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Faith drives 5 LDS entrepreneurs to create toys, apps, clothing and neckties

Chalise Southwick’s faith has been a constant for her as she has experienced the emotional cycle of ups and downs that accompanies launching a business. As rewarding as starting her own fashion dress line has been, she’s had days where she was so exhausted that she wanted to give up and quit.

When it gets to that point, it all comes down to prayer.

“I have to ask, ‘What am I doing this for? Why did I feel like I need to do this?’” Southwick said in an interview with the Deseret News. “Using talents to bless others. Every time I fall on my knees, it comes back to that.”

Southwick is one of several members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints driven by faith to become an entrepreneur. She and four other entrepreneurs shared about the role faith has played in creating products ranging from video games to neckties — products that they hope will inspire other members of the church.

Scripture block sets

Between the two of them, sisters Melissa Muhlestein and Betsey Hurren have 10 children. The number of conversations they’ve had comparing Lego sets and prices is even higher.

Watching their children have so much fun playing with Legos and carrying them wherever they went, the two sisters began to wish that the activity involved more of a learning component.

After two years of debating if it was even feasible to launch a business based on that desire, the two sisters decided to take a chance on their idea. In November 2016 they began selling Scripture Stackers — block sets based on stories from the scriptures. Their products include a Nativity scene, an originally designed Book of Mormon set featuring the story of Nephi and the broken bow, and six mini-figures from the New Testament.

The Book of Mormon set includes a collector’s card that contains a summary of the story as well as the scripture reference so that kids can look it up and “think of the story as they’re building it,” said Muhlestein, who lives in Bountiful.

Muhlestein said it has been rewarding watching her children have fun talking about stories from the scriptures as they put together her products. It is an outcome that has made the difficult process of launching a business worthwhile, she said.

“There was a lot of prayer and fasting that went into the decision of starting this company,” Muhlestein said. “(My sister and I) are both stay-at-home moms and don’t have a lot of business experience. … We had to learn a lot and really rely on our faith that it would be OK.”

Faith has accompanied every aspect of this business, Muhlestein said, as she and her sister have depended on it to create these products that they hope in turn will increase others' faith.

“I hope kids can have fun (with our products),” Muhlestein said, “have fun with these stories or maybe find some role models, people that they can look up to and learn some lessons from that will help them with their lives.”

The block sets are compatible with other brands. The sets are at available at Seagull Book stores, the Book Table in Logan and the company’s website at

They are also available at the Simple Treasures Spring Boutique at the Legacy Events Center, Farmington, through Saturday, March 11.

International neckties

When Noel Lopez moved to Utah from his home state of Washington, he found that almost every conversation he had with someone began with, “Where did you serve your mission?”

That question gave him a business idea he hoped would not only keep his LDS mission experiences alive but also create more missionary opportunities for him and for others — international neckties.

Lopez can often be seen sporting a striped blue tie featuring a wavy golden sun in the bottom left corner — a tribute to the country of Uruguay, where he served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His company, The Town and Co., features neckties representing 23 countries and two states. Each necktie is designed to serve as a conversation piece that allows the wearer to share his stories with others, said Lopez, who is a student at Utah Valley University’s Woodbury School of Business.

“Just because you served a mission doesn’t mean the work stops there,” Lopez said. “Hopefully (the tie) catches someone’s attention and you’re able to talk to them about the country you were in … and are able to share a mission experience as well.”

The Town and Co. launched its online store in November 2015, and the neckties are sold in several Deseret Book stores throughout the country, according to Lopez. Later this year, the ties will also be featured in the Seattle, JFK and Denver airports. Although the business has cost him “several sacrifices of time, sleep and recreation,” Lopez said his faith has kept him motivated and moving forward.

For each necktie design, Lopez tries to incorporate a country’s flag colors as well as a symbol unique to that country. Lopez puts a lot of thought into the symbol because it’s “something that helps (missionaries) remember the culture that they were around for two years … the culture in which their faith grew.”

“The mission is a life-changing experience,” Lopez said. “I feel like for many young men that’s where they find out a lot of things about their faith for the first time. That’s at least what happened with me on my mission, and what happened with my brothers on their missions, and that’s something that I never want to forget and I don’t want any of my friends that have served missions to forget."

'The Mission of Paul the Apostle' mobile app

For Christmas, most kids get candy in their stockings — Levi Hilton got programming software.

He was 13 years old, and he spent all Christmas Day experimenting with the software his dad had given him.

Levi, who lives in Orem, developed his skills and ended up creating a few games, including one based on the Book of Mormon.

“I didn’t know he was going to have this proficiency in coding," John Hilton III, Levi’s father, said. “It actually kind of surprised me. I didn’t know that he was going to really have that talent.”

Levi, now 15, has created a game he hopes will expand his audience to include people of other faiths, he said. He recently released a Bible-based app titled "The Mission of Paul the Apostle." The game stems from the Acts of the Apostles and walks players through the conversion and experiences of the apostle Paul.

Levi released the computer game last year, and after receiving feedback and encouragement from others, he worked hard to transform the game into a mobile app, his father said. It is now available for both Android and iPhone platforms. He said it’s been fun watching his son share his faith through his skills.

“I think every parent hopes that their kids will do hard things,” Hilton said. “There’s a lot of joy and sense of accomplishment when you do hard things, and it’s been really fun to get to see Levi take on this huge task and succeed.”

Levi's father described the game as “intricate."

The map in the game mirrors the geography of Paul’s time, and players can even purchase items using Roman currency. The storyline of the game also includes details from which both kids and adults can learn, he said.

Through creating and playing his own games, Levi said he has developed a greater appreciation for the stories in the scriptures.

“I definitely know the book of Acts a lot better than I did before,” he said.

His father said it is rewarding to see people playing and learning from his son’s game.

“The game is meant to be fun," Hilton said. "Ultimately the power is in the scriptures, and hopefully playing the game gets (people) more interested in the book of Acts and (they will) want to go back and read it.”

“I hope people learn something new that they didn’t know before," Levi added. "I think that can definitely happen."

Levi’s next game, which was released Monday, March 6, is about the book of Daniel, and allows players to take on the roles of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego.

Modique dress line

Southwick’s career as a seamstress began at an early age, sewing everything from dresses for her dolls to dresses for her older sister to wear to high school prom.

“Bless her heart for wearing them. They didn’t ever look very good,” Southwick said with a laugh.

Southwick went on to attend fashion design school at Salt Lake Community College, where she expanded her skills and got ideas about how to further her career.

“I decided to start my own dress line simply because of the fact that there’s not very many modest dress companies out there,” she said. “And even the modest stuff I find is never appealing to me.”

Southwick established her online women’s apparel company called Modique in 2012. This past year, she launched her inaugural dress line that currently features 10 dresses. She singlehandedly oversees every step of the production process — from handpicking the fabrics to making the dress patterns to then working closely with a nearby manufacturer to ensure that the production is based off of her patterns.

“I design (my dresses) exactly the way I want to wear them,” said Southwick, who lives in Chicago. “I make it as if I were shopping and that’s exactly how I would want to see it in the stores — dresses that are better quality, more comfortable and more modest."

Southwick is grateful that her standards as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints serve as the foundation for her business.

“The fashion industry is rough … and part of it is because styles change so much and everything moves so quickly,” she said. “I don’t really have to worry about that as much because my dresses are always going to have sleeves and are always going to come to the knees. No matter what happens in the fashion world, this has to stay the same for me.”

Southwick is planning to release six more dresses this spring. She hopes that Modique will make dressing modestly not only easier but also more desirable for others.

“I want to show the world, not just those of the Mormon faith, that you don’t have to show off a lot of your body to look fashionable and to feel good about yourself,” Southwick said. “I’m trying to change this misconception in the fashion industry by showing that I can create dresses that are fashionable, comfortable and best of all, not revealing.”

The Closing Speaker mobile app

Jacob Barlow has created an app that he hopes will make preparing talks and lessons less daunting and more convenient for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Describing it as a “topical guide for quotes,” Barlow, who resides in San Mateo, California, said the app allows users to look up a topic and then browse through LDS Church leaders’ quotes related to that subject. Quotes can be added to a “favorites” section where users can later refer to them.

The idea for the app stemmed from a project Barlow’s father started years ago. Growing up, Barlow watched his father spend a great deal of time researching sources to include in his talks. To make things easier, Barlow said, his father began compiling a book that he hoped to publish titled “Quotable Quotes,” which documented quotes and sayings from church authorities covering a wide range of topics.

The book never got published, but Barlow came up with a solution that could make his dad’s work even more up-to-date and accessible: Go digital. According to Barlow, this solution was easier said than done since he had “absolutely no software background."

He was up for the challenge, and enrolled in a one-year program that would give him the necessary experience and skills to develop his app.

“(The program) was a spiritual experience for me,” Barlow said. “I was looking for something more … and I felt like this is where I needed to go, this is the thing I needed to do, for my career and for myself.”

Barlow completed the course, and his app, titled The Closing Speaker, was the product of his success and has been running since September 2016. It has an Android user base and can be downloaded for free.

To Barlow’s surprise, members of the church in places as far away as India and the Philippines have benefited from his app. Barlow, too, has experienced the benefits.

He recalled a time he received an email during sacrament meeting asking if he would teach the Sunday School lesson for that day. Although he was less than thrilled about this situation, using his app, he was able to put a lesson together in 10 minutes.

“You don’t want to be able to have to teach a lesson in that scenario, but you can,” Barlow said. “I wanted to make it easier for others.”