Solo Tenant Launches Zero Waste Start-Up

When Solo Real Estate tenant Leslie Davidson first saw her apartment in the historic Rittenhouse area in 2018, she was struck by the quality of light. “It was one of five apartments Solo had shown me and I knew it was the one,” she said. “It was in a brownstone with large bay windows, hardwood floors, and a great layout,” she said.  Her cats also approved.

The year before, Leslie had received a breast cancer diagnosis and gone through a romantic breakup that left her yearning for a living space that would support her personal and professional goals.

“I grew up in Ambler and returned to Philadelphia after studying fashion design and merchandising in LA. Although I had been a stylist for Michael Kors on the West Coast, I was open to a career change,” she said. Leslie took several jobs, including working as an office manager for a gardening company and teaching dance to children. 

She was gearing up for another career move when the pandemic hit and the job market dried up. As a cancer survivor, Leslie had to shelter-in-place and return to what she knew best. Using her design skills, she launched Made by Lad, an accessories company, from her dining room. Even though her apartment is considered a one-bedroom, the inclusion of a dining room provided ample space to set up her sewing machine.  Her first product was facemasks for adults and children. 

Leslie Davidson from Made by LAD works on sewing a face mask in her dining room.

What distinguishes Made by LAD facemasks from all contenders is their fuller cut and elastic under the chin which allows the wearer to talk without the mask falling or moving. Unlike most facemasks which loop around the ears, Leslie’s loop around the head, so there is none of that uncomfortable tugging on the ears.

“I came up with the design after a lot of experimentation,” she said. “My grandfather was having a lot of trouble wearing his facemask, so I designed one that would be easier to wear.” Her face masks are two-ply with a filter for extra safety. They come in solid colors, two-tone and tie-dyed. (Kids love the tie-dye option.) Adjustable elastic toggles are sold separately.

A couple wears Made by LAD face masks in a park.

Made By LAD became official in May 2020 after Leslie received an overwhelmingly positive response to the masks she was making for friends and family who said they “fit perfectly” and “made them feel safe.” She initially started the business as a way to bring in extra income to pay off her medical bills acquired from her breast cancer diagnosis, but as orders kept rolling in with no end to the pandemic in sight, she was encouraged to pursue the venture full time, so she took a leap of faith and decided to self-fund her new business.

Leslie Davidson from Made by LAD works from her dining room table while her cat oversees.

Leslie’s products not only look good, they do good. Using locally sourced, 100% natural fibers that produce zero waste, Leslie tie-dyes them in her kitchen and sews them on her dining room table. With her background in business management and a passion for sustainability and helping others, she has developed a brand that aims to not only give back to the community but encourages customers to consider the environment by using almost all biodegradable materials, from the merchandise down to the packaging.

A child looks up while wearing a Made by LAD facemask.

“The face masks are made from undyed muslin which I buy at Fleishman’s on South Fourth Street,” she said. Her facemask motto? “Masks that don’t move when you talk!” She also offers customized facemasks with monograms and embroidered messages, including, “Black Lives Matter” and “6Ft Please.”

Relying solely on her Instagram account and Made by LAD website, Leslie expanded her product line to include hair and winter accessories: oversized scrunchies, men’s and women’s hats, headbands, ear-warmers, and scarves. Hats, scarves, headbands, and ear-warmers are made from soft, thick, reversible, dead-stock cotton knit. Her most timely accessory? An embroidered “Vaccinated” status badge, perfect to sew onto a denim jacket or the back pocket of jeans.

Leslie Davidson wears her "Vaccinated" badge.

Leslie hopes to continue to grow her business long after masks are needed. Her goal is to create a sustainable athleisure brand that is able to give back to the community by continuing to purchase materials from small, local businesses and donate proceeds to communities in need whenever possible. 

For a limited time, Leslie is offering a discount code on her website for Solo friends and family. Visit Madebylad.com and use code SOLO215 for 15% off your purchase!

Meet Rebecca Nichols Franqui

Rebecca Nichols Franqui joined the Solo Real Estate team (and the family business) in 2018 after meeting her husband, Alejandro Franqui. She is originally from Minnesota but now calls South Philly home. Prior to joining Solo Real Estate, Rebecca received a Master’s degree in Environment, Politics, and Globalization from King’s College in London and worked with Habitat for Humanity. Her passion for sustainability and experience working in housing led her to take an active role in Solo’s sustainability initiatives and partnerships, like the PHS pop-up garden.

We spoke with Rebecca about her favorite places in Philly, the projects she’s worked on, and how she got involved in the family business.

How did you get started at Solo Real Estate?

Solo Real Estate was my husband’s family business and now it’s my family too. I never imagined that I would join Solo at the beginning of our relationship, but as time went on I started to really appreciate the way everyone here makes sure the company lives up to our values as a member of the community. Realizing that I could still have sustainability-related projects, while also meeting new people who are also excited about what Philadelphia has to offer, made me realize I was ready to join the team.

Do you work with just buyers or sellers and investors too?

I work with all of the above and with renters, too! I’ve also managed my own gut renovation, so I’m able to help guide investors and homebuyers who want to purchase a property to renovate.

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on? 

I mentioned before that the ability to do sustainability-related projects helped convince me to make the switch to working at Solo, and these projects are still easily my favorites! I have especially loved working on our partnership with the Philadelphia Horticulture Society (PHS). We help sponsor the PHS Pop Up Garden on South Street. Thinking of fun ways to stay engaged with this has been so fun – we’ve hosted plant swaps, held gardening related trivia, and given away recycling bins, all while sharing a round of beers with the people we’ve met at the garden.  

What’s your favorite place in Philly?

This is a tough question! This year I have discovered FDR Park is twice as big as I realized, with acres of trails winding through a former golf course, now wild-feeling woods and wetland. This has been a great find for our family (especially our dog, Hansi) during this year of trying to stay outside. In a more normal year, I would probably answer with some of my favorite bars with the best beer options. Some of these are Fountain Porter, Standard Tap, and Khyber Pass Pub. I also can’t forget the place I spend the most time outside of home – running on the SRT (Schuylkill River Trail)!  

What are your interests outside of real estate?

I became a mother in March, so spending time with my daughter is my new favorite way to pass the time! I also love to bake and am an obsessed runner. I’m currently training my husband (Alejandro Franqui) for his first marathon.

Coffee or Tea?

Definitely coffee, always black! Function Coffee Lab has renewed my appreciation for a great roast. 

Looking to buy, sell, or rent a home in Philadelphia? Rebecca is ready to help you every step of the way. Contact her at 215.833.6720 or email her at becca@solorealty.com

Investors are switching to real estate

In the midst of the nation’s highest Covid-19 peak, with the deepest recession on record, and high unemployment, the housing market is soaring.  The National Association of Realtors recently reported that sales of previously owned homes in the United States rose 24.7% – one of the best real estate showings on record. 

“Housing prices are increasing not just in the United States but also worldwide, regardless of how hard a country has been hit by the pandemic,” said Ruchir Sharma, chief global strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Management, in his New York Times OpEd

Sharma credits the phenomenon to what he calls easy-money. “Since May 2020, new-home sales in the United States have climbed by 67 percent, and prices by 15 percent. Many investors are buying homes not as a shelter but as an alternative to stocks and bonds,” he said.

Here in Philly, investment in residential real estate is changing our skyline;  the City resembles a massive construction site. A $60 mil condominium is rising at 2100 Hamilton. A $300 mil complex is underway in Port Richmond.  And New York City’s Durst Organization recently won a contract to build a mixed-use tower at Penn’s Landing.

Solo Real Estate agent Alejandro Franqui is feeling the spike too. “Some areas are in high demand and they are selling the same day or within 24-48 hours,” said Franqui. “Many homes are selling at or way-above asking.”  

Staying safe

Buying, selling, and renting during Covid demands complex and constantly changing safety restrictions. “We were not allowed to show houses from the middle of March through June. We shifted to 3D tours, as well as virtual tours,” said Franqui. “When we moved into a more open phase in July, a traditionally slower time, there was initially a surge of interest and intense bidding on properties.”

Solo Real Estate Open House
A Solo Real Estate Open House sign in Kensington.

Showing houses and apartments includes maintaining proper social distance, limiting traffic, and doing verbal health screenings. State guidelines include allowing ample time between showings, no more than three people in a property at one time and avoiding touching surfaces as much as possible. 

“I just wore my 400th pair of latex gloves yesterday!” said Solo Real Estate agent Jeff Carpineta. “Also, I miss being able to see clients’ whole faces, smiles, and speaking being a little easier, but it’s important to save lives in our communities and nation.”

Besides wearing masks, gloves, maintaining social distancing and virtual house tours, the City of Philadelphia urges realtors conducting settlements and closings to utilize remote notary, powers of attorney (POA), or the exchange of contract documents electronically or by mail wherever possible.

Hot Philly Neighborhoods

During the pandemic, East Kensington is continuing to experience growth and re-investment. While New York transplants seek affordability and space, local young professionals and families are drawn to the diversity and youthful spirit of this revitalized neighborhood.

“The shift from New York to Philly has been a steady trend over the past decade,” said Franqui. “It’s possible that Covid has accelerated that. I’ve always thought that unless someone is born and raised in New York, they will eventually realize the long term value just isn’t there.”

East Kensington and Fishtown attract professionals and families looking for housing close to downtown. These trendy neighborhoods feature Colonial and Victorian architecture and their own mix of music venues, nightspots, and restaurants.  But the big draw is the value. A Solo Real Estate listing in Fishtown for a 2-bedroom house with a front yard is priced at $264,900. 

Post Pandemic Outlook

Think times are good now for real estate? Todd Sinai, chair of Wharton’s Real Estate Department, says they will get even better.I expect demand for apartments to be robust and student housing to go back to normal,” said Sinai in a recent article on commercial real estate. “I’m not convinced that remote working will be ingrained post-COVID-19. Once most employees return to the office, everyone will…. On the part of investors, there will be a flight to quality real estate, and we are seeing signs of this already.”

Interested in buying an investment property, renting, or selling your home? Send us a message via the form below, and one of our experienced real estate agents will reach out.

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Meet Jeff Carpineta

Jeff Carpineta has been part of the Solo Real Estate family for the last fifteen years helping buyers, sellers, investors, and renters find their place and community in the city we call home. Jeff is a Kensington resident, real estate agent, an artist with a background in photography/music, and is very involved with his local community in the East Kensington section of Philadelphia, adjacent to Fishtown. He served as President of the East Kensington Neighbors Association (EKNA), has worked with NKCDC to offer housing counseling, partnered with the Kensington Kinetic Derby & Arts Fest, and co-founded the Kensington Community Food Coop, where he’s still a board member.

We sat down with him at a wildflower garden to talk about how he got started in real estate, his favorite places, and some of his interests outside of work:

How did you get started at Solo Real Estate?

Years ago, on a sweltering August heatwave day, I walked into the Solo Real Estate office looking for an apartment. Stanley Solo, in his 80’s, greeted me. I mean – Stanley Solo who started the company in 1951 –  a guy that had already made it, a big name in Center City for half a century. He actually walked me across town to 10th and South to show me places. I was a restaurant waiter part-time and a sheet rocker/photographer/noisy musician person he’d never seen before but he treated me like a grandson. I was blown away and was so moved from that experience that 3 years later I wrote a letter to Deborah Solo, Stanley’s daughter, recounting that experience. I told Deborah about my background in art, my knowledge about Philadelphia neighborhoods, and that my grandfather was a factory worker – ironically in a building that got turned into a condo in Tacony (U.S. Rubber- Gilmer Plant). I also told her I was looking to own my first place and was looking to learn about real estate. ‘Maybe I can photograph some places or file things for you…?’  She wrote back “Sounds like you love many of the same things I love, come in, let’s talk”. I went in for an interview, she said ‘You’re great but I don’t have anything for you to do right now.’ But a few weeks later she called: “My assistant wants to spend some more time with her family. Would you like to be my assistant a couple of days a week?” It was a dream. I did postcards – thousands of postcards per week, walking these bins of postcards over to the post office on Chestnut. Deborah called me into her office one day. “Jeff, the cards, we need to slow down on the cards!”. 22 cents apiece had climbed into 5 figures quickly. 

More important – the greatest gift: I made a little station for myself and all those cards right on the other side of Deborah’s door. All day I got to listen to Deborah Solo negotiating, solving crises, making things happen for people with an incredible focus. She’s one of Philadelphia’s most badass women in the business community. Watching her do what she does – was the best education any one could ever have in real estate and to some degree, in life. 

Within the year I got my license to start showing houses on my own, and started to take care of everyone I knew in music and art who were scraping but dreaming of having their own place. 

Do you work with just buyers or sellers and investors too?

All of the above. Buyer’s frequently are looking to be a part of the community so that holds a special place in my heart, though sellers can come with powerful stories too. On both sides, there’s usually some chapter opening or closing – family expansion, business dream starting, marriage, a new town, or a new job. So many stories. Buildings are the stages where life unfolds, so there’s a lot of meaning, plus it’s often the biggest financial decision of a lifetime. Deborah and Angel, her husband – they both deeply appreciate the stories behind the work. So did Stanley. That care is the heartbeat of the company. 

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on? 

Too many! Fireball printing, Pizza Brain, Threshold Wellness, and the studios for Craftwork Design are some of the commercial things that made a difference to many people. On the residential side, there have been hundreds of amazing stories. People transform their rowhouses into these heart-songs. Have you seen Ken Schapira’s (North Standard Company) house? Breathtaking. 

What’s your favorite place in philly?

For Music: How can you top live opera arias over deliciousness at the Victor Cafe?

For Nature: Anywhere there’s a river or creek. Pennypack is special. 

For Food: Thang Long – best Pho’ in the City, and the Philadelphia Inquirer agrees!

What are your interests outside of real estate?

Horticulture. I’m in the gardening program at Mt. Cuba Center in Delaware, studying local ecosystems, native plants, and ecological gardening. Philly, if you’ve never been to Mt. Cuba, get there! It’s filled with magic woodlands and wildflower meadows.  

Coffee or Tea?

Tea. Earl Grey in summer, Ginger through the winter. 

Are you a maximalist or a minimalist? 

I like lots of old things, so there’s some museum vibe, but emptiness is important too. At Mt. Cuba they always say “right plant, right place,” and in jazz: “less is often more” but it’s challenging – especially with books! 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Plant native plants! Make homes for butterflies, birds, and bees! And, of course, If you think you’d like to own your own place or sell one, let’s make it happen!

Contact Jeff Carpineta at 215.833.6720 or email him at jeffcarpineta@gmail.com