photo credit: Beautiful Era Photography
Sara Okern is the inspiring owner and maker behind Andas Mer modern weaving studio. Her handwoven rugs can be found online and in many local Twin Cities boutiques. After studying music and theater design in college, Sara had a hard time breaking into a career in the arts and ended up in retail and customer service.
In 2016 the idea to weave yoga mats got stuck in her head. The only problem? She didn’t know how to weave. A seven-week class led to buying her own second-hand loom, falling in love with the craft, and creating her first ready-made woven collection. Read on to discover how Sara launched her business, honors her intuition, and values her own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being by stepping away from work when it’s necessary.
Tell us about Andas Mer.
I design and make handwoven rugs and artwork using reclaimed material sourced from the local cut and sew industry. I primarily sell wholesale to local boutiques, but I do pop-up at occasional live events and sell my work directly to customers.
What was your first job growing up, and what did you learn from it?
My first job was going to the family dairy farm to help with chores, and when I turned 14 I was a dishwasher in a camp kitchen. I learned a lot about hard and dirty work. I point to these early experiences as the foundation of my strong work ethic.
Tell us about your career path before starting your own company, and how it got you to where you are today.
It has definitely not been a straight path! I studied music and theatre design in college. When I entered the job market in 2007 I had a hard time starting a new career in the arts, so I worked a few retail and customer service jobs.
I was able to hone my visual merchandising and sales skills, see the inner workings of a well-crafted brand, learn the value of procedures for efficiency, and handle challenging customers. Even though what I do now is not a direct result of my work history, every job I’ve had has given me valuable experience in the operations of a business.
Tell us the story of why and how you started your business.
Around this time two years ago, I got this weird idea that I should start weaving travel yoga mats. The strangest part was that I didn’t know how to weave. I signed up for a seven-week beginner class with the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, and by the last week, I had purchased a second-hand loom and registered for another class.
Within weeks, I met another local business owner with a large supply of scrap material ideal for weaving into rugs. I grew up around rag rugs made by members of the Community Center in my small hometown, and I’d always been fascinated by them.
My Nordic heritage is represented in my design aesthetic and the name of my business, Andas Mer, which means “breathe more” in Swedish. After about six months of product development, (and deciding not to weave travel yoga mats) I sold two throw rugs from my first ready-made collection!
What is a typical day like for you?
There’s no such thing as a typical day for me; as soon as I think I’m getting a system figured out, something changes the game!
I might spend the day in my overalls and clogs in the studio, get presentable for a meeting with a boutique, make deliveries, catch up on research and administrative tasks at a coffee shop, or do anything else running a business entails.
Tell us about a hard time in your life, career or personal.
I’m just now coming out of the most difficult period I’ve faced in my life, and I’m still processing a lot of it. I had a lot of things spin out of control in my personal life. Even though my business was functioning rather well, I took time away from my work to seek treatment for anxiety and depression.
The most important lessons I learned from this time are: 1. my first responsibility is to my own spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being, and 2. my second responsibility is to my relationships. I’m working on restructuring my personal and professional life to support these two priorities.
What advice or tips would you give to a new business owner?
You are never going to feel completely ready, so just start with what you have and know you will make changes along the way.
What’s next for your business?
I want to create more fine art weavings this year, and I hope to find opportunities to exhibit my work. I would also like to start taking custom orders for rugs of all sizes.
What do you believe is your single strongest skill that’s helped you succeed?
I am connected to my intuition; at times I have trusted my gut without knowing it was leading to some incredible results. Hand in hand with that is practicing self-kindness. I make mistakes and recognize the value of those experiences.
Tell us about your life outside of your business?
I am intensely curious and drawn to different things all the time. I’m always reading at least one book, and I enjoy baking. Currently, I’m into knitting socks. My husband and I love to watch hockey together, explore local museums, eat at new restaurants, and hang out in coffee shops.
In the winter, I cross country ski as much as possible, and during summer I’m always looking for quiet lakes to explore on my stand up paddleboard.
I have ambitions of being a trail runner, but I end up walking more often and stopping to stare at birds every ten minutes.
How do you balance your career and personal life?
It may seem like a step backward to some, but in the last few months, I got a part-time job to help find balance. I work a few hours a week as a barista, and it’s been valuable to go somewhere and only think about the tasks in front of me.
It’s a lot like going to a meditation class that I get paid to attend. The time away refreshes me to work on my own business and makes it easier to be fully present during my off hours.
Quick fun facts…
What’s your favorite charity?
Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services
What age do you want to retire at?
I never want to retire, although I expect the nature of my work to evolve as I age.
One travel location on your bucket list?
Uppsala, Sweden (I grew up in Upsala, MN)
Are you an introvert or extrovert?
What is your favorite blog, podcast, or book?
I’m always listening to audiobooks while I’m in the studio, and my current favorite collection is the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny.
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