During the run-up to the recent Super Bowl LVII, Monica Blakely, owner of Columbia’s Passion For Ezra, was feeling pretty super herself. That can happen when a small business’ owner attracts coverage from several national media outlets when millions upon millions of sets of eyeballs are focused on one event.
So what provoked the attention? Blakely approached Mrs. Donna Kelce, who has a son on each team ― Travis with the Kansas City Chiefs and Jason with the Philadelphia Eagles ― about making her now famous dual-team Super Bowl jacket, which the proud Mom wore during the game.
While that tidal wave of publicity heightened the company profile, Blakely’s skill set stretches like Spandex, way beyond the creating finely embroidered products. She said what she sells simply depends on what customers, including charities, need.
“We’re a creative hub,” said Blakely, who runs the 10-year-old business with her just-hired husband, Taylor. Thus, Passion for Ezra (so named for the couple’s daughter) “offers customization of all things,” be it outerwear, birthday outfits and custom shoes; or memory blankets, corn hole boards and photo props. Etc.
If that’s not finding a need and filling it, what is? But that’s still not all.
“Much of today’s disposable income is spent on experiences,” she said, which in the case of Passion For Ezra might include visits from Santa Claus, who arrives for pics with snow, cocoa and cookies in tow; or the Easter Bunny, who can hop to it for pics with baskets, bubbles and eggs for hunts, and this year even a glow-in-the-dark experience.
Blakely said this year the company is also now kickin’ up the swag a notch with bags, toys and even personalized candy for the kids. As for the market, it’s responded: “We hope to see about 350 families and 750 kids in line for photos this Easter,” she said, “and that’s in addition to making numerous home visits to set up egg hunts.”
Certain events, such as the photo shoots, are held at an outdoor gazebo in Olney, “which started during COVID-19,” Blakely said, “though we’re now looking for a place to stage events here in Columbia,” which is usually the scene for the company’s merriment.
Those good vibes also emanate from meeting Passion For Ezra’s philanthropic goals.
“We donate five slots at any photo shoot we do for nonprofits,” she said, while arranging various other good deeds, such as “bringing more than 60 Valentine’s Day bags” to the Georgetown Lombardi Division of Pediatric Hematology, Oncology, Blood and Marrow Transplantation, in Washington.
“Part of our model is to donate some of our proceeds to certain groups or individuals and waive fees,” Blakely said. “For instance, before last Christmas we visited the home of a little girl in Randallstown who lost all of her limbs. Next, we arranged for an 85-year-old grandfather to have this picture taken with Santa Claus for the first time.”
For Blakely, who earlier trained as a cosmetologist, nurse and residential real estate agent, and founded the business by making wreaths in her parent’s Olney residence, the Kelce moment has provided an exclamation point to a decade of wondering what request she might get next.
“Donna gave us a big platform and we ended up with 200,000 views on TikTok between three videos. For the sake of comparison, a Montgomery County newspaper reporter who wrote about our business said about 1,000 is the norm for them,” she said, noting that the business also gained about 1,000 followers, up to 1,700, on Instagram.
“That’s helped us to get our name out there, but we’re still very much a small business,” said Blakely. “Our biggest goal remains giving back where we can.”