This Company Offers Chic Products With Ethically Conscious Practices
MINNA founder Sara Berks uses feminist art as her inspiration.
Published Aug 17, 2017 5:00 PM
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Founded on the belief that contemporary designs shouldn’t sacrifice quality or ethics, MINNA is a home textile company that practices what it preaches.
“When I started MINNA, I knew I wanted to focus on working with people, rather than factories,” says founder Sara Berks. “When I realized I wanted to start making functional wares, I knew I wanted things artisan-made; I wanted to make real connections. I think I was pretty starved for that sort of interaction after leaving the corporate world.”
Four years later, what started as an online shop has flourished into a multifaceted company whose products are sold wholesale nationwide—including on our very own Domino shop—and in a brick and mortar retail store in Hudson, New York. However, despite this growth, Berks has maintained both her relationship with artisans and her commitment to sustainable, ethical production.
Inspired by feminist art, the Bauhaus, and vintage textiles, each MINNA product seamlessly blends traditional and contemporary craftsmanship. Berks took her background in graphic design and translated it to textile designs, and the unexpected combination makes for a variety of colorful products in a number of fun prints.
We caught up with Berks to learn more about the inspiration behind MINNA, and get her tips for sustainable shopping.
What were you doing before you launched MINNA?
Before MINNA, I was working as an art director at digital design agencies. I studied graphic design, and followed a pretty traditional trajectory—branding and web design. About five years in, I realized it wasn’t for me. The culture wasn’t the right fit, and I felt pretty burnt out by the work. I had had a bad experience with sexism and homophobia in the workplace, and decided it was time for something new.
How did the idea to start your own company originate?
I didn’t really know I was starting a company when I “got started.” When I quit my job, I planned to freelance for as long as it took me to figure out what I wanted to do next. I taught myself to weave, and realized I really loved it. It kind of was a natural progression of making things, then wanting to make bigger things, and realizing I wanted to make things outside of my physical capabilities.
What’s the story behind the name?
MINNA was the middle name my Omi (maternal grandmother) dropped when she arrived in the United States. Her family fled Germany during the Holocaust, and when she got to Ellis Island at 13, she decided to drop her middle name. She didn’t connect to the name, and felt it was too “old world.” It was kind of a rebellious thing for a 13-year-old to do. It was actually her father’s mother’s name, and he was pretty upset about it! I really loved the story and her rebelliousness, and wanted to reclaim the name.
Tell us a little about your partnership with artisans in Mexico, Guatemala, and Uruguay. How did those come about?
I knew about the weaving culture in Mexico and Guatemala, so I booked two trips and jumped in. I did a ton of research, and reached out to people who were doing similar work in order to make connections and begin making products there.
In Mexico, I work with two families in Oaxaca: One weaves our rugs, and one weaves most of our lightweight blankets and kitchen textiles. In Chiapas, I work with an organization that connects me to several smaller cooperatives to weave a new line of kitchen textiles coming out in September, and new heavyweight cotton throws. In Guatemala, I work with two organizations that also connect me to weavers: one that weaves most of our pillows and some rugs, and another that weaves our striped kitchen textiles. In Uruguay, I work with the largest cooperative of women artisans to make our felted pillows, as well as a whole slew of new textural pillows and throws coming out in October.
Social responsibility is a founding principle of MINNA. Can you speak to your passion for this, and how it’s reflected in your work?
There’s a lot of excess in the world, so I try to make things in the most conscious way in order to be gentle on the earth and fair to the people making the products. All the artisans I work with set their own wages, and we adhere to the principles of fair trade: paying a living wage, creating stable business partnerships, prohibiting child labor, promoting fairness and equality, and using materials that are gentle on the earth.
As a company, I also try to focus on using our platform to speak out when we can. When Trump was elected, I donated 15 percent of our sales to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and CAIR. We repeat this model when we feel like civil liberties are being challenged by our current administration. As a queer woman, I try to create a space where people feel comfortable. Inclusivity is super important to me, and I try to promote that idea on social media, in the workplace, and also our shop environment.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting a home textiles company?
I wish I had a bit more of a business background, to be honest! I’ve really been using intuition to guide MINNA every step of the way. Luckily, my dad has been incredibly helpful with the business side of things. I started MINNA with my savings account, and have been growing it organically on a super tight budget. Having a little more business know-how would have been helpful, but I also like teaching myself things… so it’s been working out!
How would you describe MINNA’s design aesthetic?
I asked my studio manager to describe this because finding words to speak about my own designs makes me nervous. According to her, it’s off-kilter yet put together, geometric yet organic, laid-back yet refined—a color palette that’s unexpected, but works anywhere.
How do you recommend people practice ethical and sustainable shopping habits at home?
Pay attention to where the products you’re buying are from. Check to see if the brand or company practices ethical and sustainable production methods. Do your best.