Raw Materials Design is a family-based company. Janna Lufkin is the innovator and driving force behind the business. Her husband, Kent, manages marketing, the website, shipping, accounting and contracts. Daughter Kate, a college equestrian and business major at the University of Montana, handles social media for the brand.
Besides being a photo stylist for a variety of magazines including Better Homes & Gardens, Coastal Living, Sunset and Country Home, Janna regularly consults and writes about home design and organization topics at her site Be It Ever So Humble. Here's a recent interview with writer Sheri Stripling:
Q: You use the simplest cotton fabrics and most basic, almost industrial design. What happened to frou-frou?
Janna: We’re celebrating the joy of simple things. Americans tend to over-refine and over-do when so many things are beautiful in their natural state.
Q: What was your biggest influence?
Janna: People and places, particularly my family's ranches in southern Idaho where I grew up. My grandmother was a home economics teacher; I’m sure she’s the reason I became a stylist. She had a knack for re-fashioning things that were at hand into something useful yet beautiful.
Q: Is that what’s behind your devotion to all-American made and all-American sourced?
Janna: American labor and manufacturing is ‘at hand’. There are a whole lot of Americans who are ready and willing to work. I thrive on challenge and we are proving that the ‘American dream’ is still possible. I’m inspired to push forward by those who say it can’t be done. My husband came up with the best line: Integrity is in, outsourcing is out!
Q: Your company values take us back as Americans to a time of national pride in what we do. Why is that so important to you?
Janna: I believe that Americans expect quality products, especially when they see a label that says, “Made in the USA”. That’s how Americans used to do it. If it was made in America, you knew it was done well and made with pride. My family came as pioneers to the big open American West that was filled with opportunity. A lot of what is engrained in my business comes from how I grew up. Do the right thing. Stay loyal to the people you work with.
Q: America had a proud textile industry fueled by cotton from the South. That was gone by the 1990s thanks to our appetite for wanting only the lowest-cost products from the lowest-cost producers all over the world. How can you source materials here?
Janna: It’s true that a lot of the fabrics I want to use are not available in this country. But I’m committed to using what’s available so we source our fabrics from American companies. It’s like going back to what we did on the farm, we use what we have. Sourcing through these companies is what is available to us, we’re hopeful fabric producers will eventually return to the US. When that’s an option we’ll be the first on their doorsteps!
Q: Have you had to make compromises?
Janna: I love the feel and the toughness of painter’s drop cloth fabric for aprons and placemats, but it’s not produced in this country. Instead we’re using an American-sourced cotton duck. For our dishtowels and napkins, we found a brushed twill softens up and washes nicely. When I find something that works better, we’ll start using it instead.
Q: What about your workforce?
Janna: Our products are made in Seattle by a contract sewing workroom. A second-generation company, the owner and his Bernese Mountain Dog puppy Tosh greet us whenever we visit. With decades of experience in commercial sewing, the pattern maker commutes to work on his full-dress Harley!
Q: Any downsides?
Janna: Early on, the folks at our workroom would tease us about the fabric. They thought that it’s tough, industrial feel made it the dregs of the fabric world. But the simple, industrial look can go so many ways: it’s modern; it’s farmhouse; it’s country cottage; it's down home. My grandmother made beautiful aprons from old flour sacks by paying attention to the details and the overall design. That’s the whole point. We’re using raw and unrefined but it is beautifully made, made to last, and American made.
Q: A portion of your proceeds go to feed the hungry. Why do you feel so strongly about that?
Janna: Tying on an apron says "It's time to make dinner!" Sharing a meal binds us together as families. Since we make aprons, it makes sense to me to devote a portion of our sales to help to provide a meal to those in need. That helps bind together families in crisis and binds us all together as a community.