I Create Birmingham: Brooke Fleming

“I really think anyone who is thinking about starting a business should go through CO.STARTERS. I wish I had!”

Name: Brooke Fleming
Occupation: Visual Artist
Creative Industry: Visual Arts & Crafts
1. You have an interesting entrepreneurial journey. Can you tell us a little about that?

After over ten years in a corporate bank-marketing career, I took a break when I had my son. A few years later, a friend taught me how to quilt and I fell in love with it. Looking for studio space to work on big quilts, I decided to open a small gallery/studio in the Historic Woodlawn Business District with the intent of using the space to work and sell local art to help pay the rent. It was so much fun, I met so many new artists and folks interested in art. I hosted lots of art shows featuring local artists. I also offered quilting, painting and knitting classes. After a while, I realized that the retail part of the shop was taking up all my time, and I had little time to do my quilting. I had limited time and resources, and I wanted to surround myself with other entrepreneurs who had been successful and had advise for what works, and what doesn’t, how to spend my time, and so on.

2. You and James Kling started Bham Creative Roundtable. How did this idea come to fruition?

James and I started Birmingham Creative Roundtable (www.bhamcreativeroundtable.com) in 2013. This group was formed to connect and empower creative professionals at various stages of their careers. Our goal is to foster strong creative community and enhanced learning so creative professionals can better achieve and sustain their individual business goals. We do this by curating gatherings at inspiring, eclectic Birmingham locations to hear from local experts who present on a relevant topic, followed by roundtable discussion. This creates opportunity for learning, encouragement, networking, collaborations, and new business startups. What I thought would start out as 10 people in a room, has grown into a large eclectic group over the past 3 years. We average 80-100 people at each event. We hear all the time about connections and collaborations being made regularly as an outgrowth of Bham Creative Roundtable. Even though I decided to close my shop to focus on my craft, we have kept Bham Creative Roundtable going because it is growing and meeting a need in the creative community.

3. What’s next for Bham Creative Roundtable?

James and I have always wanted Bham Creative Roundtable to grow organically. We have so many ideas for the future, but for now, we are still focusing on offering quality meetings with excellent speakers and content, and opportunities to show off places in Downtown Birmingham that people may not have seen before. Everyone is welcome to Birmingham Creative Roundtable, and you don’t have to be “a creative professional” to come. We always meet at 7:30 am in the morning. Our sponsors, Revelator Coffee and The Baking Bandits, provide coffee and pastries – all for free. Please join us! It is a great way to start your day!

4. As a CO.STARTERS facilitator, how have you seen this program impact small business in Birmingham?

I really think anyone who is thinking about starting a business should go through CO.STARTERS. I wish I had! Not only do you learn the fundamentals of starting a business, but you also have a supportive group that holds you accountable every week on milestones that help you move forward. You have access to the CO.STARTERS community in Birmingham that will really go out of their way to help you. And, you have the combined resources of Create Birmingham and REV Birmingham as a support as well. I have loved being a facilitator, and I have seen so many businesses start as a concept in the first week and grow into a flourishing business. There as so many, I can’t mention them all. Zebbie Carney [Eugene’s Hot Chicken], as an example, was in my group a year ago. He had so many ideas and different routes to take and I saw the program help him zone in on what would work best for him. The food truck was the right avenue to start small. And now, he is everywhere! The CO.STARTERS process works to help you test your concept out and make sure it is viable to be a successful, sustainable business. I am currently leading my third CO.STARTERS cohort and I learn something new every time I go through the information. I have a passion to help people reach their full potential in their creative and business interests, and being a CO.STARTERS facilitator has been a perfect way to do this.

5. In addition to all your other endeavors, you are also a quilter. When did you start quilting? What inspiration do you find when creating?

I have an undergraduate degree in design and have tried various forms of art over my life, but I have never been fully satisfied with my art until I started quilting five years ago. I draw my inspiration from the local culture and landscape. I love to combine colors, fabrics, and patterns together to reflect southern nostalgia. When I was a child, my grandmother taught me to sew. Something about sewing today on my 1960’s cast iron Singer sewing machine reminds me of her house in Texas with sheets drying on the clothes line, chickens running in the yard, and taking a nap on the sleeping porch. It reminds me of a slower pace. And in this age when we all have our phones with us at all times, there is something about creating with my hands that is so fulfilling. I also think it is important to have something in your home that is made by hand with love, treasured and passed along as a family keepsake.

Come see my quilts and other sewn items at the new Maker’s Village in Pepper Place this Saturday!