When we sat down with Nell & Mary (Portland-based textile studio and designer of our latest beauty bag), one thing became readily apparent: our companies are definitely kindred spirits. A brand after our own heart, this family owned and operated company creates gorgeous home goods with a totally unique aesthetic—and does so while remaining environmentally and socially conscious, too! They also share our passion for discovery, always staying ahead of the curve while keeping their designs classic, chic and tasteful. Since we have a serious love affair with their textiles, we were over the moon to partner with them on our latest beauty bundle. We asked N&M a few questions about working and designing in Portland, the inspo behind their designs and more! We hope you enjoy their answers as much as we did.
We’re pretty much in love with your prints, and are super excited to collaborate with you on our beauty bundle. Can you tell us a little about the inspiration and design of the bag? Give us an idea of what your creative process looks like!
For us, color is at the core of each season. Before we work on design content, we focus on what colors will tell the story of that season. We are drawn to a rich and organic palette, and we try to have a narrative continuity between seasons. Once we have that locked down, we work on prints. Krista creates 3-5 new prints each season. We keep the content varied. For example, if we plan on a line drawing print, we like to do a ink and color heave print to offset it in the collection. Once we have discussed the outline of what we want the prints to accomplish, Krista goes into artist mode and new work emerges 1 to 2 weeks later. We love the painted print featured on the b-glowing collaboration, because the color and print work together so effortlessly, and we’re really excited about the result!
Nell & Mary wasn’t your first foray into design. You started with your sister company—Make it Good—which is a (seriously gorgeous) apparel line. What was the impetus for starting a housewares line, and how do the two disciplines (home goods and fashion) influence each other?
Oh thanks! My husband Avery and I had been working on screen printed clothing design and manufacturing for a couple of years when we moved to Portland to join my sister Krista. We naturally started to spend a lot more more time together, whose amazing eye and background in interior design we started to rely on immediately. We started talking about how well screen printed fabrics would translate to the housewares market, and we were interested in how the home market is a totally different set of buyers. From there, Krista started to practice textile design, we sourced some fabrics and suddenly Nell and Mary existed.
So, not only have you built this gorgeous design studio, but you’ve done so as a family, working closely with both your husband and your sister. Can you tell us a little about what it’s like to build a successful business with your family?
The process of building Nell and Mary and Make It Good has required so many evenings, weekends and all night work sessions. Who better to work those kinds of hours with than family? The level of trust and ease that we have with each other has helped us to keep moving forward. Meal drop offs from our mom in the place of Sunday dinners have also helped a ton.
You mentioned that the Pacific Northwest is very much “your story”, and many of your prints feature organic, nature-based themes, like oysters and morels. Does living in the PNW influence your designs, and what other people, places or things do you draw inspiration from?
It is true that Nell and Mary is heavily influenced by the Pacific Northwest. When discussing those design influences, we always reference the Scandinavian and Japanese influences that contribute our region. We love combining the cultural influences of the Pacific North West with content from the natural environment that makes where we live such a special place.
Where does the name “Nell & Mary” come from?
Krista and I were middle-named after our grandmothers Nell and Mary. When we went to name our company we wanted to choose something that would always have meaning to us, and family names were a perfect match. Both women are known for their toughness, elegance, poise, and practicality which was just what we were going for.
Obviously, original prints and textiles are at the heart of Nell & Mary. What makes a classic “Nell & Mary” print?
Krista Stovel is the print designer behind the majority of the Nell and Mary prints. For the past 5 years she has worked to create her signature style. Bold dashes of color, a sense of movement and quirky line drawing details are characteristics of all Nell and Mary prints. Sometimes when the prints end up in your life for a while they seem like old friends, and that comfort and familiarity is what we really look for in a ‘classic’ N&M print.
Many of your materials are sourced in the USA and handcrafted in-house, which is amazing. Can you tell us a little bit about the importance of using high-quality materials and domestic sourcing?
When it is time to choose new Nell and Mary materials we seek out simple, utilitarian fabrics that coordinate well with our art and will last a long time. For the most part, we work with natural fiber based fabrics like cotton. If we can source fabrics that are grown and milled domestically, we drastically reduce the amount of miles our products travel before they ship to our customers. The supply chain is a very challenging part of our business, and sourcing domestically simplifies the process.
b-glowing is also based in Portland, so we always like to ask this question: do you think there are any hurdles to overcome with being so far away from the standard design and fashion “capitals”?
That is such a great question! As manufacturers, Portland is still a more affordable and comfortable place to do business than the design “capitals.” I think that people are starting to look a little more broadly than just those traditional centers of design. Because those places are so expensive and difficult to do business, it is actually a lot harder to innovate because you can’t afford to not succeed instantly. That means that designers are focused more on what is proven, rather than what is possible, which is what we are really trying to achieve.
What is your number one piece of advice to aspiring female entrepreneurs?
Start with a simple idea and expand upon it as you learn and grow. Barring tremendous luck, success is based on learning from your mistakes, staying hungry, and just grinding out the work. It is nothing short of a miracle for someone to take something you’ve created into their life, and it’s important to celebrate the tiny victories.
If you could have dinner and drinks with 3 female artists, icons, politicians, authors, etc., alive today or not, who would they be and why?
I think getting together with Margaret Cho, Elizabeth Warren, and Emmylou Harris wouldn’t just make for amazing conversation, but I bet those ladies really know how to make a night of it!
What blogs or instagram accounts inspire you and why?
I’m an avid Jezebel reader. It’s just the right mix of feminism, humor, and news. They know that there’s plenty of darkness out there, and the occasional cat video or celebrity gossip can make it a lot more manageable.
What’s on your playlist right now?
Banks, The Weeknd, and Anderson Paak