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February 09, 2024
At Anacua House, we are passionate about promoting independent brands that create modern, relevant designs while using and honoring heritage craftsmanship. In addition- Anacua House founder Angela Bodnar, like Melissa, left a career in business to take a chance on the design world.
With so much in common, we just had to ask Melissa to tell us more about her design process and journey with Azulina.
What is your role in your products’ designs? How do you ensure the collections both highlight the artisans’ skills and also appeal to a global audience?
I create our product designs from start to finish, with heavy input from our artisan team who help me refine elements based on the limits of the looms we use.
Something that a lot of people don't know or understand is that when we say our goods are handmade, they are 100% handmade, every single step of the way. Our bath mats and pillows are woven on pedal looms that are set up by hand and powered by a manual shuttle, which is all powered by the weavers who stand on top of the loom and press down on pedals with their full bodyweight to create the designs you see in our textiles. It's not dissimilar to dancing and, holy wow, it's an incredible art form. Not a single step in the process is mechanized, which is why every one of our products is truly one of a kind and full of meaning. I try to highlight the texture of the fibers, and let the heritage of a handwoven product really shine through - which I think is best accomplished using neutral tones. As a result, our designs are really clean and simple, and heavy in texture, which luckily appeals to a global audience.
After a decade in business, how has your design process evolved? One of my greatest learnings has been to shift the focus away from me and what I or what I think our customers want, and go straight to our customers and ask them what they want. It took me a lot of business books, conversations and podcasts to realize I was doing it all backwards, for longer than I'd like to admit. Our design process now starts with the customer, what they are dreaming of for their home, and giving them what they want.
I understand you worked in consulting and investor relations before starting Azulina- tell me about your learning process and challenges creating a design-focused brand. Did your prior career’s skills help you?
My background is atypical for the design world, to say the least. Ever since I was little I always dreamed of running my own business, but I didn't quite know what that would be. After college, I did what everyone else did, which is get a job. I thought that is what I was supposed to do, and that my childhood dreams of being an entrepreneur were just that, dreams. It wasn't until I just so happened to be in the right place at the right time (Colombia), with the right amount of guts to decide to throw it all to the wind and start Azulina. My background was helpful in that it gave me exposure to wildly different industries and businesses, but also taught me basic skills that are valuable no matter where you end up: sales, accounting, client relations, public speaking. I'm a firm believer that our past experience always guides future opportunities, and that has certainly been the case for me.
How would you define your style? What/who are your influences?
My style changes as I cycle into new stages in my life. In my 20s, my style was a lot more colorful and eclectic, and it has become much more muted and serene as I'm going into my late 30s. As a mom and a business owner, decision fatigue is a THING. As such, I like my closet and my surroundings to be calming and serene, and I want to spend as little time as possible getting dressed so I can spend time on the things that actually matter, like my family and running a business that I love. I am currently influenced by anything Andrew Trotter touches, and I'm paying close attention to what's happening in the recycled fiber and natural dye world so that I can bring that into our future designs as much as possible (it's very early stage in Colombia, but things are slowly getting there).
Your throw pillows were recognized as some of the best by AD last year. How did you find out about that designation, and what did it mean to you & your business?
Yes!! That means a lot to us and is a nice recognition to have. We had been in touch with an editor and then noticed that certain pillows started moving quicker than normal. With a bit of help from the tech department we were able to trace it back to an article AD included our pillows in!
Can you tell us more about your new rug project?
We work with a woman-owned weaving workshop in Colombia that combines fique natural fibers (similar to sisal) with metal, and it's a program that is strictly to the trade for custom rugs. Photos and videos do not do these spectacular rugs justice. They are a sight to be seen. And not only that, they are handwoven on these absolutely massive looms that are powered by some super strong dudes. Talk about amazing. It's a really fun project and we've created a few new gorgeous patterns alongside a DC-based designer, Regan Billingsley, who is also a dear friend.
All images courtesy of Melissa Moriarty/Azulina
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