The Birmingham Jane

The Birmingham Jane: Elizabeth Hughey Brantley

elizabeth hughey brantley
Photo by T. Scott Carlisle

It all started on a whim. When Elizabeth Hughey Brantley and her husband, Chip, moved back to Birmingham they realized the city where they both grew up was missing something important to them both — a writing center for kids. And so they started one.

They call it the Desert Island Supply Co., a name sure to intrigue kids and grownups alike. DISCO, as it’s known around town, offers free after-school creative writing workshops to kids in the Birmingham area.

“We aim to be cross-disciplinary in our programming, so you’ll see workshops in science, visual art, poetry, music and design,” Elizabeth explained. “But writing is incorporated into everything we do!”

DISCO is located in Woodlawn and also offers weekly, Core-aligned writing workshops in the schools in the Woodlawn High School feeder pattern. “Our goal is to help students become strong writers, creative problem solvers and critical thinkers,” Elizabeth added.

Last month Elizabeth received the SMART award from the Women’s Fund of Greater Birmingham for her work with DISCO. As a past honoree, I had the privilege of being a hostess at this year’s event and had a chance to chat with Elizabeth about the mission and future of DISCO.

Why do you believe Birmingham needs a program and a place like DISCO?

We all know that kids need to be able to write well, and we also know how hard it is to write, even if you’ve been doing it for a long time! At DISCO, we have an arsenal of tricks, tools, writing prompts and creative exercises to help kids get their thoughts onto paper. There are no grades, and there are no wrong answers. DISCO is truly a place to experiment and explore!

DISCO also hosts a number of community events. Why did you all decide to not only hold your writing workshops but also become a venue for other local organizations?

We raised money through Kickstarter to build out a space on the first floor of Woodrow Hall, and the renovation turned out to be really beautiful. People loved just being at DISCO, and other artists and writers started to think about what they could do there. We’ve had plays, readings, music shows, craft nights, writing group meetings and even a few dinners at DISCO. So, the space just sort of evolved into a hub for Birmingham’s creative community! We want the space to be inhabited. We want creative things to happen at DISCO!

What was it like to be honored at last month’s SMART party?

Encouraging! DISCO is in its third year of in-school and after-school programming. I feel like we’re sort of into our groove, now, but there is still so much we need and want to do. Being a SMART party nominee has given me an energy boost. I also admire what the Women’s Fund is doing for so many women in Birmingham!

What’s next for DISCO? How do you hope to see the program grow and what can people in Birmingham do to help?

Our main goal for this year is to expand our in-school programming. We are currently teaching weekly writing workshops in the 2nd, 6th, 7th and 8th grades in schools within the Woodlawn feeder pattern. We also run a journalism program at Woodlawn High School. We are looking for Birmingham area writers to volunteer in these workshops for one or two hours every week. Like every non-profit organization, DISCO also needs money! We never turn down books, especially books kids and teenagers.

Learn more about DISCO at


The Birmingham Jane is a feature recognizing women of Birmingham striving to make the city a better place. Send your nominations to

The Birmingham Jane: Carrie Rollwagen


bham jane nail art
Carrie Rollwagen is representing for the Birmingham Janes! Contribute to her Kickstarter campaign and she’ll represent for your blog or business too. She’s also offering a nail art workshop as a reward.

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

I have a long list of answers to this question: do a one-year blogging challenge, write and publish a book, strive to run a profitable small business, launch a Kickstarter campaign. But my list could be summed up with one statement: Be Carrie Rollwagen.

Rollwagen is a small business owner, a prolific blogger, a social media guru and much more. She also has the cutest nails in town. And now she’s about to add something else to her resume — published author.

Rollwagen, co-owner of Church Street Coffee and Books and the writer behind the Shop Small blog, is now about to publish The Localist, a book that’s all about shopping locally. Rollwagen decided to self-publish the book and recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to help fund her project. She reached her fundraising goal in less than a month!

I had a chat with Rollwagen recently — at a locally owned coffee shop, of course — about her book project and her secrets to success.

Becoming a Localist

Carrie Rollwagen

Rollwagen’s interest in local shopping began when she managed a small book store in Mountain Brook. She believed that the camaraderie she experienced at that store was unique to locally-owned shops. But then she worked at Starbucks and found the same sense of community there as well. Rollwagen, a former full-time journalist, wanted to investigate.

“I’m a frustrated journalist,” she says.

And so in 2011 she challenged herself to only buy from locally-owned stores for one year. She launched the blog Shop Small to chronicle her adventure.

Rollwagen admits that she thought her “Shop Small” challenge would be extremely difficult and extremely expensive.

She was wrong.

“I spent far less money that year than I usually do,” Rollwagen says.

She explained that when you shop small there’s less of a chance for impulse buying. There are very few, if any, displays set up in locally owned shops to entice you to purchase things that aren’t on your shopping list. Furthermore, because local shops weren’t as easy to get to as big box stores, Rollwagen would often talk herself out of buying things. And she wasn’t eating any fast food.

Finding stores at which to shop was easier than she expected. She often found what she needed simply by asking friends or doing a quick Google search. Rollwagen was even able to go to the movies thanks to the Birmingham-based theater The Edge opening that year.

What was Rollwagen’s conclusion after this year of shopping small?

“Local is almost always better,” she says.

Rollwagen is a localist, but she’s also a realist and she makes no claims that small business owners are somehow better people than the owners of big box stores.

“It is in the financial interest of a small business owner to be a nice person,” she says. “Small shop owners have a better incentive to treat people well and build community.”

If you have a bad experience at Target most likely you’re going to go back to Target nonetheless and even if you don’t chances are the Target employee you had a bad interaction with doesn’t care. Small shop owners know that it’s good customer service and a sense of community and camaraderie that will bring you back.

While Rollwagen doesn’t recommend that other people take on her extreme shop small challenge, she does stress that we should all buy local as often as we can as this is a great way to improve your community.

As Rollwagen explains in her Kickstarter campaign video, for every $10 spent at locally owned stores four to seven dollars goes back into your community. When you shop corporately only three dollars, at the most, goes back into your city.

Think of the local place first, she says. Amazon doesn’t pay taxes in your state.

Deciding to Self-Publish

DIY Publishing

Rollwagen admits that she hasn’t been a fan of self-publishing in the past — and for good reason. As many avid readers know, a book needs good editing, good design and a good marketing campaign to be successful. Most self-published authors don’t have all these skills or the resources to hire someone who does.

But Rollwagen’s book is centered on Birmingham and she thought a book a that was this, well, “localist” wouldn’t appeal to traditional publishers.

“Just because it doesn’t have a national market doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist,” she says.

Rollwagen’s Shop Small blog was quite successful thanks to her fresh, informative content and effective social media marketing. But she knew she had more to say.

“I wanted to tell this story in a new way,” she says.

So she decided to write a book and self-publish it.

The book is part memoir, focusing on her life as a localist and even offering a few tips on how people can shift their own shopping habits to support small businesses more often.

The book is also a study of buying patterns — why you like big box stores, why they’re not all bad, and the effects of our shopping on us as individuals and on our communities.

The book also offers a behind-the-scenes look into Church Street Coffee and Books.

To ensure that her self-published book would be of high quality, Rollwagen launched her Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to hire an editor and designer.

How to Rock Your Kickstarter Campaign

Rollwagen reached her fundraising goal of $5,000 in less than a month. Now she’s working on her stretch goal. She’s hoping to raise an additional $3,000 so she can go on a book tour to spread the localist gospel to other towns.

Rollwagen offered these tips on how to run a successful Kickstarter campaign:

  • Apply the tips that Kickstarter gives you and look at projects similar to yours for promotion ideas.
  • Produce a great video and in it be sure to convince people that your project is something that you can actually do. Also, explain exactly how you plan to use the money.
  • Have enticing and creative rewards and be sure to include their cost in your project budget. One of Rollwagen’s rewards was nail art! For a donation of $10 or more, Rollwagen would decorate her nails with the name of your company. Nail art was a perfect way for Rollwagen to help promote her project because whenever someone would say “Oh, I like your nails!” she could strike up a conversation about her Kickstarter campaign.
  • But these conversations could only happen if she was out and about. So Rollwagen’s other piece of advice is to be sure to network during your campaign. And carry business cards that include a URL for your campaign.


The Birmingham Jane is a See Jane Write series of profiles on women in Birmingham who are making a difference in our city. If you know of a woman who is making a difference in Birmingham please send your nominations to And don’t be ashamed to nominate yourself!