10 Inspiring Women Who Are Shaping the South

For the past two years, we've gathered with the South's most stylish women in our Birmingham headquarters for roundtable chats and high-energy photo shoots. This year, in light of COVID-19, things looked a little different: We moved the conversation online and wrangled portraits from seven cities instead. But not even a pandemic could squash the spirits of our 2021 Southern Living Tastemakers—10 thoughtful, talented women who make our region a more beautiful place to call home.

Check out the 2019 and 2020 Southern Living Tastemakers.

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Nena Evans
Nena Evans

Blogger, Take Note
Richmond, Virginia
@nenaevans

The former data scientist became a full-time influencer in November 2020, sharing work-wear favorites and curating capsule wardrobes of elevated basics.

The Woman I Admire Most: "I know it sounds cliché, but I can't think of anyone more inspiring than my mom. I am fortunate to have been raised by the strongest and most generous woman on the planet. She exudes grace and poise, yet she is fierce and courageous. She puts others first and never seeks anything in return. She is everything I hope to be."

My Favorite Thing About Living in the South: "Oh my goodness—I live for Southern food! Give me all the mac and cheese, chicken and dumplings, and banana pudding. You can feel the love in the South with just one bite."

Wisdom Gained in Building My Brand: "By nature, I am a people pleaser and will move heaven and earth to make others happy. It took a while for me to realize that this instinct was inhibiting my growth, stagnating my creativity, and consuming far too much of my energy. Instead of trying to do it all and please every single person out there, I shifted my mindset to one that has been easier to maintain: Choose the right things, and do them well."

Credit: Courtesy Nena Evans
Abbey Glass

Founder And Creative Director, Abbey Glass
Atlanta, Georgia
@shopabbeyglass

Her playfully elegant pieces reimagine ladylike silhouettes of the past in a modern way. Five years ago, for our 50th-anniversary issue, Glass took inspiration from a 1966 Southern Living pattern and designed a timeless evening gown.

What I Enjoy About Living in the South: "Southerners can find beauty everywhere. I love the constant evolution of style here and our meaningful way of mixing traditional and modern."

Most Impactful Lesson Learned During COVID: "Never waste a crisis. Resilience is something that's inside every human being—more than we think."

Coming Soon: "We're launching a special-occasion collection this fall focusing on dresses and separates for a demographic with surprisingly limited choices in the marketplace right now: mothers of the bride and groom."

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Abbey Glass
Credit: Laura Saur
2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Stephanie Summerson Hall
Stephanie Summerson Hall

Founder, Estelle Colored Glass
Summerville, South Carolina
@stephaniesummersonhall

Her grandmother's own love of collecting vintage tableware inspired Hall's heirloom-worthy line of candy-hued glassware.

What Beauty Really Means: "It's confidence, clarity, and being your authentic self."

Something that Excites Me: "I love hearing about the journeys of other entrepreneurs and our shared experiences. [The community of business owners] is truly rewarding, and I fit in here more than any other space I have been in."

Favorite Southern Destination: "Downtown Charleston. It's such a beautiful place with beautiful people. It is also only 20 minutes from my home in Summerville, but it always feels like I've traveled far away."

Credit: Peter Frank Edwards
Catalina Gonzalez Jorba

Founder And Designer, Dondolo
Dallas, Texas
@cata_gonzalez_j

Her line of distinctive children's clothing is hand smocked in her native Colombia.

My Brand Philosophy: "The word 'dondolo' means 'to swing,' and I truly believe that the love you give is returned to you. When a Dondolo purchase is made, funds from that sale fuel wages and jobs for women in Colombia. I love knowing that when our customers buy from us, they are not only getting a beautiful piece of clothing to incorporate into their most precious family memories but also helping to make a difference in the lives of these women."

What I'm Proudest Of: "Being a working mom and owning a business. I still don't have it all figured out; it is a daily thing, even hour by hour. But I do love that my four boys get to see a mom who is working hard to make her dreams come true. I want them to watch me trying every day to do my best."

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Catalina Gonzalez Jorba
Credit: Stephen Karlisch
2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Anisa Telwar Kaicker
Anisa Telwar Kaicker

Founder And Ceo, Anisa Beauty
Atlanta, Georgia
@therealatk

Inspired by her entrepreneur mother, Kaicker launched a global beauty brand (Anisa International) in 1992 and a direct-to-consumer brand (Anisa Beauty) in 2019.

What Success Means to Me: "Last year was challenging for everyone. It was important that I navigated my business and led my team with a commitment to consistency, stability, and hope. This is how I am defining success: grounding myself and those around me in stability and gratitude for how we have gotten through these times."

Why I'm So Proud To Call Georgia Home: "From John Lewis to Stacey Abrams, watching Atlanta and Georgia emerge as important national players has filled me with joy and pride. I think the South has been underestimated for what we contribute."

Credit: Jennifer Young
Kimberly Lewis

Owner And Buyer, Emerson Grace
Nashville, Tennessee
@emersongracenashville

The fashion-industry veteran opened her boutique in 2013 in the 12 South neighborhood, where she offers a thoughtfully edited assortment of local and global brands.

Advice I Wish Someone Had Given Me: "Know your worth. Understand the value of what you bring to the table, and then negotiate from that place."

A Pandemic Lesson Learned: "Don't give up. I had a team relying on me and had customers who wanted to feel joy and optimism. I needed to think outside the box and trust my instincts more so than ever."

Why I Feel Empowered as a Female Business Owner: "There is great satisfaction in knowing that your company is positively impacting women and setting the example for others to see. Helping women look and feel good boosts their confidence and self-esteem. And there's something deeply gratifying about running a successful business that's yours."

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Kimberly Lewis
Credit: Leslee Mitchell
2021 Southern Living Tastemakers: Jean Liu
Jean Liu

Principal Designer, Jean Liu Design
Dallas, Texas
@jeanliudesign

What began as a one-off decorating project for a friend has since grown into a beloved full-service interior design firm.

How My Business Gives Back: "Our studio has long been a supporter of Dwell with Dignity, a Dallas-based nonprofit organization that works with established social service organizations to help families furnish apartments so they can focus on the work of attaining self-sufficiency. Dwell with Dignity not only designs and provides all the furnishings for them but also does so in a way that takes into account their interests. For example, when we did our first apartment, we knew the son loved soccer, so that was one of the themes for his bedroom."

Something Every Woman Should Know: "By 30, each of us should know how to throw a dinner party. It's not easy to entertain (effortlessly), but we should all do it at least once a year so we can appreciate how much work goes into ensuring a fun evening is had by all when we're the guests. After all, the best parties I've ever attended have been in the South!"

Credit: Lisa Petrole
Keith Smythe Meacham

Cofounder And Shopkeeper, Reed Smythe & Company
Nashville, Tennessee
@reedsmytheco

Meacham partnered with friend and fellow Mississippi native the late Julia Reed to launch an online shop of highly curated handmade goods in 2019.

What I Appreciate About Southerners: "It would be easy to say that I love their generosity, and that is true. But as a region, we haven't always been generous to everyone, and I love how that is changing. I think that may be what I like best about living here in this moment—watching it evolve and seeing the definitions of Southern tradition and Southern hospitality open wider."

How I Define Beauty: "I spend a lot of time these days thinking about what makes a house, a garden, a table, or even a life beautiful, and I guess it goes back to the same principle that also makes me happiest: balance. I love to mix formal china and silver with a whimsical tablecloth and colorful glassware. I like to host dinner in the dining room but to bring everyone through the kitchen to serve themselves buffet style. It's the mix that makes things beautiful to me."

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Keith Smythe Meacham
Credit: Laurey W. Glenn
2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Sue Sartor
Sue Sartor

Founder And Designer, Sue Sartor
Monroe, Louisiana
@suesartor

Vibrant handstamped woodblock prints and breezy, blousy sleeves are the hallmarks of Sartor's covetable, Instagram-famous caftan dresses.

An Upcoming Brand Addition: "I am currently designing select menswear pieces in my signature botanical block prints. First up is a bow tie I patterned after my husband's favorite vintage piece. It was from his father's bow tie collection. Pop was the epitome of a true Southern gentleman."

A COVID-19 Takeaway: "We're all connected. Our respect for one another and our environment is crucial to our mutual success. Before the pandemic, fashion was on a crazy train without any direction. The coronavirus taught us to slow down and gain perspective."

Accomplishments Worth Celebrating: "I am most proud to have a family that loves and supports one another. It gives me great happiness that I was able to enjoy raising three amazing kids while giving back to my community through dedication to local nonprofits. And I take pride that at 48 years old, I was passionate enough to work really hard to start my own brand. I'm having the time of my life!"

Credit: Kelly Moore Clark
Riley Sheehey

Artist, Riley Sheehey
Falls Church, Virginia
@rileysheehey

She's painted everything from whimsical watercolor scenes to one-of-a-kind cowboy boots, plus she launched a line of textiles and wallpapers in May.

How I Define Success: "Hard work and kindness. I can't remember where I first read, 'Work hard, and be kind,' but when I did, something clicked with me. The most successful people I know are also some of the kindest, and they never cut corners."

A Perk of Being a Woman-Owned Brand: "I've been able to connect and collaborate with so many other female entrepreneurs, especially in this past year. I am a firm believer that we do our best when we are lifting each other up, and all the women I have met and worked with have truly exemplified this belief for me."

2021 Southern Living Tastemaker: Riley Sheehey
Credit: Marisa Guzmán-Aloia