Photo: Cole Hawthorne with her diverse collection of heirloom dollsPhoto: Cole Hawthorne with her diverse collection of heirloom dolls
Starter Stories

Cole Hawthorne // Jayla's Heirlooms

"You don't have to do it alone. Entrepreneurship is hard, but there is a community if you look for it."

Photography by Hanna Wondmagegn

What's the story behind your entrepreneurship journey?

Jayla’s Heirlooms is named after Jayla, my five-year-old daughter and co-founder! Our project was born out of my frustration with not being able to find beautiful, brown, handmade dolls. And I wasn’t looking for mass-produced, plastic figurines; I wanted something made from cloth, the kind of toy Jayla could give to her child one day. 

So when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I knew I had to do something about it. I approached some female artists around the world, who I knew made dolls, and asked if they would consider making some brown ones. Before I knew it, I was commissioning artisan dolls from around the world—Paris, London, South Africa—everywhere!

My friends couldn’t believe I was getting all these beautiful, handmade dolls in the mail that looked like my daughter, and they encouraged me to make this more than a personal project. They saw the potential for this to become really big! I was so nervous at the time, but their validation was what made the business seem possible.

What led you to CO.STARTERS?

Once I knew I wanted this project to be more than a hobby, I knew I was going to need help. I’ve never tried to do something this big on my own before. It felt daunting, and I knew nothing about business strategy.

After some research, I found Innovate Charlotte, who told me about the CO.STARTERS cohort they were going to run in April 2021. It was going to be their first ever CO.STARTERS cohort, so I was excited to be a part of that experience.


"If I didn't have CO.STARTERS, and the strategy it framed for me, I would still be treating my business like a hobby instead of winning $35,000 in grant funding!"

What lessons from your CO.STARTERS experience have stayed with you as you operate a small business?

Session 1 of the program—understanding what’s driving you and your vision—addressed so much of what I was struggling with. It really set me up to learn the nuts and bolts of running a business, rather than just pursuing a hobby. That session was what made me feel like I could really do this.

I still go through the binder and worksheets when I get stuck—in fact, the One Page Business Plan drives everything I do with my business. If I didn’t have CO.STARTERS, and the strategy it framed for me, I would still be treating my business like a hobby instead of winning $35,000 in grant funding!

What advice would you give to entrepreneurs who are facing the same challenges you faced a couple years ago?

First, I’d tell them to sign up for CO.STARTERS if it’s being offered in their area. Do the research and find the organizations in your backyard who are supporting new businesses.

It’s important to keep your mind open to the possibilities, but at the end of the day, you need to actually do something. If you only dream and never start, your dream will stay just that—a dream. 

You don’t have to do it alone. Entrepreneurship is hard, but there is a community if you look for it. That’s why it’s called “CO.STARTERS,” right? Because we’re all starting together. That’s the beauty of it.

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