Welcome to a world of lush eco-friendly textiles, carefully created by a woman who runs deep, creates with the goal of also giving back and who possesses utmost respect for our natural surroundings by ensuring that what she produces contributes to the greater good. Pause for a moment and explore the mind of Joanna Notkin, the talented designer behind LoooLo, an amazing collection of pillows and blankets.
decor8: Hi Joanna. So nice of you to stop in to chat with us about your company, LoooLo. Can you please tell us about yourself and how you got started?
LoooLo: Of course. I live in Montreal, studied in Toronto and began my career there and also studied at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, Rhode Island. This is where I really began the sustainable ideas behind LoooLo. I had my first company when I was nineteen. I designed costume jewelry which sold in over 500 stores. When I realized what happened to these products after they weren’t used by the consumer any longer, that it all ended up in a landfill, I began thinking of new ways to design and produce material items. That was in 1997. It took years of planting seeds and watching them grow before I realized where this was all going. The start up of LoooLo began in my Thesis year at school, combining knowledge from RISD and the passion for a cleaner, better future for the planet. In a nutshell, I heard about the Rhoner Mill in Switzerland who had collaborated with Susan Lyons at DesignTex and William Mcdonough at MBDC and decided that I would see if they would sell me their yarns instead of their finished fabrics. They agreed but by the time I had summoned up the courage to email them and order the yarns, I only had three weeks left to not only design fabrics, but finished products as well. In the end (and after many sleepless nights at the studio!) LoooLo Textiles ended up winning the ‘Best Collection Award’ from Metropolis magazine at the 2004 Interior Design Show in Toronto. Things just snowballed from there. Currently, our product line is made using Climatex Lifecycle yarns and felt from Switzerland (free of toxic chemicals and hazardous by-products), organic cotton and Kapok, a fiber from the Rainforest in Malaysia. Every pillow or blanket we make uses our own hand and machine knit biodegradable textiles available in a full range of colors.
decor8: Impressive beginning. With so much success though, there had to be hurdles. Tell us, what difficulties have you encountered?
LoooLo: LoooLo has had its ups and downs since day one, from sourcing the “right” materials to making each and every piece by hand. Every company has to overcome obstacles but when you are trying to be environmentally innovative and be a designer and also be an environmentalist, you have your work cut out for you! I think the most challenging part is trying to find a way to explain to people that these cushions and blankets are different in so many ways. People don’t know enough about why organic textiles are important and part of LoooLo Textiles’ mandate is to inform our consumer that each and every purchase they make has an impact. I suppose I should have minored in marketing…
decor8: Where do you find inspiration? Other artists? Places?
LoooLo: I find inspiration in almost everything. From the white lines jetting past on the highways to vintage glass bottles with embossed designs. I think you never know what might catch your eye and spark an idea, I’m in love with the thought of that. My camera is never far away. I love the painter Chuck Close. He inspired what I consider to be my first ‘real’ piece of work. His work just baffles my mind. I like creative people who do things that are not immediately obvious, you have to dig to understand what they have done. As for places, New York City always makes my mind go wild, I can never get it all in when I’m there and I always come back full of ideas.
decor8: Love your comment about highway lines. I’ll have to pay special attention to that next time I’m in my car. So, tell us, do you have a particular theme that you work with?
LoooLo: I love texture and it is a big part of my work. That is not to say that it won’t progress and change, but I am certainly attracted to the tactile things. Color is key as well. Doesn’t have to be much but it does have to be just right.
decor8: Well said. What are the main characteristics of your work and your work method?
LoooLo:It is all quite minial, even the more tactile pieces. But it is never over the top and usually not too plain. I tend to just start working with the materials and I like to just see what happens. It sounds haphazard but it is quite meticulous.
decor8: How does your work reflect your personality?
LoooLo: It’s funny because my taste does tend towards a sort of modern traditional style. But in my own work I find that it’s the attention to detail that comes through in whatever project I am working on. Even when I am baking in the kitchen, I am always working with an eye for detail. I like things to look well put together like nothing has been overlooked. Having said that, I have a huge sense of humor and I like to make sure that comes into play when I’m designing.
decor8: How is your work studio set up and what do you value about it?
LoooLo: When I lived in Toronto, I had a wonderful little studio space in a refurbished old distillery. I loved being there in the old building with the exposed brick. There’s something I love about old and new mixed together. But when I calculated travel time from my house to the studio (especially in the winter), I realized that I would have almost an hour more of work time per day if I worked from home. Now that I am back in Montreal I have a special place in my home with lots of light (see photo), inspiration all around and everything close at hand. If I had my dream studio it would involve skylights and hidden storage spaces in an old but renovated coach house… Something to look forward to!!!
decor8: Sounds like my home, your comment makes me look at my place differently, and maybe even appreciate it more now. I personally long to live back in the city. Joanna, I’m curious, out of all the places you’ve seen in your life, where would you live if money were no obstacle and why?
LoooLo: I would like to live in New York for a while but Italy would also be wonderful. The Italians seem to incorporate design into the everyday and it just becomes a part of them. I envy that. Japan might be among the top choices as well. Definitely a country committed to detail.
decor8: Great choices. Okay, now to play for a moment. What are ten things that you can’t live without?
LoooLo: 1. Chocolate (a little everyday is not too often) 2. Gloucester, Massachusetts for its coastline 3. Long car rides with me in the drivers seat 4. Three hour discussions about design or art 5. Process,process, process 6. Happy accidents 7. International design magazines (my collection is overflowing) 8. Food in general 9. The very best friends who love you even when they are sick of hearing about your new designs and 10. Good surprises.
decor8: I love #4 and #7, I couldn’t agree more. To wrap things up Joanna, I’m sure readers have wondered about this, what is behind the name, LoooLo?
LoooLo: LoooLo Is a visual representation of 100%. It refers to thinking about all aspects of design, from the materials chosen to the making of the product and finally what happens to the product at the end of its useful life. I actually spent a lot of time trying to think of a name but when I was watching television one day and an environmentalist mentioned 100%, I wrote it down on a piece of paper. When I looked at it later, it spelled out LoooLo and there was no way I could ignore the special meaning it had and where it came from.
decor8: Wow. Clever name. A woman of detail. Thank you so much, we are pleased that you have shared the world of LoooLo with us.
You can view the LoooLo collection at 2Modern or visit the LoooLo website for more information. Interview originally published March 17, 2006 on 2Modern.
(All photos courtesy of Joanna Notkin at LoooLo.)