Meet Jess & Nicky: An Interview with Matr Boomie's Design Team

Jessica, what made you take the direction of designing accessories and gifts?

Jessica: I started practicing product design in 1999 working for a consumer clock company.  Some of our brands were Westclox and Big Ben and we sold to large retailers such as Target and Wal-Mart. 

I've always loved fashion and interiors and I first became interested in designing accessories when I developed a line of clocks for Martha Stewart Everyday.  I had the opportunity to go to the MSE offices in New York and work with their designers. I realized the direction I wanted to go… more decor and accessories, less consumer electronics.

After that I designed gifts and home accessories for several large companies including Saks Inc. and Southern Living at Home.  I started regularly traveling to Asia for sourcing and fell in love with all the materials and textures available for products.  

From left to right: Nicolette Perez (Junior Product Designer) & Jessica Otwell (Lead Product Designer) 

From left to right: Nicolette Perez (Junior Product Designer) & Jessica Otwell (Lead Product Designer) 

How about you Nicolette, what sparked the idea to become a product designer, but most importantly, what made you apply to Matr Boomie?

NicoIette: I graduated from U.T. Austin in 2012, and the program I came from was very multidisciplinary.  It revolved around becoming problem solvers. They taught us graphic design, product design, book making, video, typography – you name it.  It really made me become a problem solver first and then a designer.

Even my internships were very diverse. From working with the Contemporary Austin art gallery to a fabrication firm, and even with an advertising agency.

Once I graduated, I wasn’t sure which direction to take because I knew I was capable of many things.  It all came down to wanting to design something for good, something with a mission that created change.  So when I saw the job posting for the Junior Product Designer position – it simply made perfect sense for me to apply.

Jess, what makes working for Matr Boomie different or unique?

Jessica: Just the product line itself is unlike any other brand I’ve worked with.  It is the broadest product line I’ve ever developed. We sell over 20 categories and countless subcategories and we are always exploring what's next. 

At the same it is unique because the sourcing scope is very narrow. We only source in India and we only source fair trade.  Most of our producers are very small and some of them are located in rural villages. Communicating a design in another language can be challenging.  Our team has been able to adapt by doing extensive planning.  Our design cycle is 15 months out and has become very streamlined since I've joined.  

Also having great partners lead our team in India is very inspiring.  Rashmi, my main sourcing contact in Jaipur, is a person who cares so much and works so hard for us and the artisans. Her team does a fabulous job. They never say "no" and always go above and beyond.  They really care.

SETU - India Team 

SETU - India Team 

Nicolette, what is your main role as Junior Product Designer?

Nicolette: I have a few main roles.  First and foremost, is to make sure I track products by making sure everything is on time and quality is up to par.  I also support Jessica and her vision for the season, and I help by owning many of the design projects.  

I'm designing a lot and I'm tracking a lot.  Just making sure that everything is smooth and on time. Also, I keep up with what materials are used for every product. 

Sketch by Nicolette

Sketch by Nicolette

And what would you say is the most challenging part of your job?

Nicolette: I would say the most challenging part is to constantly keep our sustainability goals in mind.  We achieve this by making sure we are aware of the art forms and preferred materials available to us. As designers, we always want to design the perfect product but we need compromise design for practicality and to make sure we are being eco-friendly. 

Manish Unexpectedly Enters the Room: Good morning!

Could you further explain preferred materials and what some of them are?

Nicolette: Yes. These are materials that are sustainable - they don't create a negative impact to our environment.  For example, we only use cruelty-free leather and bone, in other words, these two materials come from naturally deceased animals. We also only used wood from sustainably harvested trees. Some of our jewelry is made of upcycled materials. These are materials that are re-purposed to make a higher quality product.  Scarves are another great example by re-using sari material. We are always trying to implement these materials as much as possible to minimize our carbon footprint. 

Kantha Sari Scarf

Kantha Sari Scarf

So the Anika Collection made it to this year's catalog cover.  What is the process when designing a new product such as the Anika?

Jessica: It starts with me imagining a final product that the customers will love and they didn't even know they wanted.  We strive to launch products that are fresh, new, and exciting, but with customers in mind.

The Anika came from wanting to work with the Bone Jewelry and Bone Carving group but combining with brass for a modern look. It is something we see in the market - but turning it into a product that is consistent with the Matr Boomie brand. 

Anika Collection

Anika Collection

What would you say makes a product timeless rather than fashionable?

Jessica: What makes a product timeless, especially jewelry, is keeping the scale small. Not too statement or flashy. Keeping the shape traditional and recognizable. Teardrop, for example, has been used as a shape in jewelry for generations.

Anika Collection

Anika Collection

What is the process for you, Nicolette?

Nicolette: For me, is just looking at what the market is asking for, what the artisans are capable of producing, and what evokes our brand.  We don't come up with products out of nowhere. We have data that backs up our designs. 

Do y'all add your own personality to it to these products?

Jessica: Not really. We don't think of what we would like, but rather of what our customers will love. Manish is also a key player when it comes to our product direction. He knows the customers well and provides us with the feedback that will keep us on the right track.  

Trend board research

Trend board research

What is a typical day for the design team?

Jessica: Hahaha, for me on Tuesdays and Thursdays is my turn to walk Elvis before work. I do think a lot about work, but it is a good time for me to have clear head in the morning and think through a problem, and come to work and let Nicky know of the ideas I came up. It's funny but it works! Once I'm here, I check my email to make sure there is nothing pressing since we do have a team in India. Then I will go ahead and open my design list and assist other departments with whatever help they may need. 

Elvis 

Elvis 

Nicolette: A typical day for me is wakeup, take a shower, eat, and get ready. Making sure I am as refreshed as possible for the day. I want to focus on being rested and feeling ready for the day. I get here and check my email as well. Sometimes, emails take about first two hours of the day. Then I start going through documents and continuing with tracking. So I am not necessarily designing the entire day.

How does it feel for y'all to know these products are out there and making a difference?

Jessica: It feels good to do the best job that I can and feel like I'm doing what I should be doing everyday. I think working at a job you love is so important - putting something out there to the world you are proud of. It feels good when products come to life. 

Nicolette: I feel pride knowing that the work I enjoy makes a positive social impact. I feel happy that I can take my research and experience and create successful products. 

What is one key takeaway that our retail partners and our readers could take with this interview? 

Nicolette: Know that we are designing for them and their needs while also to the needs of people across the world. We are trying to be as transparent as possible and we want to be connected. We want to be one with our producing partners, our retail partners, and their consumers.  We want customers to know we consider every aspect of where our products come from. 

Jessica: Every product has been touched by many different people, it is a huge cycle. For us, every product is special!  Please let our customers and consumers know we welcome feedback, email us anytime: design@matrboomie.com