Textiles with a Purpose
Here’s the thing, I was 100% geeking out during my call with Sara Berks, founder of MINNA. As a self-proclaimed “textile nerd,” I think MINNA does the coolest work. I’ve spent hours deep-diving on their website, fascinated by the techniques used to make their products.
MINNA started in 2013, when founder Sara Berks taught herself to weave. She was living in New York City and freelancing after leaving the field of digital design. What began as a personal art practice, evolved into a team of seven, now based in Hudson, NY. MINNA works with master artisans in Central and South America to create multipurpose products for the home, drawing on influences including the Bauhaus, feminist art, vintage textiles, and traditional craft.
In Sara’s words, “MINNA is a tight-knit team of seven artists, creators, and thinkers based in Hudson, NY. We are a queer woman-owned and majority queer or woman operated business, which informs our approach to just about everything we do. We believe in creating beautiful, ethically made products and using business to do good.”
I sat down via Zoom to chat with Sara about weaving, what keeps her up at night as a business owner, and how her team is getting creative while #WFH.
Y’all currently carry a lot of different products for the home: what were the first products you carried and how did that evolve?
We started with rugs, blankets, and pillows—I think we had four of each, so four rugs (including the Norma rug), four blankets, and four pillows, and we went from there.
Do you have a clear best seller in your product line?
The Abstract Throw is our best seller in terms of revenue, but as far as categories go, we sell the most in Pillows and Kitchen & Dining.
How did you get connected with the East Fork folks, or establish a relationship there?
I met Connie at Field + Supply, and we stayed in-touch and connected through Instagram. I’m also good friends with Carrie and Rob from Shelter, who know and have worked with East Fork.
I work downtown at the East Fork Asheville store, and I was reading somewhere—either on your website or in an article about y’all—where you were talking about your storefront in Hudson, and how that gives you a different perspective on your customer and what they’re looking for?
Yeah, when we were selling wholesale, we didn’t have a lot of control over the story, but in the store, we can share a lot more. I didn’t realize how much people needed to be told what a product is. On the website, you have titles to tell you whether something is a blanket, or a rug, but in the store people always pick things up and ask “What’s this?” [laughs]
Am I correct that some of your Spring/Summer products matching our seasonal glazes (Malibu and Tequila Sunrise) was just a happy accident?
I know MINNA was born from your personal art practice, but I think of y’all now as making very functional objects: do you see those as two separate things
Definitely, even when I was weaving more (I’m painting more these days), I always saw my art practice as being separate from our functional products.
When you were weaving, what type of loom did you use?
A tapestry loom—I have a lot of different size looms I’ve collected over the years, but I mainly weave on one of those.
As a business owner, what keeps you up at night? I know that’s a tough question to ask and answer right now—obviously a global pandemic makes running a business even more difficult!
Really everything, I think when you run a business you’re always thinking about [various things], but right now I’m trying to only focus on what we can do better.
Do you have a customer story that’s really shocked you, whether it’s positive or negative?
I’m always really moved when people take the time to write in to tell us about something they bought, or how excited they are to receive something. It’s also kind of fun because Hudson is outside of NYC, we have a lot of celebrities come through town and several have stopped in the shop. I’ve just been starstruck. I see orders come in online from one specific celebrity who has been in the shop before, which is really cool.
If you had a magic wand and could wave it and change one part of your business, what would it be? Could be anything, unlimited capital for payroll [laughs], anything…
It would probably be that one, yeah [laughs]. When you run a business money is just useful for everything...I would also say if I was able to just spend all my time on artisan/product development, I would love that.
Before we left the chat, Sara asked me if she could get a photo of me in one of their “MINNA Zoom rooms”. If you’re not familiar, Zoom is a video conferencing platform that pretty much everyone has been using to work from home. There’s an option to change your background on Zoom, so the MINNA team got creative and developed MINNA Zoom rooms.
You just download the photo that you’d like to be your background, then you can upload in Zoom and have meetings while pretending you’re in a pastoral field, or on a bed beautifully made with MINNA textiles...instead of in your messy living room, like I was. Sadly, my very old computer couldn’t support this high-tech endeavor (it’s really not complicated, my computer is just very old), so no photo, but I loved this clever and fun example of creative thinking while working from home.
I’m so excited to have MINNA products online and in-store. When the shop is back open y’all can join me in oooh-ing and ahhh-ing over the colors and construction of these pieces in person (#textilenerd). And while we’re all at home, might I recommend taking a virtual trip to explore backstrap weaving in Mexico, or knitting in Uruguay? You can explore all the techniques MINNA’s master artisans use here, no passports needed.