Closing Doors and a Meditation on the Nature of Change

Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.
Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.

Visiting a Bedouin camel farm in the United Arab Emirates during a business trip to Dubai.


In the fall of 2003, I started an apothecary company. Truth be told: I had no earthly idea what I was doing. NONE. I was in the midst of a messy divorce, taking my first steps as a newly single mama on some pretty wobbly legs. I was broke, scared, and deeply humbled. I was raising two sweet toddlers who needed heaps of support and I was woefully low on energy and opportunity.



I had no job, no college degree, and no economic security. What did I have? A sharp mind, a burning desire to build some stability as quickly as possible, precious little to lose, a deep commitment to my children, and just enough chutzpah to believe that my life could be different than it was in that moment. As it turns out, that was enough.


Early packaging and some rudimentary photography... it was a "make it work" moment!

Early packaging and some rudimentary photography… it was a “make it work” moment!


With no prior business experience and very, very few dollars, I launched Bella Lucce from the kitchen of my 800 square foot house just outside Knoxville, TN. A few years earlier, my sister had navigated a health crisis, and that scare spawned my desire to know more about what I was putting in and on my body. I began making my own skin care and body care products with natural ingredients, and you could often find my oldest daughter Chloe and I mixing up bath salts, body soaps, and face creams in our kitchen. I never dreamed that my hobby would flourish into a business- I simply wanted to have more confidence in the products I was using.



Fast forward to 2003 and I had moved into my parent’s spare bedroom on the opposite side of the state while working through my divorce. Both my daughters, my dog, and myself all snuggled in tight in a single bed. After being turned down for a waitressing job at a local steakhouse and standing in line for food stamps at my local social service agency (note: This is what “rock bottom” feels like), my mother gently suggested that perhaps I should set up a booth at the local farmers market to sell my products on weekends while I looked for a “real job.”



I took her advice… not because I had any real hope that the effort could be successful, but because I was suffering from a dearth of opportunities. I was woefully low on options, and my bills were accumulating quickly and what the hell else was I going to do?


Bella Lucce's first commercial kitchen in. It was *tiny* and we outgrew it within six months, but I was positively giddy about having my own space.

Bella Lucce’s first commercial kitchen in. It was *tiny* and we outgrew it within six months, but I was positively giddy about having my own space.


Oddly enough, I landed my first wholesale account before I landed my first farmers market. The details of the how and why seem unimportant at this moment, but my beloved Bella Lucce took off like a rocket ship. Within twelve months, I had signed my hundredth wholesale account. I cranked out bath bombs by hand as I watched PBS with my daughters, sitting on the floor together each afternoon. The girls and I ate dinner on boxes of empty jars that doubled as our dining table. And each Saturday, I’d load up my mother’s old minivan with packages and head to the post office. The attendant diligently weighed and stamped each one, a line of patient souls growing outside the door as they triaged dozens of parcels.



In 2004, I remarried and relocated to South Carolina. Signed the lease on my first commercial space, which I outgrew just six months later. Bella Lucce started appearing in magazine editorials fairly regularly. I signed our first distributor and jetted off to Dubai for my first trade show. 250 accounts, then 500, then 1000. A European distributor and training sessions in Vienna. Business dinners in Rome. Press junkets in Kuwait. Custom development meetings in Jordan. Distributors in Scandinavia, Madagascar, and South Korea. Sell-outs on a home shopping network. Ingredient sourcing trips to the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the jungles of Ghana, and in villages down the rutted, red clay roads of Uganda as I worked to build ethical supply chains for dozens of exotic materials.


Bella Lucce has enjoyed press coverage around the world. A sampling, from left-to-right: Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.

Bella Lucce has enjoyed press coverage around the world. From left-to-right: Italy, the United Arab Emirates, and the U.S.


And with all of that explosive business growth came building expansions. Hirings. Firings. A lawsuit or two. Pitch decks. Sales meetings. Investor meetings. Vendor meetings galore. Being courted for a reality TV show. Walking the halls of Congress to lobby for small business. And lots and lots of time on planes. Which lead to…



Lots and lots of time on my therapist’s couch. I’m not in the least bit ashamed to share that with you. Growing a business has been the singular most challenging experience of my life. I’ve survived divorce, cancer, cranial tumors, natural childbirth, and bankruptcy… and I’m here to tell you that none of those experiences challenged me more than growing my business. Nothing forced me to go further outside my comfort zone. Nothing forced me to believe in myself more. Nothing forced me to become a stronger leader, or to check my expectations at the door, or to face down my darkest fears, or to become a more attuned “people reader” than running a multi-million-dollar manufacturing firm that hundreds of people around the world counted on to feed their families. Let me tell you, friend: THAT is some heady stuff.


Thankfully, our packaging and photography got better over time. I'm especially proud of this handmade soap, wrapped in a beautiful handpainted mud cloth that I sourced directly from Mali, Africa, retailed in handmade baskets that I sourced directly from Uganda.

Thankfully, our packaging and photography got better over time. I am especially proud of this handmade soap, wrapped in a beautiful handpainted mud cloth that I sourced direct from Mali, retailed in handmade baskets that I sourced directly from Uganda.


I love the hustle and there’s almost nothing I enjoy more than dreaming up (and pursuing) new opportunities. But while so many of us pray for the kind of opportunities I enjoyed, I can tell you that explosive growth is both a blessing and a curse. Overtaxed adrenals. Cash flow crises. Kids who miss their mom. A husband who often got the remnants of what was left of me at the end of the month rather than my best. And one very, very tired Lela who felt like she had summited the mountain of business only to find that the view at the top wasn’t quite what I had expected. It took me a long time to make peace with that difficult realization, but I finally came to my senses while on a beach in Thailand.



In 2011, two senior managers resigned at my company in the span of one week. There was no great scandal underlying those departures. One was following her husband to another state as he began a new job; the other was simply tired and fried. I was accustomed to people coming and going- that’s part and parcel of business. But my #1 and #2 leaving in one week was more than my brain could process. It was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.


Perched atop a forklift in Genoa, surrounded by our Italian distribution team in their warehouse.

Perched atop a forklift in Genoa, surrounded by our Italian distribution team in their warehouse.


I calmly told my husband on Friday that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, but I was going to find somewhere pretty in which to have that breakdown, away from the watchful eyes of my daughters. Sunday afternoon- less than 48 hours later- I boarded a plane bound for Phuket. I spent 10 days face-down in Buddhist temples, journaling on the beach at sunrise, and meditating daily in a floating sala surrounded by lily pads. I took wheatgrass shots three times a day, retired to bed by 7pm each night, and forced myself to take inventory of my life and my business.



And what I realized in those ten days was this: Bella Lucce was my training ground, not my destination. I had always seen Bella Lucce as my “end game”- the alpha and omega of my entrepreneurial life. But I realized that the experiences I’d accumulated were simply a set of training wheels, preparing me for what was to come. The idea of using the wisdom and strategies that I’d cultivated in life and business to support others was born in a kayak, drifting through a series of caves in Southeast Asia. I flew home and got to work. Fifteen months later, Lucky Break launched in November of 2012.


If you must have a nervous breakdown, this is a lovely place to do it, yes? My villa had an outdoor shower, a meditation sala, and a private pool. I did some good thinking here...

If you must have a nervous breakdown, this is a lovely place to do it, yes? My villa had an outdoor shower, a meditation sala, and a private pool. I did some good thinking here…


A lot has happened since then: I’ve watched my sweet girls enter adolescence. I waved one off to college in the Midwest. I relocated from Columbia to Atlanta. I’ve been blessed to do some passion work via nonprofit boards and personal philanthropy. I’ve seen much more of the world. But at the end of the day, I’ve also been working 80+ hours a week for more than five years, balancing Bella Lucce and Lucky Break. It’s been a fulfilling (but tricky) five years.



Lately, I’ve been feeling the need for a purge, to burn away that which isn’t essential. I asked myself about what’s serving me well. I meditated on what facets of my life are challenging me to grow. I took inventory of what feeds my energy and what drains it. I thought about what’s “next” for my family. And the more deeply I dug into my own psyche, the more I realized that I’m clinging to Bella Lucce because of my own insecurity.


Sitting in on an lesson at a rural school in Morocco. We eventually sponsored that school for several years, supplementing teacher salaries while providing a library, playground supplies, and backpacks filled with school supplies to the kiddos. Some of my favorite work!

Sitting in on an lesson at a rural school in Morocco. We eventually sponsored that school for several years, supplementing teacher salaries while providing a library, playground supplies, and backpacks filled with school supplies to the kiddos. Some of my favorite work!


She’s like a warm blanket that I’ve been clutching for fifteen solid years. So much of my identity is tied up in my role as the founder of Bella Lucce. In the back of my mind, I’ve always known that if Lucky Break fails in spectacular fashion, I can always fall back on my beloved Bella Lucce. Will people even recognize my name if that company ceases to exist?



It’s time to find out.



I’m finally ready to pull the ripcord. Cut the umbilical cord. [Insert your own odd analogy about cords here.] It’s with great pride (and a tinge of sadness) that I share that the doors of Bella Lucce will be closing at the end of this week. I’d be lying if I said that there weren’t some tears as I cleaned out my office a few weeks ago. But my family and my teams (at both Bella Lucce and Lucky Break) have been so incredibly supportive of this decision, and I know in my gut that this is the right move.


Teaching a workshop in Ghana. The ladies and I created a shea butter- based hair pomade product that's still created and sold today. All proceeds benefit a nonprofit that works with widows and orphans.

Teaching a workshop in Ghana. The ladies and I created a shea butter-
based hair pomade that’s still sold today. All proceeds benefit a nonprofit that works with widows and orphans.


Change is a hard concept for me. I often joke that I practice Buddhism because the heart of the religion is this: the world is in a perpetual state of change. And I’m stunningly shitty at processing it. There are facets of this decision that are bittersweet. But mostly, I feel excitement. I’m excited to welcome additional mental and emotional bandwidth as I streamline my life and reduce my “to do” list. When I think of flying off this cliff and fully spreading my Lucky Break wings, I’m giddy at the thought of what that could mean for me, my family, my team, and my clients. And thanks to some clever deal-making, pieces of Bella Lucce will live on, even if they aren’t visible in an incarnation that you immediately recognize. *wink*



I started my first business because:
1. I wanted to prove to myself that I had the power to fashion my life into whatever I desired.
2. I wanted to role model tenacity and courage (on nearly reckless levels) for my daughters.



One of my favorite sourcing trips: learning about cocoa production in St. Lucia.

A sourcing trip to St. Lucia to learn about cocoa production (these are beans drying in the sun). I so enjoyed the sourcing trips: rose farms and essential oil distilleries, raw clay being pulled out of the mountains, argan oil cooperatives where women smashed nuts between rocks, protected shea parklands in East Africa, and spice factories in India. Every drop of it has been fascinating!


I’ve recently come to realize that my life has gotten a bit more bloated than I prefer. My soul is stirring and it’s time to shake things up. To again show my daughters that whatever served you well yesterday may not be what serves you well tomorrow. That part of our journey involves constantly taking stock and fine-tuning our existence. And that sometimes those “fine-tunings” morph into big leaps of faith… but those leaps of faith are always where the magic lies.



This has been the most wonderfully transformative fifteen years of my life and I’m grateful for every step. Starting a business is a revolutionary act and I’m so proud to support product-based entrepreneurs who are on similar journeys. It’s unimaginably hard, but this work is so worth doing.


I once took the Bella Lucce team skydiving. Good times! We also enjoyed some amazing travel all over the world. You all are what I'll miss most!

I once took the Bella Lucce team skydiving. Good times! We also enjoyed some amazing travel adventures together all over the world. You all are what I’ll miss most!


I hope you’ll join me in raising a toast to dozens of employees over the years, 15,000+ wholesale orders, 60+ passport stamps, and almost 2 million products sold. It’s been a wild ride and I will forever be grateful for this adventure. If you have a memory of Bella Lucce, then I hope you’ll share it with me in the comments. When we close the doors for the last time on Friday, I’ll be on a boat floating somewhere off the coast of Mexico. But I’ll have a good bottle of Malbec at the ready and I’ll be indulging in a walk down memory lane. I hope to be able to come here and read your memories, too.



Onward and upward, friends. Always.



Meet me in New Orleans!


Have you heard? I’m heading to New Orleans next month for a special event sponsored by Stay Local + Good Work Network! These amazing nonprofits are hosting a day-long workshop for makers, artists and product designers who are keen on cracking the wholesale market and I’m thrilled to be presenting 4 solid hours of wholesale workshop goodness.  Even better? Registration for Stay Local + Good Work Network members is a mere $20, which includes refreshments, lunch and  some fun entrepreneurial swag from Lucky Break. Not a member? You’re welcome to join the fun! Tickets for non-members are just $75 and I promise to make it worth every penny. This workshop is jam-packed and I’m doing-cart-wheels-excited to hit up the Big Easy with makers on the move. Reserve your seat + let’s turn up the volume on that burgeoning empire of yours…




I’ll be teaching all morning and the afternoon will see a fantastic session on branding and an expert panel hosted by some fantastically successful makers who are rolling up their sleeves to offer insight + experience.  Here’s the run-down for the day…


Time: Wednesday, September 9, 2015, from 8am-4pm

Location: Café Reconcile (1631 OC Haley Blvd.)

Cost: $20: StayLocal and Good Work Network Members // $75: Non-Member (Includes workshop, lunch, and refreshments)


8am: Doors open

8:15: Featured speaker Lela Barker of Lucky Break Consulting will explain:
– Laying the Foundation: Product Pricing + Wholesale Policies
– Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Designing Line Sheets & Order Forms
– Making the Sale: Finding Stores + Woo’ing Wholesale Buyers

12:30: Lunch catered by Cafe Reconcile

1:30: Branding Session

2:30 Q&A Expert Panel with…
– Tippy Tippens of Goods That Matter
– Tereson Duprey of Fuzzi Buns
– Molly Babineaux of Loomed


Seats are very limitedClaim one now and I’ll see you there!


Meditating On Entrepreneurship + Obstacles


You might have read on the Lucky Break Facebook page or through my newsletter that I recently underwent surgery for a cranial tumor. I’ve been completely overwhelmed (in the best way possible) with the incredible support this community has shown! Today, I am officially nine days post-op and I wanted to share both an update + some meditations…



Snarling at my tumor pre-op.


The History:


I battled a benign tumor in my mastoid cavity (the mostly-hollow cranial cavity directly behind the ear) eight years ago. It required surgical removal and it took most of my hearing in that ear right along with it. During the same surgery, the doctor took tiny fragments from my skull and used diamond burrs to craft new ear bones. Groovy, right? Except that it didn’t work. Valiant effort, but they collapsed as my ear healed. I’ve worn a hearing aid ever since and I’ve gotten on pretty well.


In February of this year, I developed a rather nasty ear infection that I couldn’t seem to clear. That lead to the discovery that Le Tumor was Le Back in April. Rats! I worked my way up the medical food chain since this operation was going to be a bit more delicate + specialized, and I eventually ended up at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, being treated by  the chairman of the Otolaryngology Department. He’s rumored to be the absolute top surgeon working on head + neck tumors in the state and he sweet talked me into letting him go in after the beast.


The surgery was performed June 11th. The plan was to extract the tumor (which we already knew was benign- hooray!), perform a skin graft to build a new ear drum and implant titanium ear bones in the hopes of restoring my hearing. I was totally down with the idea of being one step closer to the Bionic Woman…


The Final Tally of Damages:


The tumor was more extensive + invasive than initially anticipated. It took quite a bit of work to get it out of there, but the surgeon is confident that he did it. The type of tumor I had is slow-growing and benign but insidious. If a single cell remains after the surgery, then it will be back. If you pray, I ask that you pray that every last cell of the mf’er is gone.


Because of the complexity and length of the surgery, the titanium implants were not a possibility this round. However, another surgery has been ordered for later this year that will go back through the same incision and look to see that the tumor is not regenerating. If it’s not, I’ll get the implants and be on my way. If it is, they’ll essentially remove my ear. Clear everything out, remove my ear canal and declare the hearing a permanent loss. On the upside, it means the tumor can’t really regenerate either.



Heading into surgery last week


The facial nerve was saved (hooray!) The protective bone over it was eroded beyond the ability of the surgeon to repair, so although we’ll need to keep an eye on it, I do not suffer from any facial paralysis. Which is super-cool because I was really, really dreading that gig.


All in all, I have a 4” long incision that mostly traces + is tucked behind my ear.  There are more than 40 stitches in my scalp at the moment, but my mound of curls will eventually hide the scars (hooray for curls, right?). The surgical staff ultimately had to shave very little hair so I’ll most likely skip the Rihanna-mohawk-look I was contemplating. She wears it better than I would have anyway.


I’m still struggling with solid food. I’m more deaf than I ever have been. I’m utterly exhausted. I have a limited range of motion with my neck, can’t open my mouth very wide and cry every time I sneeze or cough. My husband reminds me often than this will all pass in a few weeks. I glare at him and tell him that he better be right, but I secretly know that he is.


The Lessons:


I’ve been meditating on entrepreneurship + obstacles as I lay in this bed and I’ve reached a few conclusions I’d like to share. I hope you’ll indulge me for a moment.


1. I needed to slow down. You might need to as well. I run three companies + a household and manage four kids. This company, in particular, is still in the voraciously time-hungry startup mode.  I’d been burning the candle at both ends for the first half of 2014, packing in: seventeen trips, four multi-week webinars, an intensive eight-week wholesale program, launching a service to create line sheets + order forms for other makers, managing two new team members here at Lucky Break, completely redesigning + relaunching our software which empowers makers to successfully price their products, along with designing an innovative (but ridiculously intensive) new live event series. Oh, and a total rebrand, too. (Shhhh… that’s the first time I’ve mentioned it publicly. It’s beautiful, though, and I’ll reveal it in a few month’s time).


All of that… in a five month time frame. That was entirely too much to put on my plate. I’m passionate about what I do, so I have a tendency to throw myself into work + overload myself. Many of my clients suffer from this same syndrome.


The neglect of myself eventually reared its head by showing up in my health. No, it wasn’t the source of the tumor, but it certainly exacerbated matters and made the tumor itself a much heavier mental load than it had to be. As surgery of this magnitude has forced me to slow down, I realized how much I desperately needed to slow down, tumor or not. I am my business. If I can’t perform, what then? You are likely your business, too.  Take good care of you.


2. Entrepreneurship really is the greatest damn thing ever. I’ve been a maker for 10 years now, so that’s not a new revelation for me, but this experience served as a fantastic reminder.


I’ve been thinking about what it would have been like if I had to ask a boss for time off and they told me I couldn’t take the time I needed to recover. What would have happened then? I’m my own boss and, thankfully, I have the luxury of taking all the time I need,  without fear of repercussion upon my return.


I’ve been thinking about how blessed I am to be in the driver’s seat of my income as an entrepreneur. Taking several weeks off means my income largely grinds to a halt for a time. This surgery was insanely expensive and I cut a check with lots of zeroes attached to it, even after insurance had carried the bulk. If I had been in a traditional job, that lost income would be lost forever and I likely would have wept as I cut that check. But because of the revenue my entrepreneurship has provided, the check was less painful than it otherwise might have been. I can also afford to travel back + forth to another city to enlist the best surgeon in the state and fly my child to visit friends so she could be shielded from some of this emotional trauma. I can afford to have my housekeeper here washing the linens + chasing the dust bunnies while I’m in Charleston having the surgery. I can vouch that the fresh sheets I crawled into when I finally came home were the softest, best-smelling sheets in the history of ever.  And as for that lost income? I’ll simply double-down on my hustle and make it up next month.


I’ve also been thinking about how broken-single-mama-Lela of eleven years ago would have reacted to this tumor. There are a few scenarios I’ve run through my head but none of them are particularly pretty. The trials + tribulations, the joys + victories of running my business and using that as a platform to build a life I love have empowered me more than I can articulate. Sure… I’ve been worried. I’ve cried. I’ve spent unmentionable hours soaking in hot baths. But I’ve never doubted that this would ultimately be okay. That I could beat this tumor and emerge from the experience ever stronger. And I know that I owe that confidence to entrepreneurship. Aside from motherhood, entrepreneurship has been the single most transformative experience of my life.


3. Nothing but death can steal my passion. Truly. I’ve had a tough few months of worrying and waiting and undergoing tests and making plans and the whole damn ordeal has been exhausting on a massive scale. But all of that has done NOTHING to quell my passion to help creative entrepreneurs build the empire of their dreams. If anything, it’s re-energized me. I’ve doubled-and-tripled down my dedication to the cause. I’m doing-cartwheels-excited to welcome a fourth member to the Lucky Break team (full-time, baby!) next month, and one of her top priorities is managing both my schedule and my project list with greater elegance.


Because in the midst of this storm, I realized how much more I want do and how much more I want to give. I need to tweak how that happens, but I’m incredibly confident that this new team member will help me do that. The tumor didn’t kill my passion, it fed it. And I know that someone (one day… far, far into the future) will have to pry the chalk, sewing needle, scissors, whisk, ink, and clay out of the cold, dead hands of my clients. Because we’re all incredibly passionate about what we do. And once our passion is sufficiently harnessed + focused, the world better watch the hell out.



I was given this cup to wear over my incision for protection. Awesome for two reasons: a) The nurses covered it in stickers while I was under anesthesia. b) I’m going to find another one, paint it brown and dress up as Princess Leia for Halloween!


So good riddance tumor, and don’t let the door hit you in the ass! The second half of this tumor-free year is going to yield a tsunami of creative goodness: live webinars on protecting intellectual property, romancing the press, and doing good while doing business will be back this fall. The fourth round of my competely-sold-out-in-less-than-48-hours “how to wholesale” program kicks off in just under 3 weeks. I’m throwing a brand new kind of party for makers in Atlanta this fall, the likes of which I guarantee you’ve never seen. Welcoming that new team member, rebranding this company and lots of other as-yet-unrevealed plans.


Heaps + Heaps of Gratitude:


I owe an awful lot of thank you’s…

My sweet Mister washed my hair and rubbed my back as I cried and set alarms to make certain that Lortabs were administered every 4 hours on the dot. He is, without a doubt, the most patient and loyal man I know and I could not do life without him.


My mom spent a week in my guest room, letting my dogs out 87 times a day, washing the dishes, cutting watermelon into tiny pieces so I could suck on it and making sure all the flowers were watered. The last week ran so much smoother because of her presence + graciousness.


My dearest friend Sara hosted my youngest daughter in Indianapolis, so my kiddo could enjoy a week with her pals without watching her mom suffer.  It was a gift not to worry about her and for her not to worry about me. Sixteen years of friendship and she’s been there for me through all of life’s up’s + down’s.


Countless friends sent flowers. Stopped by with cake. Texted their support. Called to see if my family needed anything.  Thank you all so, so much. I hope you’ll call on me to return the favor when you find yourself in need.


Clients graciously let us “pause” their projects for a couple of weeks. Consults were rescheduled.  And hundreds of messages poured in through social media. I’m blessed to have such an amazing community! I count you all as rockstars and felt the good juju throughout this ordeal. Your patience has humbled me. I’ll be back in action soon. xo

155 Words You Need to Know: Practical Wisdom for Creative Entrepreneurs



My first missive has been released into the Universe….squeeeeeee! 155 Words You Need to Know: Practical Wisdom for Creative Entrepreneurs is the culmination of all the times I longed for a mentor to help navigate the dizzying maze of entrepreneurship. It’s the wisdom that sprung from the countless times someone asked a question during a meeting using a term I’d never before heard. Furiously scribbled foreign words were scrawled across paper and evenings were spent knee-deep in Google® searches to give them context and meaning. This wisdom didn’t come from textbooks or sitting through a class; it was hard-won and personally developed through years of trial and error, victories and stumbles, triumphs and tribulations.


Think of 155 Words You Need to Know: Practical Wisdom for Creative Entrepreneurs as your personal small business concierge. This beautifully designed guidebook will illuminate the who, what and how of building an empire for creative entrepreneurs of all stripes. I bring definition and clarity to challenging business concepts, along with practical advice and actionable wisdom gleaned from my decade in the entrepreneurial trenches. From CPQs (case pack quantities) to DPI (dots per inch), from media kits to brand dilution, and from customs brokers to independent contractors, there’s a full decade worth of practical wisdom packed inside these pages.


Stock the stuffing of your favorite entrepreneur with a copy for just $12.99 at!