When Stephanie Connor Volpe, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, got laid off from her job as an event planner, she realized commuting to NYC from Montclair was significantly affecting her quality of life. Instead of interviewing for another job, she knew it was now or never to make her own thing come true. Enter her next chapter—Styled Blu Events + Home, where she oversees events from every aspect, including design, logistics, even food choices, and activities. And if planning events wasn’t enough, Stephanie also dabbles in home décor with Styled Blu Life, her home accents line of sustainable pillows, wall hangings, candles, and decorative objects. We chatted with this Montclair mom of three to find out how planning events led to her home décor side gig, what she did when events were on hold during the pandemic, and the hidden Montclair gem where she and her family will be this holiday season.
Tell us a little about your family and career background. My husband, CJ, and I both grew up in Montclair, where we live with our three children, Chloe (21), Blake (7), and Vale (11 months). After completing my BA in Theater and Speech at Wagner College, I started working in theater in New York and did that for quite a while. But my mother-in-law encouraged me to apply to the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) for their Event Manager program. I realized that there are a lot of similarities in both fields— both have a beginning and an endpoint, and you work hard behind the scenes putting together a fabulous production that ends with a big payoff. I was immediately hired when I completed my certificate and learned a lot by planning events throughout the country. But after a decade or so working in the industry, I was laid off. I didn’t want to make the commute anymore because it affected my time with my kids. So instead of interviewing for a position at another event firm, I knew it was now or never to go out on my own and opened Styled Blu.
Tell us about your artisanal home décor line, Styled Blu Life. After getting repeated requests from clients, I finally decided to launch this side of my business in 2018. I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t only surround yourself with beauty during the significant events in your life. Every single day is an event, and you should live it in style and comfort. I practice sustainability in Styled Blu Life, where I sell pillows, textiles, vintage glassware, beautiful wall hangings, and banners online and in Montclair pop-up stores. I’m very excited about my line’s latest offerings, which will be available soon.
When the pandemic began, events were canceled and only recently started up again. So, what did you do to pivot your business during this time? Initially, the pandemic was very hard for my family. My husband works in the non-profit realm in media and public relations and was laid off from his job. Events were put on hold indefinitely, so my business was basically at a stand-still, and I was also pregnant at the time with Vale. I allowed myself a day or two to feel sorry for us, and then I decided to be proactive. I built up the lifestyle, artisanal, home décor line, focusing on creating special lifestyle home entertaining kits. I made cookie and cake kits with the dry ingredients from my family’s southern roots recipes, and people would add the wet ingredients. We would do a virtual class together (or they could choose to do them alone), and since people couldn’t travel to be with those they love, it was a way for them to be together. Eventually, businesses picked up on it too and started doing these virtual events for their employees living all over the country. We were sending kits to Alaska, Canada, and even the UK. And it’s not just cookie decorating, cake baking, and floral arranging kits – I would also put together special virtual events with some interesting history thrown into them. For example, I’ve done Juneteenth, speakeasy, and other types of events that pair food and cocktails and talk about the significance of everything that’s included.
Do you have any time management tips or advice that helps you make time for everyone and everything important to you? Get a calendar and use it wisely to organize yourself, your family, and your business. It will help you with time-flow as you work to get everything accomplished and get everyone where they need to be. Also, I always pick 2 or 3 things that need to be done every day—everything else can be paced out to later in the evening or even the next day.
What do you do to unwind after a stressful day? When you run your own business, you’re never off because you’re always thinking about what’s next, but I find that venting to fellow entrepreneurs and business people that I collaborate with can help me get back on track. Another thing that works is pouring myself a glass of wine and listening to some great music with my husband. Music always helps me feel Zen again.
What are some of your favorite local NJ businesses? I tend to gravitate towards places with a unique story behind them. Sofistafunk The Skirt Co. is one of my absolute favorite shops. The owner’s family used to pick cotton, and the majority of the skirts she sells are influenced by this and are absolutely beautiful. Another favorite is The Eclectic Chic Boutique, a unique gift shop. The owner is an artist herself, but she wanted to highlight other artists and give them a place to showcase their work. When everything went south in the event space during the pandemic, she started carrying my kits, and they were an instant success. Jul’s Collections is a line of spectacular Italian leather handbags inspired by the owner’s mother and aunties in Ghana. The owner, a breast cancer survivor, donates a percentage of the business’ profits to Pink for Africa, a non-profit that helps educate young girls and women about breast cancer prevention and provides tools and resources to cancer patients in West Africa.
What are some of your favorite places in NJ to go with your family? We’re big foodies and love hitting up the Montclair restaurant scene—there are so many great ones in our town. My favorite thing is brunch, and Raymond’s is the absolute best. We also love heading to Asbury Park, which feels like a mini Venice Beach and cultural haven. Also, I’m on the board for the Van Vleck Gardens, a private hidden gem that’s open to the public. We enjoy walking the acres and acres of beautiful gardens there. A favorite yearly holiday family tradition for us is attending Santa at Van Vleck, an event that I’m involved in. Santa shows up for photos and crafts, and it’s a wonderful time for all. We’re also huge fans of the Maple Sugaring programs there.
What advice do you have for a mompreneur just starting? You are your competition, so do better today than you did yesterday. Just put on blinders and proceed forward.