by Julie Mazur Tribe
Maryanne Moodie is an Australian fibre artist, teacher, and business owner who splits her time between her home in Brunswick, Victoria, and her studio in Brooklyn, New York. Known for using unexpected colours in vintage-inspired woven pieces, she has re-energised weaving with her innovative designs and passion for the craft. Maryanne teaches workshops locally and around the world, runs a thriving Etsy shop, and has been featured on everything from The Design Files and Design*Sponge to New York Magazine. Her book, On the Loom, was published late last year by Thames and Hudson. I caught up with Maryanne to chat about weaving, community-building, and the surprising perks of not having a plan.
Can you tell us about your background and how you fell in love with weaving?
I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit. Even during high school I used to make toffees and sell them during recess. I spent most of my time being an art teacher, but I also had a business on the side, sourcing and selling vintage fashion.
I got pregnant, and during my maternity leave, as I was cleaning out the art storeroom with another teacher, we found this old loom. I took it home and loved it immediately. I’d tried other crafts before—macramé, ceramics, jewellery making—but nothing fit until I started weaving.
I had a little social media following from my vintage company and put up a photo of my first piece. Everyone went bananas! People started asking, ‘Can I buy that?’ ‘Can you make me something?’ It was my husband who said I shouldn’t sell anything for a year. I was still learning, and wanted to be proud of what I sold. So I waited.
When did you turn weaving into a business, and what did that evolution look like?
During that first year, I kept sharing my weaves on social media but didn’t sell anything. I gave all of my pieces away. I would ask my friends, ‘Can I make something for your shop?’ And they would say yes and hang them. Lucy from the Design Files walked into a florist where I had one hanging and asked if she could feature me on the blog. I didn’t even have anything for sale yet. I actually asked her, ‘If I’m going to sell one of those, how much should it be?’
By the time I was ready to sell, I had a huge market of people wanting to buy my stuff. Soon, people wanted to learn how to weave. That was when Megan Morton from the School found me. She taught me how to do this elegant way of teaching, turning a class into a beautiful treat: have a glass of champagne, be fulfilled, chat with someone. She made me love teaching again.
People saw my photos of teaching and said, ‘I can’t make it to the classes, but could you sell me a kit?’ So I started making kits. And then people were like, ‘What book should I buy? I can’t find a good book.’ So I thought, okay, time to write a book. Then people said they liked the book, but did I have an online course? So we’ve been filming online courses. It’s really been about listening to what my customers want.
Social media has been a big part of building your brand. Which channel has been the most effective for you?
Instagram. I love the community-making side of it. I love how if someone writes something, I can look at their feed and message them. If I really liked what someone was doing, I would say, hey, do you want to do a swap? I would take a photo of their work and share it with my community, and they’d do the same. You end up sharing what you love.
There was a bittersweet moment when I hit about 25,000 followers. I used to reply to every comment, but it got to the point that every time my child looked away, I’d whip out my phone to respond to people. Then he’d turn back and see me. I realised, I need to respond to my child. Now I post only once or twice a day. I read the comments to know what’s going on, but I allow the community in my platform to help each other.
How do you gear yourself up to take risks in your business?
When I think up my own ideas, they’re sometimes right. But when the ideas come from what my customers are asking for—they’re the most successful. It’s about not having a plan and just listening. If I had a plan, I would miss opportunities to the left and right because I’d be so focused on what’s ahead. If you’re open to listening, you’ll always have a market for your product because it’s what people are asking for. It doesn’t feel like a risk.
You work between Melbourne and New York City. How does that work?
We moved to the U.S. because [my husband] Aaron got a job with Etsy. At the time, I thought I was taking one for the team, but I got to meet other artists and set up my business. We were there for 3-1/2 years. We decided to move back because we wanted the kids to do their schooling in Australia. So I came back but kept my studio there. My studio manager, Kaelyn, and I Skype every week and I prattle back once a season. I don’t know how long I’ll go on doing it like this, but I’m just going to jam it out and see how it goes.
How did being Australian affect your time in New York? And how did your time in New York affect you as an Australian?
Australians are very self-deprecating. We’ve got the whole “tall poppy” syndrome. You never big yourself up, talk about your achievements or how wonderful your work is. I have a little of that, but I’m also able to push forward and take risks and grow unselfconsciously, which is a bit more American. I have a balance of both. I try to push myself forward by pushing other people forward, too. Rather than saying, ‘Look how amazing I am,’ I want to bring people along so we can make weaving amazing together.
What are you looking forward to doing with your business in 2017?
I did Vogue Knitting Live in January and there were yarn stores looking at what I do and saying, wow, we want to stock your looms. It’s a new wholesale part of my business where manufacturers can make the looms and send them to shops. For the first time, I won’t have to include my energy in things to push the business forward.
Any advice for other women running creative businesses?
Make a community of people interested in what you do—on social media, through a newsletter, however you can talk to people and they can talk to you—and then listen to them. Ask them: what do you think about this? Would you buy this? You might know how to make a product, but unless you ask your customers, you might be making the wrong thing, or doing it the wrong way.
Maryanne’s Quick Picks:
Favorite read: Apartamento magazine
Favorite places to go for inspiration: In New York, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD). In Australia, anywhere near the water.
Most inspiring friend or family member: My female friends and family. We’re doing everything—running businesses, taking care of our families, taking care of ourselves (when we can)—with grace, tenacity, and grit. Females are my inspiration.
Categories: Advice and Tips, Interviews with Creative Women, Starting a Business | Comments Off on Creative women at work: Maryanne Moodie, fibre artist