help them with their business ideas, support their goals and offer advice to help make their business a reality.

THE PARENTAL PROBLEM SOLVERS

Catherine and JJ Jaxon Founders, Mission MightyMe


PHOTO BY ALICE PARK PHOTOGRAPHY

As many Southerners do, Catherine and JJ Jaxon came home to Atlanta from New York City after having children and highly successful careers in journalism and banking, respectively. Now, the two find themselves on the frontier of food allergies. “Mission MightyMe (missionmightyme.com) was born out of our own family’s experience,” explains Catherine. “When our oldest daughter was born, common medical guidance was to avoid peanuts and other common food allergens in infancy, which we did. She is allergic to most nuts.” By the time their third child came along, the guidance had flip-flopped, and the Jaxons wanted to prevent their youngest from developing allergies. “But getting peanuts and tree nuts into his diet was really hard because they’re a choking hazard and the entire baby food industry was allergen-free, despite new guidelines,” she explains. Paired up with industry experts—including the pediatric allergist who led the research behind the new guidelines—the couple founded the brand to help safely introduce nuts and other food allergens to children. The first product, Proactive Peanut Puffs, debuted last year. “They’re more than 50% peanut, but they dissolve quickly for babies and taste great for big kids too,” explains JJ. “We’re on a mission to end the food allergy epidemic and to make children’s lives better in the process,” says Catherine. According to research, she adds, “mass household adoption of peanut allergy prevention could prevent more than 150,000 peanut allergies in the U.S. each year and virtually eliminate new peanut allergy cases in children over the next 20 years. That’s our goal.”

How do you give back with Mission MightyMe?

CJ: We launched in March 2020. … We realized early on that the pandemic was going to impact food-insecure families the hardest, so we started a big product donation component, and so far we’ve donated more than 12,000 pouches of MightyMe (and counting) to families in need. We also give back to food allergy research and education as part of our mission.”

How would you describe your problem-solving style?

JJ: I try to be logical and methodical in identifying the cause of a problem, but creative in finding the solution. It’s pretty amazing how simply asking “But what else could we do?” can generate ideas that otherwise would never make it to the surface.

What skills or talents do you possess that make you an innovator?

CJ: I am always coming up with ideas for new problems to tackle and companies to start. Thankfully, JJ does that too but is also excellent at executing those crazy ideas and sticking with them, so we make a good team.

What’s next for the company?

JJ: We’re launching our next product, Proactive Multi-Nut Puffs, this summer. This will be the first tree nut puff to market, so we are really excited to launch this product.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?

JJ:‘Just keep going.’

THE FOOD PHENOM

Pinky Cole Owner and Operator, Slutty Vegan


PHOTO BY STERLING PICS

You can’t be an Atlantan and not have noticed the meteoric rise of Pinky Cole and her vegan burger concept, Slutty Vegan (sluttyveganatl.com). In 2018 she opened her first location, and now has three locations throughout metro Atlanta: Westview, Old Fourth Ward and Jonesboro. Her plant-based burgers have provocative names such as Fussy Hussy and One Night Stand, meant to upend the concept of vegan food as boring. “After craving ‘healthy comfort food,’ I came up with the idea to start a vegan burger and fries concept. I was sitting in the house one day and I came up with this idea of Slutty Vegan. It came to me like a lightbulb. The name was sexy; it sounds like it’s selling sex, but it’s bigg er than that. I knew it was going to be a movement.” New for 2021: Bar Vegan (barveganatl.com) at Ponce City Market. “Bar Vegan aims to be bold, memorable and experiential, introducing Atlanta to ‘bar theater,’” she explains. “Its aim is to create an enjoyable experience for those who want to eat well and enjoy a bit of fun and flair, while still maintaining the vegan lifestyle.” And if being at the forefront of a foodie revolution wasn’t enough, Cole also aims to break the cycle of poverty through her Pinky Cole Foundation, which she says empowers “generations of color to win in life financially and in pursuit of their entrepreneurial dreams.”

What is your personal mantra?

Get it done in 2021. Success is like mud—if you keep throwing ideas at the wall, something will eventually stick.

You’re introducing a robust beverage program—what can we expect?

Bar Vegan will offer beer, wine and ‘experience cocktails’ that are made tableside. The Foreign Fruit Punch will be served in an ‘active smoky volcano,’ and other cocktails may come in a fire extinguisher, gas can, Ferris wheel or bank safe, complete with musical sound bites. The beverage team will also serve adapted versions of classic cocktails, like margaritas, cosmopolitans, Old-Fashioneds, lemon drop martinis and more, and utilize organic, freshly squeezed juices.

What is your outlook regarding the future of food?

Today’s culture is [about] exploring the truth, and the truth that we’re walking into is that as a community we are beginning to eat healthier and focus more on the things we put into our bodies.



Photography by: From top, photos: by Mary Catherine Brownfield; by Carol Rose; by Home Tour America; Courtesy of Calendly; By Alice Park Photography; By Sterling Pics