Growing up in Tallahassee, Florida, Ashley Leckey Schoenith logged hours in her grandmother Cecile Marcoux's kitchen, helping bake cookies and gobbling up Marcoux's homemade waffles topped with ice milk (ice cream made with milk instead of cream). When Schoenith moved to Atlanta after college, she missed her grandmother so much that she floated an idea: Why not start a side business together? "Aprons were an obvious choice, because we'd spent so much of our lives in the kitchen," explains Schoenith. Marcoux, a master seamstress, readily agreed.
With $5,000 from her family to cover start-up costs, Schoenith began scouring fabric stores for ideas. The women agreed on a simple, flatteringly neutral palette (Audrey Hepburn was an inspiration). On weekends Schoenith drove four hours to spend long afternoons sewing and sketching with her grandmother, all while chatting about family history (a favorite story of Marcoux's involved an uncle who traded his small island for a jug of whiskey). "I was never thinking, 'How am I going to make this a booming empire?'" Schoenith says. "It was more about being together."
IceMilk Aprons (IceMilkAprons.com) debuted in 2008—but for Schoenith, the experience was bittersweet. Months earlier, as she prepared to ship handmade samples off for manufacturing, her grandmother passed away (she'd been diagnosed with cancer shortly after they started the business). Marcoux's death only strengthened Schoenith's resolve: Now she sketches in the evenings after work, and has sold more than 5,000 aprons. In 2010 she turned a profit. Recently, she even rolled out a kids' line, with her new baby boy in mind. "I can't wait to cook with my kids by my side," she says. "We'll use my grandmother's measuring cups—the same ones we used when I was little." —Nicole Frehsee
Photo: Heidi Geldhauser