Powerful Women Let's Talk - 116: Laura Caprara
Shelley Irwin speaks with Laura Caprara, owner of Stellafly
Meet Laura Caprara, founder and owner of Stellafly, a female owned business that has been operating since 1996. Laura specializes in branding and marketing, from race promotions to managing her own sponsored multisport team. She gets involved with organizations dear to her heart here in West Michigan. We welcome Laura Caprara to Powerful Women: Let’s Talk.
>> Produced by women, about women. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is a series of interviews with women who are trailblazers and have helped shape our world; transforming who we are and how we live.
Shelley Irwin: Meet Laura Caprara, founder and owner of Stellafly. It’s a female-owned business that’s been operating since 1996. She specializes in brand and marketing, from race promotions to managing her own sponsored, multi-sport team. She races too, she gets involved with organizations dear to her heart, plus, she says she's an introvert, so Laura Caprara welcome to Powerful Women: Let's Talk. So you're going to be an extrovert for the next 15 minutes.
Laura Caprara: All for you, because you're my friend.
SI: Why Stellafly for a name? Your name is not Stella.
LC: No, it's not Stella, but back in the 80's that was a nickname that a group of my friends gave me, was Stella. It was a Streetcar Named Desire and I'd walk into the bar and they would yell “Stella!” And so after I had moved to Oregon after college, my first AOL name, it was asking me to come up with a name and it happened to be at that same time that In Living Color was on and I was…okay, I'm not in use my real name, I’m gonna use Stella. And then it was throwing a bunch of numbers after the Stella And then I said I don’t want numbers, what about like fly girl. Fly girls, the dancers and those really cool women that were out there dancing on that show? So I took “fly” and added it to Stella. And then that's when Stellafly was born.
SI: And here we are.
LC: And here we are.
SI: 2023 will get back to that. You self described yourself as a tomboy growing up. Take me back to your youth.
LC: Oh wow. So I’m first born and loved hanging with my dad. And my dad was, he was a big lover of hockey. And so he would bring me to, at the time The Blades, which then eventually turned into The Owls, which then eventually turned into The Griffin. Yes, now I’m really dating myself. But we would go to every one of those blades games over the DeltaPlex. And I became obsessed with hockey and my dad played hockey. And so I decided I wanted to play hockey and there were no girls playing hockey. There's some people out there in Grand Rapids that have challenged me on that idea, but I'm older than they are so I don't fight about it, you know. But he went to, at the time it was called GRAHA. I think GRAHA is still around and he had advocated for me to play and there were only boys teams at the time. So in 5th grade, I joined the boys team and I played defense and I learned how to skate. And I did that for a couple years. And then I switched over to figure skating and figure skated until I was about 20. Until I got into college and then I kind of gave it up.
SI: Lose any teeth on that hockey rink?
LC: No teeth were missing, no. It was, you know, very padded up. It's a little different when you're 10 than it is now. But so that was it with the tomboy, and then my brothers came after that and they played hockey. And so every bone in my body wanted to be able to compete and to be on that same level as competing with males. And then when I got into high school, I was like, you know, I'm pretty OK with not being a boy, but at the same time as still, I'm still a tomboy till this day.
SI: Tell me about your educational journey.
LC: Short and sweet. I graduated from East Grand Rapids in 1985. I was denied to get into UofM, rightly so because I didn't really put the work in. I guess I wasn't a huge fan of-
SI: But you bring it up. I mean, it must’ve influenced.
LC: Yeah, it definitely did because in order to get into UofM I needed to get my grades, my grade point up. So I took a year at community college and ended up at Calvin and so I graduated from Calvin in ‘92 and that was the end of the educational journey. I've thought multiple times about going back and getting my masters, but I’ve just really never done it and now I’ve just found other things that fuel my passion.
SI: What did you study and what was your first job?
LC: I was an art major at Calvin, focus on photography, but left Calvin wanting to be a graphic designer and ultimately an art director. So after college, I moved out to Oregon and Eugene, Oregon and my first job outside of just a temporary waitressing job until I found my first job was at a print shop. And from there, I got picked up by an ad agency and then ultimately became an art director in Portland a couple years later.
SI: So taking pictures, I mean, did you take pictures as a kid? How did you develop this niche that stays with you today?
LC: Probably didn't do so much as a kid, but definitely when I was in college. That was just something that I did with our friend group. I've got a lot of incriminating evidence from the 80's that all of my friends from the 80's know I have sitting in photo albums. But I would just take tons of pictures and then I would have them developed and I’d put them in photo albums and friends would come over and they'd look through them. And I I don't think I really went back to photography until or that passion didn't come back until the emergence of social media because it became a really crucial piece of content and marketing. So I got back into it mostly because of my interest. But also, you know, I was paying a lot of photographers in my first business to do something that I otherwise was like, why don’t you just do it yourself.
SI: Tell me how Stella Fly came to be now.
LC: So Stella Fly came to be back with the AOL address.
SI: You have that address? Still using it?
LC:I haven't been on AOL in a long time, but my mother still uses hers though, which is awesome. No, I created that as I made plans to move back from Portland back to Grand Rapids. It was 1996. I wanted to come back and just try to be a graphic designer as a freelancer. And so I kind of needed to have a name to do that. And so I carried that name through and operated as an independent contractor, graphic designer under that name for quite a long time until I started the Grand Rapids Social Diary. And then it was still, it's always been there, you know, it just hasn't been as-
SI: Rampant as it is now.
LC: Yes, you know, forward-facing. So, right.
SI: When did your love for the endurance sport begin?
LC: So when that transition made from the Grand Rapids Social Diary to Stella Fly, at that point, I was really focused on helping companies and organizations get brand awareness on social media because it was, at least back when we met, it was still really a new thing and I- Okay, so in 2012 I ran my first 5K. I Just decided to.
SI: How’d you do? How’d you do?
LC: It inspired me because of you. I remember you and Roberta King were 2 of the most influential people and I was thinking that these women go and they travel.
SI: And they’re older than me.
LC: They're older than me and they're doing all this cool stuff and when my babies grow, I want to go into all the school stuff. So I did take that first step and color run came to town. And I actually trained for that. Although it wasn't timed. And I was like, this is okay, and at the same time, Stella Fly was kind of getting on the radar of Gizelle Girl and those RD's and Grand Rapids Try and those RD's. So they reached out and said we would love to have you photograph our event and we’ll give you a few entries for you to photograph the event. And I was like this is wonderful. Now I have to train for a half marathon, my 1st half marathon. So that's how I got into actually participating as a runner as in my 1st half marathon. But at that point, I was still hiring photographers. But it's also when the team was born because I was getting all of these free entries in lieu of payment. And I needed those entries to go to people. So, I found them.
SI: Found them meaning you crafted a team?
LC: I crafted a team.
SI: Yes. When did the boys come to play into your life? Your offspring.
LC: It’s been so long.
SI: It has.
LC: Let's see.
SI: And how did they become part of your life here?
LC: Oh, those boys. A lot of the decisions, when I came back from Oregon, I was like, okay, you know, I can either be peddling the metal and try to work at one of the ad agencies or PR firms here in Grand Rapids. And that would have been really good for my career. But when I got pregnant with Anthony, I just decided I know that I'm not ever probably going to make it rich doing this on my own. But I wouldn't trade being there for them when they were there, when they were sick, when they were healthy, the after school moments, the hard times, the good times. That, being a stay at home mom, working on my brand, was probably the best decision. I wasn't sure at the time because, you know, when you're that age, you know, you have to tighten everything down because you don't have a lot of extra money, but it was completely worth it.
SI: Nice. We’ll talk about those boys before we are finished. You are interested in organizations that are dear to your heart. How do you choose whether you want to be a board of this or committee for this or again work with this group? What’s the gut here?
LC: Well, I’ve done board work and different boards and I kind of approach those asks in terms of instead of just sitting around the table and spitballing ideas and being able to help that way. I really like to offer my support on, you know, the branding and the social media and the awareness piece. For instance, My Team Triumph, I'm sure, I mean, you've talked to My Team Triumph many times.
SI: How would you describe it to this audience?
LC: It's an organization of endurance athletes that help other athletes that are incapable of doing a race on their own get over that finish line. It comes from a huge wide range of disabilities from complete wheelchair bound to can't hear, blind. I've seen cancer patients being involved and these athletes will, they're called captains, and then the athletes that are able to make it happen are called angels. And so I photographed them a lot, I’ve participated a lot. It's such a great organization. It doesn't require people to be really fast. Anybody can do it and it’s very, very inclusive. And so this year, instead of sitting on the board, I offered to co-race direct their race, their triathlon, which is called Tri Del Sol, and help it grow with Terrance Rubin, who was the executive director of that organization. I do a little bit of work like that with the children's advocacy center. Those 2 are pretty near and dear to my heart right now. I'd love to get more involved with the animals, but I have a really hard time because I can't tour animal facilities because it's too emotional for me.
SI: Let’s stay on the topic of animals. You have been to Westminster. Talk about that part of your life.
LC: That was before endurance sports, right? So I did use that old media credential to get into Westminster. But prior to that, my fascination with that, those were the really early years with my boys. So that was my passion then and from about 1998 or ‘99 I bought my first Bernese mountain dog from a local breeder, Randy and Ryan Carpenter, who I know that, you know. And the stipulation was that I had to show that if I wanted it and I had no idea. So I agreed and I would go and watch Ryan Carpenter at the time who was like about 11 years old. I go to the shows and watch him show my dog and it really just took one ribbon for me to go oh now okay, this is fun. The competitive nature came out. And so I went through a couple of different show dogs. But in that time of my life, I met a lot of really great people and breeders. And then I ended up having a couple of really special dogs through those relationships and one made it to Westminster and 1 won the breed at Westminster. And it was a really, really- it was just a really great time in my life. And then it just, you know, like things happen with me. It's just kind of an ebb and flow.
SI: Stand by, I’ll ask about your future. You're obsessed with politics. This hasn't been brought up yet. Tell me more here.
LC: Well, you know, I just am. It's, you know, some people are fascinated with Hollywood actors and I'm fascinated with politics. I'm fascinated with just the dialogue. My youngest son works on the Hill for a house rep. I really got interested in it when he was working in high school and he was working for Peter Meijer just to see and kind of get a behind the scenes glimpse of how the process works. And I love our local politicians, even just seeing how hard they work. And I think one of the reasons I don't step into it myself, it's just like everything else that I approach. I like to be sort of behind the scenes. So if I can help elevate someone or a candidate that I believe in or a message that they believe in, I prefer to have that be how I do it. I have some strong beliefs. But, you know, with any brand, I have so much respect for how everyone views the world. So I'm kind of interested in it that way. Just how interesting how everybody views the world so differently.
SI: I know, but councilman Caprara. That just sounds good. Understood. Yeah. And you were born in Alaska.
LC: I was born in Alaska. Yeah, dad and mom went to UofM and met there and it was, you know, right during that really pinnacle time with Vietnam. So a lot of friends of his were heading to Vietnam and he had the opportunity, he was going to be an oral surgeon. And so he had his opportunity to, I don't even know if it was really a residency, but he was also able to serve, went to Sika and worked on a base. Pulled teeth, Fixed teeth. You know, I wouldn’t have wanted him fixing my teeth back then because he was, whatever, 21, but that's why I was born there. So I don't remember any of it. But we plan to, my husband and I, plan to go and check it out someday.
SI: Back to your boys. Did you teach them the importance of equality with women or respect or how long this world is today?
LC: I think they have a pretty firm understanding about how I feel. They're really well-rounded, you know? They just have a lot of respect for women. They have. My youngest has met a new girlfriend at school. He's at George Washington University and I met her and she's just, photojournalist, blazing her own path.
SI: Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree there, mom.
LC: I know. And so then, you know, my oldest just has a lot of female friends, a lot of strong women in their lives. So I just yeah, I just have to hope. And, you know, they veer off every once in a while, but it doesn't take me to want to make sure they get back on track.
SI: And of course, that question is do you want grandsons or do you want a granddaughter?
LC: I want any of it. I love kids.
SI: Or a grand puppy. What's next for you?
LC: A whole huge season as we were just discussing. It's this year. Last year I was taking photos at random races around West Michigan. With everybody out of the house, I really had to do some soul searching. Do I work less and visit them more or do I really use these next 10 years to get in the best health that I can get, race a little bit when I can make it happen? But, my husband is still working hard. I need to be a partner in that. So I kind of reinvented the wheel with Stella Fly. You know, it's the beauty of being a creative and the beauty of owning your own businesses. You get to say, okay, well, this year we're going to do this. And so being connected to so many race directors, they embrace the idea we're putting together a monthly eNews which promotes endurance racing. It also incorporates, you know, blogs from some of our local rate RD's doctors, you know, training, tips, things of that matter. And then I'm just, I'm going to be shooting photos basically every single weekend until probably the end of October.
SI: Life goes quickly. Thank you. Of course I’ve got to keep you accountable. Working out today?
LC: Every day that I'm able to get a good workout in is a blessing to me. So I will go home and try to work out today and I'll try to work out again tomorrow and the next day. I do rest. I do. I am obsessed.
SI: Which is important. A day off is needed.
LC: It is. I don't like to take days off and that's only because I don't feel as good than when I work out because working out is a really great way to just get rid of all of the things that might be stressing you out.
SI: Yes, we know the importance of the physical, the mental and obviously the social.
SI: And last question, when you're running with your Stella Fly gear, do people call out go Stella?
LC: Well, I need to ask you that question. They're not yelling at me because I'm usually out by the finish line. But I hear from the athletes that they’re often yelling out at you guys.
SI: Yes, and we just yell back. Laura Caprara thank you on behalf of Stella Fly and thanks for you as a powerful woman.
LC: Thanks for having me. Yeah.
SI: I’m glad we got to talk.
LC: I appreciate you.
>> Produced by women, about women, these powerful podcasts focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are, and how we live. Want to hear more Powerful Women: Let’s Talk? Get additional interviews at wgvu.org or wherever you get your podcast. Please rate and subscribe. Powerful Women: Let's Talk is produced by WGVU at the Meijer Public Broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University. The views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.