Laura Tripp and Caroline Cockerham both grew up on North Carolina farmland and studied textiles at N.C. State, but they met across the country, working for Patagonia in California’s Bay Area. In a tale as winding as their handmade rugs, they ended up living in the same New York borough. Many cups of coffee and glasses of wine catapulted the pair to start CICIL: “all-natural area rugs for home and habitat.”
What’s behind the name CICIL?
Caroline: “Cecil” is the type of soil in North Carolina and the areas where we grew up. And our brand is intimately connected to soil and farmers. Our end goal is to create regenerative supply chains that are not only doing less harm than other textiles but are actually doing good for the environment and healing the soil and ecosystem they’re grown in. Then we spelled it CICIL to confuse everyone.
Can you tell me a bit about your younger years before CICIL?
Laura: I grew up in Eastern North Carolina in a small town with a family farming background. So, I was aware of the textile world from a young age. When I toured the textile school at N.C. State, I loved the mix of technology with the handmade element. I just fell in love with it from there.
Since then, I’ve been working in the textile industry in various roles, developing fabrics for apparel and home goods. It’s a funny happenstance that we met on the other side of the country. There’s a big community of people within Patagonia from North Carolina because of the textile school. We learned a lot about sustainability and built the foundation for CICIL.
How did you decide to start CICIL?
Caroline: I got my Master’s degree in textile sustainability at State, too. That sent me on a trajectory to focus on sustainability related to textiles. It’s a whole “Wild Wild West” world. We learned all these things and had these incredible experiences with other brands. But we also had some not-so-good experiences. CICIL brings to life all the things that brands should be doing, from sustainability to product design and development.
Where do your materials come from?
Laura: We source wool from a supply chain spanning the northeast but focused in upstate New York. We work with a cooperative of small farmers who help pull the wool for us to purchase. We also work with a shearer who goes around shearing the wool and helping us collect and find it. It’s kind of a wild way to work because we’re pulling together a couple hundred pounds at a time. And it takes a lot of wool to make our rugs.
After you have the wool, what’s next?
Laura: We bring the wool down to South Carolina, where it is washed with just soap and water. At that point, we also blend some of the natural colors with white wool to make our range of shades. Then it’s shipped to our manufacturer in North Carolina, who spins everything, braids the materials, and makes the rugs.
Caroline: The process is less than a thousand miles from start to finish. Proximity-wise, it’s simple, and we try not to introduce any middlemen. We’re working directly with each phase of the process, allowing us a lot of transparency to what’s going on.
What’s a common misconception people have about home textiles?
Caroline: In the home goods world, the “easy care finish” thing makes me cringe the most. It’s highly marketed towards people with kids and families. Stain resistance, in general, is synonymous with toxic chemicals that shouldn’t be in our homes or environments. They’re carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting “forever” chemicals.
Who would your dream custom client be?
Caroline: A hotel that needs a lot of rugs [laughs]. We’re talking to a few. We can make rugs all day long, and we’re growing fast, but we’re really learning the importance of marketing. These bigger clients who place larger orders are so important to us.
What three tips would you give someone looking to replace or revamp their rug game?
- Caroline: Focus on natural fibers. There are so many synthetic fibers out there. Washable rugs, for example, are not made for longevity, yet they live in a landfill for thousands of years.
- Caroline: Stay away from stain resistance. It can get pretty gnarly, so pay attention to the source, how they’re made, and where they’re coming from.
- Laura: From a style perspective, the world is your oyster. A rug can be such a simple thing that ties the room together. Or it can be the focal point. That’s why it’s so much fun.
Where can we find you on your days off?
Caroline: It depends on the time of year, but I love Western North Carolina’s mountains and outdoors. My family has an off-grid cabin up there that we often visit in summer.
Laura: The coast. My family has been building a little house for many years on the Pamlico. I just love to be around the water, and there is nowhere in the world like North Carolina beaches.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received, and from whom?
Caroline: There’s so much good advice out there. But one of our old directors at Patagonia told our group to “fail often and fail early.” It was typically in reference to Patagonia’s rigorous fabric testing and quality standards. But it’s also valid in life. Get out there and try!
Laura: Since we have been in this entrepreneurial small business world, it’s been true with every single little project we do. We have to start somewhere. We have to get it out the door. We have to become really good at failing, iterating, changing, and learning from what we did before.
Thanks so much for chatting, Laura and Caroline! (BRB, ordering new rugs.)
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