Life Over Lattes: Weaving Positivity & Gratitude With Mermade Studio
Some people come into your life for a reason. And some people are just good for the soul. Rachel Oliver is both of these people. Warm, bubbly, and overflowing with charisma and charm, Rachel radiates good vibes, which is probably why I continuously gravitated toward her during my time working at Kate Spade. That, and the fact that she knows how to have a good time. And how to throw an epic party. To me, she’s just the whole package — as if you couldn’t tell!
So when I reached out to her to see if she’d be interested in being featured for the Life Over Lattes series, you can only imagine the level of excitement flooding through my veins when she said yes! See, there is so much I find inspiring about Rachel. From her tremendous faith and loving outlook on life, to her diligent work ethic and creative spirit and drive, Rachel is genuinely a beautiful human being, and one I am honored to know.
Not too long ago, Rachel relocated from the Big Apple to Denver and decided to take the time needed to reinvest in her creative side. Not only did Rachel once again find her groove — including launching her own company, Mermade Studio — but she is quickly making quite the name for herself in the creative community. From macramé and weaving, to shibori and jewelry making, Rachel is pushing herself creatively, while making products she loves, and ones that bring joy to the people of Denver, too. And I couldn’t be more happy for her!
But before I tell too much of Rachel’s story, I’ll let her take it away…Get ready to be inspired!
Name: Rachel Oliver
Location: Denver, Colorado
Before we dive into the juicy details, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Hi! I’m Rachel! I was born in a tiny town in Texas, grew up in a tiny town in Arizona, then moved to New York City after college, where I lived and adventured for 6 years.
About a year and a half ago, I moved back to the Wild West of Denver, Colorado with my husband and toy poodle/live teddy bear, Jerge. I’m a sucker for soul and old-school hip-hop, tattoo enthusiast, a solid tequila/mezcal cocktail is my adult beverage of choice, and I strongly believe in eating chips and spicy salsa as much as possible. Spicy anything, really. I also still quote Mean Girls on a fairly regular basis.
At what age did you discover your love for fiber arts and textiles?
Oh man, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly. From a young age, I spent hours sketching my own clothing designs and house exteriors and interiors. I took my first sewing class in 7th grade, and immediately fell in love! I continued sewing through high school, where I made all kinds of things: a friend’s Quinceañera dress, my homecoming and prom dresses, décor pillows for my room, etc.
There is one stand-out piece that I consider my first experience creating fiber art. For my 9th grade sewing class final I made a pair of red denim flared jeans (oooh yeah, you read that right). I was so proud of the work I put into them — they had lined front pockets, belt loops, zipper fly, button closure, etc.
Then, beyond the construction of the garment, I had the idea to take it further and make a statement with them. For context, I was not a socially “cool” kid, boys weren’t too interested in me, and I was at a time in my life where I was struggling with the value of labels. You know, the value of clothes in relation to their brand name, as well as people and the labels others give us. I thought, well, what if I cover the pants in labels? What if I take pants with no brand-name and I put Abercrombie and Fitch next to Walmart, next to Calvin Klein, next to SpongeBob SquarePants? (all actual labels on the pants lol) Then, how will people know how to categorize these pants, or me?
So, I cut out the interior brand labels of practically all my clothes, my little sister’s clothes, and even some begrudging classmates shirts when I ran out of my own, and sewed them all over the exterior of the pants. When I wore them, I felt like I could accomplish anything, regardless of what anyone else thought of me. They were every brand and no brand at the same time. They couldn’t be categorized, and I couldn’t be categorized! I still have them, and they are a cherished artifact. They make me smile remembering the first time I experienced how therapeutic and rewarding it is to take a concept from your brain, and translate it into a tangible object that is an extension of yourself, and to be proud of it regardless of what other people think.
After graduating from Arizona State University where you earned a BFA in art studies, you moved to New York City and worked in publishing, digital advertising, and fashion. Can you tell us more about this chapter in your life?
Ah yes, this was the most incredible and most challenging chapter of my life!
In true cinematic “small town girl with big city dreams” style, I moved to NYC fresh out college, with two suitcases and no job. As you can guess, moving there was far more difficult than my naïve, new-graduate-self expected. I job searched for months, running my bank account down to about $12 before I discovered that recruiting agencies exist. Through a recruiter, I landed my first job as a receptionist and executive assistant at an independent digital advertising agency. There, I met driven and interesting people, and was drawn to the amount of strategy and thought that goes into marketing, social media and traditional advertising.
I then took a job as an executive assistant to the publisher of major lifestyle magazine, and I was over the moon about it! I thought working at this revered publishing group would be the first step in an amazing journey to my dream creative career, but it only took a few months for me to realize that this actually wasn’t a world I wanted to be a part of. I won’t get into the details, but this was an intense learning experience for me, where I was slapped in the face with the life lesson “all that glitters isn’t gold.”
It was really devastating, actually. After leaving that role, I felt lost as far as my purpose was concerned…what I used to idolize I now knew I didn’t want to be a part of, but I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with myself instead. I also realized that the creative ambitions I had growing up had actually been stifled in the first year of NYC life instead of ignited, which was far from what I expected.
I spent about a year doing temp jobs, all within publishing and fashion while trying to find my path, as well as tried various attempts at blogging, painting, trying to activate my creativity, but nothing really stuck. It was a tough year, but I learned how to persevere, and to be thankful for what I did have, instead of focusing on what I didn’t.
My faith grew tremendously, too. As hard as it was to face reality and let go of my hypothetical “dream career,” there was a lot of peace in knowing I did the right thing for my life, even when I didn’t know where that path would lead.
In January of 2013, I ended up finding a place to thrive, and my most favorite work family at Kate Spade New York. There, I started as an Executive Assistant to the Chief Marketing Officer, and worked in that colorful, crazy world for three years, up until my very last day in NYC. By the time I left, I had grown into a Philanthropy Manager, as well as still supporting the CMO and our team of 75 incredible people.
My time at Kate Spade was stretching and exciting. It was very fast paced and had its fair share of stress, but I was so inspired being a part of a brand that not only customers, but also employees genuinely delighted in. People were proud to work there, enjoyed time with each other, and there were so many talented people to learn from.
It was also inspiring to work with so many impressive and diverse women, especially my main squeeze, the CMO, Mary Beech. After the difficult professional experiences I had in the past, working for Mary was so redemptive and inspiring. She was — and is — a consistent example of what very committed, hard work coupled with integrity and humanity can look like. Even further, she treated me with genuine respect, and we grew to be partners in a really healthy, symbiotic relationship as executive and assistant, and eventually friends.
At Kate Spade, I re-learned that I had value professionally, and I was constantly pushed and growing. Creatively, I did still struggle with the internal conflict between working in an administrative capacity and not a traditionally creative one, but I focused on the positive, and used my creativity in event planning, team celebrations, whatever I could. Although I never had the word “marketing” in my job title, I was immersed in it for years, and really learned the value of strategic planning for a brand, and how crucial it is to develop — and stick to — thoughtful brand guidelines and goals. This has absolutely carried into developing my own brand now, and is such invaluable knowledge!
All that confidence being rebuilt eventually trickled into my creativity outside of work. I started painting again, writing, and getting back into sewing. I was also lucky enough to learn macramé at a workshop in Brooklyn taught of my very favorite fiber artists, Natalie Miller, who came all the way from her home in Australia!
That workshop was critical — I was inspired in a way I hadn’t been for a long time. I loved working with fibers in a new way, and it pushed me to keep learning and growing in that direction. Something about taking something as mundane and practical as rope, and creating something so tactile and warm and beautiful really spoke to me.
Living in such an eclectic city as New York, you must have been surrounded by endless creativity. Where did you find your biggest sources of inspiration?
As much as I am in love with NYC, I don’t think I had the most typical experience with creative inspiration there. I was inspired in an experiential sense — there is nothing like the electricity of that city, the nuanced interactions with strangers, the awe-inspiring view of that iconic skyline I was blessed to see every day when I would ride the Q train over the East River in from Brooklyn. But I was in a constant internal battle most of the time as far as being creative myself. It was both intimidating and inspiring to be around such talent and drive every second of the day.
I definitely think the people there were the most inspiring to me. From icons of industry, to my friends who were doggedly pursuing their dreams, to immigrants from all over the world who work so tirelessly for their families and future. That energy and movement that never ceases truly changed me. Not in a way where I can show you the art I created, or the songs I wrote, but in learning to see the world and people through new, more open and compassionate eyes.
I was inspired to love deeper, to be more present in the moment, and to contribute joy and light into this messy, crazy world.
After calling the Big Apple home for six years, you, your husband and sweet fur baby moved to Denver, another city flooding with artistic talent and inspiration. What is it about this city that you find most intriguing?
This probably goes without saying, but Denver has another kind of awe-inspiring skyline — the Rocky Mountains! Colorado is breathtaking, and I love how close Denver is to all of that natural beauty.
Here in Denver there are also a lot of driven, passionate people, but there is a lot more work/life balance, which I appreciate. Also, I have been blown away by the supportive creative community here.
It is really encouraging to have so many people who truly welcome and support each other in all our various creative endeavors. There are a lot of artists and entrepreneurs here, but it isn’t cutthroat. People are so quick to make introductions and invite you into the community. It’s really amazing, I’m so thankful for that!
Last year, you launched your own online shop, Mermade Studio, a place where you can make what you love, and push yourself creatively. First off, what an awesome name! Secondly, what has been your favorite part of starting this creative endeavor?
Aw thank you! I wanted to make sure the name was fun, to remind me to resist my perfectionist, performance-oriented tendencies, and to remember that the enjoyment of making and creating is the point! My favorite part of this journey has been re-discovering and investing in my creativity!
I finally said to myself, I’m done being limited by fear of failure. I love making, creating, spreading beauty, and that is enough! And it has been amazing to see how the brand has had success so far, in a completely organic way. I have made what I enjoy making, I present it on social media in a lighthearted, genuine way, and people have been so supportive and responsive!
It’s been major confirmation that this is the path I should be on, and that when I do what I love, it brings joy to others too.
From handcrafted macramé wall hangings and plant holders, to fun tassels, key-chains and jewelry, you make it all! And you have also started diving into weaving and shibori — how exciting! Can you tell us more about your creative process?
I think my creative process changes depending on the project and the materials. For example, with macramé or weaving, I like to wing it to some degree and enjoy seeing what I create in the moment. I usually have a general idea of the aesthetic I’m going for, but I pretty much get lost in it, and adapt to the textile as it progresses.
With macramé, rope is a really forgiving medium, too. If I don’t like a series of knots, I just untie them and try something else!
Macramé and weaving have this perfect balance of being actively creative and engaged, yet the physical motions of making are repetitive and can be very meditative and therapeutic. It is calming and igniting at the same time, if that makes sense.
Shibori is a whole other kind of creative party. There is a lot of forethought and precision involved. The actual process is physically demanding, from binding the materials to tending the indigo vat, the delicate dying process…It can be tough, especially when doing a big batch (I just did 100 tote bags last weekend and my whole body is sore!) but it is SO rewarding when you open the fabric to reveal the beautiful pattern… it’s quite magical!
Overall, I would say I am still in a very experimental place for Mermade. I am trying my hand at a lot of different things, seeing what I respond to, what customers respond to…seeing what new ways I can use these materials, all while trying to grow my skill-set. And always, always trying to remember to enjoy and relax, to enjoy the process over end result.
Your designs can now be found at the Museum of Contemporary Art gift shop in Denver, as well as Meek Vintage, and you have been getting into bridal and event commissions. That’s so awesome! What do you love most about collaborating with local businesses, and how did you go about forming these partnerships?
I love working with local businesses, individuals, and other small and women-owned businesses around the country!
It has been incredible to grow relationships with other people pursuing a life full of things they love and stand behind, as I do the same. I learn so much from working with other people and businesses, and I am always so thankful for each opportunity and try to soak up as much knowledge as I can from the talented people I work with.
As far as forming partnerships, so far it has all happened naturally. One big example is how I became connected to the Museum of Contemporary Art. I enrolled in a “Weaving as Meditation” workshop taught by one of my fiber art role models, Sarah Neubert. I went this past January, just to invest in not only my skillset, but to encourage myself in enjoying the process over product, and ended up sitting next to a wonderful human who works at MCA Denver! We chatted, I gave her my card, and our relationship and professional partnership organically developed!
And, I’m super excited to say, beyond my creations being carried in their gift shop, I actually just did a product collaboration with them, and shibori-dyed 100 limited edition tote bags for Summer 2017!
I will be having a Pop-Up Shop event on the museum rooftop on June 10th, and the totes be available online starting on June 14th. They will be sold online and in the shop until they sell out! I am SO honored to be working with such an established museum, and love how it all came about. What a learning lesson, to keep focusing on the love of creating, and the rest will follow!
If you could give one piece of advice to someone who is looking to embark on a new creative path, what would it be?
Hah, well, big surprise here after what I’ve said already but it’s just true… Enjoy creating, and don’t get lost comparing yourself to others!
As I have said, these are the two things I have struggled with throughout my entire life — and still do — but through this Mermade journey, I am experiencing a freedom and creative excitement I have only known in glimpses before. I didn’t start the brand with grand expectations of financial success, and I think because I have been more gracious with myself, and not tried to rush things or push it at an unnatural pace, I am totally at peace with where the brand is now, and confident it will continue to grow while maintaining its authenticity and joy.
I also encourage anyone looking to take risks in creativity to remember that creativity is meant to be shared. It is meant to inspire and lift others up, and not to make gods of ourselves.
Lastly, what does creativity mean to you?
One of my favorite quotes is from the author Wolfgang von Goethe, “One should hear a little music, read a little poetry, and see a fine picture every day… in order that worldly cares may not obliterate the sense of the beautiful which God has implanted in the human soul.”
Beauty is such a life-giving force in this world, and my spirit is so filled by it — I literally stop to smell all the roses, or to soak up any subtle or spectacular beauty in nature. God didn’t give us a longing to create or a magnetic draw to the beautiful to make money and be successful. Pure creating brings light out of darkness, it gives hope to the hopeless and stirs the soul. Whether experiencing a work of art or song or story, or creating it, creativity helps us feel and purge and heal.
Creativity is being vulnerable and acting instead of sitting still. I am truly so fulfilled when I can contribute more of that light and beauty so others can be uplifted. Creativity is the most wonderful gift.
Thank you so much, Rachel. You are a rock-star, and your work is so inspiring!
While a new sparkly website is in the works, you can get your hands on your very own Mermade creations in the meantime by checking out the studio here! And, for daily doses of creative inspiration, follow along the Mermade party on Instagram and Facebook.
If you’re in the Denver area, be sure to stop by Mermade Pop-Up Shop tomorrow, June 10th! The event is from 10:30 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. and will hosted by MCA Denver. I so wish I could teleport myself there!