I first met Andrea Fox, the founder and creator of Perennity Designs at the summer Markets for Makers in Nashville. I was immediately taken by her bright disposition. She was friendly, kind and approachable. The Perennity Designs booth was gorgeous and the warm, earthy tones of her products pulled me in to take a closer look. Fox hand makes washable paper products that are gorgeous AND sustainable. As soon as we started talking about using avocado pits for dyeing, I knew I wanted to share her story. Here is our Q & A with her!
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you became an entrepreneur.
I’m an only child and I grew up in a suburb of Chicago with my parents. I didn’t plan to go to college, but having had a lot of pressure from my parents, I found myself at Iowa State University studying Hotel and Restaurant Management with an emphasis in Event Planning. As I have worked in restaurants since I was 16, I ended up in a progressive string of restaurant management positions. It took me being a General Manager, working 70+ hours per week to finally step back and ask myself if this was the path I wanted to pursue. The answer was a resounding no.
It’s been about two years since I left that position; all I knew at the time was that I needed something creative and away from managing people. So, I took a $15,000 pay cut and got an hourly position doing visual merchandising. At first, it was great! I loved my boss, had creative freedom, and best of all, I never had to work more than 40 hours! But as things go in big corporations, people move around or transfer; my boss that I loved got promoted and changes I didn’t love started happening. That’s when my husband and I made the decision for me to leave corporate America and really try to grow my creative business, which at the time was calligraphy, but has been the progressive step to Perennity Designs today.
How did Perennity Designs come to be?
Perennity launched at the first Markets for Makers pop-up in Chicago in April of this year. I’ve held a variety of jobs since I graduated from college, progressing my way up the corporate ladder and never loved any of them. When I finally launched Perennity I had this kind of “ah-ha” moment while I was talking to my grandma. The easiest way I can explain it is that I’ve been the square peg in the round hole in every position I’ve held and I constantly felt like I was a failure because I could never make it work and would end up leaving jobs after only a year. I think I had been daydreaming about starting my own company for about 3 years and I’ve had other ideas in the past but nothing has truly clicked for me until Perennity.
When I quit my full-time job in January 2019 I thought I was going to do calligraphy. I did a few shows and got into local stores but it wasn’t quite taking off like I had envisioned. So around Valentine’s Day this year (2019) I started searching for ways to expand my calligraphy into a product that everyone would want, I wanted to have a wide appeal and be able to capture people’s attention.
It was around this time that I started seeing paper bag planters online and had the idea for my mini calligraphy planters. I did A LOT of digging to find a washable paper material to make them and when I got the fabric in the mail I was in love! It looked and felt like paper, but you could wash it, distress it, dye it and when you did any of those it completely changed the look and/or feel of the paper. As I started working with the material, I realized it worked exactly like leather and that leather crafting techniques could be applied to the paper. That’s when my product line started to expand beyond planters.
Fox and her husband live in Des Moines, Iowa with their two Keeshond’s.
Tell us about the name Perennity.
Perennity is the noun form of perennial. If you look it up it is literally the quality of being perennial and existing for a long time. It’s a nod to the fact that we’re a durable brand, I’m making a lasting product and we’re going to be around for awhile. It also connected with the sustainable, eco-friendly, plant side of things. The paper I use to create my entire product line is made from plant based fibers and I also use 100% natural, plant based dyes for the colors we dye in house.
Tell us a little bit about how the products are made.
All of the products are made by hand, by me. I have a studio space in Des Moines and I’m currently in the process of doing construction so I can move into a larger space by mid-August. The first things I made were the paper bags and they’re still one of the best-sellers. It was a lot of trial and error and, I hate to say it, math! I knew I wanted a variety of sizes so the bags could literally be used for anything and everything, there is a lot of testing that happens with normal kraft paper taped together before I ever make something out of washable paper.
Once I had my paper bag collection established and I had worked with the fabric for a while, that’s when the creative juices really started to flow! I have always loved fashion and design and was reading Vogue and InStyle when I was in middle school! The design process has been a lot of fun for me; to be able to create exactly what I want, how I want.
We briefly spoke about the natural materials you use for dyes (avocados)! What goes into the dying process?
I could talk about this for hours! I love that the washable paper is a natural, sustainable fiber and when I realized it dyed well I got so excited at the possibilities. The first time I dyed the washable paper I knew I wanted to use something natural and remembered dyeing things with coffee as a kid. I did a quick internet search to see if there were any helpful hints I needed to know before brewing up some coffee dye and got a ton of results for botanical dyeing.
After falling down the rabbit hole of botanical and plant dye on the internet, my first dye batch for Perennity ended up being avocado dye, and the second one was coffee. That first batch of avocado dye produced the perfect blushing, nude pinks. After that I started doing a lot more research on botanical dyes to see how I could achieve different colors.
Currently, Perennity offers three botanically dyed colors: pink from avocado, cream from coffee grounds and a blue/ grey/ green color I call mist from black beans. There are more colors in the works for late summer/ early fall.
A local chef, who is one of the main sources for my avocado pits and skins, is helping me grow Japanese indigo plants. When they’re ready, they will be used for fresh indigo dyeing which creates beautiful light blue, aqua and mint shades. I’m also growing lavender which will produce light grey to charcoal grey colors. Because of the natural element of the dye, each batch comes out slightly different but I have yet to make a dye batch I don’t like.
The thing that really cemented the use of botanical dyes for me was reading an article about fast fashion and how toxic the dye process and the industry are (second only to the oil industry). There are 72 toxic chemicals that get released into clean water supplies and 30 cannot ever be removed. That really hit home for me. Especially since I can create gorgeous colors from nothing more than plants and water. Here is the original article I read.
What is your favorite Perennity product right now?
I’m really excited about the commuter wallet right now. I was able to do a slight redesign to it recently and I’m really loving the added functionality. It fits everything I need (cash, cards, car key, phone, receipts) and I can walk out the door without a bag. And, added bonus, it fits in my back pocket if I need to be hands free! And with two dogs pulling me around at times it’s a define perk to my lifestyle!!
Visit Perennity Designs on Etsy to shop all of Fox’s designs.
** Feature Photo by @mrskait_beck
Visit the Love Local blog to read about makers who are changing the world one sustainable product at a time.