The Finer Points: Jodie Fried
On our latest trip to LA, we had the pleasure of dropping in for a visit at Armadillo & Co. on iconic Wilshire Boulevard. One might think that the prestigious address could lead to an unapproachable demeanor, but nothing could be further from the truth for this gallery-inspired showroom! Once settled, we were captivated by the gorgeous product offerings and the generous heart of the company that stands behind them. A truly multi-national operation with roots in Australia, production in India, and its newest branch in America, Armadillo & Co. has harnessed the spirit of its global connections and created an exquisite collection of rugs that absolutely “lie lightly on this earth.”
Added bonus: co-founders Sally Pottharst and Jodie Fried are passionately committed to ethical practices and to investing in the communities that touch their business. When Jodie <read: #bossbabe> agreed to grant us a deeper look at the story behind the brand, we jumped at the opportunity to learn more. Read on and prepare to be inspired!
Marie Flanigan: We really enjoyed visiting your LA showroom, and after learning more about the history behind Armadillo & Co., it’s clear that your journey to CEO and Creative Director has been a passion-filled one. Can you share a little bit about how Armadillo & Co. came to life?
Jodie Fried: I was working as a film costume designer in India at the time of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake and immediately went to help rebuild rural villages along the Pakistani border devastated by the disaster. While I was there, I met incredible craftspeople, many of whom were women. This experience ignited a passion for philanthropy and inspired me to create a business centered on fair trade and sustainability while keeping my hands involved in grassroots textile design. Fortuitously Sally and I met, conceived the idea behind Armadillo & Co., and we’ve never looked back!
MF: You hail from Australia and also lived in India for 3 years. How did your time in both places inspire the beautiful work you and your team create?
JF: Growing up in Australia, I was surrounded by native bushland and stunning coastlines which gave me a deep-seated appreciation for the beauty of nature. This environmental influence has definitely informed our work and we keep our product as organic and sustainable as possible. India was a whole different story! It’s a place that you either love or you hate, and once the culture shock wore off, I fell in love with the country, its people, their rich sense of history, and exquisite textiles.
MF: Tell me a little bit about your first business in homewares. Did that experience have an effect on the future of Armadillo & Co. and your partnership with Sally Pottharst?
JF: After I came across all the amazing artisans in India, I decided to found my first company – Bholu. I worked with women using traditional techniques to create textiles that we could sell to provide them with a sustainable income. I met Sally at a trade fair and, after much persistence, she persuaded me to work with her making rugs, utilizing her background in floor coverings and my experience in design. We totally hit it off, and Armadillo & Co was born. It has been an incredible partnership as we have very different strengths, making our relationship one that feels very easy and symbiotic!
MF: Were there any elements that you felt the rug industry was missing when you first started? How has Armadillo & Co. stepped in to fill those gaps?
JF: We founded Armadillo & Co because at the time we saw a real gap in the market for classic, well-made floor coverings; and what we couldn’t find for our own homes, we decided to make. We wanted our brand to foster the simple beauty in texture, tones, and quality of a handmade product without all the bells and whistles you would often find on normal domestic rugs in the market.
MF: What are 3 – 5 elements that you believe make Armadillo & Co. so successful?
JF: First and foremost, I’m so fortunate to have Sally as a business partner. We have different strengths and passions but share the same overarching vision, which makes for a very symbiotic and respectful working relationship. Secondly, we have an incredible team, based around the world, who are true experts in their fields. You’re only as good as the people around you! Finally, we all truly love and believe in what we do. When it comes down to it we have a simple mission: to create high quality and simple handmade rugs and give back in the process.
MF: Have you enjoyed opening your first U.S. storefront? How has the process been rewarding and/or challenging?
JF: Opening our flagship retail store is a huge milestone. It’s been both rewarding and challenging for the same reason – this is the first time we’ve been able to interact with our customers on a more personal level and give them a full brand “hug.” It has also been a great learning curve designing a retail space (something we are not used to), but it’s been exciting to showcase our unique brand experience one-on-one with customers.
MF: We love hearing that sophisticated design and ethical production are of equal importance to you. What are some difficulties you’ve overcome to ensure your rugs are being responsibly crafted?
JF: Consumers these days care a lot more about where things come from – whether it’s the food they eat or the décor they put in their homes, and sustainability is an important part of the Armadillo & Co culture. We strive for our processes and products to leave as little impact on the earth as possible, so we only use natural or recycled fibers, and every step of the dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing process is done by hand using techniques that have been handed down through generations. We are fully committed to Fair Trade practices, providing our weavers with fair wages and safe working conditions. We’re also members of Care & Fair, a worldwide initiative against illegal child labor in the Carpet Belt region. And finally, we’re in the process of getting certified as a B Corporation, which means looking for even more ways to do better.
MF: I loved reading that each village in India is known for a specific type of knotting and that you will sometimes design a rug around a craftsman’s unique skillset. So beautiful! Is there a particular piece within your collection that was created in this way?
JF: Our Heirloom Collection requires specialist hand knotting skills because they are so detailed and intricate. Our 100% wool Agra rug, for example, involves a unique abrash dyeing process and features 100 knots per square inch. It can take up to three to four months to produce, a true celebration of artistry and luxury.
MF: The quote in your LA showroom is so poignant: “a search for the uncommonly beautiful.” When and where was that conceived?
JF: We coined this phrase a few years ago, but it has been a part of our ethos since we founded the business. It’s about striking a balance between aesthetics and functionality, creating a product that is timelessly elegant but also unquestionably designed for everyday use. It is our quest to perfect the most classic yet durable and high quality of rugs – rich in color, texture and craftsmanship. Often the beauty is right in front of you.
MF: Everything from the design of your rugs and the showroom experience to your visual presence on Instagram feels so fresh and expertly curated. What are some challenges you face when working to maintain brand consistency across platforms?
JF: As the business has scaled, this has definitely become a challenge. Every step of the way – whether it’s as big as planning our next campaign shoot or as small as drafting an Instagram post – it has become second nature to ask ourselves whether we are staying true to the brand’s voice and aesthetic. Everyone in our company works this way.
MF: Rewind back to 2009. If you could give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
JF: Don’t be afraid to take risks. Sometimes things don’t go to plan, but they often work out beautifully and turn into something we never thought possible!
MF: Every purchase of an Armadillo & Co. rug supports local schools and clinics for the communities involved in your supply chain – what an incredible mission! Have you had the opportunity to visit the families those efforts support?
JF: Yes! Sally and I make regular trips to India, and have for years, so we know many of our artisans and their families. We actually visited them in February as part of The Armadillo & Co Foundation, the philanthropic arm of our business. We launched a scholarship program for the highest-performing girls at our sponsor school to complete their secondary education, and had the privilege to meet not just the recipients but their mothers too, many of whom are very poor and illiterate but were clearly so proud and determined for their daughters to have the opportunities they missed out on.
MF: We see you have 3 little ones – many of us are working moms too! We would love to hear your top tips for juggling family life and a bustling business successfully.
JF: Work/life balance between a young busy family and a thriving business is a real struggle. I try to stay present in the moment whether I’m with the children or at work. I find that I am a better mother when I have been working hard; and vice versa, I am better at work when I have been present and full with my kids. I’ve also learned to carve out time to look after my own health by building surfing and Pilates into my schedule as I find that if I am in a good place, everyone else in my family is too. It is amazing how a mama’s energy really is the epicenter of the home!
MF: What’s on the horizon for Armadillo & Co.? Any exciting collaborations in your future?
JF: We have just opened a trade showroom in New York and will be taking part in the ICFF (International Contemporary Furniture Fair) for the first time May 20 – May 23, followed by the launch of our new collection later in the year. Stay tuned, as it will take the depth and handle of our textures and colors to a whole new level!
MF: Last but not least, we’re headed back to LA soon for another install. Any spots (besides your showroom of course!) that we must visit while we’re there?
JF: Definitely check out the Downtown Arts District for great food, galleries and fashion – it’s really happening down there right now! I love Baco Mercat for a bite to eat and Red Bird for amazing cocktails. And don’t miss out on Hennesy + Ingalls, a fabulous art and architecture book store.
Consider it done, dear friend, consider it done!