Mary Catherine Folmar
PRESIDENT / COTTON + QUILL
Bachelors of Industrial Design, 2009
What are you currently fascinated by and how is it feeding into your work? The thing that feeds most into my works and design influence is travel. I am always fascinated by foreign countries and cultures and being able to travel has greatly influenced my designs for new textile and wallcovering collections. One of the most influential places I visited was Taiwan and Hong Kong while studying abroad during my time at Auburn.
Who or what has been the biggest single inﬂuence on your way of thinking about design? I would have to say my mother has played a huge role in how I design by not only being a extremely talented and creative person herself but by always just letting me design rooms how I wanted, draw or paint whenever I could and continue to encourage me to push my comfort level when introducing a new design to the public. Many designs that have become some of my most popular would have never made it to the public if it weren't for my mother telling me to just do it.
Do you believe that it is harder for women to become successful business owners in the design field? I don’t think so - at least that has not been my experience. I think it probably depends on what field of design you are working in. In my industry, I would actually say that many of the higher-ups and founders of boutique textile and furniture lines have been women or partners (man/woman). I think that the industry is more interested in good design and the story behind the brand rather than the gender of the person running the business.
Is there a difference between working in design with women or with men? Have you ever been treated differently because you are female? I think women and men can be equally easy or tough to work with. I think it is learning and knowing how you client works and what expectations they have of your product that makes working with a man or woman successful. I have never been treated differently because I am a female. If anything, I think it has helped in some ways because there seems to be an emergence of female-owned businesses and companies and people are embracing that.
While you were in school at Auburn, do you remember a specific design project that challenged you the most? I would say my rendering class. I think I struggled with it the most because I felt every project was very male oriented and I just couldn’t get excited or interested in what I was having to draw and render - for example, we had to draw and render a car, a mechanical toy and sunglasses. Also, I despised having to use prismacolor markers to render and preferred using pencils, pastels, or paint for rendering products. I made one of only 2 B’s in that studio while in the program.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were in school? Maybe that there are so many ways to use your design degree and that just because you got your degree in industrial design it doesn’t mean that you have to get a job in product design (toys, mechanical devices, appliances, tools, etc). For example, I had no idea that there was such a thing as Environmental Design - which is what I worked as while in Atlanta. I used both graphic design and industrial design to create signage for banks, high-rise buildings, fairgrounds, etc. During that time I was also able to do some interior design work on a commercial level which then showed me how much interior design, architecture, industrial design and graphic design truly overlap and rely on one another.
You are the Founder and Designer of a custom fabric and stationery company called Cotton + Quill LLC. What advice do you have for young designers interested in starting their own business? Don't take no for an answer and know that starting your own business certainly has it's pros (like you're your own boss and you set your own destiny), but it also requires lots and lots of hard work, long hours, stress and little to no vacation in the beginning. However, if you can make it through the first years of getting your business off the ground and keep a positive mindset it is certainly worth the work and effort. Another important thing to know and learn is business itself.....this was one of the hardest things for me, but I have gone from being just a "designer" to being a business owner, founder of a fast-growing company, an accountant, a sales person and purchaser, negotiator with manufacturers, website designer, brand developer, seamstress, product developer, and manager.
“Don't take no for an answer and know that starting your own business certainly has it's pros (like you're your own boss and you set your own destiny)...”
Before starting your own business, you worked as an industrial designer and a graphic designer in Atlanta. Have you always been interested in both ﬁelds? Where do you currently see the two ﬁelds overlapping the most? When I first decided to go into design, I chose Industrial Design because it seemed to give me the most well-rounded design training - including packaging, brand development, graphics, product design, interiors, photography, drafting, etc. I have always drawn and painted and decorated my own spaces and have always loved fashion and interiors but didn't want to necessarily be pigeonholed in either one of those fields. I think in order to introduce a product into the marketplace, a designer should have the knowledge and skill of creating the product (industrial design) but then also know how and have the skill to market the product and create a brand through graphic elements (graphic design). And in the case of my textiles/wallpaper designs, I first draw each element of the design by hand then create the actual pattern/repeat using Adobe Illustrator which is then printed onto the finished product at either my textile or wallcovering mill. This process encompasses both industrial & graphic design elements.
Are there any rules or habits that help you run your business and do your design work more efficiently? Well, I have learned that I simply cannot do it all. I recently hired someone to help in anything needing to be done. At first, I was hesitant that I could afford the help, but based on the advice of other designers that had once been in my position, I finally took the chance and hired someone. It has made my business more efficient and productive, and we now have faster turn-around times and are more productive on a daily basis because I am not having to do everything on my own. I have also turned over the re-design of my website to a third party and have gotten another designer to work on my re-branding....all of these things I am perfectly capable of doing on my own, but I just don’t have the time to do it all and to keep introducing new designs into the marketplace. I think the most important thing for me to remember and what helps my business continue to grow and be productive is to let others help and let my focus be more on the actual design and management of the company.
Would you recommend some resources that young designers might find useful? I think Instagram is a great tool for getting constant design inspiration. Follow designers, companies and bloggers that inspire you. This is a tool that wasn’t even available when I was going through the program and has been an essential tool in getting more exposure for my company. I also look through design/home magazines and coffee table design books.
What should a young designer avoid doing when applying for jobs in the design field? Be confident not entitled, excited, energetic and positive. And take a risk. The first full-time job I got as a designer, I went into the interview during an ice storm with my snow boots on (but heels in hand), my portfolio and a confident and professional attitude. I had recently done an internship for Johnson & Johnson which gave me the confidence of having some designer experience, but I also knew that I had no experience whatsoever in the Environmental Design field. After briefly flipping through my portfolio, my interviewer (also an Auburn grad of Industrial Design) stopped on a spread that I had actually created to be more of an ad rather than a typical product page often seen in portfolios. My interviewer knew who the teacher of portfolio class was and was shocked that I put that piece in my portfolio because it didn’t follow the norm. I told him that I felt very strongly for that particular spread and that it was my favorite piece in all of my portfolio even after the strong discouragement from my portfolio teacher to include it (it was also my shortest design project - only 2 weeks). My interviewer was impressed that I stood by gut and included the piece even knowing I may have gotten docked on my grade (at the end of it all I still made an A). Then the interviewer showed me probably a 30 page presentation of construction drawings for a signage project and asked if I could do that. I briefly looked it over and said of course, but I may just need someone to show me the specific details for what is required to construct a sign (this is why I think having some engineering classes would be beneficial to industrial designers). Come to find out, that was a bit of a scare tactic to see how I would respond, but also the reality of what my job would entail. I remained confident while being honest and left with a good feeling. I had not been gone 30 minutes when I got the call offering me my first design job that would start 2 weeks later.
So bottom line is to stay confident but humble and keep a positive and professional attitude. Dress well and be able to stand behind your work - your portfolio should be a reflection of you as a designer.
Add any additional thoughts if you feel they need to be shared. My final thoughts, suggestions to any young entrepreneur or designer is to know that there are people in the field that do want to help you grow as a designer and are willing to teach them the ins and outs. From my experience the textile/interior design industry has been very helpful and supportive. Also, always remember at the end of the day don’t take things personally, it’s just business. And that is super important to always keep in mind!
Designer responded to questions in 2016 via email.