Small Business Profile: Rebecca Crall, Owner of Territory - Chicago
Hi Rebecca! Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I spent about 5 years living overseas which really shaped my life and worldview. For the last 10 years, I’ve been working in various aspects of international development and peacebuilding. I am passionate about exploring the ways design and innovation can intersect with doing good in the world.
A year and a half ago, my husband and I (along with our then 6 month old son) decided to move about an hour outside of Chicago. The idea was to take a break from the city and renovate an old barn-style house we call El Granero. A year and a half later the house is done and we welcomed a baby girl into the world in February. Life is (very!) full.
What was your first job?
My first memorable job was working in an old Food Co-op in Cleveland, Ohio. The type where people actually had to volunteer hours to be a member. I was raised on tofu and sesame sticks so places like food co-ops have always felt like home.
Could you talk a little bit about your work in peacebuilding and conflict prevention?
I worked for five years in international education and development in Latin America and Europe. After returning from overseas, I worked briefly in New York and then moved to Chicago and started working for Rotary International. I actually never intended to transition into peacebuilding since it always felt too idealistic and esoteric. But life put me on this track and it has been a real learning experience. Over the last two years, I’ve helped create exciting programs that address serious issues of social justice, inequality and conflict transformation; and all of that feels good. The work can be hard and exposes you to some really brutal realities of human existence. But it also shows you what good there is in the world; so I try to focus on that. I am really looking forward to continuing to bridge my experiences in development, peacebuilidng and entrepreneurship. It’s exciting stuff!
What led you to begin Territory?
I travel a lot for my job. Over the years, I have been able to connect with textile weavers and artisans around the world. I have always had a thing for cloth and textiles so I started to bring back items from my travels and the business just grew from there.
My day to day work in peacebuilding can feel very cerebral and heavy. Territory is an outlet for my creative side and it also allows me to put money directly in the hands of the communities I work with. I love that direct interaction and I truly believe as we increase economic equality (both in this country and around the globe) we can also more effectively address issues such as violence, social unrest and may other problems we are seeing in our world today. Working on sustainable economic growth at this level can have a huge impact!
Tell us more about the origins of the brand’s name.
I made lists and lists of what I thought the name of the business should be; it wasn't like it just came to me. I landed on Territory since it felt wild and spacious and vast; a reflection of who I was at the time. But the company has changed (as I have changed) so right now I am in the process of envisioning the next five to ten years. I think a new name is going to be part of the natural progression of the business.
How do you find your artist partners in other countries? Does your sourcing include a lot of travel?
I met most of my artisan partners through my travel with my development work. So in the beginning I did travel quite a bit, but now that the relationships are stronger, I don’t travel as much. I’ve really tried to stick with the same groups since those relationships took a long time to build and I feel dedicated to them. But when you try to grow a business with groups that aren’t ready to scale and produce in larger quantities, it’s a hard road forward. So I am also adapting as I go along and adding new groups as needed.
Could you share a story of some of the makers that you work with?
The weavers I work with in Thailand grow, spin and weave their cotton on land that was set aside by the Queen of Thailand decades ago so the craft wouldn't be lost. There is a small group of women that keep it going. The grounds are beautiful and the cotton is so rich and textured. Thailand does not have a lot of hand weaving anymore so I feel really good about working with and supporting these women as the try and preserve their craft.
What does shopping sustainably and ethically mean to you and your business?
I can’t overstate how important this is. Both terms are somewhat overused at this point but that it doesn’t fundamentally change their importance. For a long time people didn’t really understand (or could easily ignore) the true cost of cheap goods; both in the huge human cost and in the damage to our ecosystem. I definitely feel like that is changing. And while words like “sustainable” and “ethical” have become ubiquitous, I do feel like there is a substantive change happening with the way people relate to brands and buying. Spending your money in a mindful and ethical way impacts everything. When you buy from a small maker that has put the time and energy into a sustainable supply chain, the producers feel good, the business feels good and the buyer feels good. Energetically, it’s a completely different experience than buying a poorly made item that gets thrown out after a couple months. I have really made the commitment to only buy clothing and home goods second-hand or from small businesses and ethical brands. I can’t imagine going back. I buy things I love and since I’m not rich, less often.
How has the process of remodeling a house gone for you?
Ha! Everyone makes it look so easy. I had these dreams of documenting every second of it...doing before and afters...revealing corners....etc. And I was pretty good until I got pregnant with Sena, my daughter, and then everything went out the window. But I still want to do a before and after on some site….. It was a real transformation of the space and a labor of love. My husband and I don’t plan to stay in this area long term so it feels weird knowing that someone else will live in a house that we created from the bottom up.
What is your favorite thing about your workspace?
My view of the woods! And my Trust Wheel from the Wilderness Workshop.
What makes you passionate about the work that you do?
I believe in people and I’m sustained by my connections to others. That and good design drive everything. But I also believe in the power of commerce to do good. I’ve seen this in peacebuilding when groups come together across conflict lines to start businesses; it can have an incredible impact. As government seems to become more gridlocked, we have seen real leadership coming from the private sector. There is obviously good and bad to that, but I think there is real potential for business to wage peace! And I am on board!
What are some of the setbacks or challenges you faced when starting your business?
I started and still run Territory as a part time gig (on top of a demanding full time job and kids!) so things have always been slow. There are so many things I want to do but always lack time. Since baby number two arrived, it has been particularly challenging keeping everything afloat. But I am really dedicated to continuing the business and work with our partners; so I am figuring out how to adjust things to make it more sustainable.
What tools or resources have been most helpful for you in the development of Territory?
I really enjoyed Tara Swigers website and business advice. She is super practical and down-to-earth and I really like that. I have the mapping program and thought it was really straight forward in trying to strategize business goals. I just discovered the podcast Conscious Chatter (though a recommendation in one of your profiles) and think Kestrel Jenkins is asking some really great questions and having important conversations about the industry. It is really important to be reminded that you are not alone in how you relate with the world. After moving out of the city and starting to work from home full time, podcasts (and long phone calls with friends) have kept me sane.
At The Glossary, we believe in women working together and helping one another. Why do you think it is important for women to support each other?
I know everyone says this but it’s true: we are all in this together and there is space for everyone. I was raised thinking I could do anything I wanted. To a certain degree, it has been true. But women still have certain pressures and limits put on them in our culture; although it’s more subtle nowadays. Women owned businesses are a strong statement that we can choose our own path. Working with and supporting women in all fields is important; especially women in the developing world who have it much harder than we do.
What creative women do you find inspiring?
There are a lot! I just love Grace Bonney from Design Sponge. She does an amazing job of making the design world feel welcoming and like a place I want to be! Harper Poe from Proud Mary has always been a favorite of mine. I think she does a great job of creating great product and staying true to the artisan process. Locally, Ariane Prewit from AP Shop in Lakeside, Michigan always blows me away with her collection. Carol Miltimore from Seek Collective and Sara Berks from Minna Goods are two women who I love and admire.
What have you learned from owning Territory that you think can apply to any creative endeavor?
I have no formal training in retail, design or product development, so starting Territory was a bit scary. When I finally took the plunge my confidence grew over time that I could do it. When you own your own business there is always more to do and sometimes you feel like you are perpetually behind. But if I take a step back and look at everything, three years ago I said I wanted to start a business and I did! That feels good and gives me confidence that I can do something I put my mind to.
What are you looking forward to in the coming months?
I am really looking forward to some exciting changes to the business. They aren’t all finalized but I am hoping to really find more space to follow the creative side of the business which is where my heart is. I also am looking forward to scaling things up so we can continue to support our partners and producers. At the end of the day, our relationship with them is what matters.
How do you manage a work/life balance?
I just don’t feel like that exist for me. I am built to take on a lot which gives me an interesting life but also makes me a bit crazy. If I can carve out space for my yoga and meditation practice at least a couple times a week; I’m ok. I have moments where I feel very connected and in the zone, I try to take advantage and appreciate them, since I know they don’t last!
What are some of your favorite places in Chicago and the surrounding area?
Although we live outside of the city, I still feel VERY connected to Chicago. Most of my friends are still there and I am in the city at least once a week for work.
We live in the Michiana area of Lake Michigan, right near the border of Indiana and Michigan. Our house is surrounded by the National Lakeshore Forest and we try and take advantage of the surrounding nature; especially with the kids. Going for walks at Beverly Shores is amazing, renting kayaks on Porter Beach and trail running in the Dunes State Park are some of the highlights of living out here. We definitely love all of the vintage shops along Route 12 and Red Arrow Highway, running from Indiana through Michigan. When we go out for dinner or a drink we either make the trip into the city or up to SW Michigan to Greenbush in Sawyer or Journeyman in Three Oaks. Everyone there is from Chicago so I feel at home.