5 Questions with Francie Lowman

Lowman's booth rendering for ICFF this May. She'll exhibit at booth #204.

DESIGNER Francie Lowman seeks to create an oasis with her furniture design company, the Mangata Experience.

Lowman, the current ambassador for SCAD’s Alumni Atelier program, worked at Anthropologie for a few years before quitting her job to pursue her passion of starting her own business.

While she’s in residency with the atelier, which is made possible by SCAD’s President Paula Wallace and artist Tiffani Taylor, Lowman will work on pieces for Mangata Experience, which uses sustainable products and a minimal yet feminine design.

We caught up with Lowman last week.

1. How did you first get interested in design?

From a very young age, I’d always been into art and design. I grew up with a family of builders and makers—my grandpa does construction, my dad is an engineer, my uncle is an architect. I’d always grown up in that. I was very much fostered by my family and local art teachers. When I was younger, if I didn’t have an art material, I’d just go dig in the recycling bin and then hot-glue it together, make it whatever I wanted it to be. I was a little bit of a black sheep in a small town.

I went [to Anthropologie], and I initially came to SCAD for illustration, so I have a very artistic hand. I started doing a lot of their ceramic patterns and carved wood. They offered to let me work from home, so I worked in office for a year and then remotely for a year and a half.

2. What did you learn from working at Anthropologie?

They taught me so much about how a successful big corporation runs. Really, what I gathered from there was how to design for a consumer and figure out what your audience is—really understanding what you want your audience to be, and then designing into that. We were one of the few companies that designs mostly for women because it started off as an apparel brand. We only referred to our customer as “she.” “She likes this, she likes that.”

One thing I think I was really struggling with was trying to be more ethical with it. It’s not just them; it’s a large-scale problem. I think that [with] a little bit of guilt I was feeling, I really wanted to do something a little more ethical. Now my brand is really coming in on that.

This was also something I’d been itching to do for a while. It was a crawl to the edge of the diving board to jump off and finally just leap and do it. And to be honest, it’s still scary now. It’s as scary as skydiving—it’s adrenaline rushing, you’re having so much fun but it’s still like, “Ahh!” I’m so glad I got into the program; it was hard work, but I’m just really excited that Paula Wallace has set up opportunities like this for alumni.

3. What’s the transition been like to go from working at a big corporation to creating your own small business?

I think we can get back to the ethical idea. I’m not calling them unethical, I’m just saying I’m going to be intentionally ethical, and I think large-scale productions can’t really do that. Obviously we’re going to be a much smaller scale production, but I want to grow it and have a lot of artists working under me and just being more of a creative director role and allowing more creativity. But that’s the 15-year plan; that’s the big dream.

I think allowing other artists to come in and experience the brand and also the hand-craftedness, which I feel like we’re missing a lot when we buy stuff from Target and West Elm. Big corporations like that, you’re not getting this hand-touched element to it all. Working at a big corporation, I see how mass production works, but I’m able to do more of that American-made hand-craftedness.

So, one thing I’m trying to do with my brand that a lot of corporations can’t do is making it ethical. We’re using all solid brass, all our wood products are locally sourced and sustainably harvested. We do import products, but I do a lot of research to make sure it’s fair trade. All our fabrics are going to be naturally dyed with vegetables or dried flowers.

4. Has it been difficult to design into being ethical?

It’s just a material. I’m substituting materials we would usually build with, but I’m doing it the right way. I think maybe with my colors I’m designing into it a little bit, but those colors speak to me. I also just love the idea that thees colors come from the earth.

I just want to challenge myself and learn new materials, and I like that furniture taught me all these different materials and things I would not have been able to learn.

5. Tell me about your aesthetic.

My aesthetic is very thought out for my consumer. If you want to get feminist with it, the furniture industry is actually saturated with male designers and makers. There’s not that many women out there who feel like they can get into woodworking or welding. That’s just something our industry is rarely saturated in—it’s just so many men doing it. That really translates into design. If you look at West Elm or CB2 or any of these big corporate brands, they’re very masculine. The only way we really see feminine design is usually through color, and not everyone wants a hot-pink sofa, you know?

One thing I’m doing with my brand is being extremely thoughtful with my design and adding more feminine touches, but we’re not doing hot pink. It’s a softer, more easy-to-take feminine design. It’s not shouting at you. That’s one thing I’m really aiming for with my designs.

I also intentionally design almost minimal in color, and I have very feminine details to my design, but in a minimalistic way. I feel like furniture and lighting is a very understated form of art. We are so intimate with our furniture, and we don’t really think about it. Like our sofa: we watch TV and take naps on it. We have a dining room table we sit and eat at. It’s not something we think about every day as a piece of art, but it’s a piece of art that’s so functional to you. That’s something that really drove me to furniture as well.

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