L.A.-based interior designer Rebecca Haskins scours the world for handmade homewares, textiles and accessories that are made with sustainable materials and tell a story. Here, the U.K. native discusses founding NOMA Collective (nomacollective.com), her seasonal collection of curated items and how she’s been able to support female artisan communities.
PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE LEA
How did your global travels deepen your interest in handcrafted pieces and inspire your company? It was during my first trip to Guatemala that the idea for NOMA Collective’s homewares collection was born. I encountered a small artisan weaving community in a village on the shores of Lake Atitlan. It was founded by a woman named Rosa and she shared her story of how she started her weaving cooperative. I saw with my own eyes the beauty of their products and the skill that went into weaving them. They showed me their ancient weaving practice of backstrap loom weaving. I witnessed how they weaved their hearts and life stories into every single thread. I felt so inspired to share their art and stories with the world. I realized that by utilizing my knowledge of the modern home goods market, I could act as a bridge for these artisans, working with them to design modern products that people would want in their homes.
Why did you decide to launch NOMA Collective during the pandemic, and what were the challenges in doing so? It was a difficult time to launch, but what drove me into action was seeing what an incredibly challenging time it was for the artisans; I knew they needed work and income more than ever. In fact, the first products that we ever made were handwoven masks with an artisan cooperative in Guatemala. When COVID hit, the Guatemalan government restricted movement between villages and it was difficult to transport our products across Lake Atitlan to the town where they are shipped out from. We wanted to be able to work with and provide much-needed income for the artisans, but we also needed to work around the restrictions and keep everyone safe.
The Malibu Edit blanket collection is inspired by the area’s sandy beaches and local history PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE LEA
Why did you want to partner with female artisans? While talking to Rosa, she shared with me how she had faced great adversity trying to open up her weaving cooperative as a woman. Traditionally, only men were allowed to weave and women were tasked with staying home and taking care of the children. When she tried to open her shop, the men in the village, including her husband, pushed back—so much so that the male authorities of the village had her jailed. Determined to empower the other women in her community, many of whom were widowed or divorced and had no means of supporting themselves, Rosa started her weaving cooperative in secret and those who were married would hide their work from their husbands. After much persistence and perseverance from Rosa, the men eventually saw the economic value in her mission. I realized how many challenges these women had faced to be able to achieve economic independence and that by working in partnership with them, I could support them in achieving this.
What do you think distinguishes your products and aesthetic? All of our products are made with naturally sourced, local materials that are native to where the product is being made. They are also dyed using all-natural dyes from local plants, trees and flowers. These elements give them a unique aesthetic of very natural, earthy elements with soft pops of color. Our designs are inspired by the natural environment and handmade to the highest quality, and our products carry the energy and spirit of the maker.
NOMA Collective baskets and hampers are handmade by Wolof women from a village in Senegal, West Africa. PHOTO BY CHARLOTTE LEA
Which areas of the world do you deal with, and which crafts do these areas specialize in? We currently work in partnership with artisan groups in Central America—Mexico and Guatemala—where they specialize in the ancient weaving techniques of backstrap loom, pedal loom weaving and flying shuttle loom weaving of cotton and wool. This is where most of our textiles come from. In Mexico, we also work with potters who make our Oaxacan blessing beads, and stone masons who carve our Oaxacan marble coasters. We work with groups in Africa—Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Burundi and Senegal—where they specialize in ancient wood carving technique, and handweaving of natural fibers and grasses. This is where our hampers, baskets, trays, bowls and most of our tabletop collection are made. In India, the artisans we work with specialize in spinning and weaving linen from fibers derived from the flax plant—this is where our linen napkins are made.
What inspired the Malibu Edit, and how do these blankets reflect California? The Malibu Edit was inspired by the wide sandy beaches, inimitable magic and colorful soul of Malibu. Growing up in England, Malibu has always been one of my favorite spots in California and captures the true essence of the laid-back California beach lifestyle. The collection, featuring a minimalist aesthetic with gentle pops of color, was designed to bring these magical Malibu vibrations into people’s homes.
What’s next for you and NOMA Collective? We are currently exploring working with cooperatives in new countries including Morocco, Peru and Vietnam and expanding our artisan collective. We are also looking to launch a NOMA baby collection later this year, so stay tuned for that!