We were recently very lucky indeed to have the super lovely Jennifer Manners and her right-hand-woman Naomi Graham of Jennifer Manners Rugs join us at our May brunch event. If you have not yet heard of, or worked with, Jennifer and Naomi – you are missing out on a rare treat in our industry. These two energetic and friendly professional women are so very knowledgeable about rugs. From the attention-to-detail that goes into creating the stunning patterns, to the dyes that are used to create the wonderful colours. They can even help you advise on the best size to suit a space if your client is not sure and you are keen for an expert opinion.
We managed to grab some of Jennifer Manner’s free time and get to know a bit more about her. Her passion for her rug business and our common ground, the interior design industry, was a real buzz to be a part of. Read below to gain a rare insight to this rug entrepreneur who from our point of view can only continue to excel.
How did you, Jennifer, get started?
I retrained as an interior designer after a career in tv news. I had experience with Tibetan-knotted rugs when I started designing my own projects and so when I discovered I couldn’t find the rugs I wanted I started to design my own.
When did Naomi join your team?
Naomi joined in January 2015 while completing her degree in Art History from the Courtauld Institute. She became a more permanent member of the team upon graduation later that year.
What do you (Jennifer and Naomi) find most successful about your teamwork?
I think ultimately the key to our teamwork is that we genuinely have fun and love what we do! I feel we also have similar values in terms of dedication, aesthetic and attention to detail; we can almost communicate telepathically which can also have us in fits of laughter! I am also grateful and humbled that Naomi treats this business like an extended member of her family too. I started out on my own which was fun and challenging but not nearly as dynamic as it is with Naomi’s fresh perspective and wicked humour.
What tools do you find indispensable in your day to day work?
I can sometimes lose myself in design, sometimes looking up and realising hours have gone by without me noticing. Technology helps make that design process more fluent and of course enhances our communication with clients. We can dream up an amazing design for a space but design software helps us to show the client how it will look in ‘real life’ before the rug has been commissioned.
Where and how do you work at your best?
I think we both get a lot out of being with people and often find collaborative environments really light us up. We spend the entire week at Decorex jazzed up from meeting with so many of our clients face to face and to cultivating new ideas and allowing inspiration to find us in that creative space. Even in the Jennifer Manners studio, when a designer comes in with a mood board that lights us up – we feel that energy and allow it to take us on a journey!
How do you structure your time over a typical day?
Of course in small business there is never a ‘typical day’ but the priority is always clients. Once we have satisfied queries and checked in with manufacturers on production timings, we often have client appointments, sharing their schemes for us to advise on rugs. We also find time to allow new design collections to take shape. If head-down on computers all day we might miss an opportunity for inspiration. So stopping and allowing creativity also helps move us forward in our day and in the business.
What mistakes have occurred over the years with interior designers that could have been avoided?
Naomi and I are very positive, optimistic people and cannot bear to let anyone down. However, I have learned that sometimes you just have to accept things are impossible and be honest about that. Can a 11 square metre handmade rug be made in five weeks? No it can’t…and saying ‘no’ is a hard thing to learn!
What do you find are Interior Designers’ biggest stumbling blocks? What are your tips on the best ways you’ve found to overcome them?
Interior designers who are not experienced with commissioning bespoke rugs can find the process scary. This can be, in some way relayed to their client. Handmade rugs can be a huge investment and so buying something, when they are unsure of how it will end up, is understandably challenging. We, here at Jennifer Manners, offer a sampling process to help with the process. We also place digital renderings of the rug in their schemes to help create the visuals they need. Once a designer goes through the process with us once, they are always hugely excited. The designer can quickly see how creating the perfect rug can genuinely change the look and feel of the entire space. I also think that they come in to see what we’ve made before, see our photography, and know that they are in good hands.
What is still your biggest challenge within your own business?
TIME! I find the biggest challenge is getting everything done that we want to get done in a day! We have big plans and great ideas and so we are disciplined through our day-to-day. However, we then need more time to prepare for the future!
Would you have done anything differently if you knew 10 years ago, what you know now?
If I’d known this would have worked as well as it has, I would have taken some investment earlier on. I would have made it known that we are here and open for business! One of our biggest challenges is that we are smaller then other rug companies. Therefore it’s taken time to make ourselves known to interior designers. We hear often “I can’t believe I haven’t discovered you before now!” However, growing the business organically has also had its benefits and allowed me to be a mother while starting a business quite literally around a kitchen table. So I am grateful for the path we are on and excited for the journey ahead!
What is your trick to unwinding?
I realise through this experience that I have an amazing ability to genuinely be in the moment. So when I meet with friends or make time to meditate, I am ‘there’ in that moment. This allows me to completely shut-off from work and unwind. It’s 2am when my mind starts to race and dance and exciting ideas wake me up and I can’t shut off again. This makes me think I need to make it to the gym more!
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My father is an entrepreneur and I grew up watching him experience the dynamics of running his own business. (and seeing how it occupies headspace 24-7). He told me early on to stay true to myself and to believe in myself even on days that felt rather lonely. He also said it takes time and to be patient…that’s been a tough lesson to learn but it’s amazing to see how things happen just when they should.
What’s next for you?
We’ve started to get more involved in the communities in which our rugs are made. We are keen to support these communities where basic needs are still a luxury. On my last visit to India I met with a charity Guria India that helps end the cycle of prostitution due to extreme poverty by supporting the children of the women working in these areas. Education and vocational training for girls in these parts of the world is a focus for us. The joy we get in being able to help in some small way gives us more than we give. Being in a position to help is a genuine privilege for which we are grateful.
We are also developing an “Earth” collection by using recycled plastic bottles in rug production to create something that has never been seen before…but you have to watch this space to find out more about that!
Metier Rendezvous is a support network for Interior Designers! We provide day-to-day pro-active peer support for all our members.
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