An Interview with Founders, Terrell and Sydney
Get to know the Founders of Montie & Joie in our exclusive interview with Terrell Sherman and Sydney Sherman Areanas; a mother-daughter team committed to pursuing beauty, joy and vibrant culture.
The both of you could be described as Serial Entrepreneurs. Why Montie & Joie? What sparked the launch of this business.
Terrell: A heart connection to the women who had a talent and no place to use it is what sparked the launch of the business for us. Once we started seeing the outcome of their talent combined with a positive response from the community we knew we were onto something. Not only do we have an avenue to provide income to those who need it but we have a way to use products that could be thrown away. It was inspirational to start from this heart place but see it turn into a product that so many people love!
Sydney: Right, our other businesses separately or together were a little more intentional or “business-oriented” from the start. This one we just felt really passionate about and it worked. We saw a need on the production side instead of the customer side which is a “backwards” way to start a business but I would say because we have started other businesses, we were able to make it work. It was definitely a risk though! It took a while to get the products right––although Terrell has worked in design nearly her whole career, we are not trained designers nor were we fluent in Spanish. So while Terrell was busy making design mistakes I was busy explaining our products very poorly, ha! We figured it out quickly and like she said, seeing our customers connect with a product that both employs marginalized women and recycles material makes us feel very gratified. This is our most “special” business and seeing it work has been really important to us.
Tell us about the artisans you employ. Where do they live? What are they like?
Terrell: The women in Kenya work on a wildlife reserve and come together to work for an organization that helps provide assistance for women and children in the community. They are able to work at home, or on the property which has developed a very beautiful workspace for the women and education center for children. The women themselves were happy, grateful, and kind-hearted. When we met them it felt like a party! There was a lot of dancing, singing, and hugging. I have never walked into a community like that, feeling immediately not only immersed in the culture but also in the love these women have for their lives and work!
Sydney: The women in Guatemala were equally full of life. They are really funny, besides being smart and talented, they make me laugh a lot. When we first started sewing the snakes we designed, only one of them was willing to do it because they are “scary”. Another got our dragon design tattooed on her leg! They teach me things about how to live a life of meaning even though it might seem to most people that we are vastly different, I feel that we are actually very similar. They never cease to surprise and amaze me in the best possible ways. I find them really direct in their communication and great at asking questions which I appreciate, we definitely work together to get the products designed. They live in a small town called San Pedro la Laguna which is surrounded by volcanoes and right off of a volcanic lake. It's one of the most beautiful places I have visited and I have traveled a lot!
Who is Montie and Joie for?
Terrell: The world! It connects people from all walks of life in all different places around the earth. It’s for every man, woman, and child that believes in giving back, in recycling, and having a unique look in their homes or on their person. Especially now that we have our custom patch option the workers are getting to know our customers on a deeper level and our customers are able to connect with our artisans which is really fun to see. We are truly all about connection.
Sydney: Exactly! We see this connecting people across cultures. It goes way beyond just purchasing something ethical which is fantastic but we want people to get to know our teams in every country and the cultures they live and breathe. It's a way to show people that we are all the same. We often feel this concept of “other” but there is no such thing! The artisans want to create a life of love and joy just like we do and M&J is the connection between the two––our customers get to purchase products made in love and the products they come to love and enjoy provide a life of joy to the artisans through fair pay and work empowerment. Everything is full circle, and M&J is no different.
Describe the business model. How does it work?
The baskets are completely controlled by our team in Kenya. The material is natural to that region and they dye and weave it. We buy from the women directly, and each basket comes with the name of the creator on it so we are buying from individuals which is special.
In Guatemala we bring second hand clothing to the artisans, either sourced from Guatemala or the US and provide the designs which they then sew into the material. When we pick it back up to bring to the US they always have creations of their own that we buy from them and resell in the US. The pricing was set with them and they all get paid individually for their work.
We then sell everything back in the US. We set the business up this way together because it provided the most reliable income to the artisans themselves. So although we are team members, designing and making certain decisions together (so closer than a normal wholesale model), it is very similar to a wholesale model in the end where we buy the finished product and resell it.
What sets M+J apart from other socially conscious brands on the market?
Terrell: I think most socially conscious brands are started from the heart, which really drives our business, too. One thing that is different is that our artisans have 100% design control in Kenya and the women in Guatemala produce their own products for us like what you see in the artisan collection. We are all a team and we want them to have creative control along with us. I don’t see a lot of other ethical brands doing this yet it is a source of so much creativity and joy for M&J!
Sydney: I also think that our use of recycled materials sets us apart. In both of our businesses together we focus on the people and environmental aspect. The most marginalized people are the most affected by negative impacts on our environment, so even if we pay them fairly but their lakes are contaminated or there is no water supply, it isn’t really providing the lifestyle we want to see our teams living across the globe. Same with how we feel about saving the environment but allowing the people to suffer––it just doesn’t work! So our dedication to both sides of the equation is unique.