“I feel like Abbi shows up for me, and I show up for her,” says Stacey Bowers of her friend Abbi Siler. “It’s easy to kind of be friends with people and not show up for them.”
The feeling is mutual.
“[Bowers] has been one of my biggest rocks to get through this past year and a half,” Siler says. “I mean, I genuinely care what's going on in her life. I want to see all of her cat pictures and she wants to see all of mine.”
While Siler and Bowers had crossed paths professionally many times before, the COVID-19 pandemic is to thank for growing their close friendship that is so much more than the typical reciprocity one thinks of between two business owners.
The two do have a lot in common. Both are hard-working, witty, smart women with magnetic personalities who love cats, their community and feminist causes, but it's their drive to really champion business women that is perhaps the tie that binds.
Siler owns Abbi’s Teas & Things, a business known for her custom, hand blended teas. Housed in the Hillcrest neighborhood of Little Rock, her tea shop empire also includes a robust online business.
Before the pandemic, customers enjoyed indoor seating for sipping and dining, internet access and locally-made treats like scones, muffins and sandwiches, but now customers can find Siler, her teas and assorted gifts on the front lawn.
“I’ve closed my shop, and I literally haul it out to the curb,” Siler says. “Through October, I'll be selling my ice tea jugs. So, all of my loose-leaf teas, you can buy by the bag and home brew, but you can also purchase jugs of pre-brewed tea as well.”
With a number of customers and family who fall into the high-risk category for COVID-19 complications, Siler has a firm policy that includes masks and operating outside.
“As far as I'm concerned, I did it last year, I can do it again,” Siler says. “Will the tea shop reopen? Yes. When? I have no idea because it really looks scary right now.”
Bang-Up Betty, named after Bowers’ late male cat, is known for its snarky, meaningful, well-made hand-stamped cast bronze and sterling silver jewelry. For the past eight years, Bowers has operated her store online and at pop-ups, but is opening an Argenta storefront in September.
“[Bang-Up Betty pieces are] all very fun and unique. A lot of it is funny and inspired by weird things,” Bowers says. Her newest collection includes ocean creatures, and she also has an art history and Greek mythology collection.
“I think I've always been outspoken and a little rowdy. And so that sort of naturally made its way into my work. My first pieces I ever made were four-letter-word bracelets … and then I just kept making jokes, but also making observations about things, current events and things going on,” she says. “I feel like we live in a time where it's hard not to take a stance on something if you are an artist. I am trying to make jewelry that is artistic and interesting, so putting a statement in it seems natural to me.”
Bang-Up Betty’s new headquarters, located above Ristorante Capeo, includes unique gifts and space for customers to create together that Bowers describes as “a happy place” and an “explosion of color and light and radiance.”
While opening a shop during a pandemic might be seen by some as a questionable decision, Bowers adds, “I'm just going for it. I have people constantly ask me, 'Where are you located? Where's your store front?' It's like, I've got to find a wonderful, beautiful place and make it happen.”
When the world went virtual, Abbi’s Teas & Things and Bang-Up Betty did, too. Both businesses pivoted toward reaching their customers from a socially safe distance and the experience created products that both will likely continue even when the masks come off.
Bang-Up Betty’s bingo nights, trivia events, giveaways and crafty creative workshops for kids and adults are all conducted on Zoom. Abbi’s Teas & Things offers “tea talks” where participants start with the basics of tea and can work their way through the series to learn about health benefits and more expert topics. These interactive online chats include samples that are mailed to participants’ homes.
An Intentional Ally
Throughout the interview, both Bowers and Siler can't stop promoting each other’s products. Siler feels an especially strong connection to Bang-Up Betty’s new ocean-themed pieces and is creating a metallic tea blend in celebration of the new storefront. Bowers made a one-of-a-kind necklace for Siler’s wedding anniversary and her favorite of Abbi’s teas right now is the Rip Tide Roo.
“I think what I really value about our friendship is that it's so much deeper because we're not just hitting the like button on each other's [social media] posts,” Siler says. “It's not like we're just friends because it's beneficial for our brands to collaborate, we're friends because we genuinely like each other and find each other funny and special.”
Using the term “faux feminism” to describe the popularity in women supporting women at arm’s length on social media, Siler says the "Yeah, girl I'm rooting for ya" attitude, when really only interested if there's something to be gained, is simply not enough.
“I think that's something that all of us can do better – myself included," she says. "Let's ask, ‘What are the relationships that are valuable to me? What are the business partnerships that are meaningful?’ Not only just from a profitability standpoint, but 'Does this represent who I am?’ Intentionality and being genuine in your female relationships is so important right now because frankly, it's really hard to find.”
Bowers says of cultivating business friendships, “Be genuine. Start a conversation with someone and don't need anything in return. Tell them you admire them if you admire them, and just be a friend.”
“Yeah, be the friend you wish you had," Siler adds. "I mean, show up. [Bowers] said it earlier, we show up for each other and not just for business.”