I am so excited to launch this new monthly series, Inspired Women. One of my intentions with the initial launch of Among the Colors was to have an ongoing series in which I interviewed creative women about their motivations, inspirations, creative process and personal style. This series will feature women around Denver, as well as nationally, who are devoted to their creative projects and inspire others in the process. They may be artists, designers, makers or entrepreneurs, but they all share in their ability to see life as an opportunity to be creative.
Our first profile is on entrepreneur, Ali Elman. Ali is the owner of two Denver businesses, Black Eye Coffee and Base Coat Nail Salon. As you will be able to tell in this interview, she pours her heart into every aspect of the design and experience of her two environments. As someone who has the pleasure of walking to Black Eye Coffee in my mornings to grab a spicy almond milk chai, I get to experience these environments first hand. Her spaces of carefully selected design elements, well-crafted drinks and creative food menus all become the backdrop for something amazing to take place… An interaction of community. Ali might be a designer, an entrepreneur, a creative risk taker and a mom, but what really stands out to me is her ability to create spaces that foster community.
Pictures taken at Black Eye Capitol Hill. Exclusive ATC interview below.
Tell me a little bit about your background, both professionally and personally.
I always wanted to go to design school, but back when I was applying to colleges, going to design school wasn’t as accepted as a real career path. My parents weren’t keen on the idea. So I shifted my attention to Business, and got my degree in Business Marketing. I figured this degree would allow me to keep my options open and help me one day when I started my own business- at the time, I didn’t know what that would be, but I knew I wanted to work for myself in some creative way.
What inspired you to open Black Eye Coffee?
There was a need in our LoHi neighborhood for a community gathering place. I could see that the area was changing and would truly benefit from a coffee shop. It was a way to be creative while filling a void. I have a deep love of coffee shops and being able to design one that matched both my aesthetic and the neighborhood’s roots was a true dream come true.
Tell me more about the new Black Eye Coffee location in Capital Hill, including design details, menu, inspiration, the location, etc.
When we design a space, the neighborhood, its history and the space itself have to dictate the kind of vibe you are going for. With our first location, the neighborhood had a history of being rough around the edges, and thus we wanted a less polished, more rustic feel. With Cap Hill, the history of the neighborhood lends itself to a deco vibe, so we took that approach and went with dark woods and clean lines. What drew us to Capital Hill was that it is so rich in history. Poets Row also inspired our use of quotes from various poets—we wanted the space to feel like a place that encourages that sort of brooding, mysterious and hedonistic era that these poets were born from.
In addition to Black Eye Coffee, you also own several other local businesses, including Base Coat Nail Salon. Please tell me more about these companies and the inspiration behind them.
I partnered with Tran Wills, the founder of Base Coat about a year and a half ago. I always loved her concept and believed in it. Tran needed an Operating Partner and I was honored she wanted me to be a part of it. We collaborated on the design of the new LoHi location and had a lot of fun in the process. Tran and I have big dreams for the future of Base Coat and it’s fun to work with another woman who has a similar working style. But Tran and I are different in the ways that count, so we can keep each other in check while inspiring one another. It’s a great partnership.
What inspires you on a daily basis?
So about five years ago, I started using this daily mantra: Small Victories. If I get to live my life each day with one small victory I can sort of “count my blessings” on a daily basis. But when applied to creating businesses, you really have to focus on those small victories each day, especially in the planning process. Having a small creative victory each day is what inspires me.
How do you find balance between being a business owner and a mother?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t. Somedays are a great balance of being a momma, wife, boss and business owner. Other days I fail at at least one of those roles. I don’t think there is a “having it all”.
Each day is a choice to focus on one role more than another—that’s the honest truth. In fact when you try to have it all, you often miss what’s important. My mantra is “having enough” and I truly feel I have more than enough these days.
What motivates you professionally?
My motivation changes and has evolved. For a long time I was driven to prove that I could do something of my own. I really felt like I had a to to prove myself. That’s less of a motivation these days. I am motivated to make myself a better leader and boss. To create lasting businesses that add value to other people’s lives in some way. Hopefully I can be someone inspiring to my daughter and a good role model for her. Oh and the thing that’s “taboo” to say, I am motivated to make money and to have financial freedom for our family.
If you have any future business plans that you would like to share, please do.
Mainly my focus for future business plans is to help expand Base Coat Nail Salon. Our first Los Angeles location is set to open in the downtown Arts District. We are hoping to open more in key locations after that; we will see where this road takes us. Oftentimes, you need to be flexible with your goals because there are greater plans than your own in the works.
What is your favorite part about being an entrepreneur?
There is great satisfaction when you have people telling you how much they enjoyed being in a space you created. To know that in some removed way, you gave this person an experience that hopefully had a positive impact on their day. It’s pretty amazing to see in real life something actually take form that was once just an idea in your head. It’s literally your imagination come to life- which is incredible.
Describe your personal style.
My personal style changes and keeps evolving as I get older. More than ever it’s about comfort for both my home and my wardrobe. I am a mama and I want my house to feel cozy but eclectic. As with most spaces I design, I want them to take you someplace else. My home gives me a sense of calmness, of being on vacation almost. It’s my haven. As for my fashion sense, there is no real label I can put on it. I choose soft shirts and sweaters because they feel good. I love cotton and cashmere. It just has to be easy to wear- simple and uncomplicated. That’s my new motto in life in general… now, if I could only stick to it.
What does contemporary bohemian mean to you?
I think it means allowing yourself the freedom of being whatever you want to be, to not be defined by any title. To evolve and create in whatever way satisfies you, to feed your soul in an authentic way.