Mar Y Sol
Style — Fashion

Mar Y Sol

United States

Mood of Living  /  Apr 24, 2014

With a passion for social work, Brooklyn based Laurel Brandstetter traveled to Madagascar in 2003 searching for the right economic sustainability project that would speak to her. It did not take long before she found her inspiration in creating what is Mar Y Sol today.

It was the Malagasy’s eye for colors and patterns that first caught her attention. She managed to meet with dozens of artisan groups that all had one vision in common: bringing their products to the global marketplace. Brandstetter and her team in Madagascar have collaborated with designer Elizabeth Randlett and together they’ve created exquisite products from sustainable materials.

Today, their handmade accessories can be found in major department stores and boutiques all over the United States, and the sales help Malagasy families gain economic independence.

Q & A with Laurel Brandstetter

Mood of Living: Where did you grow up?
Laurel Brandstetter: Cleveland, Ohio
MoL: Where do you live now?
LB: Brooklyn, NY
MoL: What were you doing before your current occupation?
LB: A city planner
MoL: What inspired you to make your raffia hats and handbags in Madagascar?
LB: I wanted to do a sustainable economic development project and I had a relative doing community development work in Madagascar.  I traveled there and was mind blown by the talent of the artisans and the beautiful basketwork.
MoL: What is so special about the artisans of Madagascar?
LB: Broadly, they have an interesting eye for color and pattern, their technical skills are incredible and they design beautiful things.  They use a diverse range of materials and techniques from woven raffia to carved wood to hand spun wild silk
MoL: How is your company giving back to the local community and artisans?
LB: What grew from a small family of artisans with one sewing machine has grown into collaboration among hundreds of artisans in rural and urban areas.  Mar Y Sol pays fair prices for our goods and treat our artisans as partners, from the design level to the finished product.  We do our best to source our raw materials responsibly and use only what’s locally available in Madagascar. We don’t view the artisans as strictly a labor force. None of what Mar Y Sol has accomplished would be possible without teamwork.  We’ve worked with dozens of community groups and organizations in the capital city to provide foreign market, product development, export readiness training to lots of groups outside of our team.  We’ve worked on clean water projects, education and environmental initiatives.  We’re always trying to figure out the way to be most impactful.
MoL: Where do you look for inspiration?
LB: I look for inspiration from our artisan partners, from traveling in Madagascar, from what other innovative companies are up to and from life in general.
MoL: When was the moment you realized you could really do this?
LB: Maybe in 2004 when a high profile magazine called me to source a Kenyan tote and I put a ridiculous amount of money on my credit card to have one express shipped to NY from a not for profit group we were working with there at the time.  They printed it and we had a ton of sales on our website for the first time.  I realized I had a natural entrepreneurial spirit in that moment.
MoL: What is your favorite hobby?
LB: It’s always changing. These days I’m into gardening on my roof deck and attending magic shows. I have a quilting class next week and I take tennis lessons in the summer.
MoL: What is your favorite quote?
LB: “Do or do not.  There is no try.” –Yoda
MoL: Do you have an influential figure in your life that inspired you?
LB: I have a handful of badass women who have served as mentors throughout my life, including my own mother. They make me feel empowered and energetic.
MoL: What is the best advice you’ve ever received and from whom?
LB: I guess it’s a tie.  My mom’s best friend discouraged me from wanting to be a social worker because I get too emotionally invested in things.  I was really young at the time.  It was very insightful.  And an artisan in Madagascar during one of our early meetings expressed that I should go back to NYC and focus on sales and stop trying to save Madagascar.  She felt that if I did what I could do best and she did what she could do best, given what we each had access to, we would both succeed.  She was right.
MoL: If you could have a conversation with any living person, who would it be and why?
LB: Jay Z.  He’s had an incredible diversity of life experience and seems extremely balanced.  Plus, his poetry is incredible.
MoL: What is something you know now that you wish you knew before?
LB: I’m finally getting old enough to have better self-esteem. That’s pretty nice.
MoL: Do you have any words of wisdom?
LB: Keep it moving.
MoL: Where do you go to for a peace of mind?
LB: Home.
MoL: How do you achieve a peace of mind?
LB: I rarely do. I’ve got a lot to work on in that department. I feel pretty peaceful when I’m gardening. Otherwise, my mind is racing.
MoL: What advice can you give to anyone interested in starting his or her own business?
LB: Be sure you have an entrepreneurial spirit and not just a good idea.  Be willing to take big risks but make sure they’re smart ones.
Designer Elizabeth Randlett and Founder Laurel Brandstetter of Mar Y Sol.
Designer Elizabeth Randlett and Founder Laurel Brandstetter of Mar Y Sol.
Photography courtesy of Mar Y Sol

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