Lindsay Thomasson
Owner at Ella Lou, Makeshift Society, San Francisco 

Hi Lindsay! Please, can you give us an introduction on who you are and where do you come from? 
I took a somewhat round about path to arrive at where I am today. The great wide world has always interested me. When we were young we had Swedish au pairs who were like sisters to me. They introduced me to a different language, culture, and world purview. I took my first international trip when I was 18, it was an exchange program in Belgium. I was instantly hooked and while studying political science at UC Berkeley took every possible opportunity to travel the world. I met my French husband while on a post-graduation trip to Costa Rica. Following a stint in Paris, we returned to the US so that I could pursue my graduate studies in international affairs.
What ensued was an incredibly rewarding career in international development consulting during which I had the opportunity to work with some of the world's most well-regarded philanthropic donors and non-profit organizations. While visiting grant recipients I became aware the incredible products made by small producers around the world, particularly in developing countries. I found myself drawn to the incredible textiles, the bright colors, the intricate craftsmanship. I thoroughly enjoyed learning about how, where, and why each product was made. I would fill my suitcase with these treasures and enjoy telling the stories of each one as friends admired them in my home.
Ella Lou grew out of my love for global travel, artisan-made products, storytelling and my strong desire to give customers the option of purchasing with purpose. My objective is not only to bring to my customers beautiful, well-made, hard-to-find, artisan-made from products from around the world but also to share with you the stories of the people and places from which these products originate.

Which path brought you to launching Ella Lou?  
During my time in France I had grown to love the wide variety of beautiful artisan-made goods available. Frequently, upon returning to the US after a trip to France, I would find myself seeking something similar to what I had fallen in love with in France and time after time I was disappointed that I was unable to find the same small-production, artisan-made goods.
At the same time, although I was still working in consulting, I was realizing that I wanted to look at philanthropy from a different angle. While visiting grant recipients, I decided I wanted to try a bottom-up approach. Instead of working on the (incredibly important) grant making side, I wanted to try working directly with small artisans to provide them an outlet for their beautiful goods and the ability to make a sustainable income.
In founding Ella Lou I made the decision to not only seek out artisan-made small production goods and to pay them fairly for their work, but to stick to eco-friendly textiles, specifically organic cotton and hemp, whenever possible.  I was also intrigued by Tom’s 1-for-1 business model. I like the simplicity of it and decided to do something similar. I partnered with the Global Soap Project, a US-based non-profit organization that recycles leftover soap from hotels and distributes it to vulnerable populations around the world, particularly in conflict zones. Soap may not sound like much, but it can mean life or death. Hand-washing is one of the most simple, yet effective ways to prevent disease and soap can be incredibly difficult to come by in impoverished or war-torn regions. For every purchase from Ella Lou, I give a one-month’s supply of soap to a family.

What's the story behind the name Ella Lou?  
Ella Lou is my daughter’s name. I decided to leave my consulting job and found my own company shortly after my daughter was born. She has been the most incredible influence on me; thus, naming my company after one of the most profound influences in my life was a simple choice.
You are a member of the Makeshift Society based in San Francisco can you tell us more about that?  
When I was in the first stages of starting my business I saw social media post about a meeting for a new collaborative workspace for creatives. I was intrigued, attended the first meeting, and immediately signed up (I was member #6). When it opened a number of months later, I quickly came to relish the days I was able to work from Makeshift Society (MSS), in it’s gorgeous space, amongst a wonderfully diverse community of people.
One of the most valuable aspects of MSS for me has been the community resources. As I do not have a background in design, textiles, or product development, I have drawn upon the MSS community frequently for advice and recommendations. When I was developing my playmats, I reached out to the MSS community seeking an artist to draw the maps for my playmats. I received dozens of replies but ultimately ended up working with Megan Eckman, a Makeshift Society member, who has been an incredible collaborator throughout the process.

Can you describe your job in 3 words?  
Challenging. Iterative. Rewarding.

How do you start your day and what does your daily routine looks like?  
I start my day by getting my daughter off to school followed by a homemade latte. However, that is where the consistent routine ends. Because I work alone, everyday is a bit different. January and February tend to be quiet months so I am currently focused on my site redesign – I am aiming to launch a completely redesigned site in early March. In terms of product development, I have been working closely with my Turkish artisans on my spring pestemal (Turkish Towel) collection and on new city playmats.

Do you have some projects for the future that you want to talk about? 
Probably my most significant project this year will be the launch of new Wanderlust City Playmats. I launched San Francisco and New York late last year and they have both received wonderfully positive feedback from customers. I am debating which cities to launch next, but Paris, London, Chicago, and Boston are high on the list.
Additionally, I will be adding a new collection of Turkish Towels in the spring. And, I would really like to travel to Mexico, Guatemala, and Bolivia this year to their incredible textiles to my shop.

Can you explain quickly the process to make the fabulous playmats you have in your shop?  Wanderlust City Playmats were the first product that I designed and sourced from start-to-finish. Whereas I had the benefit of working with expert artisan weavers in creating our Turkish Towels and Blankets, I was on my own to identify resources to create my playmats. It was very important to me to identify a source for high-quality, eco-friendly fabric that was both heavy enough and large enough to make a substantial playmat. After conversations with textile aficionados and an extensive search I decided on a hemp-based canvas due to both its eco-friendly properties and its durability (the durability of hemp is nearly unparalleled which is why people have been making rope from hemp for centuries).
My original vision for the playmats was that they would be pieces of interactive art for a child to play with (each one is individually silk-screened and numbered by hand!). The design of the maps is an iterative process whereby I specify what color palette I want to work with for each city and which parts of the city and landmarks I want included. Megan (the artist I work with) and I usually go back and forth during the drawing process until we are both happy with the final product.
The silk-screening of the maps is done at a San Francisco-based silkscreen shop, one of the few in the country where large-format silk-screening is available. I feel very fortunate to have such talented silkscreen artists so close as they have been a wealth of knowledge throughout the entire playmat design and printing process. 

You recently moved from SF to Oakland. Can you describe Oakland in 3 words
Charming. Gritty. Home.
What are your favorite spots in town when you want to relax in Oakland?
One of the most fun parts of moving from San Francisco to Oakland here has been rediscovering all Oakland, Berkeley, and the environs has to offer. It has changed a lot since I studied at UC Berkeley! A relaxing day for may entail taking my daughter to Tilden Park to ride the steam trains, wandering around a new neighborhood with friends, or sitting on the patio at Pizziolo for a relaxing meal and glass of wine.

What is your favorite place to eat in Oakland?  
This one is tough, there are so many great places and new restaurants are opening all the time. We live in the Rockridge area of Oakland and there are so many incredible restaurants within walking distance. We usually take our daughter out to eat with us, some of our family favorites are Pizziolo, Doña Tomas, A16, and Southie. For more special meals, I am a huge fan of Chez Panisse.

Do you have a secret boutique or space that you love in Oakland you'd like to share with us?   
Temescal Alley is near my home and I frequently peruse the small shops there, particularly Marissa Haskell jewelry (I can’t get enough!). I also like Atomic Garden in Oakland, Tail of the Yak Trading Co in Elmwood in Berkeley, and Castle in the Air, Erica Tanov, and Nest all on 4th St in Berkeley. But, I am constantly discovering new favorites discovering so ask me this question in a few months and I am sure I will have many to add to the list!

Thank you Lindsay for your time! More about the shop here:

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