Letitia Elizabeth’s latest project is an iPhone app designed to help shoppers who appreciate craftsmanship connect with local independent shops.

Innovators don’t accept things as they are. For them, there’s always a better way of doing something. They’re not afraid to reject traditional approaches to work. When they know something isn’t a good fit, they may reinvent themselves a few times, as they home in on what they really want to be doing.

Take Letitia Elizabeth, a New York City-based branding visionary and entrepreneur. She started out with internships and writing jobs at traditional fashion magazines. But now she’s putting the finishing touches on Coterie, a new iPhone app she developed to help shoppers discover products and sales at local independent stores. Coterie will be the first-ever mobile app that connects shoppers who appreciate craftsmanship and stories behind their products, with the unique local stores that sell them. “It’s the ultimate shopping concierge for your pocket,” says Elizabeth.

She says she is building off an idea that already exists, but in “horribly packaged ways.” Svpply, Wanelo, and her personal fave Keep are out there. But none take the experience from online or mobile to in-store. Unlike those, Coterie aims to be the quintessential guide and shopping destination for locals and tourists alike to shop and explore hyper-local culture, unique style, and talented local designers.

Elizabeth admits that she’s completely new to starting a tech company from scratch. But she’s looking forward to working on mini video documentaries on the shops and their designers, profile interviews with top tastemakers, printed guides to help market the new app.

What did it take to go from traditional media to app developer?

After leaving college where she majored in English, she turned successful internships into staff positions at publications like MFW and Haute Living. But the grunt work at the bottom of the totem pole was a turnoff. And she realized the life of a fashion editor wasn’t all that glamorous after all. It involved way too many fake personalities and bodies.

When she realized she didn’t want to be one of those “sluggish drones who wake up every morning unfulfilled, plugging in hours at a job they loathe,” she took steps to change her life.  By day, she wrote for publications, by night she did freelance fashion styling and came to realize that she was more of a storyteller through images than through words.

She quit her job and launched her first print-on-demand magazine for young women who were into independent fashion and green living. Dujour Magazine gained cult-like popularity and supported her for nearly five years. But publishing, she discovered, would always be about business administration, and she wanted to write again. Then there was a stint at a literary agency.

Her plan was to learn a lot about publishing at the firm and become a bestselling self-published author, but she says she never found the courage to invest so much money into the idea without a solid marketing plan, “which is everything in the book business.”

Somewhere along the way, she also began coaching female entrepreneurs and small business owners to create iconic brands with style.

Later she found herself blogging and launched another magazine, Lillie, a special edition annual women’s consumer lifestyle publication, on the side. Then she tried out freelance writing to see if she was cut out for it. She was. So she packed everything up last year and decided to embrace minimalism as a permanent lifestyle. This involved selling everything she barely used and donating the rest to freelance, blog, and travel full-time.

When she got back from a round-the-world trip, the idea for the Coterie app struck her while she was sleeping. “I had never felt so alive or sure about a concept,” she now says. “In one way or another this idea was alive in various forms my entire career thus far, and I could finally blend my nostalgic love for all things local and independently made with a bit of fashion aesthetics and well-crafted storytelling.”

As she made the shift from fashion writing in the trenches to app developer, she asked herself some questions that helped her get to the heart of what she enjoyed doing:

  • Now that I am not tied down to unrealistic expectations, what do I want to write about, create, or be a part of?
  • How do I want to balance out my free time with my work time?
  • What hobbies got eaten up by this monster of a job?

While you might have gotten a little whiplash keeping up with Elizabeth’s many career shifts, it helps to remember that her willingness to constantly question whether she was doing what was right for her and her demonstrated ability to take the plunge into new projects and businesses led to a clear vision of her current work with Coterie.

To learn more about Elizabeth, you can read her filter-free blog at becominglola.blogspot.com, where she shares her struggles and joys.