Cultivating Ambitions & Mapping Possibilities at CAMP

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

{All photos by KC Cooper Sears unless noted}

I grew up away from Los Angeles, back east in North Carolina with a single dad who wanted to keep me out of trouble by filling my summers with camp. I was told it was going to build my character, but what I liked the best was hanging out with my summer friends, canoeing on the lake, doing things that scared me under the pretext of a dare, and chasing boys; especially during the big overnights. Time away at camp was a magical escape from my normal life and the activities were simply effortless.

Lessons learned at camp mold the foundation of a strong leader. Odds are if you ask one they have attended camp.  I truly believe that the life lessons learned from my summers at camp have deep rooted themselves as the values, tools, and keys to success in daily adult life.

Thankfully, this is a feeling that resonated with Sonja Rasula, founder of CAMP (Cultivate Ambitions Map Possibilities). She questioned what it is exactly about camp that “sparks the ignition” that make leaders, brings influential tools for success to everyone involved, and creates a visceral attunement of connectedness within campers. More simply, what is the hypnotic quality of camp that enlightens one’s view? She passionately believes that her time at summer camp has helped her create the largest Made in America independent design show Unique LA. Now expanding into Unique USA the shows have been held in LA, Santa Monica, San Francisco and New York. The shopping event can be described as somewhere between a highly curated design show/craft fair with a tradeshow atmosphere. While working with hundreds of artists, who are vendors, she saw the need for creative small business help.

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

On June 6th 120 people traveled from all over the US and Canada to meet in Downtown Los Angeles to board the buses to CAMP. I said my good byes to my husband as he dropped me off for an exciting trip away from the real world. On the adventure were all kinds of people: genuine, prosperous and poor, eclectic, famous, talented, beautiful, confident, knowledgeable, hilarious, interesting, understated, and the more verbose natural leaders and trendsetters. In less than 3 hours we were transported from Downtown LA to the great outdoors at Camp Whittle. We all gathered for introductions where one of my favorite highlights was when Sonja declared us all to be “Mavericks” and thanked us all for coming and believing in the values of CAMP.  Already we were starting to soak in the astounding beauty around us: fluffy clouds, bright blue skies, and faint songs from birds reassuring us that this would indeed be a life changing experience.

Cultivate Ambitions Map Possibilities is a 4 day business conference like no other. There were no name tags, no banquet halls, but unlike the kids’ camps that have shared the land just outside of Big Bear – the alcohol was in great supply. Sessions and workshops were registered before arriving for a variety of skills and new concepts.

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

Immediately as you step off the bus you see identity all over the campus. The talented collaboration between Unique and Woodsmithe embodies a strong vision that must have been a stellar collaboration. The entire location was furnished with custom wooden signs to brand new names for the lodges. Solely on vision alone, the beauty of the surroundings topped with all the sexy CAMP branding elevates everything to celeb style quality without pretentiousness. Nothing was overworked or too over the top. Along with ease and function there were CAMP branded products, a roll away bar for nights on the patio, and custom made cell phone stations.  We were encouraged to leave our phones behind and disconnect for the weekend. Most of us did; a business conference without cell phones!

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

There were cabins stocked with boxed water and Honest Teas for adequate hydration in the high altitudes, and beds made up for us with gifted Pendleton blankets adorned with welcome notes. Rather than some useless sponsored-driven fluff, we received items we not only needed but would enjoy taking home.  We all got backpacks from Everlane filled with essentials such as kind bars, field note journals, The Tools (a book on personal growth), temporary tattoos from Tattly, our class itinerary and a map of all the landmarks at CAMP. I am clinging instinctively to that backpack since my return home.

The meals came often and were exceptionally delicious for elevated camp food. My favorite was the vegan oyster mushroom Po’ Boy.  It broke my defense against mushrooms. I was never worried over my dietary concerns; there was always something that I could find to eat. Creole style cooking was a heavy influence on the overall menu throughout the conference. Major bonus was my favorite local hot sauces from All Spice Café. Handsome Coffee Roasters were available every morning.

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

As soon as we were fed and starting to get the lay of the land we launched straight into activities. We broke into groups that worked together as we explored things like facing our fears on the high ropes course, sitting in nature while writing a reflective exercise inspired by Twyla Tharp, and team building exercises like crazy brain puzzles. Later that night, we were engulfed in the rich stories told by Alissa Walker and Casey Caplowe around the campfire. We sat under the stars after enjoying Hudson Whiskey dipped marshmallows toasted in the fire. The relaxation times were unusually good.

Day two was the first morning waking up at camp.  I began by jumping in the pool for the inaugural Polar Bear Challenge.  It seemed less dire when jumping into the unknown next to the founder of one of my favorite communities, GOOD. The first morning you could dip in the pool or do yoga on the lawn before the business workshops started. You could do three courses each day. There were meals, a free time, and cocktail hour with Art in the Age from 7-8pm on the patio. An evening event would round the day out.

The sessions I chose and attended all left me with some new skills and great empowerment.  “What the Tech” was led by Baxter Ross of General Assembly. This was the one class that allowed computer technology and I left totally excited about actually learning about coding a simple website.  I really didn’t think I would understand a word but Baxter explained things so simply. I left feeling more confident about the language of coding having made a simple portfolio site. The next workshop was “Pitch Perfect: DIY PR” instructed by Sonja. She explained the steps to reaching out to blogs and magazine publications with a presentation that included worksheets so we all left with a pitch in hand. The end of the day was my favorite and most anticipated course, “Intro to Hand Dyeing”. I finally mastered indigo dyes with Jennifer Parry Dodge from Ermie! As a fiber artist this was a big win. I had never worked up to using indigo because the only methods I heard of were with Lye and that is pretty gnarly to work with. Jennifer showed us a technique that was way less scary and toxic and kind of changed my life. I made this amazing scarf out of a cotton gaze and I have been wearing it non-stop.

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

Day three’s first workshop was “From Pitch to Publish” with Lisa Tauber from Chronicle Books telling us all about the process and expectations when writing a book. It was straight forward and helpful. I rather enjoyed it. Plus, I won a super sweet book Sweet Paper Crafts. “How to Raise $1 Million” was a talk with the team at Everlane. Michael Preysman discussed the steps he made to raise over 3.5 million dollars in total for the company. I mostly observed and made note of the business model. My last class was “Social Media” with Jason Pollock. We had a totally great start where we sat in a circle and told stories to each other about our camp experiences.

CAMP photo: Smilebooth

{Photo by Smilebooth}

Over the course of the weekend we all had the chance to participate in night hikes, popcorn munch while watching Wet Hot American Summer, and a Wes Anderson themed dance.  Some late night drinks were opportunities for playing Cards Against Humanity at the lodge.

Besides all the great swag the value of not worrying about any costs once you arrive at the bus was pretty refreshing. Everything all inclusive! Once you pay for CAMP all transportation, lodging, food, adult beverages, and activity costs are included. I didn’t have to choose a workshop activity based on what could have been an additional fee for materials. The general consensus, by all I encountered, is there was value far exceeding the price tag of CAMP.

CAMP photo: KC Cooper Sears

Campers came for a chance to find new creativity and new creative types.  The warm weather justified the ladies in shorts and jumpsuits. Prospects for eligible male attendees were astounding.  There were actors, actresses, CEOs , co-founders, models, writers, photographers, bloggers, artists, couples, and all types of creative folks. The majority could be classified as free-spirited young professionals. You are able to mingle and network amongst strangers without insecurity because everyone made an effort to meet and genuinely interact. Everyone is smiling. Everyone is having a great time. Even though all the ladies in attendance were beautiful, smart, talented, and at the top of their professional game, none of them were bitches. CAMP is worth every penny in networking and girl-friending that’s for sure! As for guys, they were all talented and amazing too. I had a fabulous ride home on the bus with Ed Roth from Stencil 1, which was a huge fan girl moment for me because I use his stencils frequently.

Describing CAMP as a multilayered candy bar of goodness would be the best description I can think of. A well needed vacation trip, layered with conference style learning, drizzled and filled with all kinds of delicious life experiences. The moments were so enriching that four days felt like months. Somehow CAMP forced me into this headspace. It has left lingering memories that pop up in my day to day. We were briefed with a packing list and overview of what to expect before headed to CAMP.  I didn’t expect to have confidence rejuvenated so satisfyingly. I arrived back in Los Angeles a slightly more vivid version of myself.

CAMP photo by Smilebooth

{Photo by Smilebooth, I am pictured far left with my favorite new backpack}

If you had the pleasure of going to camp as a kid, then I am sure you can imagine how refreshing it is to go back as an adult and feel that wide-eyed optimism about your passions. If you never got that chance to go as a kid, and always wanted to go, then I look forward to seeing you at next year’s CAMP!


KC is a crafter’s crafter, with her hands in lots of different media and techniques. She runs her own handmade business and blog called Make.Shop.Live. and also promotes and supports other craft entrepreneurs as co-founder of the Academy of Handmade Artists and Supporters (it’s like a union for makers!).




  1. Yvonne Rhinehart says:

    This looks incredible. I’m also a GRITS living in Los Angeles, and I LOVE All Spice Cafe. That ghost pepper is just too much for me though haha.

  2. Coral Lee says:

    Oh my gosh, this sounds amazing! There is nothing like this here in Oz – to have the camp element instead of a stale conference centre is perfect for creatives. I’m looking into running a very small art retreat later this year (my first as an organizer with two other amazing arty girls) – the elements like the teas and gifts have sparked some great ideas. It’s not just about the ‘main event’, it’s the little touches too.

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