“We were both very passionate about fair trade and sustainability – fair trade working conditions are extremely important to us and we would simply not work any other way,” explains Jodie Fried, former costume and production designer-turned-business owner. “This is a core value to our business.”
NIDA graduate Jodie and original-art-lover-turned-accountant-turned-designer, Sally Pottharst are the brains and the heart behind Australian handcrafted rug retailer Armadillo&Co.
In a climate where chain stores allow you to dress what seems like your entire home for less than a lobster (at what real cost? We find ourselves asking), Armadillo&Co. is the antidote to the machine-worshipping, mass-made creations that cost the buyers a lot less than those who produce them: they’re in the business of rugs that are both beautiful in look and in ethos.
“All of our rugs are made by hand, by small weaving communities in rural villages,” Jodie tells Collective Hub. “It is our passion to not only value this skill, but also help keep it alive and handed down to the generations which follow.”
When Jodie and business partner Sally, who has a background in rugs, found a hole in the market, they decided to fill it with a business at the crossroads of ‘ethics and aesthetics’. In the beginning, this intersection was a tough sell.
“A real obstacle we had to overcome is the perception that our rugs are produced in India because the wage or menial labour is cheaper,” Jodie explains. “Completely untrue. We produce our rugs in India due to the quality of workmanship and in an effort to preserve traditional cultural practices; paying our weavers above a fair wage and ensuring good working conditions.”
“We also produce in India because we are inspired by the people, the colour and the tradition of the fine art and craft of weaving.”
The duo, who work from separate hemispheres (Jodie is LA-based and Sally is Adelaide-based), have stayed strong in their vision, bucking ‘advice’ that undermined their business backbone at every turn.
“We have had business experts in the past advising us that it would be easier [and] cheaper to use machine-made weaving techniques and produce in other countries but this is totally against what we stand for and the craft we are supporting,” Jodie points out. “We choose to do it the hard [or] long way, but it is so worth it when you stand back and see the quality of the products and the people we empower.”
Jodie and Sally consider each employee a ‘collaborator’, looking to each one for product development and supply-chain maintenance.
“When consumers purchase our rugs they are buying not only their own unique piece of traditional craftsmanship, but they are keeping generations of skilled artisans employed as well as sustaining an agrarian lifestyle which is so important,” Jodie says of the 1500 weavers they employ.
In addition to their staunch commitment to using sustainable natural fibres, the mantra of ‘reuse, reduce and recycle’ is embedded throughout the production cycle.
“We are continuously working to conserve and reduce our resources and energy consumption as we grow. The materials for our products are carefully sourced and we use natural, recycled and sustainable fibres – even the weavers’ looms are made from natural bamboo.” A&C even extend this commitment to transport and shipping, ensuring a minimal carbon footprint.
With a promise for fair wages and sustainable materials comes the inevitability of a more expensive end product. Overcoming this with effective branding and storytelling, both Sally and Jodie hope they can educate consumers and help them to understand the importance of sustainable materials.
“We like to think that we are able to influence people about their choices as a consumer by making them fall in love with a beautiful product as well as being able to give back at the same time. We find that many of our customers are un-phased by price point given they know and understand what goes into making each rug.”