Small Business Profile: Alexandra Gray Bennett + Karen Gray, Louise Gray - Minneapolis
Hi Alexandra and Karen! Tell us a little bit about yourselves.
Alexandra: I am the proud CEO & Co-Founder of Louise Gray. While many might assume Louise Gray to be an actual person, it instead represents a community of people who share an appreciation for refined design and mindful consumerism.
Karen: I am the Production Director for Louise Gray. I also teach young children to sew through an after-school initiative called Sew Fun! I split my time between Minneapolis, MN, and Winston-Salem, NC.
What are your backgrounds (i.e. education, previous jobs, experiences that led you to create)?
Alexandra: From a very young age my mother, Karen, empowered me to make things with my own two hands. My first moments creating were spent on my grandmother’s sewing machine. In college, she first taught me to make quilts out of old t-shirts. At that time I was studying anthropology and quickly became fascinated with the concept of storytelling through objects (particularly quilts) and its significance throughout human history.
Karen: In college, I majored in Costume Design. I also attended Horst Education Center, now known as The Aveda Institute, in the late 80s. I come from a family of entrepreneurs and have had a variety of different jobs/businesses over the years. I like to think that each one of my experiences has contributed to a spectrum of knowledge that allows me to make a meaningful impact on my work at Louise Gray. I am so happy to have the opportunity to work with my daughter and other women who are making a difference in this world.
What led you to start Louise Gray? What was the turning point that drew you to starting your own business?
Alexandra: In 2014, I teamed up with my business partner, Jocelin Johnson. It was her graphic design background that allowed us to reimagine this rich tradition and make it relevant to a modern consumer. Together, with the rest of our team, we strive to create beautiful and meaningful pieces for the well considered home.
Was quilting a part of your upbringing? What inspired your beautiful contemporary quilting brand?
Alexandra: Quilting was definitely part of my upbringing. I can't remember a time when a sewing machine wasn't present in our home. My grandmother passed sewing onto my mother, who passed it onto me.
Karen: I was influenced by my maternal grandmother, Myrtle Lindholm, who was an extraordinary seamstress. She made things out of practicality and I was always amazed by how she was able to create something so effortlessly. She started teaching me how to sew when I was 8 years old and was constantly reminding me to take my time and think about how it's all going to come together before I begin. I reflect on those words now in many areas of life.
What are the values that shape your business?
Alexandra: We are very dedicated to sustainability as well as domestic manufacturing. Our core sustainability effort is reducing waste in our production practices and ensuring our scraps are put to good use. We donate all of our fabric scraps to local artists Andas Mer and Ethel Studio who repurpose them into new products, including beautiful rugs and meditation cushions. All batting waste is gifted to the Minnesota Quilters, Inc., and organization that supports the continued education and practice around the rich art form of quilting.
We consider sustainability in every product and collection. If we can’t create it using a process that we feel good about, we won’t create it at all.
Additionally, we’re big believers in the idea that life can always be a little cozier.
What is the design process behind your blankets and quilts?
The design process begins with our design team, Jocelin and Gina, who dream up our creations. They collectively draw inspiration from a number of areas -- architecture, nature, color, textures, etc. Materials are selected and thoroughly contemplated for each design before the prototyping process begins. Each design is meticulously handmade by local artisans in the form of a prototype. Once the design team is satisfied and approves the design, we move into production. Each and every quilt, blanket, throw pillow is passionately handmade, cleaned and prepared to be shipped out to their new home, but before that happens the products are named. It's always exciting to see the designs come to life.
What are some of your short/long term goals?
Alexandra: We are excited to give everyone a ‘behind the seams’ look at Louise Gray…telling you more about who we are and sharing the stories of our artisan partners and all the individuals that make Louise Gray possible.
Karen: I want to create some hands-on workshops that involve sewing and/or embroidery. I especially enjoy working with a group where there is a conversation of support for one another while creating something completely original. I am interested in the DIY culture and want to explore Louise Gray inspired sewing patterns and kits.
We have a series called Purchase from Women - what women-owned businesses are you encouraging with your dollars?
Andas Mer Modern Weaving Studio
Adelene Simple Cloth Fine Fabric
Ethel Studio Meditation Cushions
Do you have any creative, business, or female-centered resources that have been helpful to you that we should know of?
The Coven - collaborative community and co-working space
What are you trying to learn right now or what is something that you are wanting to learn?
Alexandra: I am expecting my first child this Fall so I am currently learning all I can about parenting and caring for a baby.
Karen: I am always wanting to learn something new and am conscious that there are only 24 hours in a day. Right now (today) I am interested in learning Spanish, teaching garment sewing to young children, and practicing Sashiko, which is a form of Japenese Folk Embroidery.
What are some of your favorite places in Minneapolis?
Chain of Lakes - walk, run, bike
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
Mill City Farmers Market
Sebastion Joe’s Ice Cream