A Green Printer interview with Carmen Spagnola, entrepreneur and owner of m.
1. What made you want to start m?
I started m because I was a frustrated consumer. I decided that if I want to have access to smarter, more beautifully designed, more responsible products and amenities for my home and family, I was going
to have to create more demand. Markets are a bit of a chicken-and-egg relationship. Many retailers will tell you that they only provide what their customers want. That is only part of my modus operandi.
I want to showcase the possibility of a better performing future, so much of what I sell and promote is currently considered ahead of the market. But how will the market know what it wants if we don’t inspire it to want more?
2. For whom do you choose the beautiful home accessories, furniture and sleep materials for (i.e. your ‘ideal consumer’). What pieces are you currently in love with?
Essentially I choose the products we sell for me and my daughter. I absolutely must have beauty around me so you won’t come to my house and find anything that looks like burlap. I always buy with an eye
for families and householders. Maybe I am projecting, but I like the idea that both men and women, as well as their children, will enjoy the sophistication but also feel extremely comfortable in a home
outfitted by m. Our house has sofas that are completely synthetic-free and chemical-free, yet always has people and pets lounging on them. Every bed is completely natural, as well, and guests always rave about their amazing sleep and how soft the organic sheets are. It’s a real point of pride that I think everybody wants to feel about their home so I sell what I like and think my family and guests would like.
3. How has m-smart design evolved as a business since it first began? What has surprised you the most?
Our evolution has been mostly on the products front. Our philosophy around ethical purchasing and business practices has strengthened but certainly not wavered or been curtailed, even in this
economic climate. Mostly, I have moved towards an increased focus on what I feel are the best investments for the dollar in a healthy home: natural mattresses, pillows and bedding. From a health perspective,
there simply isn’t anything in your home, not even in the built environment, in my opinion, that will affect your health more than the constant contact you have with what you sleep on every night. It has
become a personal mission to educate and create more critical consumers in this area.
4. As an entrepreneur sharing advice with other entrepreneurs, what marketing or PR strategies worked and didn’t work for you?
I don’t believe in advertising. On a personal level, I feel that magazines should cost somewhere more in the range of $75-$100 per issue because of the embodied energy and the costs of their entire lifecycle, and offer strong content by subscription, but instead businesses offset them through useless advertising. Even other media leave me skeptical. Except perhaps for the Mac ads on tv, I can’t think of a single item that I ever went out of my way to purchase because of an ad. Social marketing and consumer-driven branding is definitely the way to go moving forward. Letting go of controlling your message is risky and not for the faint of heart, but offers much stronger buy-in from your tribe in the long run. I am a big fan of the Cluetrain Manifesto. Almost ten years on, it is still a fantastic caveat for all businesses considering how to communicate with their target market.
5. I really like the edgy, unapologeticaly political page on your company site as well as the story of your daughter as an inspiration. Can you tell me about these two pages on your site?
I don’t consider myself a radical or particularly political. But I do have very strong feelings, and occasionally make position statements, about the way our society devalues social capital and natural capital. I am definitely in business to be part of the transition to what I feel is a more sustainable, and I would venture
to say, for most people a more palatable, way of doing business in the future. And by future I actually mean present. I am very impatient about the glacially slow progress of business towards more integrated
and holistic values, regional and local practice, towards longer legacy-thinking, more robust capacity-building and a higher standard of performance. If I am on one more panel addressing the question of
ROI on ‘green’ business, I think I will scream like that guy in the movie ‘Network’. Do we really have to ask ourselves anymore if something is worth it when it is so obviously a moral imperative?
6. The cliche question: what do you wish you knew then (the year you started your business) that you knew now?
Obviously I wish I knew that the whole economic system was in palliative care before I decided to open up shop in a very expensive bricks-and-mortar location. We are moving most of our business online
right now and will have a smaller showroom housed within another friendly ‘green’ business by the fall, having closed our West Vancouver shop. I see a new iteration of online retailing coming.
Something that allows retailers to present their products alongside other businesses in shared space, or perhaps flex space or even seasonal pop-up locations as a growing trend. I guess I would say
that this kind of innovation is why I am in business, to make the whole system better. The only thing I wish I had known more clearly when I opened was just how bad the system was to begin with and how
urgently solutions and new ideas are needed!
Interview brought to you by Green Printer’s “Design Goes Green” blog series.