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Shala Hruska


It’s a Tuesday and Shala Hruska has one thing on her agenda: sew.

Well, not quite one thing. There’s picking up the kids from preschool, dinner, bedtime, ect., but when she’s in the studio she’s focused on her business, and today that means sewing.

Shala has owned and run her hand-made baby shoe shop, Belle and The Bear, for just over four years. It’s a job that she said she “fell into,” but also one that she’s been intentional about growing in a way that’s true to herself and her customers.

Back up a few years to before Shala started her business and her days were a jumble of diapers, feedings and keeping a close eye on her twin baby girls, Alice and Cora. Life was busy, chaotic and a bit overwhelming, but as Shala started to get the hang of being the mother of twins she came across a problem: baby shoes.

All the shoes on the market were either uncomfortable, unattractive, impractical or just too expensive. So, Shala decided to try making some shoes for herself. She took a pink suede blazer that was a thrift store find, made her own pattern and sewed her first pair of baby moccasins.

Getting the shoes to fit right took some time, but as soon as her girls started wearing the shoes she got comments and questions about where she’d bought them. She realized that she wasn’t the only one who had a problem with baby shoes, and she decided to start selling her shoes on Etsy.

Shala began sewing during nap time, late into the night and anytime she could to get her shop up and running. She didn’t expect it to grow much bigger than Etsy, after all, it was just a fun hobby and a way to make a little extra money on the side, right?

Shala wasn’t a business major and didn’t have any huge aspirations of one day owning a shop. In fact, she laughed about the fact that in college she had a million ideas but no specific major until her senior year in college – and she basically picked whatever major would get her to graduation.

So when her baby shoe business took off she was a little shocked. Sure, she thought her designs were pretty darn cute and she loved the shoes for her own girls, but she was amazed by the support and attention she was suddenly getting from the community. There were some big fans of Belle and The Bear, and some big fans of Shala and that felt good.

Despite the chaos of starting a business and caring for her family, Shala loved the fact that she could have one foot in motherhood and the other in the small business world. She expanded her Etsy site into a full-scale website and in 2015 she opened a brick and mortar shop entirely devoted to kids footwear.

Her shop carried her own designs as well as other brands that she knew of and liked. Having a shop was fun. It gave her an opportunity to interact with her customers, offer shoe fittings and it was a space for her designs to be seen and sold.

But it was also hard. Running a shop added another layer of complexity to her business and family life. Shala’s schedule was fuller and her time at home was in short supply.

After a year of running her shop, Shala decided it was time to close and exclusively sell online and wholesale. It was sad, because it felt like the store had failed in a way, she said.

But Shala didn’t close her store because shoes weren’t selling, she closed it because her brand of shoes were selling better than the other brands she carried. Opening and closing her shop showed her what she really liked about her business and what the community valued as well.

“Our shoes is us. That’s what I love and that’s what other people love,” she said. “I thought my dream was to own a shop, but what I love to do is design and make shoes and to have my own brand versus just my own store.”

Plus, Shala said she gets to spend her Saturdays on the soccer field with her kids instead of in the shop, and that feels good.

It’s not that running a business or even her full-time job as a wife and mother have become any easier, but closing her shop allowed her to run her business on her terms. Shala said that’s one of the things she’s learned over the last four years as a business owner – to trust her gut when it comes to her brand…and her story.

Shala didn’t think her story would involve sewing baby shoes, having twin girls or even living in Lincoln for that matter. To be honest, she didn’t know where her story was going to take her. She didn’t realize how much she’d love being a maker, or how connected she’d be with the maker community in Lincoln. She didn’t even anticipate how much she’d love the differences between her two girls and the life and love they bring to her story.

Shala might say that she just “fell into” running a business, but that’s not really true. Being an owner, a maker, a mother and a wife takes work, it doesn’t just happen. Her story is one that she’s built on her passions and her skills, it’s developed and changed over time, but for now it’s her normal and it’s exactly where she wants to be.

Meg Hasselbalch


“I don’t really have much of a story,” said Meg Hasselbalch as she stood in Paper Kite, her little boutique sandwiched between other locally-owned shops on Prescott Avenue.

I smiled a little at her comment, because in my head her story was already taking shape. Meg has a story, even if to her it feels like she’s been ‘winging it’ most of her life.

Meg said she always felt like she was faking it. 

In college she jokingly referred to herself a “fake” art student, because she loved art, but never latched on to any one discipline like most other students.

When she discovered her love for boutique shops she got a job at a maternity boutique in San Francisco. People would often say to her, ‘Wait, you’re 22 and you don’t have any kids, but you work in a maternity store?’ Meg would respond with a quick, ‘Yep!’ and then go back to work.

That’s the thing about Meg, she’s present and focused on the task at hand. So despite the fact that working in a maternity shop wasn’t exactly what she pictured doing in her 20s, it was an important part of her story.

She loved working at the maternity boutique and her boss quickly became her mentor, inviting Meg to assist with buying, go to market and pick out items for the shop. The fake feeling was starting to wear off.

Four years later, Meg moved back home to Lincoln. She missed her family, her community and was ready to do something a little different.

She briefly worked in Omaha, designing extravagant window displays for Anthropologie and then came back to Lincoln when she heard about a shop on Prescott Avenue that was moving out of its space.

The name of the shop was Scout. Meg had kept her eye on this shop, thinking that someday it might be a place she could fill with her own ideas. She loved the little architectural touches, the cozy neighborhood where it was located…and the fact that Scout was her middle name.

It finally just fit.

Now, it wasn’t like all the pieces fell into place, but things did happen quickly. Meg ran the idea for her boutique by her friends, family and a financial advisor to see if it was just plain crazy or possible.  

She threw together a business plan and talked with her former boss and mentor.

She pieced together various word combinations to land on just the right name and feel for her shop.

It was like a dream, she said, a really stressful but beautiful dream. Meg said her family pitched in right away, painting her space and helping her decorate in record time. She stocked her shelves with gift items and clothing catered to ‘baby, home and her,’ and featured as many local and regional makers as possible.

And on October 1, 2013, Meg opened Paper Kite.

It was a whirlwind, but it was her whirlwind and she was so proud to call Paper Kite her own.

Three months later, Meg and her husband found out they were pregnant with their first child.

Cue whirlwind number two.

“What are we going to do?!” was Meg’s first thought. But in true Meg-style, she kept moving forward.

Battling morning sickness while working six to seven days a week was a full time job that kept Meg plenty busy until her daughter, Mary Frances, entered the world nearly a year to the day after she opened Paper Kite.

It was insane, Meg said, but it worked. She continued working with her dozing daughter snuggled with her in the shop.

People started coming to Paper Kite to see Mary Frances almost as much as to shop, and Meg realized she was well into the second year of owning her own shop. Paper Kite was busy, people loved her shop and Meg loved her job.

It was the right fit.

Meg wandered around her shop telling me about her favorite items and rearranging stacks of notecards or smoothing a sweet little baby outfit just to feel the soft cotton.

Meg said it was important to her that everything went together, even though she was selling everything from candles and cards to corn cob rattles and patterned leggings – it all needed to look like Paper Kite.

Meg’s story is like herself, humble and gracious. It’s about finding her place, mixing her loves and her skills and moving forward when the unexpected turns out better than you expected.

Paper Kite is Meg’s art. It’s not overly complicated – it’s simple, it’s beautiful and it’s hers.

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