Lakesha Cole

Stripes Okinawa

Lakesha Cole of Camp Kinser was named Marine Corps Spouse of the Year and nominated for National Military Spouse of the Year. Military Spouse magazine’s annual Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year award recognizes important contributions and unwavering commitment to country and the military community such as volunteer efforts, personal sacrifice and professional pursuits. The national results will be announced at an event in Washington D.C. on May 9.

Well into her second year on Okinawa, Cole is the wife of Gunnery Sgt. Deonte D. Cole and mother of Kailey Mariah, 8, and another child due in August. The founder of She Swank, a popular boutique in Camp Foster’s Concession Mall, she is recognized for her deep passion for entrepreneurship, which translates into efforts to inspire, assist and educate other military spouses as well as military kids in successfully developing small businesses.

Q: Can you tell us about She Swank and what made you start it?

A: She Swank is a specialty boutique for girl’s that stylishly promotes confidence, inspiration and independence. A majority of the styles we carry are handmade by military spouses in Okinawa. She Swank began as a way for me to share my creativity and inspire women and girls at the same time.

Business resources and career opportunities are very limited in Okinawa, and in some cases non-existent. My commitment to the base community is to provide spouses the resources and platform to do what they love and to empower today’s military kids to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. I currently fulfill this commitment by giving other talented military spouses the opportunity to grow their business by selling their crafts in my store. She Swank is now home to 13 exclusive apparel, accessory and home décor collections all handmade by local military spouses.

Q: How do you use this business to promote “confidence, inspiration and independence?”

A: A positive sense of self is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. It’s becoming harder for parents of young girls, especially teenagers, to dress them in what was considered ageappropriate clothing.

I recently had a customer thank me for not selling clothes that encourages her daughter to dress like a Kardashian. I’m very mindful of the styles I select for my customers to ensure we are supporting brands that promote a positive self-image for girls but still fashionable and ageappropriate.

But it’s not just about the clothes for me. It’s also about creating memories and being a part of our customer’s important life moments such as promotions, homecomings, graduations, military balls, first day of school, family photos, baby’s first photo, job interviews, first birthdays, holidays and more.

Q: What are some of the mentoring projects you’ve been involved with?

A: My commitment to authenticity is at the core of how I live my life and run my business. One of the mentoring programs that I’m really excited about is my MilSpouse Vendor Market program that assists military spouse artisans with bringing their products to retail. ...

In addition to providing these spouses with retail space, I also provide daily mentoring and mini workshops to help address their growing business needs. This program gives spouses a platform to do what they love at a pace that they are comfortable with, while contributing to the financial well-being of their family. And due to the success of the program, there is currently a waiting list of participants.

Q: How will you put the Spouse of the Year platform to use?

A: Professional growth and entrepreneurial resources for military spouses are very limited depending on location. For overseas spouses such opportunities just don’t exist. In an effort to assist spouses who have amazing ideas, talents and passions but don’t know what to do with it, I plan to use this platform to: Bring more business resources via a two-day “I Serve Too” business workshop that will focus on starting, surviving and succeeding in small business, despite the challenges of our military lifestyle.

Introducing kids to entrepreneurship is another passion of mine. A program that is near and dear to my heart is Lemonade Day. Lemonade Day is a fun, free experiential learning program that teaches youth how to start, own and operate their own business through a lemonade stand. Each year, National Lemonade Day is observed on the first Sunday in May, when youth around the country take to the streets of their communities to open their lemonade stands, and put the business skills they have learned into practice. Bringing this initiative to military installations is just the beginning of empowering today’s military kids to become tomorrow’s entrepreneurs.

Compiled by Takahiro Takiguchi, Stripes Okinawa

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