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Jillian Fellers


Jillian Fellers spent the morning steaming dresses after traveling to New York’s Bridal Fashion Week.

It’s easy to tell that Jillian is comfortable when she’s surrounded by her gowns. How could she not be? They’re elegant and romantic silhouettes made of imported lace and silk, sewn together in a detailed and yet gorgeously simplistic way.

It’s her work, her creation and something she never really expected to be doing. She’s the owner of Jillian Fellers Bridal, and having her name on the sign and her own branded business cards is still a bit of a shock to Jillian.

Like a lot of South Dakota country kids, Jillian said she grew up in 4-H. Her mom taught her the basics of sewing so she gravitated toward sewing projects, showing off her skills at county and state fairs.

In high school, Jillian helped the costume manager by sorting and fitting costumes for the drama performances, building on her basic skills before heading off to college at UNL. She wanted to work in the fashion industry and was confident that getting a textiles and design degree would help her do just that.

It was a big step. Jillian is the oldest child in her family and was the first to leave home, and pursuing a fashion degree seemed a little risky. She soaked up all she could in school, learning the finer points of fashion, sewing and design.

Jillian also met her husband while she was in college and the two got married while she finished up school. They lived downtown in a small condo where there was no room for her sewing materials, so she rented out a space to do custom sewing. She had an ad printed in the yellow pages and started taking orders for projects, the bulk of which ended up being prom, bridesmaids and bridal dresses.

Jillian was especially drawn to the intricate details of bridal gowns and loved getting to talk with brides about their ideal dresses. There was just something so special and personal about working on a custom design.

While things were going well for Jillian, she took a step back from her studio from 2008. She wanted to be a stay at home mom to her two young boys, but she also wanted to keep her hand in the fashion world.

She started an Etsy shop to sell some small accessories, but for the most part she was in full-time mommy mode. Jillian said she liked to work in a quick design over nap time or in the evenings when her boys were asleep, but the break was a good breather for her.

In 2012, a friend asked her if she’d ever consider showing a line of dresses as part of Omaha Fashion Week. Jillian hadn’t really considered ever doing this, but thought it might be worth a try. She spent the next six months designing dresses to show at the spring fashion week. It was thrilling to be back in the world of fashion again, but it was also a lot to take on all at once. Turing around 6-8 dresses in just a few months with two young boys was no small task. There was designing, ordering, fitting and styling that all needed to be done for the show.

But somehow it all worked out and Jillian watched her dresses walk the runway at Omaha Fashion Week. Six months later she was back for the fall fashion show with another set of dresses that she’d whipped up in record time.

From there, things moved forward slowly. Jillian moved her sewing machine from her living room table to the basement of her house and eventually she outgrew her basement and moved into a studio. She was contacted by stores from around the country and asked to do trunk shows and send out samples of her gowns. Jillian started selling online, doing collaborative photo shoots, receiving a lot of positive press and was mentioned on some notable wedding blogs.

The whole thing seemed a little unreal. After all, Jillian said, she’s just a one-woman shop. But now, she’s a one-woman shop that’s about to release her fourth collection of wedding dresses and start in on designs for her fifth.

It’s been quite the adventure, for both Jillian and her family. The whole work-life-balance thing is hard, she admitted, but she does her best. She tries to be present when she’s at home and keep work in her studio, but the reality is that’s not the way it always works out.

There are deadlines, missed birthdays and last minute trips that need to be made, but that’s part of running a small business. Her name might be the one associated with Jillian Fellers Bridal, but she has lots of people cheering her on behind the scenes, namely her husband and her two sons.

Jillian’s story is a lot like her dress designing process – it’s ever-changing. The early sketches and inspirations evolve with each step and most of the time the end product looks nothing like Jillian had intended – it’s even better.

Leigh Esau


Leigh Esau is a little shy when it comes to sharing her story. She’s not actually a shy person, but telling her own story just isn’t her thing.

Leigh is the founder of the Foster Care Closet in Lincoln. It’s a place where foster kids can get brand new clothes during and before they go to a foster home. She has served thousands of kids in the foster care system with clothing. The Foster Care Closet has been open in Lincoln for 10 years and now has a location in Omaha and is opening two more in Scottsbluff and Kearney.

Leigh’s goal is to take her model and make it a national standard for foster kids across the country, because these kids are often the ones left behind, she said.

Before she was 1, Leigh was placed in a foster home. Her home-life was chaotic and unstable and she went back and forth between her foster home and biological home for the first three years of her life. She was found abandoned at age 3 and was in foster care for another few years before being adopted by a family in a rural town in Colorado at the age of 7.

At the age of 14, Leigh said she boldly talked about growing up and being a foster parent in the way that most kids talk about wanting to be a teacher or firefighter. It was on her radar and heart.

When Leigh met her husband, Pat, at the age of 15 she said she knew they would get married. She called him up, asked him out and three years later they got married.

The young couple moved to California and then settled in Lincoln where they raised their children. Leigh said it’s when they became foster parents that they quickly noticed how few belongings children had when they showed up at their house.

When she and her husband took in a foster child, they’d rush out to the store to grab diapers, clothing, formula, shoes, car seats and whatever they needed. It was expensive and also sad that they couldn’t spend that time investing in the child who had just walked through their door.

Leigh began talking with friends about how to fix this problem. She started taking second-hand items from people to use herself or pass along to other foster parents who could use them. This was the start of the Foster Care Closet, and a year after Leigh started collecting clothes they moved operations to a storage facility and then an official space. By 2008, the Foster Care Closet was in its current 3,200-square-foot location.

But the Foster Care Closet has far extended Leigh’s original idea of gathering clothes, toys and diapers.

“This is my favorite part of the whole place,” said Leigh as she flicked on the lights.

It was like an apartment. There was a big living room, an office area, bean bag chairs, toys – it felt like a home, which is exactly the point.

In 2012, Leigh added an intake center to the Foster Care Closet. This space above the shop is where kids and caseworkers can hang out after the child is removed from their home and before they go to their foster home.

It’s a step toward making this traumatic process smoother and more comfortable for kids while they’re waiting to move to a foster home, Leigh said. The kids can eat, pick out five new outfits to take with them, watch TV, play or just sit down and take a breath.

These seemingly small details matter to Leigh, because they matter to kids. She’s witnessed tired and confused teens light up when they go to pick out new clothes, because they know they won’t have to go to school the next day wearing the same outfit. She’s seen other kids start to trust adults just because she brought them a snack.

“I can’t change the system, but I can change how kids are introduced to foster care,” Leigh said.

One of the reasons Leigh said she doesn’t like to share her story is because people often assume she works with foster kids because she is a former foster kid, but that’s not true. Leigh said it’s less about her own experience than it is about the kids she’s seen walk through foster care.

She is convinced the process can be better, that kids can have dignity and a voice despite their circumstances.

That’s why she does her work. Why she’s checking prices, folding clothes and looking for sales at Old Navy and Sketchers. It’s why she’s buying a new round of jeans in the off season and stocking up on bulk bundles of socks and undies. It’s for the kids whose stories have rubbed off on her, who have made her own story richer and somehow stronger because of their courage and resilience.

Because for Leigh, her story matters most when it’s about making their stories heard.

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