If you follow my IG account, you already know about my travels to the Cousin Corporation offices as part of the official Ambassador Retreat 2015. Me, along with the six other Ambassadors, were gifted with a trip down to sunny Largo, Florida to connect with Cousin employees, work on projects, design, and have fun!

It was a 60 degree, rainy June day in Chicago when I left earlier this week. After a short flight, I was greeted with the humid heat and balmy palm trees of tropic Tampa Bay, Florida. Us Ambassadors all met at the airport, and were shuttled straight to our beachside hotel resort, where we would be spending two nights during the trip. We were given goodie bags, which included beads (of course), snacks, and other gifts, including this bright purple embellished towel, obviously for using on the white sand beach!

The first thing I did after unpacking was head out to the beach. Yes, it was 90 plus degrees, and yes, I was wearing a hockey jersey. Plus thermal leggings. Those of you who know me and my Blackhawks obsession will understand. I walked up and down the beach, collecting shells and looking at the bright blue waters. It was also the perfect opportunity to rub in the Hawks’ Stanley Cup WIN while in Tampa Bay! I did catch some flack from the natives there, but that was kind of my point.
Congrats Blackhawks! ♥♥♥

Here are some of my specimens. Cool abalone, and shells with holes already in them. I have some ideas for how I’m gonna be using these!

Appreciating the bright foliage and tiki bar, I snapped some pics of these Floridian flowers; the eye-catching fuchsia color totally set the mood!

Yes, I walked all the way down to that pier and back!

Traveling up to the second floor deck, also the view from my room, Hawaiian-blue umbrellas dotted the perfect, cloud-like sand and boats whooshed by. The festive sound of reggae music flowed through the air, and I was definitely NOT ready to start working!


Alright, the first night there was no “work”, but there was a reception later on the Sunset Verandah, where we re-connected with the employees and got time to talk with them.

The night ended with a pastel pink sunset and of course, a photo-op. These are all the Ambassadors: (top row, left to right) Lisa Crone of A Bead a Day, Shelly Owen of Raziela’s Rant, Jennifer Priest of Hydrangea Hippo, (bottom row, left to right) me-duh, Rebecca Utermohlen of My Girlish Whims, Dawn Doucette of Bella Amore Jewelry and Rachel Nielsen of Adventures of a DIY Mom. We are also from all over the US, which I think made it much more fun, as we all had different perspectives. Lisa’s from Ohio, Shelly from Mississippi, Jennifer from California, me from Chicago, Rebecca from Philly, Dawn (originally from Wisconsin) recently moved to Florida, and Rachel from Utah. After our meet and greet, we all went back to our rooms and rested for Day 2.

Day 2 was “All About the Beads”…. we again toured the Cousin facility, checked out the bead walls and new collections, traveled the warehouse, and were involved in store visits and meetings/roundtable discussions.

In the morning, we traveled to JoAnn fabrics, Michaels and Walmart. Our job was to evaluate the Cousin sets there and point out anything (good or bad) that we wanted to note. Suggestions on new products, staging or really anything that we had comments on was fair game. Then, we went to Charming Charlie and Forever 21 in the mall to do some research on finished jewelry, to gain inspiration on trends and accessory styles. We brought all this back to Cousin for our afternoon routable meeting.
After this, a presentation about Swarovski was given, and then the actual jewelry designing began. We got to choose our products from the infamous Cousin product wall, and were told to create a full jewelry set embodying our personal style.

Last retreat, I created my Cosmic Chic set, using black and blue beads and wire in an edgy silhouette. This year, I was inspired by turquoise strands I found to create a woven dreamcatcher-themed set I entitled Hippie Dreams.

I mixed silver and antique gold metal for a totally bohemian look, and created wrapped beaded links to add movement. Crystals were added for sparkle and overall it’s totally a design I’d wear over and over again!
After this design session, we were brought back to the hotel and then went to dinner. We were all pretty exhausted from the long day!

On the third day, we were designing again. I chose agate pendants and glitzed them up with Swarovski flat backs and metallic tattoos, to create totally beachy, gypsy-like layering necklaces. We shot videos showing our special projects. Shelly did her signature wire wrapping, Rachel created a beaded necklace, Rebecca wire wrapped-rings and Jennifer made simply chic earrings. We had one more meeting about Prima Bead, Cousin’s partner online bead store.
Then, it was time for the famous “Bead Run”- we all got to fill USPS flat rate boxes with as much beads as we could from the Cousin bead wall. We were scrambling around in our 10 minute allotted time frame to get as much beads as we could! We stuffed our packages with chain, pearls, crystals, metal beads and more!
After the whole whirlwind trip, it was time for all of us to go back to the airport, to leave this tropical escape, to go back home!

So, back home to Chicago it was, and back to the colder, rainy weather. I gained a lot of knowledge, inspiration and ideas that I will be using going forward. Be on the lookout for more tutorials, projects and creations that I will be making and sharing with you all.
I want to extend a warm thank you to all the wonderful people at Cousin who planned, were involved in, and who made us feel welcomed at the trip. Also, to all my fellow Ambassadors, it was great to connect with you all again, and let’s all rock on and push this program into the future and beyond!

All photos copyright Allison Beth Cooling.

Leave a Reply