Catherine Connolly explains her path from economist to owner of Merida rugs as a case of “serendipity.” But it is far more than happenstance that has led to the turnaround of the natural carpet company she bought in 2014.
Merida opened in the mid-1970s as an import company, evolving a decade later to import sisal from Belgium and sell it to carpet stores. What made the company stand out even then was its commitment to using 100 percent natural fibers.
“I joined in 2007 as CEO, initially to help the owner. I’d had a market research company that dealt in tech, which I loved, but I wanted to make something,” says Connolly. “Fall River in Massachusetts is a historic mill town and the last big mill here had closed, but there was still a lot of talent in the community, which I wanted to elevate.
“Our pledge to use only natural fibers was becoming a challenge, so we switched from selling to carpet shops to working with designers. We set up apprenticeships and built and bought looms and machines, which all needed investment. The owner wanted to sell the company, so I bought it. It’s been an odyssey for sure!”
The key to Merida’s success? The craftspeople and artists it works with. While many companies design, few design and actually make natural carpets. “We aim to go deep, not wide,” Connolly says. “The rug industry can be all things to all people, but we want to be masters at what we do. We have a big commitment to do something original and we’re learning all the time.”
Colors can be chosen from Merida’s own curated palette, but the company will also match paint chips or fabric swatches and work with a professional rug dyer to custom dye in any shade imaginable. Senior textile designer Barbara Schnegg is the go-to for this. “We can recreate existing designs and change the size to fit a certain location or color concept to suit personal tastes. Clients can come to us with an idea, pattern, motif, and create a truly bespoke rug,” she says.
Connolly’s enthusiasm and joy at what Merida does is palpable, and its list of collaborations includes Ralph Lauren stores, Ashe Leandro, Mark D. Sikes, Tory Burch, and goop’s New York offices, and the company also creates two collections a year. So how does she see the future?
“To carry on. Social responsibility is in our DNA. We aspire to do what is best for our community and the planet as a whole. Sustainability is a gift, and our clients recognize this. As hard as it can be at times, the pleasure I have gained from Merida is ineffable.”
Banner image: Merida’s Arcata rug in Fresco, from its new Atelier collection