If there is one thing that we absolutely love, it’s a woman who hustles, is courageous, and takes chances. And our very own food editor Juley Le is just that. Not only does she bring you many of the mouthwatering recipes that we hope you love, but she is also a creative consultant helping others define their own personal brand, presence, and creative drive. Oh, and should we also mention that she is launching a kitchen product line this winter?
We’re thrilled to feature Juley to give you a glimpse into what hard work, grit, and conviction can get you. A lot, in other words. But Juley is not without knowing what it means to give back, as she spent two years as a teacher in New Orleans’ ninth ward with Teach for America. Not only are we proud to call her our own, but West Elm also recognized Juley’s efforts to better her community and offered to outfit her entire home office for her newly burgeoning small business. Juley’s decor style exudes her cool, calm, demeanor, but it’s obviously a space where she gets it done.
Juley says herself, “I don’t have it all figured out, but I’m going to try!” And that’s an amazing life motto if we do say so ourselves. But Juley is not afraid to hit rock bottom when it comes to her career, as she admits that the struggle forced her to reevaluate and redirect. Enjoy even more advice from Juley on how to follow your heart, how to make it work, and how to build a business from the ground up.
Full name: Juley Thuy Le
Location: New Orleans, LA
Current title/company: Creative Consultant, Founder of Upperlyne & Co.
Education: Loyola University New Orleans, BA in Business Administration (Major: Finance)
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
My first real job was as a corps member with the national non-profit Teach for America. I was a founding teacher at a transformational charter school in New Orleans’ Upper Ninth Ward. I had zero teaching experience but was intrigued with the organization when I was approached by a recruiter during my sophomore year. Different types of people get in, but I think I was accepted because of my campus involvement and genuine interest in education.
During college you were “super involved” on campus. How did this affect your decision to work for Teach for America?
In high school, I coasted through my courses but still did relatively well. For some reason, it felt like college was more difficult for me than my classmates who went to private schools. I was absolutely crushed when I received a D on my first English paper. It was that moment, though, that I realized how ill-prepared I was and how much harder I had to work. I enrolled in remedial courses, earned multiple scholarships, got involved, and graduated with honors. It was through this experience and my time working with student organizations that I began to understand the importance of education. I wanted to pay my experience forward and Teach for America was where I could get to the root of the problem.
You started blogging during your time with Teach for America and Upperlyne has become a creative outlet for you. Tell us about why you love to blog!
During that time, I needed a way to wind down and boy did the blog awaken dormant creative muscles. It remains exciting to be able to share my perspective and have people get excited about my content! In addition to the creative piece, you just can’t beat the genuine friendships that stem from blogging. It’s a large network of inspiration that gets people moving, creating, sharing, and connecting.
You obviously gravitate towards leadership positions. How did this affect your next career move?
Through Teach for America’s partnership program, I was recruited by a large software company to lead their software testing team. You’re probably thinking HUH?! I know. I have a pattern of jumping into the unknown. To just say yes and go. So, my boyfriend and I packed up our lives in New Orleans and moved to Nashville, a place neither of us have been. I was able to streamline processes for high profile clients, learn a whole new skill set, and get to know another great Southern city on a deeper level.
Whether you’re tinkering with the idea of quitting or starting something new, let it happen in an organic way. Don’t be discouraged or overly influenced by what other people are doing.
Tell us about your need to fulfill your creative passions while still working the typical 9 to 5. What advice do you have for Everygirls about how to stay inspired even with the necessary daily grind?
After a gruesome two years of working in education, joining the normal 9 to 5 life in my new IT role was a welcomed change. I was amazed at how much time I had to do things like work out, cook, and blog! This little ounce of freedom had me hungry for more. It was then that I launched MCRN Bar, a subscription-based website that sent French macarons to members monthly. After leaving my office job, I was in my kitchen baking, packing, and shipping macaroons until 2AM. It wasn’t easy, but I enjoyed the structure of my office job and the autonomy of my own company. If you’re currently in this position, I’d recommend letting yourself continue to go through the process and allowing yourself to come to your own conclusions. Whether you’re tinkering with the idea of quitting or starting something new, let it happen in an organic way. Don’t be discouraged or overly influenced by what other people are doing. Comparison really is the thief of joy. And, not to mention it robs you of creativity.
Back to New Orleans! Tell us about finding a better fit for your career.
It wasn’t about finding a career that fit me, but figuring out how I could build my life and plant my seed in New Orleans. Anyone who knows me knows how much I love this city, but they’ll also tell you our economy is not for the faint of heart. You need grit to thrive here. Many people work multiple jobs to support their passions and part of the reason I moved to Nashville was because I was struggling to find a job. When I was in Nashville, however, I found myself constantly searching for opportunities in New Orleans. And, I put in my two weeks’ notice the minute I received an offer. This meant giving up the perfect downtown loft and a comfortable salary for an entry-level position, but I moved without hesitation. When you know, you just know!
Then you made the huge decision to take the leap out on your own. Describe what it has been like to pursue your dreams!
It’s been just two months now and I couldn’t be more grateful for how things are developing. Before my official quit, I initiated conversations with people who showed interest in bringing me on as their consultant to help develop their businesses. Thanks to those conversations, I have a steady line of work that gives me a nice balance of creating, styling, business development, and traveling as well as flexibility to build my own business. There’s still stress, but it’s a different kind of stress that’s oddly enjoyable. And while not every day is peachy, I often wonder why I didn’t do this sooner!
What advice do you have on how to finance and budget when running your own business?
I hope this changes in the future, but fortunately I’m just supporting myself now. After paying my monthly bills, anything I make is invested into my future business. I’m pretty sure there’s a better formula, but I haven’t figured it out just yet! We’re in a full start-up mode here so I’m comfortable with not knowing everything at this point.
You are also pursuing a line of creative kitchen products. We can’t wait for the debut! What inspires you? How do you stay motivated to keep creating?
Thank you! I can’t wait for it to launch. Observing my environment is my number one inspiration. I grew up in a large Vietnamese family on the bayou along the Gulf of Mexico and in the middle of a rustic Cajun environment. Growing up, there were two different approaches to life and cooking. On the Vietnamese side, there is a strong emphasis on the collective, being resourceful, and multiple generations in the kitchen preparing elaborate family meals. The Cajun side, on the other hand, was about simple living, uncomplicated seafood boils, fishing trips, and a distinct appreciation for the South. Both are simple and practical! I remain motivated by keeping these two elements in mind when designing products.
And you are The Everygirl’s Food Editor! How did this opportunity come about? What do you love most about The Everygirl?
The Everygirl launched right when I was in the ‘I’m comfortable but there’s so much to be desired’ phase in Nashville. I religiously logged on every morning to read the career profiles and was so inspired by the women featured. Some were starting their own businesses or leading top companies, but all were living proof anyone could build their dream life. I don’t think I could have mustered the courage to make bold moves if it weren’t for the women featured on this site. When I saw the position open up on the website, I jumped at the opportunity and pitched my ideas. I submitted a thorough plan of what I would do to improve the food section, and to my delight and disbelief, was offered the position!
To top it all off, West Elm approached you and offered to makeover your home office! Tell us about this experience.
Pretty unreal! In the midst of opening their first New Orleans location, the West Elm corporate team got word of my big quit and offered to help. I have this sunroom in my apartment with beautiful, historic French windows. The room is easily one of the best features in my apartment, but it’s been sitting stale since last August after a failed attempt at making it an office. Instead of looking forward to working there, I use it as an excuse to go to coffee shops.
With West Elm’s guidance, we turned the sun room into a stylish and fully functional office. Now, I look forward to working and actually turn to the office for inspiration. There are times when files, samples, and lookbooks are tossed everywhere and it’s a big mess but for the most part it remains warm and inviting. I couldn’t be happier with the results and amazed at how much it represents my personal style. They were really a dream to work with.
How do you balance your different career roles and goals? What advice do you have to stay organized and efficient?
Every month, I have a list of big picture goals and then determine what needs to be done each week. I find it less overwhelming to chip away at small pieces with reasonable checklists than to try to do everything at once. When you’ve accomplished those weekly goals, celebrate those little wins. It’ll keep you movitvated to keep going!
Describe a typical day in the life of Juley.
When I’m not traveling for work and on my most productive days, I wake up around 7:00 AM, walk my handsome puppy, eat breakfast while answering emails and preparing for the day, manage calls with clients and vendors, publish a new blog post, post a few Instagram pictures (@upperlyneco) throughout the day, work on designs and the website for Upperlyne & Co., check off the to-list, create and photograph food stories for The Everygirl, wrap up around 6pm, go to the gym, walk the handsome pup again, and finally eat dinner.
What would you say to Everygirls who are hesitant to start their own business? What motivated you to take the leap?
If you’re hesitant, let yourself go through the process of developing and abandoning ideas. It’s important to struggle, to go back-and-forth, to not know. That struggle breeds the frustration that creates the passion you need to make bold moves. And then, when you’re ready to take that leap do it with nothing less than 100%.
What lessons have you learned about being an entrepreneur?
There are so many lessons! It takes many years to develop an authentic brand so it’s important to protect it. The last thing you want to feel is robbed of your intellectual property so be acutely aware of the company you keep. It’s also important to be comfortable with ambiguity, know that everything is a risk, and focus on doing your best work.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Relaaaaaax. You’re going to pay off those loans somehow. And don’t let your blog fall to the wayside!
Juley Le is the Everygirl…
Favorite way to unplug?
Describe a perfect New Orleans day.
Wake up naturally, grab an iced latte and baguette, and aimlessly roam the city with my boyfriend and our puppy.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
Felicity Porter (from the TV show ‘Felicity’) and we’d share a sandwich at Dean & Deluca.
Dream vacation destination?
The French countryside! And I’d take every baking class possible.
I’d like to be remembered as…
someone who could’ve easily taken an elevator to success, but respectfully declined and took the stairs. I wholeheartedly don’t believe in shortcuts!
Desk, West Elm
Rug, West Elm
Curtain rod, West Elm
Curtains, West Elm
Pendant lighting, West Elm
Fern art, West Elm
Hive vase, West Elm
Calendar, A Pair & A Spare
Paint, Sherwinn Williams’ Extra White Paint in Matte
Cotton Branches, Save on Crafts