There’s something very uncanny about it. When unsheathing an eleven foot rug from its cardboard tube and its spools of protective inner sheets—to not be met with a waft of chemicals and compounds from the item’s journey across the world to your home—is odd. Isn’t that messed up? How have we been programmed to expect toxicity with packaging? Conditioned to expect a plume of unsavory stink to rise up out of unboxed home goods?
Unboxing an Armadillo rug, however, just smells like a nice day. Bury your face in the newly born piece, and there’s elements of the ocean, the sinking sun, lost hours—minerals, the earth, nature’s unfiltered exhale. You’re then beholden to the item’s palette, which isn't glaring or contrived, but instead expresses an intuitive belonging, a natural harmony with sand or clay or a rock face—elements of an environment in which you wished you were suspended in, or perhaps remember from simpler times. Calming, inspiring.
Armadillo makes beautiful rugs. The reason they don’t stink of mass production and pollutant factory when you unbox them is because they’re handwoven, sustainable, and assembled with fair practices. Each rug, effectively, is not like any other. With stores in the US, New Zealand, and Australia, Armadillo strives to impact the planet in the lightest possible way, created by artisans with carefully sourced fibers and energy-efficient techniques in India. They’re special.
Hand dyeing, sun drying, some created over fire in a simple sauce pan. Jute, wool, linen. Hand-powered winders for the yarn. Flat-weave, hand-knotted, braided, hand-finished. Patience, tradition. A journey through the Armadillo process is remarkable, and you’re confronted with a generations old process that causes everything to take a deep breath and slow down. In 2019, the brand partnered with the International Living Future Institute to affix its collections with a Declare Label, outlining the exacting assembly process and where the rug will live after its life in an owner’s possession. It’s an inverse of fast, an inverse of disposable and cheap.
Armadillo was founded in 2009 by Jodie Fried and Sally Pottharst, two entrepreneurs and social change advocates, who both shared in a profound distaste for today’s throwaway culture, as well as a love of sophisticated design. In addition to pushing boundaries within the sustainable design space, Fried and Pottharst established, in 2017, The Armadillo Foundation, a not-for-profit organization that seeks to enhance and improve the lives of underprivileged communities through education, health, and community initiatives. The project is made possible by 10% of net profits from Armadillo sales, as well as additional initiatives that include events, as well as contributions from customers and corporations alike.
Fried and Pottharst, beyond philanthropy, have lead Armadillo into the ever-relevant collaboration space, the most revisitation of which sees a surreal and unique collaboration with London-based interior design studio, House of Grey. The results—Ellipse—is a collection with the moon as its muse, driven by the mentality of only purchasing what is needed for the home. Elipse is celebrated in an immersive campaign featuring an art installation and cinematic short film by Australian director, Glendyn Ivin. Select stills from “Rhythm of Nature” are featured herein.
Fried and Pottharst are trailblazing, and they’re doing so in gorgeous swathes of sage, anise, opal, saffron, smoke, and beyond. Flaunt had the privilege to converse with two about their collective ethos that gave rise the formation of Armadillo, the recent scaling of the ‘sustainability’ label in consumer products, and the importance in our lives of beautiful design. Take a seat on the rug, have a cup of tea, and enjoy!
When you two met, what qualities do you feel you each possessed that made you click? What qualities beyond that initial chemistry do you feel encouraged you to pilot the Armadillo venture?Jodie Fried: It feels like a lifetime ago! When we first met, we were united by a passion for textiles and handcrafted objects, and the desire to create a product that we couldn’t find for our own homes. From the outset, we wanted to establish a company that was there for the long run, that was truly sustainable, and that readily gave back to the community. Having this shared set of values helped us to click initially and has carried us through over a decade in design.
Sally Pottharst: Coming from diverse backgrounds and having different strengths has been a blessing. Jodie is amazing at visualizing the big picture, and has been the driving force behind the creative direction of the brand. Whereas I trained as an accountant, so I relish the business side of things and anything that requires attention to detail. While we still make every major decision and design every collection together, we also have the agility to divide and conquer.
Can you please each describe a moment in time where you felt you’d reached a limit with disposable or throwaway culture production and decided you wanted to do your part to reverse that?Sally: For me, it’s ongoing around packaging. When I come across excessive or unrecyclable packaging, I get really upset because I know now that there are so many alternatives out there and we just need to take the time and effort to be kinder to our planet.
Jodie: We have always been very sensitive to this—from the water bottles in our showrooms, to the packaging of samples, and the packaging in which our rugs are transported in. We are constantly working hard to find alternative solutions that eradicate throwaway culture, protecting our rugs but also minimizing harm to our environment.
‘Sustainability’ has become something of a buzz word, like much of the social and eco action movements. At its core, this is good, because more awareness is raised around the idea, but how do you feel too much bandwagoning might dilute the authenticity? Are you witnessing ‘sustainable’ claims that are in fact otherwise?Jodie: It’s quite incredible—when we first started Armadillo back in 2009, hardly anyone was talking about sustainability, whereas now it’s front and center. For the most part, we’re excited to see this greater level of transparency. We’re inspired by other brands like Patagonia, who are actively driving a change in consumer behavior. But on the other hand, it puts a lot of the onus back on customers to do the research, sift through the information, and educate themselves about the brands and products they are thinking of bringing into their lives.
In what ways do you feel the pandemic has influenced our affinities for design in the home? Sally: COVID-19 has forced us to rethink what we need from our homes; in many ways, we’ve returned to the basic human needs of security and comfort. Being forced to spend so much time at home, we’ve seen firsthand how our surroundings can shape our mood, emotions, and energy. At the same time that we’ve developed an appreciation for multi-functional spaces for our busy family lives, we’ve also come to crave quiet spaces where we can have a bit of respite from what’s happening in the world.
How do you determine your palettes? Research trips? Historical references? Other influences?Jodie: We draw inspiration from everywhere, but Mother Nature is a constant muse. Our color palette ranges from earthy, organic neutrals to more vibrant and saturated hues—like the effervescent blues, blooming pinks and show-stopping yellows from our Agra collection. We’re very instinctual in the way we come up with our palettes, unswayed by the trends of the day. We then work with master dye-makers, who have finessed the color recipes over generations and generations. It’s probably one of the most joyous parts of our design process.
What is something you’ve learned about the cultural ethos of rug making that has surprised you?Sally: We work with over 1,500 artisans spread across India, and it was fascinating to discover that they all have such different skill sets—one community will specialize in hand knots, while another will be known for flat weaves; some villages work on basic looms and others have expertise with the 5-gear looms required for our more intricate rugs. Our product is made slowly, by hand, so it’s a fine balance of ensuring that our artisans are engaged but not overwhelmed. We have a deep respect for their cultural values and familial responsibilities, and are mindful that our business decisions have a direct impact on their way of life.
Do you feel you’ve an ideal client? What traits or characteristics might they possess?Jodie: The great thing about our journey is that we have always attracted and ended up working with like-minded creatives and people who have a shared vision of our purpose, product and aesthetic. We’re fortunate to have a wide-reaching customer base and we work with some wonderful interior designers around the world. I guess the one thing that we love to hear is when a customer stumbles across our brand, and they are equally passionate about making an impact, not just in their own home, but in the world around us. We’ve nurtured a really lovely community who share our values of sustainability and social responsibility.
What is something you’ve each learned about yourself over this last year? Please describe?Sally: Although travelling has its benefits, I’ve realized that we have been able to function incredibly well without the face-to-face time with our team members that I had been used to. I miss everyone on a personal level terribly, but the fact that we have a far-flung team has not been as detrimental to our business as I had expected it to be.
Jodie: I have learned to slow down and look for inspiration in other places. I have picked up more of my own creative endeavors like ceramics and life drawing again, which has fired up my creative soul. I used to get so much stimulus from travelling for my own life and work, and I feel like I missed a lot of inspiration that was right under my nose the whole time—it just took a pandemic for me to see it!
Which song might you align with a particular rug and design? How come? How about a particular artwork? Jodie: I feel like the landscape photography of Ansel Adams resonates with so many of our rugs, capturing beautiful, repetitive, organic and epic patterns in nature. I think any kind of acoustic music aligns with our rugs—anything raw, earthy and original. Anything from the Hollow Caves, in particular the track “The Woods”, would align beautifully with our rugs.
When do you feel the most creative? When is it the hardest to be creative?Sally: I feel the most creative in India, the birthplace of where are rugs are made. There is so much to take in and experience—it’s a sensory overload. We go there to immerse ourselves in what is possible in rug making! It is hardest to be creative when I have my purely business hat on, and am under pressure. Creativity needs space and inspiration, and India is able to provide both very readily.
Are there other designers in the interior space, either contemporary or historic, whom you find inspiring? How so?Jodie: There are so many women who are a source of inspiration in the design world—classic designers like Ray Eames, Eileen Gray, and Greta Grossman, and artists like the ceramicist Ruth Duckworth and painter Georgia O’Keeffe. They were all pioneers before their time—fearlessly creative and working across multiple fields, demonstrating real grit and determination in traditionally male-dominated industries, and leaving behind legacies that have reverberated across the decades.
What are the advantages to being based so far apart from one another?Sally: I live in Adelaide, while Jodie is based in Los Angeles and now London—she actually moved overseas with her young family not long after we founded Armadillo, so we’ve never known any other way! Scheduling calls across multiple time zones is now an art form for us.
Jodie: The upside is that we have built up a team of amazing people in the US and Australia who believe in our vision and are excellent at what they do. We’ve developed really great systems and processes, and as a result, the time we do spend together is extremely efficient and productive. If anything, it has deepened our friendship, as well as the level of trust and respect in our working relationship.
How important is the idea of ‘balance’ in your process? Or do you find a fixation with balance to be inhibitive?Sally: Balance is super important in our process—it allows us to create beautiful rugs that withstand the test of time. We are always working 18 months to three years in advance of collection releases, and this allows us to thoroughly challenge every aspect during the process—from color to design to construction. We like to test the rugs in our own homes to ensure we are entirely satisfied with how they perform
Jodie: Balance is extremely important, not only in your own life and mindset but in a room or home. We like to say that a rug should never steal the show, it’s more like an excellent supporting actor. It is the design piece which not only aesthetically brings a room together, but through its tactility gives users a sense of harmony. When you sit or stand on a rug, it is a moment in which the user connects with their feet and body—you just feel calmer or more energized. A rug is a very understated contributor to the balance of a room and its inhabitants!
What’s the most touching thing you’ve ever heard from one of your artisans?Sally: I remember a long time ago, being told about how happy one of our weavers was because of the Armadillo Foundation, a non-profit organization we founded in 2017 to formalize our philanthropic endeavors, and through which we fully-fund a school for the children of many of our artisans in India. It really warmed my heart to hear the difference it has made to that community.
Jodie: Oh, there are just so many, which make me miss India and our artisans there so much! I will never forget a meeting with the mothers of the female students in our school. There were several tearful exchanges about how grateful they were for us to give their girls the opportunities they themselves had never experienced. It was very moving to think we had an inspiring effect on these girls and women. I will never forget it.
What are you most looking forward to?Sally: Being able to go and visit India and all our team over there.
Jodie: The upcoming Armadillo launches this year—we have some beautiful new product to share—and being able to give someone outside of our “bubble” a warm hug!