It’s one thing to find a home product that ticks all the right boxes in terms of style, price and function, but it’s another thing altogether when you discover a brand that is as committed to giving back as it is to making products that are truly beautiful...
Armadillo & Co products are 100% handmade, using Fair Trade practices with natural and sustainable fibres. Their iconic rugs, which combine traditional sensibilities with modern-day design and sustainability practices, are favoured by interior aficionados and experts with good reason – simply put, they’re everything you want in a floor covering and more. “We are authentic and passionate about keeping our vision and mission simple, which is to create quality and simple earthy handmade rugs and give back during the process”, says co-founder and mother of three Jodie Fried.
Hailing from Adelaide but now based in Venice, California with her husband and children, Jodie’s commitment to giving back and sustainability have seen Armadillo & Co fund schools, scholarships and families in India, with the newly created philanthropic arm to their business, Armadillo & Co Foundation, currently sponsoring a local school in their weavers’ area where all the salaries, books, uniforms and expenses are paid for. “It was always extremely important to us that each purchase gave back and that we built a company on sustainable and ethical production. As a result, Armadillo & Co provides employment and helps sustain an industry of ancient craftsmanship, supports education and local schools in our weaver’s villages and builds brighter futures for children in underprivileged communities,” explains Jodie.
We caught up with the endlessly inspiring businesswoman and philanthropist to talk business, Bollywood, living in California with three kids and finding that ever-elusive work/family balance…
How would you describe yourself in three words?
Passionate, energetic and nurturing.
What has motherhood taught you?
To be present and live in the moment.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Concentrate and try harder in maths class.
What has been the most challenging part of motherhood and how have you overcome any challenges?
Work/life balance and dealing with mother guilt. The struggle is real.
What’s your approach to health and wellbeing?
We are so lucky to live amongst such healthy resources here in LA with farmers markets, organic produce and incredible juiceries. We try to teach our children to have a healthy perspective on food and how to make the right choices. We are very active as a family, riding bikes to school, surfing and generally getting out and about in LA with hikes and swimming at the beach. It’s very easy to be healthy here, particularly with such great weather.
Can you talk us through your career path and how you came to launch Armadillo & Co?
My background is actually as a theatre costume designer! I worked in theatre, then film (where I met my husband) and then my life changed when I went to work in Bollywood in India. I wonder what would have happened had I not been there during those times. I started my first homewares company and then Sally and I joined forces eight years ago when we were inspired to create a product which we couldn’t find on the market. We wanted to create a product which was simple, high quality, timeless and handmade which we could produce sustainably and social responsibly. We are both inspired by our roots of Australian living, classic interiors and products that are high quality and that will last. We decided to make what we couldn’t find and Armadillo & Co was born in 2009. It was always extremely important to us that each purchase gave back and that we built a company on sustainable and ethical production. As a result, Armadillo & Co provides employment and helps sustain an industry of ancient craftsmanship, supports education and local schools in our weavers’ villages and builds brighter futures for children in underprivileged communities.
Have you always focused on giving back and sustainability – did your parents teach you about this growing up?
My parents always taught us to be compassionate, but it all really started when I went to rebuild villages on the border of Pakistan and India after a devastating earthquake in 2001. I was inspired to create my first business after working closely with the women there and creating a sustainable income with them using their handicrafts. I then went on to incorporate a not for profit organization which builds preschools in India. We built 16 preschools in urban slum communities and supported pregnant and nursing mothers. I am extremely passionate about giving back and it is the absolute essence of what we do at Armadillo & Co and is the backbone of our company and its culture. I am very proud of this.
How do you teach your children about sustainability and social responsibility?
Our children have learnt a lot from all our travelling and being exposed to different cultures and also from living in Venice which is a melting pot of cultures, languages and sadly also has a lot of homelessness. We talk to our kids about diversity, poverty, culture, beliefs and ways of life. We are very open with our children and we don’t hide much. It is the only way they learn. They have also been exposed to my philanthropic work in India since they were born and we talk a lot about how lucky we are. They ask a lot of questions about why some people are homeless (the response from my middle son was, “well we have a big house, they should come and live with us”) and why would someone lose their job, why everyone can’t get married, why do my Mexican friends have to go back to Mexico and so on. Big questions from little people and we don’t shy away from the truth. We also teach them empathy and how we can help people. We ask them “what can we do as a family which will make a difference?”. Recently we packed up all our toys and clothes and they packed them for the communities in Mexico after the earthquake. And our middle son is the water conservationist “mama, turn off the tap, California is in a drought!”.
Tell us about your work with Care & Fair?
At Armadillo & Co we work closely and responsibly with our weavers, providing them with fair salaries and support to their families when they need it. We also work in partnership with Care & Fair, which is an initiative against illegal child labour in the carpet production industry in India, Nepal and Pakistan. We are the primary funders for a local school in our weavers’ areas, which caters for grades 1-5 with more than 450 children in attendance. We pay for all the salaries, uniforms, books, maintenance and have plans to build extra classrooms.
“ I will never forget taking Felix, my eldest son to India when he was only four months old. He was very white and round and every time I was there with him, people would just take him out of my arms and he would be passed around all the village people ”
What have been some memorable moments when you’ve visited your artisans in the villages? Talk us through a moment or experience that you’ll never forget…
It is the most incredible experience year after year of visiting our weavers in the villages. They always welcome us with open arms and we always meet the whole family. Many of our artisans work from their homes or looms in their villages. I will never forget taking Felix, my eldest son to India when he was only four months old. He was very white and round and every time I was there with him, people would just take him out of my arms and he would be passed around all the village people. At one point I couldn’t find him, but someone had taken him into one of their houses and he was lying in a hammock with a little Indian baby about the same age. There is so much love in these villages and families.
Armadillo & Co has recently founded a philanthropic arm – The Armadillo & Co Foundation – tell us more about this inspiring initiative…
We are excited to have just incorporated a dedicated philanthropic arm to our business called the Armadillo & Co Foundation. We are currently sponsoring a local school in our weavers’ area where we pay for all the salaries, books, uniforms and expenses. We are setting up scholarships for girls to further their education in the main cities based on the success of their education at this school. The scholarship will provide college fees, all materials, transport and other expenses associated with this transition. Many girls are encouraged to stay home after elementary school, so we are passionate about giving them an opportunity to further their education. We will also be continuing to support Manav Sadhna and their educational programs in slum communities in Gujarat as well as other schools in the weavers’ area through Care & Fair.
Talk us through how you connect with your consumer? How important is social media in your business?
Social media is a big channel for us to connect with the end users of our products. It is a great platform for us to be able to have our voice, curate our imagery and connect one to one with our consumers. It is also a great place to be able to really delve into the background of how their rug is made and what their purchase benefits.
Who are your role models? Who do you admire?
Blake Myscoskie, from Toms shoes who created a business around giving back. Steve Jobs for creating a product which was so unique, and desirable with sensational marketing and James Perse for a classic quality made product but also amazing company culture.
What are some vivid memories of your childhood?
I grew up in Adelaide, spending a lot of my time making and creating things. I used to make models, paint and do sculpture. I was also very free-spirited and drove my parents mad. I have great memories of a kid being really free, climbing trees, riding bikes in the street, exploring and not seeing adults for hours!
What’s the most challenging part of running your own business? What does it take to make it in business?
The most challenging part of running your own business is not being able to switch off. Always wanting to do more. Seeing opportunity in everything and knowing when the draw the line. To make a business, you need a clear vision, you need to stay true to your philosophies and you need to take risks. It also takes an exceptional team of people surrounding you to make it in business. My business mentor told me to surround yourself with people who are better than you, and we have done exactly that!
What are the ingredients of a successful business partnership – is it hard working from different countries?
My business partnership with Sally is truly one of a kind. We are so lucky to have found each other. Our partnership is so effortless and because we have such different strengths and complimentary attention to details which we can bring into one very thorough vision. I am like the accelerator and Sally is the brakes, separately we would be a disaster, but together it’s perfect. Sally is much more in the details, and I am big picture, together we design the products and have a united vision for the company.
How do you juggle your children with work – how do you make it work for you?
The struggle is real. I am lucky given I have the ability to choose my own schedule which I work around the children’s activities. I tend to drop the kids off at school, then have a surf and work until the late afternoon until I am with the kids again and then work again in the night which is more suitable for Australia time zone meetings. I do find that when I work and do what I love, I am a better mother and when I am with my kids, it makes me better with my work. It’s a constant juggle finding that balance.
How would you describe your approach to parenting?
I like to run a tight ship. I have always been about routines and once had romantic visions of being a free-spirited kind of mama but quickly worked out that that approach didn’t work for me. I believe the biggest gift I feel I gave our kids was a strict routine of sleep/eat/play on high rotation. They are now such healthy eaters and incredible sleepers. Everyone is asleep by 7 pm and awake around 6.30/7 am and quite often they ASK to go to bed! Parenting WIN right there!
My husband and I are quite old fashioned when it comes to respect, manners, communication, empathy and compassion and have quite high expectations of these things from our children, even from an early age. Sibling rivalry is ever present with three kids, but we tend to just let them work it out, which generally makes for a very noisy household!
Motherhood is all about prioritising – what do you prioritise and what do you let slide?
I prioritize the emotional needs of my family, whether it be a long story time session, date night, one on one time or being a present parent in the kids’ classroom. Every week, I carve out time individually for each child to make sure we have that special time together (even if it’s just doing the grocery shopping or some errands together – they love the one on one attention). Despite all my Virgo tendencies, I will leave a bed unmade or dishes in the sink and run to the beach with the kids. Always a downer when we come home but the beach dash was totally worth it!
Tell us about your home – are you tidy or messy?
Tidy. I like to have a place for everything and everything in its place! However, we do have a kitchen “catch-all” drawer which gets me very stressed! It is good for everyone to have a clear and clean environment. I like to keep our materialistic things simple, we have regular toy and clothes cull. I always keep books. Because my husband and I both work in creative industries and look at images all day, we like our home to very clear and uncluttered.
How often do you move around/change your rugs?
My husband would argue that I do this way too often! As we road test our rugs for at least 18 months before they go to market, our rugs are literally littered around the house, often layered and in places they shouldn’t be! It’s a very good way to get to know the rugs.
What are some key rugs from Armadillo & Co this season?
Why do you think Armadillo & Co has been such a success?
Because we truly love and believe in what we do. We are authentic and passionate about keeping our vision and mission simple, which is to create quality and simple earthy handmade rugs and give back during the process. Our consumers are a big part of this story and achieve a great interior at the same time. It’s win win.
What three things does every great room need?
A rug of course, beautiful mood lighting and something unique and personal, something that tells a story.
What makes you laugh?
Definitely my kids. Some of the things they say and do are nothing short of brilliant.
What makes you feel stressed?
I hate being late. I am seriously unfashionably early to everything.
How is your surfing going?
I am really loving my surfing. It is totally my own space with no distractions and every session is different. I immediately always feel so much better, it’s a mental and physical reset for me. It’s very meditative. There is no technology and no time, and you really need to concentrate and learn to read the water. Never turn your back on the ocean!
What took you to LA and how does life differ there – was it easy to settle in?
My husband is a cinematographer (Lion, Rogue One, Zero Dark Thirty) and we came to LA for his career almost 10 years ago. I was able to work with Armadillo & Co remotely, and we had no children at the time, so we moved around a lot for his work: LA, New Mexico, New York, London all before settling in Venice, California. It was a very easy transition as the Californian lifestyle is so similar to that of Australia. We also have many expat friends here and many are also film families, so it’s a great support system. We certainly found our village!