Even if you’ve seen her on the Nate Berkus show or in one of the many magazines that have featured her work, I wonder if you would have recognized the founder of Malene B Custom Handmade Carpets. Years ago she made decision to cut off her locs, save for a house and build her business.
Malene, thank you so much for doing this. For those who have never met you, can you please introduce yourself to our audience and tell us where you are from?
I grew up in Norwalk, CT a first generation American; both my parents are from the Caribbean. My mother is from St.Vincent and my father is from Jamaica.
You have a Bachelor in Fine Arts from FIT and you also have a background in textile arts, painting and illustration. How and why did you get into carpet design?
I studied textile design at FIT in New York City. After graduation, I worked as the Design Director for Afritex, designing African print fabrics. Later, I worked for Nourison Rugs, one of the largest importers of handmade rugs in the world, as their first in-house designer. Initially, I designed their area rug collections, but soon became Design Manager for the company’s very successful accent rug division. At Nourison, I was given the opportunity to develop fashion forward designs that changed how accent rugs were viewed.
In about 2003, I began thinking of creating my own company. However, back then my focus was on creating innovative bedding designs for the home furnishings industry. In the summer of 2008, I decided to focus on my passion, “carpet design” and started formulating my company — Malene B.
My goal as the principal of Malene B, is to create carpets that merge my artistic background and passion for global travel. I wanted to create a company that not only produces great carpet designs, but also inspires others to experience the world thru a unique art form.
In 2007 I took this picture of Malene but I didn’t know her name. So until we met again, she was The Fashionable Woman with the styled curled Dreadlocks.
What is the beauty about designing carpets? What or who inspires you?
It allows me to design on a large canvas. I’m inspired by people, places and cultural ceremonies from around the world.
You created carpets for some big names like Nicole Miller, Martha Stewart, Nautica, Liz Claiborne and even Nate Berkus. You were even featured, I hope we can show the video here. Of all the big names and big things that you’ve done, what would you say is the highlight of your achievements up until now?
Some of my custom project highlights include the presidential suites as the Revel Hotel, Le Jardin Le Cote a boutique hotel in Mauritus, Albany State University and my most recent partnership with Surya, the leading supplier of home accessories. This partnership creates a wider distribution for Malene B carpets.
You are household name in business now When did and how did you get started?
This is news to me, But thank you! I’ve been networking and I’ve been fortunate to receive media coverage in both national and international publications that include Interior Design, House Beautiful and New York Magazine.
What was your experience as a Black woman traveling alone to countries like India?
I’ve received warm welcomes when I traveled to places like India. India is one of my favorite places to visit because of the culture, history and food. I am eager to learn about different cultures. But it’s a different experience traveling to Asia’s countryside because it is often the first time the local people are seeing a person of African descent. The key is to understand that most of the natives experiences have been limited to their environment. So I’ve learned not to take the stares and desire to touch your skin personal.
You are one of the few women in a male dominated industry. How do you handle that? What is it like?
Actually I think there are more women than men carpet designers so we don’t feel the male domination. Our industry has a balance of women and men carpet designers with diverse styles and business models. We are very supportive and provide resources to each other. Our camaraderie developed through our Goodweave membership, an organization that certifies that the carpets are made child labor free.
I didn’t know you back then when you had locs and allowed me to take that fabulous picture but when and why did you start locing?
I wanted to experience all kinds of natural hairstyles. I had two strand twists, cornrows, threading and an afro. At the time locs was the only natural hairstyle that I had not explored. My journey to loc my hair began in 2001 and ended in 2008.
Did you have locs when you started your company? If yes, do you feel like you were perceived differently with your locs?
No I started my business with a very low Caesar cut. My low haircut became my signature look. But my Caesar cut has progressed to a modern style Mohawk. Its my new signature.
Why did you cut your hair off?
The truth is that I wanted to save money and simplify my life. I was very much into styling my locs on a daily basis but it became expensive, time consuming plus the hairstyle no longer fit my lifestyle. I would use rollers, braids and so on to create interesting styles. In April of 2008 I cut off my locs to signify my rebirth.
Many women in the Black community don’t want to cut off their hair when they go natural because they don’t feel attractive. I don’t think you have that problem but there is this notion in our community that a short natural is not feminine. That is what was said when Viola Davis was at the Oscars wearing her natural. What do you have to say about this and do you have any tips for women who don’t want to cut their hair because they are afraid they won’t feel attractive?
At this stage in my life I need as much simplicity as possible. Cutting my hair was one of the best moves to help in simplifying my life. Many years ago I had cut my hair and it was a boyfriend at the time who encouraged me to cut my hair lower. He actually shaved it bald. Just be bold and do something different..plus what’s a bad hair day when you have a cut like mine?
What carpets are you currently working on and where can we see your work?
I’m working on a new collection that will debut at the ICFF-The International Contemporary Fair. It will be held on May 18-22 at the Jacob Javit Center.
Do you design carpets for every home?
My work is suitable for any home that is looking to add a statement piece carpet.
You also do custom made carpets. I think that is absolutely great but how does it work? Can I come to you with an idea or do I just invite you into my home and you come up with ideas? Please explain.
I only design and manufacture custom carpets made by weavers in India, China and Nepal. I have a collection of 44 designs that can be customized in any shape, color and or construction. Each collection appeals to different design aesthetics from abstract to transitional designs. First you select your design then we discuss the end use, colors, size and construction. Once the selection is made then a 50% deposit is required to start an order and the balance is due prior to completion of the carpet.
I assume custom made carpets are a little more expensive. Can you give us an idea?
I have a three main constructions flatweave, handknotted and handtufted. Each offer a different characteristics and feel. Custom carpets start at $75 sqft. but this all depends on the construction.
Who would you die to design a carpet for and what kind of carpet would you design?
I would love to design a carpet for Mira Nair. I love how she incorporates her culture into her films, which is similar to my work. I would design a carpet that reflected her favorite film.
What is your goal? Where will you and your company be in say 10 years?
My goal is to be an international lifestyle brand. In ten years I will have a total lifestyle collection that will include, fabrics, wallpaper, furniture, rugs, and dinnerware.
Where and how can we order your carpets?
You can visit www.maleneb.com
Can you please finish the following sentence: I love my hair because ….
its simple, easy to maintain and it’s natural!
Anything you like to add?
I hope my work has inspired you because Malene B’s mission is to inspire the world through innovative design.
Malene will be featured in the spring issue of Luxe Interiors+Design magazine as a featured Stylemaker.
Top Photo by Alaric Campbell
Makeup Robbie Minjarez
More portraits of the Going Natural Hair exhibition at In the Pursuit of Nappiness.