Nancy Mims: Eco Chic

Tell us about your background in design. How did you get started?
When I have a pencil in my hand, I can’t help but decorate whatever is in front of me. An avid doodler since childhood, I was frequently scolded throughout my school years for drawing on notes during class (even in graduate school!) If only I had realized, when suffering through organic chemistry to fulfill pre-med requirements, that the drawings in the margins were going to mean more to my career than the complicated carbon molecules I had to memorize, I could have skipped a few painful steps.

But a few steps later (none of which I regret and all of which I believe were important to where I am now), happenstance pulled me to surface design. I met a textile designer who noticed my creative projects and doodles and suggested that I submit a portfolio to a print house, so I quickly assembled a collection and was signed to an agency in New York that caters to the apparel industry. I enjoyed the creative freedom of being a freelance artist and sold over 1,400 designs to a wide variety of clients. But, increasingly during this freelance period, I yearned to establish my own signature collection AND to produce it in a way that was in line with my personal ethics of green, conscious living. In 2005, Lisa Mims (my sister-in-law) and I took this idea and we started Mod Green Pod.

How has it been for you developing your first line of quilting fabrics?
I come from a long line of creative, resourceful Southern women so I have quilting, among other domestic arts, in my blood. My grandmothers and mother all sewed for me and everything in my childhood room--even the miniature versions in my homemade dollhouse (my dad made that)--were made by my mom or grandmothers. With a roomful of handmade items, I learned to appreciate the beauty in the uniqueness of having one-of-a-kind items. (I was particularly fond of Barbie’s chic polyester leisure suits made from scraps of my grandmother’s own homemade leisure suits. No one else’s Barbies had those!) When I was old enough, my mom and grandmothers taught me how to sew, and even though I never learned how to quilt, I felt it was my duty to teach myself. I’ve made about 10 quilts and soon I will make an organic cotton one using my new Robert Kaufman collection!

With quilting and crafting in my blood, naturally I was very excited to create my first line of quilting fabrics. It was a fun challenge to create a collection in the Mod Green Pod signature style but with quilting and home sewing in mind. As always, the ultimate test for each design was “would I use this in my own project?”  I’m thrilled with the results and need to get working on a project . . . as well as the next collection.

What’s it like living in Austin?
The gloriously quirky, creative Austin community gives me unending inspiration. Austin attracts and fosters creativity and innovation in so many different fields and I can’t imagine having started my company anywhere else. “Keep Austin Weird” is the city’s proud, unofficial motto and the desire to be unique and creative seems to be in our water. Austin is also a very eco-conscious city, so the encouragement for that side of my business has been invaluable.

What is Mod Green Pod? How did it start and what made it an especially important venture for you?
For years I brainstormed different ways to branch out into my own brand of products using my designs, but I knew that I wanted the products to be unique and produced in an ethical way.  During a visit from my sister-in-law, Lisa Mims, who had recently left a consulting job, a collaborative brainstorm led to the idea of printed organic cotton. We realized that no one was producing colorful, well-designed organic cotton textiles, so we decided to fill that niche.

The more Lisa and I learned about organic cotton, from the farming to the production of the cloth, the more devoted we became to our concept. Within our first year of business, we each had babies and I think our desire to help make their worlds--especially their home environments--a little healthier ramped up our commitment even further.

What is your favorite part of design process?
I love when chance intervenes. My favorite example is the “Clara” design for Mod Green Pod, which started as a drawing for my daughter, who had asked me to draw a “candy tree” for her.  With a crayon, I quickly drew an almost Dr. Seussian interpretation of her wish and she was satisfied. I ended up liking the drawing as well and eventually turned it into something worthy of an “adult” upholstery textile. That example reminds me that letting go of it all and allowing chance to play a roll often helps free my creative process.

How do you become inspired and how does that translate that into your designs?
I have a hard time sitting still. I am constantly making things or even just thinking about making and designing. My creative process extends into and comes from everything I do from drawing, to taking daily photographs as a visual diary (I post my favorite photo each day to my flickr account: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nancymims/), to collecting odd things (the latest is a bowlful of dove egg shells, freshly fallen from spring hatchlings in my neighborhood), to concern for what I’m wearing (a sensibility recently adopted by my three-year-old son who refuses to wear anything but a seersucker suit and tie), to cooking (I believe meals should be as beautiful and colorful as they are delicious), and so on. Keeping the creative side of my brain in shape by mindfully and constantly creating things helps fuel my work.

I see beauty and design in unusual things and feel lucky that I see beauty where most people may not. My daily photography project helps me record gorgeous things I find in unusual places (often of discarded, overlooked or ignored items) and not only has become my daily visual diary, but it helps me stay in a mode where I’m seeing color, composition and design ANYWHERE.

Would you like to give some sneak peek information on what you have coming up in your designs?

I’ve started working on the next collection, but I usually end up doing my best editing at the last minute, so it could all change on that last day. Better get to work . . . or maybe I should get out a crayon and draw with my kids!


The prize pack.Thanks, Nancy! You shared a lot and we appreciate it. We wanna share too! Leave a comment to win five(5) 1-yard cuts of Free to Grow - Nancy's debut collection!!! We'll pick two (2) winners at random on Monday, 6/14/2010 at Noon PST.