Part of the reason I really wanted my studio space was that it came with a network of inspiring women with whom I really wanted to be connected. I felt that if I could physically put myself where all the action is, then my network would expand and my business would grow and, most importantly, I could learn from those all around me. And that’s exactly what’s happening. Last night, I attended a Design Salon event at Merida Rugs at the Boston Design Center. Design Salon is a group co-founded by the woman I rent my space from, Jill Rosenwald, and it is a monthly meet-up for women in the creative field. There is usually a speaker, someone who can tell you about their own business, how they got to where they are, how they plan to grow and what they’ve learned so far. Last night’s even was hosted by Catherine Connolly of Merida.
Catherine didn’t start Merida, but she did buy and it turn it into the successful business it is today. I’m fascinated with this company and I’m so glad I got the chance to meet her and hear about her experiences.
Merida began as an importer of sisal rugs from Belgium, back when you couldn’t buy sisal at Pottery Barn or Overstock.com. The rugs were handmade and non-toxic, not to mention beautiful – and they were the only company making them. Chances are if you happened to have a sisal rug in your home before 2004, it was made by Merida. They had 100% of the market share. But when China began their huge manufacturing industry, they jumped into the sisal rug game and created enormous amounts of sisal rug products – cheaply made, held together with incredibly toxic materials, and priced to sell. These are the rugs you can now buy at any direct-to-consumer home retailer. And with the look of sisal exploding on the design market, the Chinese sisal business grew exponentially. Merida had to rethink their business – and fast.
Catherine entered and decided that Merida would have a story to tell – and sell – and they would do it by working not directly with consumers, but with designers. They re-organized the way they sell their product, and even changed their product. They still import their sisal from Belgium and continue to create sisal rugs, but they also purchased looms and began weaving wool rugs – and they do it right here in Massachusetts.
Fall River, MA, is a town that once had a booming textile industry, which supplied the region with jobs and created a very finely skilled labor force. Unfortunately, with the increase of manufacturing being sent overseas, Fall River is a town that’s fallen on pretty hard times. Catherine is doing her part to change that. Part of her mission for Merida is to bring pride, dignity and honor back to the art of manufacturing – of making things.
If you’re wondering, yes – Merida’s prices are higher than their competition. It’s the price they pay for producing a superior product, and for producing it on their terms – crafted with skill and with pride, made from natural materials and entirely non-toxic and safe, and built to last. But that’s exactly why they work with designers: the designers tell their story. And Merida is a story that deserves to be heard.
I was incredibly inspired by Catherine, by her team and by Merida. Cheers to them for reviving a dying industry here in Massachusetts and setting about changing how we think about the products in our home. You can bet that I won’t be buying a cheap sisal rug anytime soon – I’ll hold out for the real thing and support this local business.
All images from Merida.