Designer Crush: Alex Marino and Kerry Hennessy of Wallflower

1. How did you two meet and how did the idea of Wallflower come together?

Alex: We actually met because we are both costume designers. We met on a comedy central commercial I believe? We just started talking and we figured out that we are basically friend soulmates! As we worked more together in the costume world, we both came to realize that sometimes its just not a business you can rely on. Its all freelance, so you're never guaranteed to have work. We both wanted something we had control over, which led us to thinking about other creative business ideas. My husband and I had talked about starting a reclaimed furniture business the year before, but with his schedule being so busy it had just taken a back burner. I mentioned it casually in passing to Kerry, and she turned to me and was like, "Wait, what? We should do that!" 
 
Kerry: We met in the production world - a mutual friend and fellow costume designer introduced us, and it was love at first sight. We quickly realized we had a lot in common (the first being our mutual obsession with Harry Potter) and our friendship just grew from there. We worked on countless commercials, a series or two, and a couple features (one of which we shot in a small town in Florida - many late night wine hangs at the Holiday Inn definitely helped to solidify our friendship) and through these experiences, we learned that we work incredibly well together. We just get how the other one thinks and we make a very effective team, which of course is very valuable in the fast-paced and often stressful film production environment. The idea for Wallflower came from a desire to create something over which we had control, and we could do it exactly the way we wanted and the way we thought was best. As an idea, it had been conceived of by Alex and her husband several years ago, and then kind of put on the back burner as their lives got too busy. All I did was say, in a moment of work-related frustration- "Hey Alex, remember that idea you told me about? Should we revisit that?" And that was it!

2. How did your backgrounds in styling translate to the interior design world and how did you fill in the knowledge gaps in areas that were new and unfamiliar?

Alex: While I do have a degree in Fashion Design, before I went to FIDM, basically my whole life I've been one of those certified "art kids". Most of my childhood I actually spent in sculpture and ceramics classes. I'm sure my high school art teacher (shoutout Mrs. Yates!) is not at all surprised that I've finally gone back to what my original passions have been in life. I think as you get older, the world can kind of change your mind for you, telling you "oh artists don't make any money" or you need to do something more practical with your life. So for me this feels more like a coming home. That being said I'm still learning a million things I've never tried before. Luckily we live in an age where you can buy a book on basically learning anything. And if you cant find a book its all over the internet. When you're really passionate about something, I think its easy to learn it on your own without having to go back to school for it. 
 
Kerry: It definitely helps that we naturally have pretty similar style. Our taste isn't identical, but it's definitely complementary and I think that has really helped us to create something unique but cohesive in Wallflower. Obviously our crafting, building, and sewing skills have come in very handy in designing and creating our products but there was certainly plenty we didn't know how to do at the onset. I've been particularly impressed with how Alex has really become an upholstery and carpentry wizard - she is just absolutely fearless when it comes to taking apart furniture and putting it back together again, and she's completely self-taught. It's inspiring! For my own part, the whole business side of things has been very new to me and I've found it an exciting challenge. I'm very proud of how we've worked together to fill in the knowledge gaps and just kind of go for it, one person saying "I'll take care of this, you take care of that", etc. It's very empowering to have someone so capable by your side when venturing into new territory I think.

3. Eco-friendly design is so central to what you do — how did you both become interested/involved in creating sustainable goods and what are some of the ways you practice those principles?

Alex: I think just living in the world today is what has made me interested in sustainable or green goods. Especially coming up in the fashion and styling industry, its all about "fast fashion" and never wearing the same thing twice. Which after working like that for a few years, I think you start to realize...why? Why can't a woman wear the same thing twice on the carpet? Its teaching young girls wastefulness. 
So coming into this business, that has really stuck with me into the home decor world. In our company at the very least everything is handmade. No factories. Our fabrics range from being hand-loomed, vintage, or dead stock (which is when other companies "throw fabric away" because its out of season now or slightly the wrong color etc). If we ever do print our own fabric, we go to a company that is a zero chemical waste digital printer. Which also makes everything a small run, so when we run out, we run out. Its gone. We think that just makes our products more special though! We also try and make our own company zero waste. We take all of our fabric scraps and make them into "scrappy pillows". We make macrame leaves out of discarded rope scraps from other macrame. Our poufs are filled with foam scraps from our refurbished furniture. We even make dog collars now out of fabric scraps! Recycling those things within our own company is very important to us. 

Kerry: I think we both have a kind of over-arching guiding principle of wanting to make some kind of a difference in our lives and in our work - we want to leave the world a better, more beautiful place than we found it. Everyone is capable of doing that in their own small way, and since this is where our talents lie, we may as well do it in the most conscientious, sustainable way we can. We are always evolving and looking for new ways to have a positive impact; the obvious ways are in the materials we use - we use recycled paper & packing materials, use all of our scraps, and use vintage or deadstock fabric wherever possible. I think my favorite thing we do though is giving back - we donate a portion of the proceeds from our Pet Line to No-Kill LA, where I adopted my dog Morty, and whenever we launch future lines we will do the same for a related charitable organization. I'm so excited to roll them out because I think knowing that when you buy something, you're actually giving as well makes the purchase so much more meaningful.

4. What are some of the most memorable pieces you've worked on and what made them so special?

Alex: I think one of my favorite things has been this rocking chair we found at a thrift store in downtown LA. When we got it, it didn't even have a seat in it anymore, and we just thought "oh we can make this cute again". I think we got it for like $20. But after doing some research on it, I found out its an original craftsman piece from when the Arts and Crafts era hit California at the turn of the last century. Its over a 100 years old! So now it's sitting in my living room because I don't know if I cant part with it. 
 
Kerry: There have been several furniture pieces that have revealed clues to their history as we take them apart - a maker's mark from the '40s, nail heads on a chair from the 1920s, a furniture brush that had been accidentally upholstered INTO an armchair (!) so as a history nerd that delights me. I also love our woven macrame pieces because they remind me of zen times of wine & movies with Alex while we make them together.

5. Where do you draw inspiration from?

Alex: Everywhere. Nature. Art. Buildings. Anything can spark something. I'm designing earrings right now inspired by a Christmas ornament I saw over the holidays!
 
Kerry: Definitely nature and all the pets in our lives. We name all our pieces after either pets or plants!

6. What are some of the biggest challenges of running your own business, and what are some of the biggest unexpected rewards?

Alex: I'd say the actual business part. I would say neither Kerry or I are very "pushy" people. So its been a struggle trying to promote ourselves. We just aren't natural salesmen. I'm more like, well if you love it then buy it! If not....I can't convince you you need it. But I also think that's because neither of us are very greedy by nature. We are both happy with what we have. We love our company and want to own a storefront or two one day. I don't love the idea of Wallflower becoming a huge chain. But we also aren't delusional, and know our company needs to support us! Its a hard balance to find. 
The biggest reward is being the boss. We make all of our decisions. Its incredibly freeing for both of us. Even being a department head like a costume designer on a film, you still have to get everything approved by a director, producer, or writer. It can be exhausting and frustrating if those said people don't see costumes as a value to their film or show. I know I've worked on many things where the director just wanted me to shop all his ideas for him, and its like well that's not what I'm here to do. 
 
Kerry: The biggest challenge for me has definitely been the technical side - I'm an artist, not a salesperson by nature, so learning about marketing has been an unexpectedly interesting side of things that I actually really enjoy! It's like art and psychology mixed into one and it's totally fascinating. Who knew?!

7. How did the pet line come about and are there any other special lines or series coming up in the future?

Alex: We both have dogs that we love. We are both huge huge animal lovers. In fact, all of our fabric names from the beginning have been inspired by animals and pets that we know! So it was almost too hard to avoid doing a pet line. And we donate partial proceeds to No Kill Los Angeles, which is a pet rescue here in L.A. It basically checks all the boxes for us. Hopefully sometime this year we can introduce our Kitchen Line we've been talking about for a little while. We want to donate partial proceeds of that to soup kitchens, or some type of world hunger charity. 
 
Kerry: The pet line was planned from the beginning because Alex and I are insane about our dogs. And all our friends' dogs, cats, fish, rabbits.... shall I go on? We both just love animals so it was a no-brainer for us. We do have other lines in development, namely our Kitchen Line which we are hoping to launch this year and I think will be so fun. I'm particularly looking forward to finding an organization related to ending hunger to support with the new line.

8. What's your idea of a perfect Sunday from a.m to p.m.?

Alex: Well we actually work most sundays! That's a big work day for us because we set up booths at craft and artisan fairs. So I guess it would be perfect if we sold all our stuff! ha

Kerry: It would definitely include a stop to Lavender & Honey, our favorite coffee shop, which is just down the road from our workshop. After that, we'd probably be on our way to a market - Sundays are big days for us! We'd have a great day of meeting people and introducing them to the brand (or saying hello to return customers) and after packing up and heading home, we'd end the day with takeout, wine, and perhaps a game night around the bonfire.

9. Which musical artist or album has had the biggest influence on your life and why?

Alex: Well this is easy. My best friend is Carly Rae Jepsen and she influences me all of the time. I obviously love her as a person, but I am also a huge fan of her music too. Sometimes I think I'm biased, but I think even if I didn't know her personally, her music would be a huge passion of mine. That's actually where the name "Wallflower" comes from. Before I owned this business, I made her a present right after her album "Emotion" came out. It was an embroidery hoop adorned with flowers and it said "Not a Flower on the Wall", which is a lyric from the title track. I just love all the meanings behind it. The lyric which is basically saying "notice me, you can't ignore me" (which in my head is finished with "we are women, hear us roar!"), an actual free spirited wallflower, and literally putting a flower on your wall. I'm not even sure she knows that's where I got Wallflower from ha!
 
Kerry: Hmmmm it would be really hard to pick one, honestly because I like so much music across so many genres. A few of my go-to favorites are Beyonce, Brian Wilson, Rufus Wainwright, Regina Spektor, and Oh Wonder. Fun fact - the name Wallflower comes from a lyric by Alex's good friend Carly Rae Jepsen, so her music has certainly meant a lot to us. We're also very lucky to have her as a customer and supporter!
 
Lightning round! 
 
10. First celebrity crush?
 
Alex: Lance Bass. I was a huge *NSYNC fan when i was young. 
 
Kerry: First was probably Leonardo DiCaprio. Harrison Ford took over for a while, but Leo took back the crown.
 
11. Favorite pizza topping?
 
Alex: CHEESE. ALL OF THE CHEESE.
 
Kerry: Pineapple and cheese!

12. Best Netflix binge show?

Alex: It's only partially a Netflix original now, but it will always be Gilmore Girls. Those women raised me. Thank you Amy-Sherman Palladino for creating the best role models on television!
 
Kerry: The Great British Baking Show. It's my happy place.
 
13. Go-to karaoke song?
 
Alex: I almost never karaoke, but I have done Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance with Somebody," so we will say thats my go-to.
 
Kerry: Honestly I'd have to have a feeeeeew drinks to be willing to do karaoke, but I did once sing "Cabaret" at a karaoke bar in Spain. Other than that, I think I could handle "I Feel the Earth Move" by Carole King.