Mississippi-MadeIn a place where creativity thrives, north Mississippi is teaming with makers, artists, designers and business owners who stay local while selling their products on a national level.
BY CHRISTINA STEUBE
Taylor Wilkinson Designs
A year ago, Taylor Wilkinson began her company by repurposing vintage pieces of jewelry. A grandmother’s broach or an aunt’s ring became necklaces or earrings for family members. This month, she’s launching her own collection of original designs.
After attending several home shows featuring vintage pieces in Birmingham, Memphis and Oxford, she became inspired to create her own.
“I had a box of my grandmother’s stuff and made myself a piece. That’s how it really started,” she said.
Now, the Oxford native and Ole Miss alum has moved in a different direction from her vintage pieces. She’s designed her own creations, which will debut in April in a modern and art deco collection.
Her pieces, created in Oxford and manufactured in New York City, are made from sterling silver and an 18 karat gold vermeil. The Fall 2017 collection features more than 100 items.
“Last year, I started sketching pieces of my own, but I never thought it would become anything,” she said. “I met with the Mississippi Small Business Development Center on the Ole Miss campus and they acted as a mentor to me and offered amazing service and guidance in getting my business started.”
Wilkinson will continue to make vintage pieces, though only by custom request.
“Modern is more of who I am and I thought, well I’m not getting any younger. I loved all my vintage work, but I was really ready to bring my own designs to life and take the next big step with my company.”
She found a manufacturer that fit her style in January. Cuffs and rings in her 322 Collection, named after her wedding anniversary date, feature space for personalization through etching or hand-set pave or black diamonds.
Some pieces are simple, like a sterling silver collar necklace and bar drop earrings in mixed metals. Other pieces are more edgy, including a Venus ring with diamonds.
Wilkinson also has geometric rings, which she feels will continuously be among her most popular items. Wilkinson made it a goal to include pieces that would fit every style.
“I wear large jewelry, but that’s just who I am. I would look like Mr. T everyday if I could, but I know not every woman is like that,” she said.
Wilkinson shows samples on the company’s social media pages, and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m very excited about the collection and I’m so hopeful that people like it and people take to it.”
In the process of starting this business, Wilkinson has spoken with many women entrepreneurs who have been down a similar path, and she draws inspiration from her daughter, mother and sister.
“I have been very fortunate to be surrounded my entire life by smart, strong women,” Wilkinson said.
The collection officially launches with a party at The Edison on University Avenue Friday, April 28 from 5 to 7 p.m. The public is invited.
Blue Delta Jeans
One of the few custom-fit denim companies in America is located right here in North Mississippi.
Blue Delta Jeans shipped their first pair of custom jeans in 2012. The company offers bespoke denim in a variety of styles and colors. Everything is handmade in Tupelo by taking custom measurements and creating patterns from scratch.
Blue Delta began in 2011, soon after co-founders Josh West and Nick Weaver recognized a talented group of seamstresses in North Mississippi.
West, who worked in economic development at the time, decided to put that talent to use by making custom denim.
“We make everything locally by hand from premium raw denim,” West said.
He added that the company has eight seamstresses, all located in Tupelo. The only Blue Delta store is located in Oxford. In all other locations around the country, Blue Delta sells through other professional clothiers.
“There’s very few places we could do this,” he said. “A lot of towns in the South used to make garments, but when jobs moved overseas, most of that went away. These seamstresses stayed in Tupelo because of the furniture industry.”
Blue Delta has been well received by customers. Very well received. The company has clients across the world – in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and even London and Toronto.
West said the company spends very little time and money on advertising, and many clients hear about them through social media and word-of-mouth.
That word-of-mouth has led to numerous celebrity clients, especially athletes.
Former Ole Miss baseball player Aaron Barrett, who pitched for the Washington Nationals in 2015, wears Blue Delta jeans. West said Barrett invited Blue Delta to spring training to fit some members of the team. Blue Delta now has clients in 25 of the 30 clubhouses in Major League Baseball.
“A lot of our clientele are athletes or artists who are difficult to fit,” West said.
He said one of his favorite celebrity customers has been Brittany Howard of the Alabama Shakes.
“She really appreciated the jeans and we nailed her fit,” West said. “When people get excited about their jean, you know they are going to wear it a ton and that’s good for business.”
Other famous faces sporting Blue Delta denim include Nicole Kidman, members of the bands Moon Taxi and Drive by Truckers, Jason Isbell, NASCAR drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Danica Patrick, and ESPN reporter Jay Bilas, among many others.
West said that there are less than 10 bespoke denim companies in the United States, which makes his brand stand out.
“Denim is not easy to alter and it’s really intriguing, especially to people that are hard to fit.”
Customers can schedule a fitting in the Oxford store by visiting bluedeltajeans.com.
No Time 2 Cook
Many evenings, families find themselves rushing to bring their children to extracurricular activities while also running errands, resulting in dinner being eaten from a bag on the way to and from.
Karen Kurr’s mission is to bring those families back to the dinner table with No Time 2 Cook.
These frozen portions of family-sized meals feature wholesome ingredients in recipes including Chicken and Dressing, Chicken Pie, Crab and Mushroom Penne and Chicken and Dumplings, among others.
The company, whose production plant is located in Oxford, began a little over a decade ago.
“My family is from Louisiana, so I’m a foodie who just loves to cook, so on busy weeks, I would freeze family size portions and take them out on busy nights,” Kurr said. “There’s not a lot of specialty frozen food, so we talked about the possibility of a business.”
Kurr attended farmer’s markets around the state with a cooler full of her dishes and served samples from a slow cooker. She always returned home with an empty cooler.
After becoming licensed, she turned a spare room in her home into a commercial kitchen.
“The garage was wall-to-wall freezers.”
She opened her current USDA plant in 2010, where up to 1,000 units each day are cooked and packaged. Kurr takes pride in the home-cooked recipes, which she has maintained the quality of in the packaging process. She uses local suppliers of produce and meat as much as possible while avoiding fillers, high fructose corn syrup and other common preservatives found in frozen food.
Each recipe also offers suggested side dishes and wine pairings with each entrée.
“The Chicken and Dressing is literally my mama’s recipe,” she said. “It tastes like it did when I cooked it for my family, and keeping the integrity of the original recipes was important to me.”
No Time 2 Cook is available at more than 200 Kroger stores across the South, in addition to other smaller retail stores. The full collection of 14 recipes can be purchased at the Marketplace at Oxford Commons on Sisk Avenue.
Meals can also be ordered online at notime2cook.com.
Cotton’s Cafe Dog Treat Bakery
Four years ago, Janet McCarty was just an Ole Miss student, working part-time at a law firm.
One day, someone brought in a box of puppies to the office. After seeing a small white puppy with a black patch around her eye, McCarty had a new best friend.
When Cotton, a boxer and pointer mix, was just six months old, her dog food was recalled. McCarty decided that she did not want to take any risks with her puppy, so she began to bake all natural dog treats for Cotton herself.
Cotton’s Café was born.
“I knew I wanted to use all natural ingredients and fresh produce,” she said. “I began to use apple cider vinegar and honey to preserve the fresh ingredients and then experimented with different flavors.”
McCarty initially sold the treats in small bags and at farmer’s markets, but interest grew. In 2014, she entered and won $10,000 from the Gillespie Business Plan Competition in the Ole Miss School of Business Administration.
McCarty used that $10,000 to expand her business. Additionally, she began to operate an office out of Insight Park, a small business incubator on the Ole Miss campus.
Her kitchen, located at the Oxford Conference Center, hires those with a background of legal problems or those who may have recently completed a rehabilitation program and are in need of a second chance.
McCarty began production of a variety of flavors, including Cotton’s favorite, Peanut Butter, along with Apple Squash Honey, Blueberry Honey and Sweet Potato Honey using produce from local suppliers.
Now, her product is carried is 37 Whole Foods throughout the South and in 200 other small retail stores.
The green and white packaging, featuring a picture of Cotton on the front, looks like a gift bag, making it a popular present for pup parents.
The Madison, Mississippi native worked in the real estate market in Houston before the economic downturn in 2008.
Since her arrival in Oxford shortly after, she said the tight-knit community has been overwhelmingly supportive of her business venture.
“Oxford is such a great place to start a business. It’s hard in a big city to get the kind of support that I’ve gotten,” McCarty said. “People in Oxford love and take pride in homegrown business.”
She’s also had positive feedback on a larger scale.
“There’s a lot of customer loyalty with dog products. When someone finds something that works for their dog, they stick with it. One customer said she had a golden who had puppies but couldn’t get the mom to eat.
“These dog treats are the only thing she would eat while nursing her puppies, and that’s what saved her.”
The Winery at Williams Landing
Located in the heart of historic downtown Greenwood is one of just a handful of wineries in the state of Mississippi.
Owner, Ole Miss alum and former attorney Lonnie Bailey first began making wine at home, after his wife, Debbie, once picked enough figs to generate 108 jars of preserves.
“She told me I needed to find something else to do with those expletive-of-choice figs, because she wasn’t doing that again,” he said.
The solution that Bailey came up with was to turn the figs into wine. He bought some equipment, and a few months later had fig wine.
Bailey said that he believes he’s the only winemaker in the country that produces fig wine, because of its difficulty.
“It’s really hard to do,” he said. “When you crush most fruit, you get juice. When you crush a fig, you get mush. It takes a lot to coax the pretty amber-colored liquid from that mush.”
Over time, Bailey’s winemaking turned into a hobby. As he approached retirement, Bailey toyed with the idea of turning his hobby into a business.
“Now I work harder than I did when I was a lawyer.”
In 2012, the Baileys purchased and renovated an old, historic fire station, which was first built in 1907. A short time later, in November 2013, The Winery at Williams Landing opened its doors.
Ten different types of wine are produced in that building, including blueberry, fig, red muscadine, white muscadine and several muscadine blends.
“We have a good mix of dry and sweet wines, which sets us apart from other wineries in the South, which tend to produce sweet muscadine wines,” he said.
Bailey and his wife are at the winery every single weekend, with the exception of home football weekends in Oxford, talking to customers, pouring wine and telling the stories behind each product’s name.
The River Series wines – Tallahatchie Red, Yalobusha Gold and Yazoo Rouge – are named for the rivers that circle around Greenwood.
The Harmony Series – Highway 61, 12 Bar White, Barrelhouse Red and Three Forks Red – are named for different aspects of the Blues, including a tribute to musician Robert Johnson, who is said to have played is last performance at Three Forks Store before his death in 1938.
The Delta Series includes Delta Blue and Delta Dew, Bailey’s blueberry and fig wines, respectively.
“I hadn’t named the fig wine yet when I brought some to Oxford for a tailgate,” Bailey said. “A good friend of mine drank a glass and said that tasting it reminded him of a cool, crisp Delta morning when dew is on the leaves.”
So, Delta Dew it became.
Bailey said his bestsellers are Delta Blue and Barrelhouse Red, a red muscadine and merlot blend.
Their wine is sold in just over a dozen package stores around the state, including Kiamie’s, West Jackson Wine and Spirits and Poppa’s in Oxford, as well as Wines, etc., La Vino and Oscar’s Fine Wine in Tupelo.