Driven by passion for their profession, these women have discovered highly creative ways to earn a living. They don’t have job titles you’d normally find on a business card, but their unusual careers suit them just fine.
Firearms Instructor, Excel Training Group
Back in 2006, her passion for firearms ignited when she accompanied her gun-enthusiast brothers to a shooting range. TD Roe admits that she “probably looks like a nice middle-aged lady” to the average person, “and that’s okay because I’d rather blend in.” But she stands out on the shooting range. A semi-professional shooter, she shoots about 30,000 rounds a year with her customized 1911 pistol. She loves the sport and, like any athlete, sticks to a strict regimen: running, lifting weights and (when she’s not teaching) practicing.
Yet, Ms. Roe admits that perhaps, on a subconscious level, there’s another reason for her passion that makes sense to her. “When I was 13 and my sister was 18, we were walking home and a car screeched up. The doors opened and a man ran right up to my sister and started hitting her. I hit him with a stick, and as he was about to come at me, a professor living nearby came out with a shotgun and the guy ran. They never found him but it gave me a sense of awareness that you’re never immune.”
When she’s not at the shooting range teaching women the basics of gun safety, Ms. Roe is busy nurturing her other passions: cooking and food design. She specializes in tablescapes such as gingerbread houses, pumpkin designs and chocolate sculptures. And then there are moments when both passions collide. “Students are always a little tentative before the class, so I start the conversation right away,” she says. “We joke around and I assure them there’s no mistake they’re going to make that I haven’t done before.” And of course, if they ever feel the need to snack on something, on the table there’s always a batch of Ms. Roe’s homemade cookies or brownies to steady their nerves.
Owner, Fashion in Motion
Gina Crater-Lilja doesn’t drive to her office; rather, her office goes wherever she goes. Last year, the Libertyville entrepreneur launched a mobile fashion boutique that sells everything from dresses to handbags. Inspired by a gift from a friend who had purchased a sweater from a fashion truck in Maryland, Ms. Crater-Lilja purchased a bread truck, then customized the space to fit shelves, hooks, clothes rails, a fitting room and five customers.
Ms. Crater-Lilja gets quite the response from new customers. “People often walk past the truck a couple of times and when I invite them on, they go, ‘How creative! I can’t believe I’m in a truck!’” The former sales executive says it’s all about convenience. “Women might shop for the household, but they don’t always have time for themselves,” she explains. “This way, they can shop during lunch or while running errands.”
The bright pink truck can often be spotted at farmer’s markets, festivals, salon openings, fundraising events, as well as private and corporate parties. And come the Midwestern winter when it’s time to park the truck, Ms. Crater-Lilja says she’ll start a personal shopping service where customers receive a selection of clothes and accessories based on their purchase history. “They can keep what they want and return what they don’t.”
Ms. Crater-Lilja admits its been a steep learning curve, but she’s quick to laugh at her mistakes: “I wish I knew that I should be stocking more sizes and that I shouldn’t be buying clothes that only I’d wear. It’s hard to part with them.” But she adds that the joy is in helping women find something “they feel really good about.” So what’s it like to drive the truck? She chuckles, “You can’t stop suddenly; you have to slow down. And when you hear things rattling in the back, that’s when you know you have to slow down.”
Wig and Makeup Designer, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Few people can claim to have created a nine-foot mustache. Melissa Veal is one of them. “It was for Aladdin,” she says, admitting that she’s always looking at people’s facial hair for reference. And when it comes to anything hair-related, she’s the go-to at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. She is often called Maloo, a common Filipino nickname. That might seem odd, since she hails from Hensall, a tiny town in Ontario, Canada, but it’s a nickname she got from an actress she worked with.
After practicing her hair styling skills on the kids she used to babysit, Ms. Veal quickly realized she found her calling and promptly enrolled at a beauty school. She honed her wig-making skills while working for the Stratford Festival and watching luminaries like Maggie Smith play Lady Macbeth. Under her direction for the last 14 years, the theater’s wig collection has grown from a small box to a department of nearly 600 wigs, an album full of mustaches and a staff of four.
Ms. Veal says some people think it’s painstaking and boring, but not to her. “You’re knotting away and it’s very Zen-like,” she says. And while technology has allowed us to mass-produce wigs, Ms. Veal still considers wig making a centuries-old art form. “Most of the tools are exactly the same as what they used hundreds of years ago,” she adds.
As for her number one rule for wig making: strive for excellence. “Excellence doesn’t always mean pretty,” she explains. “You might be creating a wig for a character that’s been living outdoors for a year and their hair is knotted. It’s about excellence in supporting the character that’s telling the story.”
Window Display Artist, Oak Street Design
If you’ve ever window-shopped along Michigan Avenue, chances are you’ve admired Amanda Wolfson’s work. She’s responsible for transforming ordinary shop windows into enchanting works of art. “A really good window display has fashion, styling and merchandising elements to it,” she explains.
After graduating from the University of Colorado with a bachelor’s degree in studio art in 2002, Ms. Wolfson started working in sales at Saks Fifth Avenue as she tried to figure out her next step. It was there that she noticed a group of women walking around the store with tools, hanging paintings and dressing mannequins. “That’s when I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do,’” she recalls.
Ms. Wolfson started working for Oak Street Design, a company founded by Stanley Smith. “I learned the ropes as a visual merchandiser,” she says. Their clients have included 900 North Michigan Shops, The Shops at North Bridge, the Palmer House and Four Seasons Hotel. Window designs are planned months, if not years, in advance.
Ms. Wolfson muses at the dichotomy between the not-so-glamorous process to the final and beautiful end result: “On the front end, we’re making things look beautiful. On the back end, it’s quite the opposite: it’s down and dirty. We’re in the back hallways, basements and loading docks.” It makes dressing for work a tricky issue. “I’ll crawl around the floor with a hot glue gun, covered in dirt, and have to jump out 20 minutes later to talk to the client,” she says. “But it’s great…it feels like art school.”
And speaking of school, Ms. Wolfson hopes to teach a course someday: “I’m passionate about what I do; it’s a dream come true. So I’m interested in helping students figure out what path they want to take.”
Photo of Melissa Veal by Michael Brosilow. Photo of Amanda Wolfson by Lori Brudzisz.