Some Valley women are taking their experience in the arts and turning it into new, vibrant businesses that serve unique niches.

Retired educator Gerri Dames, a lifelong North Central resident, has introduced “Gerri’s Beading Parties” for ages 7 and older. Dames created this business as an alternative to traditional children’s parties but also has seen adult clients who want a fun addition to their bridal showers, birthday parties or just a Wine Wednesday girls-night-in gathering.

North Central resident and jewelry designer Gerri Dames, who recently launched “Gerri’s Beading Parties,” teaches a group of kids how to make their own beaded bracelets during a workshop last month at the Shemer Art Center (submitted photo).

North Central resident and jewelry designer Gerri Dames, who recently launched “Gerri’s

Materials and instruction are provided for attendees over the course of the two-hour event, allowing the participants to design, construct, and wear their jewelry home.

Dames is a respected jewelry designer whose work is featured online at as well as in local museum gift stores.

“I got started with jewelry design when I needed several pieces of jewelry repaired,” she recalled. “I decided that I would try it myself. I’ve always loved natural stones, pearls and glass.

“The party business was purely by accident,” she explained. “The Shemer Art Center in Phoenix was having an event last October that included a juried art exhibit, and my jewelry was accepted. Part of what they do is teach children art activities at the event. I offered to teach a group of children how to make bracelets. We had a fantastic turnout and the children were so creative. Several of the mothers there suggested that I have parties.” And so it began.

Dames continues to teach workshops at the Shemer Art Center, but is also available for private events in your home or office. Scheduling and event pricing are available on her website or by phone: 602-770-6366.

Phoenix native Chelsea Early is a former professional ballet dancer who worked with Ballet Arizona for more than 10 years. After a serious injury to her foot, she decided to use her time off to learn how to sew under the direction of the ballet’s wardrobe department. After her retirement, she worked at a local ballroom and dressmaker shop, which further ignited her passion for fine fashion and the craft of sewing.

She left to start her own Etsy shop named Poika Tytto. Her sister, Heather, joined the business late 2014, and that’s when the shop evolved into Luckyleo Dancewear.

Heather danced professionally with Ballet Arizona for many years. She also trained at Pacific Northwest Ballet and did summer intensives at School of American Ballet. During her time at Pacific Northwest Ballet, she sustained a serious injury to her ankle. Shortly thereafter, she moved back to Phoenix, and started Luckyleo Dancewear with Chelsea. They now work out of a small crafting shop near 12th Street and Indian School Road, hand creating one-of-a-kind leotards using local suppliers whenever possible.

“Dancers always need to wear a leotard for classes and rehearsals, and when we danced as students and professionally we felt limited by the style and color options available to wear,” Heather said.

North Central business Luckyleo Dancewear is a family affair, with sisters Heather Walker (left) and Chelsey Early, and mom Karen Saari (submitted photo).

North Central business Luckyleo Dancewear is a family affair, with sisters Heather Walker (left) and Chelsey Early, and mom Karen Saari (submitted photo).

“As ballet dancers, we always wanted to rehearse and take class in beautiful leotards that would brighten our day and make us feel confident in class, rehearsals, and on the stage,” Chelsea added. “Through the success of Luckyleo, we are able to provide that feeling for the dancers of today.”

The company has steadily grown into a successful family business, and Chelsea loves working every day with her sister, Heather, and mom, Karen Saari, who monitors quality and individually wraps each leotard by hand before it goes out.

The custom leotards are for ages 6 to adult. Thus far they have sold their dancewear to more than 29 countries.

Luckyleo Dancewear recently was named a winner of The American Small Business Championship and will go on to compete for the grand prize of $25,000 this fall. The business has seen a 900-percent increase in revenue in just one year with help from Greater Phoenix SCORE, a free business mentoring assistance group.

Luckyleo Dancewear received a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card, an all-expense-paid trip to one of three SCORE training events, SCORE mentorship for one year, and promotion throughout the year to showcase the company’s story from a grant from Sam’s Club.

“This is just the beginning for Luckyleo Dancewear,” Chelsea said. “We don’t plan to stop here.”

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