Break the Rules Like ... Susannah and Leela
Not all Wonder Women wear capes, and not all Unladylike role models need to sit in the C-suite to spark change. Each week, we're introducing y'all to rad women and nonbinary folks we admire. They'll offer up pointers on how we all can #breaktheruleslike they do and help them make the world a better place. If you have a role model to shout out, send hot tips to email@example.com.
1. Introduce yourself: Who are you, where are you from and what do you do?
S: My name is Susannah Leigh Caviness, and I am “from” everywhere. My adoptive family moved around a lot, but I mostly grew up in the rural Carolinas. I’ve lived in Atlanta for six years now (the longest I’ve lived anywhere), so I can safely assume I’m a native now. I run Tower Press, your new favorite printing studio! We specialize in custom stickers, postcards, business cards, art prints, enamel pins, etc. Though we launched in March of this year, I have almost six years of experience in the industry. I never expected to fall in love with it like I have. It was totally random. Aside from that, I’m a true-crime junkie, love to pet dogs and make nihilistic cross stitches in my “spare” time.
L: My name is Leela Hoehn, and I’m originally from Augusta, Georgia. My husband and I have lived in Atlanta for almost nine years. I’m a co-founder of Tower Press where my energy is mainly focused on the consulting side of the biz. I offer one-on-one consulting sessions to artists and creative brands trying to get their footing and turning their ideas to action. I’m an artist, and I also own and design stationery and gifts for my brand Native Bear, which has been my full-time gig since 2012. I’ve learned a LOT about starting a business with essentially no startup capital, developed products through trial by fire, self-promotion through authenticity (I know that word is overused lately, but we still need it lol), and how to not completely burn the eff out.
2. When did you first realize this was the right path for you?
S: I knew that I wanted to run my own business one day. I’m a Taurus, I have problems with authority in general, and it was always tough for me to do things someone else’s way. My background is in the music industry, which I always THOUGHT was my path. 100 percent. After working at a few record labels and dealing with the blatant misogyny and sexism that goes on in THAT industry, I really couldn’t take it anymore. I was in my early 20s at the time and didn’t know how to handle that type of environment, so I bounced. I ended up in Atlanta totally randomly, and ended up working at a print shop. I realized early on that I could do it a million times better, in a better environment, but I was comfortable there. It was easy, so I’d always talk myself out of leaving or doing my own thing, despite it being what I WANTED to do (WHY DO WE DO THAT?!). I ended up having a breaking point (was doing all the work for no money, being taken advantage of all the time, the company was draining its funds on things I didn’t agree with, I could go on). Leela and I shared the same studio space, and are also best pals, so she’d hear my complaining and it just made sense that we go into business together. I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else, so starting an even better print shop was what we set out to do. Everything happened with just a few months planning. My last day at work was February 28, and Tower Press launched March 1.
L: Working with Susannah to bring Tower Press to life seemed like a no-brainer move since printing is a parallel business to what I already do, and we had already been working and collaborating under the same roof for a few years. Since Native Bear keeps me pretty busy on a daily basis, Susannah is responsible for the majority of the magic that goes down with Tower Press. However, I really enjoy being able to offer my knowledge and experience to artists and creative brands who are seeking help with taking things to the next level through our Tower Hour consulting sessions. I enjoy connecting with other creative-minded folks and offering newfound clarity. I tap into all of my experiences (good and terrible) while consulting small brands and offer practical next steps tailored to their specific issues. I wish I had had someone offer me insight and advice during the very beginning of building my brand. Sometimes you just need to hear that someone’s been through exactly what you’ve been through and that prosperity is possible.
3. What’s unladylike about you and what you do?
S: I mean, I DEF don’t shave my legs as much as I used to. But everything I was told was “unladylike” growing up are the exact same characteristics I ended up adopting for myself. I talk back, I curse, I don’t feel the need to look a certain way, I’m my own boss, I’m a proud feminist. Being unladylike is awesome!
L: I tend to sit with my legs criss cross applesauce as much as I can. At my desk. While eating in restaurants. I like to see how long I can go without showering (sorry everybody around me). I burp LOUDLY. I’m the breadwinner.
4. Which of your heroes or role models would you immortalized in bronze?
S: Tiffany Haddish. We had similar upbringings. We’ve both been homeless, she is the epitome of making lemonade out of lemons. I really love and identify with her story. Plus, she makes me CRY LAUGH.
L: It’s a toss up between Yoko Ono and Kim Gordon for me. Both of these women embody the simple power of being yourself, living outside societal expectations, and living by the guided hand of your own artistic vision.
5. What was your feminist aha moment?
S: I grew up in Church, and none of it ever made any sense to me. I did not understand why women couldn’t have positions of power. The word “subservient” still fills me with teenage rage. I heard the word “feminazi” a lot. Hearing these things over and over only made me want to go as far in the other direction as I could, and that’s really where I found myself and my people! Being a “rebellious” teenager really led me to embracing feminism and finding my own power.
L: I went to a private elementary school where I had to wear a uniform every day. I had the option of a plaid dress, or khaki shorts and a white collared shirt. Of course I wore the latter, and I wore the SAME shorts and shirt almost every day like each new layer of dirt and grime added cool points. I wanted to climb trees and play like the boys, and I didn’t like the feeling of being made up like a doily in a dress. My first “aha” moment was later as an adult when I realized that my more “masculine” identity was actually completely normal. Everyone embodies both masculine and feminine qualities, and I didn’t have to look or act any particular way to be a woman.
6. What’s bringing you joy right now — or at least keeping you sane?
S: Something I did not do in previous ventures: leaving my laptop at the office when I leave in the evenings. Even on weekends, I leave it as far away from me as possible. Like totally different zip codes. It’s been a game-changer for my sanity. Excess screen time infuriates me now. I’ve found that since doing that, my work days are so much more productive. Which in turn, makes me so much happier. (So just FYI to all my friends, I’m really bad at texting now). You really have to set boundaries, otherwise you will run yourself into the ground. You can’t be your best you when you’ve not had proper sleep or you're mentally drained from answering emails all night. I promise they can wait! I recently got into “sound baths” and it’s really helped me unplug.
L: What she said! I am on my phone and computer a LOT less these days. We have a societal problem of feeling isolated and disconnected from one another, and smartphones and social media are such big catalysts of this. I’m pretty sure a good portion of us are moving towards getting rid of the daily use of our smartphones and will soon be starting communes in the woods again. Maybe that’s just me? Just a theory.
Some of the other things keeping me sane include traveling, meditation and painting. While I do love what I do for work, it can be all too easy to wrap my work up into my identity. I have been getting back into acrylic and oil painting recently, and it’s been opening all kinds of artistic and spiritual doors for me.
7. Aside from keys/wallet/phone, what do you never leave home without?
S: Chapstick. Mace or a weapon of some sort ... A notebook to write ideas or general musings in. I’m way more old-school than using the phone for everything. I feel like if I use my hands to actually write it down, that’s when I really mean it and I won’t forget.
L: Now you’re really gonna see me lolll! I have a protection pouch that I made with sage, tobacco, various stones and crystals, and some other protective items. I either wear it or keep it in my purse.
8. How can unladies help you and/or your mission?
S: Honestly, the best thing that any of us can do is support local businesses. I know it’s not always the cheapest avenue and that we’re all broke. But it makes a world of difference to someone. By supporting Tower Press instead of a big online conglomerate, you’re literally putting food on the table. Maybe one day I’ll own a Tesla, but for now I’m just trying to eat. We have discussed doing a Go Fund Me somewhere down the road. I never imagined it would be so difficult to get funding as a start-up. We don’t have rich families. Every loan avenue I’ve contacted requires the business to be two to three years old first. We’re still in newborn mode and totally self-funded. I’d love to be able to upgrade some of our equipment, and it will come in time. In the interim, please think of us next time you need any print or design work!
L: What she said! Supporting small business not only supports the business owners personally, but it also puts money directly back into the community and fosters connection. We work with customers from all over and offer a large variety of printing options, design and consulting needs! Our goal is to not only grow our print studio, but also create a space and platform for people to connect. Order through the website. Shoot us an email. Sign up for the newsletter to hear about events. Follow us on IG. Stop by our studio to discuss your project idea and say hello to our shop dog, Maebe. Bring your friend. Bring your friend’s friend!
More from Susannah
More from Leela + Native Bear
More from Tower Press
More about work wives + women in biz
- Why work wives are the future of fashion (NYT)
- Why having a work spouse is good for you (Marketplace)
- Business partnerships for entrepreneurial women (Entrepreneur)
- 6 reasons professional partnerships are powerful for women (Time)
- Women's business resources (U.S. Small Business Administration)
- 1 in 5 small businesses is run by women (CNN)
- Lending gap for women business owners continues to widen (CNBC)