I always look forward to visits to Carol's shop. It's located in a modest one-story Saltbox house on a quiet street. A light yellow house with white trim in the western section of Columbia, Missouri, Carol's creativity spills out to a cosy garden.
To enter Carol's home is to be invited right into her shop. The first thing you see upon entering is her massive work table. It fills what was once the living room. Beneath the windows are various industrial sewing machines and the walls are draped with her quilts and art she has collected over the years. A mural she and her children painted fills the hall to the rest of the house. There are usually several projects in the works. During the time of year when Columbia hosts the nationally known Roots 'n Blues 'n BBQ Festival, she's often working on sewing up the costumes for giant puppets that locals expect to see in the parade.
If you have a vinyl or custom fabric Soul Seat, it was very likely upholstered in Carol's home shop. Through working with folks like Carol, we've learned that sustainabiility isn't just about sourcing the materials thoughtfully, it is also about sustaining the communities out of which our products come. My regular conversations with Carol sustain my enthusiasm as a founder. As fascinating as all the moving parts of a business are, they don't exist in isolation from our local community. Carol is a key player in local social justice work. Her skills and passions aren't bounded by her love of creating in fabric. I'm sure this is true for you as well. As the old movement song used to say, "Our life is more than our work, and our work is more than our job."
Carol is a living embodiment of that sentiment. Columbia, Missouri is on the national map for its True/False Film festival and its annual Roots 'n Blues 'n BBQ festival. Both of which have featured the handiwork of Carol in their parades, decorations, and props. It's a joy when our paths cross outside of business seeing her at the latest City Council meeting pushing for a vote on community policing. At the one year anniversary of the Women's March, the stage of our local rally was adorned with a large banner Carol produced.
When we first started producing Soul Seats, we would often get the question, "Will the price come down when you start mass producing them?". I think the assumption was that the price would be "affordable" once we were manufacturing in the manner of the "ergonomic" chairs at Staples. As we've seen, that sort of manufacturing is not affordable or sustainable for the planet. That's why we are committed to producing each Soul Seat with local talent. And we'd like you to help us find equivalent talent in your community.
Every trip to Carol's shop is a reminder of how our Soul Seat customers are part of a genuine cottage industry. There is a network of suppliers and artisans that never was completely extinguished by industrialism. Here in the Midwest, the proliferation of Amish and Menonite farming communities is a testament to the limits of industrial farming. and the resilience of sustainable practices.
Excepting the office chair legs and casters, every facet of the Soul Seat and our floor desks are produced by a network of local artisans. As you can see Carol working in these photos, upholstering them involves a lot of highly skilled handiwork. I deliver the raw materials to Carol's shop and they come out as beautifully finished cushions. When you order a custom fabric for your Soul Seat, Carol's years of expertise really shine.
When I deliver materials to Carol, we're as likely to chat about the local bail bond initiaitvie or the upcoming reboot of the Women's March as we are about the best sources of fabric, or parts for her new walking foot sewing machine. One of her quilts (see photo) was featured in a recent show at our public library. It is an artistic rendering of the history of lynchings in Missouri.
In these photos you can see how meticulous Carol is. After sewing the cushions by hand, the process of fitting the fabric around the wooden core is a circular process of tacking one section, then lining up the next, tacking that, and then going back to readjust the beginning.
In this way we aren't following the usual narrative of the startup, where we source the manufacturing with only price in mind. We take into consideration cost and all its implications as well. Every Soul Seat owner appreciates the difference between price and cost. You may pay a lower price for a conventional chair, but is it ever worth the long term cost you pay in lost focus, increased pain, reduced mobility?
Who are the Carol Brown's of your communtiy? Please introduce us to the talented free thinker, confident enough in his or her skills to run their own shop. We would like to meet the sort of person in your area who's reputation is their marketing, so their plate is always full. We're eager to find out about them to share our growing upholstery work. By building this startup locally with local talent, we've learned that every community is full of talent on the level of Carol's. We prefer to turn to our fellow citizens and hold up their talent. We have enough within our borders to build a vibrant future together.