Amy Peterson is a serial social entrepreneur and the driving force behind Rebel Nell and The Congregation.
These two Detroit game-changing businesses not only preserve the history of the City but also employ and empower women transitioning out of homelessness.
EXP: What inspired Rebel Nell?
AP: In 2007 I followed my dream and moved to Detroit to work for the Tigers. At the time I was living near COTS, a well-known homeless shelter in Midtown. I had the opportunity to meet some of the amazing women who lived there and learned about the challenging situations they left in search of a better opportunity not only for themselves but for their families.
Unlike most companies, Rebel Nell’s mission was developed before we knew what the product would be. Today we specialize in collecting, designing, and fabricating unique pieces of jewelry from layers of graffiti and history fallen from the walls of iconic Detroit locations like the Joe Louis Arena and Michigan Central Station.
EXP: How did you come up with the name Rebel Nell?
AP: Rebel Nell is actually named after Eleanor Roosevelt – a true woman pioneer. Her nickname was Little Nell and we thought she was deserving of a more badass nickname, so we came up with the name Rebel Nell.
EXP: Spill the tea on T.E.A and what makes it special?
AP: T.E.A (Teach. Empower. Achieve.) is the non-profit arm of Rebel Nell and I’m really proud of the work we do. We offer women business education, housing resources, financial literacy, life wellness, legal aid, microloans, and so much more. T.E.A will have a much greater reach than Rebel Nell ever could.
“T.E.A is the best thing we ever did and it ensures the women will always come first despite the ebb and flow of the business.”
EXP: What was the moment you knew you were on to something great?
AP: In 2013 we were invited to present Rebel Nell at Detroit SOUP. I remember it was hotter than blazes that day and I was so nervous. I had four minutes to pitch our crazy idea to make jewelry out of fallen graffiti while empowering and employing women. When we won the vote as the project most likely to benefit Detroit and were presented a little brown bag full of $1,400 in cash I knew we were on our way. It was much more than the money for me, it was a community of Detroiters believing in our idea.
EXP: How do you select the iconic buildings from which you collect graffiti to make the pieces?
AP: Something we learned very early on is that we have the ability to be preservationists. There is so much symbolism in revealing the layers and historical elements of a piece – the good and the bad. Collecting pieces from these historic Detroit building has resonated with our customers.
EXP: Tell us about The Congregation.
The Congregation is a café and bar housed in a hundred-year-old church located around the corner from my house in the historic Boston Edison – Atkinson neighborhood. The church originally opened in 1920 and has been the home to several congregations over the last 100 years. It’s also just a block away from the infamous intersection of 12th and Clairmount – lots of history!
One day as I was driving by, walked in with my newborn, and offered to buy the place. Over the course of three and half years, we maintained and restored all the original stained glass and the original maple wood flooring. I knew we could make The Congregation something special for the community. It’s truly a place where all people can congregate.
EXP: How has the neighborhood supported The Congregation during the pandemic?
AP: We did this for the neighborhood, and we are nothing without them. We built a relationship day one with our neighbors and have been so fortunate many have come in for takeout saying, “we’ve got you.”
EXP: What is next for Amy Peterson?
AP: First and foremost, surviving the pandemic! But I think what’s next is developing the building next to The Congregation to add another asset to the neighborhood and to scale Rebel Nell to a nationally recognized brand.