Speaker Spotlight: Leah Knepper

Leah Knepper, Vice President of French West Vaughn, has a remarkable 12 years of experience in the many areas of public relations, marketing, advertising and social media, travel and tourism, banking and financing, food and beverage, and non- profit organizations. Therefore, the Lovely Leah is a great candidate for any authoritative job position, considering the fact that she has endless experience. With that being said, Leah Knepper was indeed a fantastic choice of speaker for the Charlotte Tastemaker Summit, and she definitely delivered a wonderful presentation on the day of the event.

Leah Knepper, VP of French West Vaughn, in the middle chair among the panelists, waiting to speak.
Leah Knepper, VP of French West Vaughn, in the middle chair among the panelists, waiting to speak (Photo creds: Michelle Flowers Photography).

1. Tell a compelling story. Consumers prefer brands they can relate to and identify with, brands that have personalities.

2. Become a trusted resource. Provide your customers valuable information, even it isn’t directly related to your product or service. Today’s consumers don’t want to feel like they are constantly being sold to.

3. Reach your customers and prospects when and where they want it. This means finding them and engaging with them where they are in their daily lives.

4. Identify your audience’s influencers. Today’s influencers can be celebrities and other well known figures, mainstream media, local bloggers, and mom groups… or a combination of all these people.

5. Collaborate with complementary businesses and brands. Figure out nontraditional ways to work together that are a win-win for both of you.

Charlotte Tastemaker Summit Insight

Queen City, bka Charlotte, North Carolina is where you can find many great things, including Today’s Unique Furniture Trends. Luckily for those of you who are attending the Charlotte Tastemaker Summit, TUFT is the space where the event will be held. TUFT is the company owned by Black Southern Belle and panelist, Danielle McKim, where she literally offers Today’s Unique Furniture Trends (where her store acronym derived). Among these unique furniture trends, the Dynamic Danielle offers full design services, custom furniture designs, art from local artists, local craft makers, custom pillows and draperies and a showroom filled with unique furniture creations! Danielle founded TUFT  August 30, 2014 and the business has been constantly growing since.

steve space
Space by Steve & Jill McKenzie

As we take over the fabulous Queen City with all things spectacular and Southern, there are interesting things to look for. I assure you will want want to arrive on time and never want to leave such an exciting event! Down below [in no specific order] are ten things that you should look for at the Charlotte Tastemaker Summit.

1- Great food throughout the event

2- Lunch Keynote Panel – Building Your Brand Through Partnerships- Mary Guerry, National Sales Manager, Charleston Visitors Bureau/ LaVonndra Johnson, Owner, ELLE VJ & Dainty Dames/ Cheryl Luckett, Owner, Dwell by Cheryl

3- Southern Floral Styling and Design Workshop- Stephanie Gibbs, Owner, Stephanie Gibbs Events

centerpiece arranged by Stephanie Gibbs
centerpiece arranged by Stephanie Gibbs

4- Table Top Workshop – Southern Styling for Social Media- Steve McKenzie, Owner, steve mckenzie’s/ Jill McKenzie, Owners, steve mckenzie’s

5- Building Your Brand Through PR and Business Development- LaVonndra Johnson, Owner, ELLE VJ & Dainty Dames/Jennifer Burnham, Owner, Pure and Simple Organizing/ Leah Knepper, Associate VP, French West Vaughan

6- Owning a Space – Adding a Storefront or Studio to your Lifestyle Brand- Nicole Clayton, Owner, Cloth Mill at Eno River/Jill Mckenzie, Owner, steve mckenzie’s/Ariene Bethea, Owner,  Dressing Rooms Interiors

cloth mill
Cloth Mill at Eno River, Owner, Nicole Clayton
Room designed by Ariene Bethea

7- Artisans

8- Artists

9- Industry-specific vendors

10- Special gifts and offers

10 Beaches for a Southern Entrepreneur to Relax

I have rarely met a person that doesn’t enjoy their time at the beach. With that being said, the South has plenty of sunny, breezy beaches that can accommodate a Southern Belle, an entrepreneur, a family, or a few buddies. Rather you prefer shady, sunny, crowded, or a more private feel… the South can definitely offer some great options. If you are looking to getaway from work for a while, or just a Southern Belle ready to go wild, sip some tea and have a good soul food meal; all while you check out these great deals! Down below are some Southern beaches that are sure to meet your desires and necessities.


Take a load off and swim with the dolphins for miles, fronting the gulf of Mexico at Panama City Beach!


Panama City Beach, FL Plan your getaway here!)


Can you handle that sunset? Visit Folly Beach around 7:30 pm (just an estimate) and experience one of the most gorgeous views in the Low-country of South Carolina.


Folly Beach, SC Find out more!


Great beaches where you can fish, enjoy the lighthouses and turtles are what Tybee Island of Savannah, Georgia has in store.


Savannah, GA More information?


Want to go to the aquarium, parks, museums, and Chesapeake Bay… Go visit Virginia Beach today!


Virginia Beach, VA Check it out!


One of five communities located on Bogue Banks, Atlantic Beach will provide you a peaceful getaway.

atlantic beach nc

Atlantic Beach, NC Take a peek!


Visit Biloxi in southern state Mississippi where you have your casinos, beaches, golf and water parks, have the time of your life!


Biloxi, MS Find out about Biloxi here


Beaches, arts, attractions, shade, and heat… Fairhope is surely a great place to be.


Fairhope, AL Plenty of options here at Fairhope


Love good spices, seafood, and beaches, and piers? Grand Isle, Louisiana… you don’t have to go now, top 10 winter beaches are also here.


Grand Isle, LA Make your reservations!


Experience the place where “the sand meets the surf,” Port Aransas, Texas is where you wanna go!


Port Aransas, TX You’ll love it!


Last but not least, check out the South Carolina beach where people come from miles to see…


Myrtle Beach, SC Looks great, right?

Designing Southern Interior

Being a female business owner, an idea that was once rare, is now a growing career that many women are conquering with style, sass, and intellect. With that being said, I would like to introduce to you, Cheryl Luckett. Cheryl Luckett, born and raised in South Mississippi [ a true Black Southern Belle], has a core belief that “everyone deserves to dwell in a place that they absolutely love,” and her business, Dwell by Cheryl Interiors (launched in 2012) makes this belief very affordable and approachable for her clients. Cheryl’s southern soul allows her to see the potential of any space and bring out its charm, all while making it very much functional.

Cheryl received a head-start on design fundamentals, earning a Bachelor of Science in Family and Consumer Science from Tennessee State University; but interior designer Cheryl Luckett did not stop there. Continuing her education, Cheryl became a Registered Dietitian with her credentials up to date, and she is currently in the process of furthering her education to soon receive her Residential Interior Design Diploma.

Along with her rigorous schedule of running a business and completing her studies, Cheryl also works a daytime job as a Human Resources professional at a Fortune 500 company in Charlotte, North Carolina. With the rapid growth of Dwell by Cheryl Interiors, Cheryl Luckett is a four time recipient of the annual Best of Houzz Award for Design and Customer Satisfaction, and not to mention, having the honor of being amongst the Top 15 Interior Designers in Charlotte by Build Direct in 2015. Cheryl’s work is recognized by features in publications locally and nationally, making an upcoming appearance in the fall in Hoffman Media’s book entitled Southern Spaces: For Beautiful Living.

To wrap up the many achievements that Cheryl Luckett has received and those that she has yet to accomplish, her clients all speak highly of her gift to create a beautiful space on a budget, her professionalism, and her sharpness when it comes to detail.

Self-made Success in North Carolina: Lashawnda Beacoats

You know those inspirational blogs and magazines that make you wonder and increases your curiosity about subjects that you probably never even thought about? Those high-end, top of the line, juicy features online and in print media? Well, this is a force that always has been and always will be around. While some women have careers in the business world as store owners and having great brands, others like to elaborate upon those ideas. But don’t get me wrong, because those behind the scenes business women contribute a huge amount to our outlook on certain things.

The topic of elaboration brings me to the introduction of self-made Lashawnda Beacoats. Lashawnda has been editor-in-chief of Pride magazine of Charlotte, N.C. since the year of 2014; however, she has been empowering women as a certified life coach for years. Lashawnda lives to teach and believe that you should live life for a living, therefore she finds time to pursue her passions of traveling and food throughout her busy schedule. Despite all of her accomplishments, Lashawnda Beacoats can be considered as down to earth because of the way that she connects with people and her community.

As a career startup, Lashawnda enjoyed working with people in the community who needed to be connected with the D&C to share their stories while working as an editorial assistant at The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y.. From there, she spent 11 years as a graphic designer in the Charlotte Observer’s prepress department, but soon realized that she was made for the newsroom.  ALthough her company of business changed, she stayed in the Charlotte region while being a style editor for qcitymetro.com, a news site that was directed a little more towards the African- American community, in the year of 2009.

    In 2011, Lashawnda Beacoats left a significant mark by being so creative, and was named Charlotte editor for Uptown Magazine based in New York City. During her time at Uptown, she exposed to people different geographics that allowed them them to experience something new. Soon after Uptown, legendary Lashawnda moved up as editor-in-chief of Pride magazine in 2014 and have continued to share with her readers mind blowing experiences only at the expense of turning one page at a time.

Top 10 Southern Resorts for an Entrpeneur

Entrepreneur Southern Escape

Being an entrepreneur is quite a job. You take risks and sometimes, those risks are the best decisions you have ever made, and some of those risks don’t exactly go as planned. Either way, it results in you needing a break from all of the madness, and there is no place better to go for relaxation than the South. You heard right, the South. Not as much traffic, most of the things you need close to your surroundings, good sun, nice winds, lovely lands, beautiful beaches, oh– and heartwarming hospitality. Below are ten southern resorts that will allow you to breathe pure relaxation:

A resort that will just blow your mind in a sweet, subtle, very historical location. You have your beach, horses and carriages in the streets, I must say, the Charleston lifestyle is quite unique.


Wild Dunes, Charleston Island Resort *A Destination Hotel*, Charleston, SC Wanna give it a shot?


Wanna head to coast, where all you see is water is sand? That isn’t such a difficult demand. Myrtle Beach is always fun in the daytime and at night, just a great place… you should arrange your flight.


Marina Inn at Grande Dunes, Myrtle Beach, SC If you’re interested &


Ever been in the mountains? Nice land and fields… In the summer time, the beaming sun with a nice cool breeze will definitely cause you to be thrilled… that is why you should explore Asheville.

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The Residences at Biltmore, Asheville, NC Here’s an insider


From the head of the Blue Ridge, you have to visit HIgh Hampton, it is where all the Rocky Magic happens.


High Hampton Inn & Country Club, Cashiers, NC Check it out here


Wanna relax in luxury, just vibe, have a ton of weight lifted off of your shoulders? Go visit the “Dirty South,” Georgia.


The Ritz Carlton, Atlanta, GA Book your relaxation


Oceanfront, riverfront, or marsh? Choose your view. Sea Island has loads of variety just for you!


The Cloister, Sea Island, GA Check us out!


Wanna getaway and bring your family along? Or just a child at heart and would rather go alone? Well, Florida can satisfy your vacation needs.



Floridays Resort, Orlando, FL Book here today!


Palm trees, cocktails, and sweet tea. Key West is where I would love to be!


The Marker Waterfront Resort, Key West, FL Here’s a closer look!


Live the life fit for a king, kick back, enjoy, and have it your way… in Virginia!


Kingsmill Resort, Williamsburg, Virginia Read more about Kings Mill Today!


Let loose and be free, in good ol’ Tennessee!


Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort, Gatlinburg, TN Take a peek

Atlanta Based Couple With a Flair for Design and Creativity, Jill and Steve Mckenzie

There are plenty of partnerships when it comes to running a successful business. Some partnerships happen to be siblings, friends, or any type of association between people who may or may not be as close to one another. However, the dynamic duo that is to be introduced to you all today are husband and wife, Steve and Jill McKenzie, who introduced their mid-century modern twist on southern living to the world in 2012 by opening steve mckenzie’s interiors and lifestyle store in Atlanta’s Westside design district.

The items one would find in steve mckenzie’s are derived from two very different fundamental influences that the McKenzie’s merge to achieve that mid -century modern twist on southern living that was mentioned in the introduction. Those two inspirations that serve as the foundation of this store are the graciousness of the south and their personal love of the mid-century and Scandinavian, modern aesthetic. The textile designs that created from these influences are the cornerstone of steve mckenzie’s offerings and are straight from the canvases of Steve McKenzie’s original artwork.

The McKenzie’s are way more than a married couple with a home decor store. They are individually of great accomplishments, just as much as they are together. For the last twenty years, Steve served as Chief Designer for Larson-Juhl, and as the CEO for the past decade. He is a mixed media artist and has been selling his work professionally for about ten years now, beginning in 2006. They say that every great man needs a strong woman to assist him, and Steve’s wife Jill is certainly that… contributing just as much to their success. Jill is a trick of all trades when it comes to home decor. Her background combines quilting, design, home making and retail. Jill enjoys having company and making people feel at home; the perfect way to be while helping people find comforting items for their homes!

It is said that the Mighty McKenzie’s has showroom for an ever-expanding repertoire of furniture, home décor,tabletop, fabric, wall coverings, original artwork, gifts and more. In addition, steve mckenzie’s has grown to include a rug line with Verde Home, multiple textile collections, wearable art in the form of scarves and an interior design business. With that being said, the McKenzie’s clearly have a passion for spreading their southern grace and Scandinavian swag.

Floral Frenzy in the Low Country

Flowers are used as representations for many things. They are a symbol of beauty, a symbol of life, a symbol of feminism, and so on. Different flowers can have their own significant meanings to different cultures as well. Take the lotus flower for example. The lotus flower is associated with many different cultures from Asia, to Africa, to Europe with different symbolism ranging from association with creation, the afterlife, enlightenment, fertility and sensuality, purity, and health. With flowers having such a huge impact on people and cultures, it is important that these people have access to the flowers that they admire when there is an event, special occasion, or just a gift.




Without further ado, we would like to introduce to you: Stephanie Gibbs, owner of floral event and design business, Stephanie Gibbs Events based in Charleston, South Carolina. Stephanie Gibbs is well-known for her ability to beautify whatever events her clients come to her about  throughout the coast of South Carolina including Charleston areas (where her business is based), Florence, Myrtle Beach, and so on. Stephanie Gibbs Events, formerly Sweet Grass Events, started in 2006 and was recently renamed to its current name in 2015. Even though the name of the company changed, the services have not had a dramatic change [except the fact that they no longer do wedding planning, but can offer referrals]. Stephanie GIbbs has a great history of servicing people through her business and her past job as a hospitality specialist for NOAA Coastal Services Center through the years 2003- 2004.

Image by Sean Money and Elizabeth Fay
Gadsden House_BSB_YOJ (1 of 262)
Image by Aneris Photography


Having a green thumb in the garden of glamour, Stephanie Gibbs’ resume is stuffed with experiences from catering, wedding planning, sales and marketing, event planning, decor, and floral design. These aspects allow her to run her business successfully, having been featured on The Wedding Row and a recent feature on Style Me Pretty in 2015. Along with all of this experience, Stephanie received her fundamentals by achieving her Bachelor of Arts in Public Relations from the University of South Carolina in 2003. From there, Spectacular Stephanie went straight into the workforce, utilizing her degree and building herself to where she is currently.

Stephanie Gibbs insists that, “from planning small private dinner parties for 20ppl with a professional chef to planning large weddings up to 400ppl, I can do it!” (LinkedIn), and by her experience, features, and swift success, it is evident that she certainly can.


View More: http://lyndijphotography.pass.us/black-southern-belle-collective
Image by Lyndi J Photography