Though my number-one dream job remains journalist and editor (lucky me!) a close second is textile and furniture designer (third place: documentary filmmaker). So I was excited about my recent email exchange with Laura Jo Wegman, who joined the Point Reyes linen brand Coyuchi as Design Director in 2009. At Coyuchi, Wegman designs and oversees the production of the entire product line including sheets, blankets, towels, robes, sleepwear and more. Since her arrival, she's totally transformed the brand, introducing new materials, textures, and color palettes, and drawing inspiration from her immediate environs: the fog, the shore, the trees, and the colors of west Marin.
What's your personal and professional background, and how does that experience manifest in your current position?
My background is a mixture but when you look at all of the twists and turns, somehow the line draws you straight to where I am right now. I have an MFA in Painting. This explains my tendency to always push the limitations of materials and techniques and informs my sense of how color, line and image can be used in a fresh way to tell a story visually. I spent a good chunk of time designing hands-on museum exhibits about environmental issues such as recycling and species habitats. In bringing these exhibits to life, I used aesthetics, materials and stories to engage visitors about environmental issues—something that is important to me—through everything they used and touched. I spent about 5 years as the Head Designer of Textiles at Pottery Barn Kids, developing new collections and seasons and working with all parts of the large company to ensure they came to market. Finally, I am the daughter of two environmental lawyers. Environmentalism runs in the family.
How has Coyuchi's line changed since you came aboard? How are you evolving the brand, and what's next?
When I came on board, the line was a collection of independently designed products that didn’t add up to a cohesive story. I discontinued practically everything, but for plain white and ivory sheets. Then I began by laying a foundation for expressing the brand with a collection of products for bed, bath and baby.
First I articulated the brand’s story. I looked to the company’s roots in West Marin and began to develop the vocabulary for the brand aesthetic: rustic, sophisticated, and delicate. When you are out walking in West Marin, the air is fresh and the colors are intense but sun-washed. The wind creates a texture that is rough and rustic, yet the fog adds something obscuring and softening and even delicate.
I developed a color palette informed by nature yet sophisticated. I developed materials and fabrics that are subtle, with variegations and slubs. I developed trims and stitching that is small and unexpected and delicate and also rustic and humble. The process has been quite contemplative and as a result I feel that the collection could be described that way, too.
Now that I have developed several seasons and a foundational level across product categories, I am introducing unexpected color mixings and fabric weaves, such as dobbies, muslins, and new embroidery ideas. I am also designing an exciting new baby apparel collection that shares the collection’s spirit.
Where is the line designed, where is it made, and in what ways is Coyuchi rooted in place?
The line is designed in San Francisco. The organic cotton, the linen and the cashmere are made in India, where we have worked with suppliers for years and have insight into the entire supply chain. The wool blankets are currently made in Canada with new blankets coming in Fall that are made in Maine from organic wool. The story and idea are very much rooted in Northern California.
As a designer, what inspires you?
A simple, humble, utilitarian object that has really, really great attention to detail.
When you touch something that was conceived to be used and touched and adored—and it just feels completely amazing.
Taking an old idea and using it in a new way so that it feels new and unexpected.
I heard you're 'taking Coyuchi beyond organic cotton'-- can you tell me about this, and why you're doing it?
When I began working with Coyuchi, everything in the line was organic cotton. While I love organic cotton, I felt that there was more that I could do with materials. I sought out materials that are natural, simple, of the earth and understandable. In that way, I have added linen; linen comes from flax, which really does not need any pesticides to grow. While it may not be certified organic, it is a natural plant and most always grown pesticide-free. I also have added wool—again, a material that very rarely is certified organic, as it is quite uncommon to certify a sheep’s coat as organic! I will continue to add fibers over time when they make sense. I do not plan to add recycled polyester—it may be recycled, but it is not simple, natural and understandable.
What's your favorite Coyuchi product or line?
My favorite product is always the next one I am imagining I will create.
Why is the company called Coyuchi—is there a story behind the name?
"Coyuchi" is a word used in southern Mexico for naturally colored brown cotton. It was originally derived from the Aztec language and refers to the color of coyote fur. Twenty years ago, when Coyuchi started and consumers were relatively unaware of organic cotton, the company tried sourcing organic cotton from small communities in Mexico, which was one of the few available sources.