For Brooklyn-based photographer, designer, and maker Bekka Palmer, creating things by hand is not something she’s had to cultivate throughout the years, it’s simply innate to who she is. Since the beginning, she has spent her entire life around creative people with a unique energy and vision.
“I spent my childhood alternating between sitting on the floor of my mom’s sewing room and helping my dad in his wood shop. I watched them with a careful eye and picked up their incredible attention to detail.”
This attention to detail, passion for sewing, and constant urge to make new things has manifested into her very own textile brand, Closed Mondays. As a young NYC-based creative running a small business, she’s wholeheartedly embraced the notion that not all things need to fit the status quo. At the heart of it, Closed Mondays’ primary goal is push the boundaries and to leave the world a little bit better. This is evident not only in Bekka’s distinguished designs, bold color patterns and unique material mash-ups, but also the way her company supports the individual needs of its employees, provides fair wages, and uses sustainably sourced materials. Bekka believes that “if people have a great life outside of work, they bring more energy into their work,” hence why Closed Mondays is, indeed, closed on Mondays. Read on below!
Photography by Lindsey Swedick.
Please tell us a little about yourself and Closed Mondays.
We are a textile brand currently making baskets and bags out of rope and thread. We are here to give fair wages to our producers and spread the word about ethical manufacturing. Every item is made with love in our studio in Brooklyn, NY. Why Closed Mondays? We feel as though the traditional Monday through Friday 9-5 isn’t necessary in the modern world. We believe that if people have a great life outside of work, they bring more energy into their work. “Great life” means different things to different people, but we think that having extra time to take care of life stuff (whether it’s family, self-care, doctors appointments, or just a whole day to binge watch TV) allows people to fully focus on work stuff while at work. Closed Mondays was founded by me, Bekka Palmer. I’m is a designer, photographer and generally crafty person who feels physical pain at the sight of fast fashion and poor working conditions.
What inspired you to start your own business? What is your background in handcrafted design?
I have spent my entire memorable life making things. My grandma made quilts and pies, my aunt is a quilter, my mom sewed her own clothing during my early life, my stepmom was a seamstress and my dad makes furniture. I was surrounded by people who made things in their free time, so it felt really natural to just make things. I was handed tools and maybe given a few tips, but was generally free to make whatever I felt like. I remember even as a kid feeling a physical itch from inside of me if I went a few days without making something. Something innate drives me to constantly try making new things.
Last year, I decided to make “making things” my career and I started Closed Mondays. But before that, I had a few failed Etsy shops and sold some things under my name before taking the leap and deciding that this was going to be my full time gig. I thought that by registering a business, it would make it more real and I immediately started taking it seriously. The day I registered the business it went from hobby to job.
Tell us more about your decision to be literally closed on Mondays.
Both of my parents worked for a company where they had alternating Fridays off of work. They would work 9 hour days as opposed to 8 hour days and that would essentially buy them Fridays off twice a month. I remember when their company switched to that schedule how happy it made them. We took a lot more three-day camping trips after that moment. Having that extra day allowed them to take longer weekends away, or just take care of that annoying stuff that life requires—like taking the car for an oil change or getting your teeth cleaned. I wanted to be able to bring that quality of life with me into my business. So I decided we would be Closed Mondays. It’s a little tough to get used to longer work days the other four days, but it’s not tough at all to get used to three day weekends. I just don’t believe that you need to be sitting in front of a desk from 9 to 5 for five days in a row.
An important aspect of what drives your vision for the brand is ethical manufacturing and fair wages. Where do you source your materials and what aspects of ethical manufacturing are most important to you?
I would love be be able to say that every aspect of our materials and labor is above and beyond any ethical or environmental standards that you would see today, but for now, what I am focused on is how people are treated. So, for us, that means that our products are not necessarily organic, but the cotton we use is grown in the United States and also processed and manufactured in America. That, at the least, allows me to sleep well at night, knowing workers here are guaranteed certain wages and rights. In the future, I would love to be sourcing organic American cotton that is manufactured in a factory that pays $15+ per hour to their workers. Of course, that would mean our cost of materials would increase, but I like to think of our customers as people who would stick with us as we are trying to do better. I would like to think that if we increased our prices in order to pay better wages, then our customers would rejoice at that.
Tell us about your studio space.
The studio is within a larger space called The Bakery. It used to be a jewish bakery years ago, and occasionally someone will show up at the door asking for baked goods. It’s a relatively small studio space but it’s a pretty efficient use of space. I personally need my work surfaces clear of junk, but the walls and shelves can be filled to the brim with inspiration, old work or just junk. It might not look it to an outsider, but it’s actually extremely organized due to space constraints. There is a lot going on along the walls!
What direction do you hope Closed Mondays goes in the next few years? What new project are you the most excited about?
I would love to see Closed Mondays turn into a little mini factory soon. It would be great to have a few people coming in to manufacture the products and maybe some administrative staff to keep it running. In general, I am more prone to having a lean business that can adapt quickly, because personally I like to change directions every couple of years. I also see a future (maybe a little further down the road) where we can help employees launch their own businesses. I think our company could become a kind of incubator for other textile-based businesses. For example, if a team member wants to come in after hours or weekends to use our equipment, that seems like a great use of our assets to help someone else out.
The things I am excited about right now are our mixed media pieces that launched recently. They are half ceramic, half woven basket and all of them at this point are one-of-a-kind pieces that are incredibly rewarding to make.
What’s your current favorite product and why?
My favorite basket is our newest one, Archie, because it’s the first that isn’t made from a single coil of rope. It’s been a good challenge to try and come up with new shapes that aren’t circles.
What is it like being a small business owner, artist, photographer, blogger in NYC?
Some days I think New York is the best city in the world to be a business owner in, because you have a bigger support system here and access to other larger businesses (like West Elm, for example) that can really help you move to another level. On the other hand, the cost of doing things, especially paying rent here, is somewhat prohibitive. I also feel like paying someone $15 per hour in a small town could be a life-changing amount of money, whereas in NYC, that barely gets you above the poverty line. So, some days I feel like leaving and getting more bang for my buck elsewhere, but then I sit down and think about where I would rather be and there is no place else for me.
What do you love most about your community in NYC?
This is what keeps me here more than anything. I have met the closest friends I have ever had and found a partner here. It would be impossible to leave my support system. Everyone I know in New York is struggling with something and that means you always have someone to commiserate with or learn from. I have so many friends that go through the same creative, financial or romantic struggles and being near them, being able to talk to them regularly, is what makes New York so great.
Top 5 places to visit in NYC?
My favorite food in all of New York City is Caracas Arepas, and my favorite pizza is probably Di Fara. If I had to take someone somewhere for a single day I would take them either to The Rockaways to go surfing or to ride bikes on Governor’s Island. I spend a lot of time at the waterfront parks on the East River—anything from Long Island City all the way down to Bay Ridge. I think it’s incredible that the city has recognized how much people love waterfront parks and opened up all of this public space. My favorite thing is looking around at all of the other people enjoying the park right along with you. My favorite cocktail is at Clover Club, the Improved Whiskey Cocktail.