Molly de Vries has a very special Bay Area company, Ambatalia. The name is actually born from a Trinidad song about empowering women and nurturing the earth and Molly couldn't be a better living and breathing representation of the namesake of her company or her mission for the work she does. I first met Molly at the Marin Country Mart Farmers Market. She has a booth right next to my Marge booth and we spend many a Saturday chit-chatting and catching up with each others' lives. But the first time I really began to understand what Molly was aiming to do with Ambatalia was the day she turned down a slice of pie I offered her because it was in a clamshell container. Oh no, I assured her, it's corn-based -- not plastic. That helped. But Molly routinely and deliberately eschews any containers or packaging for a simpler way of carrying and transporting goods -- whether that be a cinnamon roll in the morning or how she brings her goods to the farmers market each morning. She's the real deal. I decided to take some time away from the market to talk to Molly about how she began and what her intentions are for her burgeoning business. I couldn't have been more inspired.
Tell me a little about your business and how/why you decided to start it.
I had closed my downtown Mill Valley fabric shop in 2004 and Tyler Florence approached me to do a kitchen line for his store. I had always created goods in and around the kitchen and the act of shopping but this really pushed me to focus on my passion for useful, sustainable textiles. After being a hairdresser for twenty years, I wanted to do something meaningful and after a year of focusing on what that would look like, when I turned forty, I started to put together clues from my life and Ambatalia was born.
I wanted to do handmade goods with integrity and beauty have a real sense of honor in my work -- the opposite of all the mass-produced plastic stuff floating around. When I walked into Joanne fabrics or other large chains, I'd just see yards and yards of plastic fleece but no wool. This seemed crazy to me. So my goal really became buying fabrics with the most integrity. the closest in distance, and as sustainable as possible.
Your business is decidedly centered around food: the serving of it, the presentation of it, the transportation of it. How did you come around to food?
Well, food and textiles have so much in common, at least in my mind. There's an obvious link in the way in which we honor our food with beautiful cloth on our table and in our kitchen, but more importantly, the people making the cloth have a direct impact on us as individuals and families. The people that are making our clothes across the globe have faces and families. So often these days, we don't take a moment to think about them, we just want a good price. And I walk down the aisles of stores and restaurants and see all of the plastic packaging, especially in the food industry, and puzzle over how so many people don't think about where all of that plastic ends up. So now, as a society, we're finally starting to understand the benefits of buying local, organic food and the importance of knowing our farmers. I believe that it's just as important to buy our textiles in the same way.
Do you think living in the Bay Area allows your business to flourish? If so, how so?
I think so and largely because we’re so cosmopolitan and the whole local food movement is thriving here. People are more receptive to paying a little more to benefit the environment or local producers and artisans. The question always remains though: how do I produce as much as I can using materials that originate as close to home as possible? So it costs more. It does. But there's a trade-off.
What have been the highlights of being a small business owner in the Bay Area thus far?
Well, the highlights are really that I grew up here; I’m native. I’ve always been a small business owner, attracting a community that I love so there has really never been anything else for me. The area itself is a source of creativity and I get the chance to be supported in doing what I love. I love bringing lightness and awareness to something I think is really important. I truly believe in doing the right thing even before making the money. I feel small business can create change where it counts.
What challenges are you facing right now in terms of growth or vision?
My vision is very clear. Honestly, the biggest challenge is about doing everything myself and figuring out a way to grow and balance within that. It's just about learning and asking for help. And right now one of my bigger challenges is the marketing side of the business-- there's only so many hours in the day!
What inspires you, day to day?
Nature, the colors of nature around me. My kids. Also, really humble and simple objects whether it be a tool or just a simple object.
I get really inspired by watching older people and how they do things. There’s something that we’re lacking in our society today. Something that unites us in a deep way...slowing down and creating something, making something useful. That’s inspiring.
What are your goals for the future of Ambatalia?
Immediate goals would be expansion in scope. Right now I do housewares including aprons, furoshiki dish towels, table coverings, and shopping textiles as an alternative to plastic, paper and packaging. I'm looking to broaden my horizons and do linen bath towels, mats, shower curtains. I'm really excited about being a part of our own fibershed project even though it's an ancient way of producing, it is a totally new concept these days. In short, it's where goods are grown and sewn close to home. I will be incorporating plant dying into my products done by Rebecca Burgess and locally produced fiber which would include organic cotton grown here in California by Sally Fox and possibly incorporate some local wool because it is in such abundance here in Marin. In the near future I plan to do a whole collection around the principles of the project. Getting the fibershed stamp of approval would mean the highest level of sustainability to me. That'll really finally bring it completely full-circle.
As a certified green business since 2005, I have sewn all of my products myself and I've just begun training men and woman to sew my products rather then going to a factory in the city. I also want to find weavers here where there is a rich community of weavers. I really believe in connection and relationships. Giving power and support rather than getting what you need or want for the very cheapest price.