Class of 2020: How Rebecca Bravin Created a Modern Global Decor Company by Empowering Women Around the World
Apartment Therapy’s Class of 2020 Design Changemakers is a specially-selected group of the 20 people in the design world everyone should know about by next year. We asked experts (and you!) to tell us who they think should be included—see the rest of the nominees here.
Why Rebecca is part of the Class of 2020: “I first discovered Rebecca and her brand, Charlie Sprout, on Instagram about six months ago. I was immediately taken by the use of color, shape and texture in her home accessories, and kept saving them to my inspiration boards for design projects I was working on. Then, I was at a trade show earlier this year and to my joy I saw that Charlie Sprout had a stand. I went over and introduced myself to Rebecca, and it was there that I learned more about her incredible ethos at Charlie Sprout—an ethos that puts empowering artisan women both here in America and around the world at the heart of everything it does. I admire how Rebecca is clearly dedicated to this mission—she helps artisans generate sustainable income by harnessing their unique cultural art and traditional skills that have been handed down through generations.
For example, her pillows and throws are produced by artisans that need economic help in Brooklyn, New York (where Charlie Sprout is based), allowing them to work from home to raise and take care of their families. Plus, the brand’s decorative accessories are handmade by artisan women in eSwatini, Africa. The brand’s vases are my favorite pieces in the collection. They are woven from Lutindzi grass and embellished with fans of ombre dyed sisal. Each basket takes between 30-80 hours to complete and is handwoven from locally harvested grasses and eco-friendly dyes. They are such unique, conversation-starting pieces that I know people would cherish for many years. Rebecca doesn’t just make great products for the home but she does so with heart, soul and integrity.” —Will Taylor, design blogger and founder of Bright Bazaar
Rebecca Bravin started her home decor line, Charlie Sprout, after a life-changing visit to eSwatini, Africa in 2017. Coming from a design background, Rebecca spent years working for other brands but always felt a lingering sense that there was a piece of her career missing—specifically, wanting to give back to others through her work. And while she knew she wanted to start her own company to do just that, what she couldn’t wrap her head around was how to start.
Enter the aforementioned trip. Rebecca spent her time in eSwatini working with children and teaching English and quickly fell in love with the country. Most importantly, she saw what women were up against on a daily basis in the small, landlocked country that practices polygamy and is run by a king. “When I came back from that experience, my whole life had changed and I knew now was the right time to start,” says the Brooklyn-based designer of beginning Charlie Sprout. “I was in a very weird place when I got back to the states and kept thinking, how am I going to continue giving back? Do I go back there? Do I join the Peace Corps?” But like so many great ventures, Charlie Sprout came to her in a lightbulb moment. She was so set in her vision and mission that within two months of coming back from her trip, she launched her company.
These days—after a couple of years successfully growing her company—Rebecca empowers women not just in eSwatini, but in Brooklyn and India, as well. “The goal of the brand as we continue to grow is to find different women’s groups or communities that really need the help and also have this really beautiful gift and skill, an art form that has been handed down through generations,” says the designer. And truly, every single piece made by these artisan women are works of art. From intricately handwoven urns from eSwatini that take hundreds of hours to make (it’s important to note that the women who make them are paid double fair trade in their country and are thus able to take care of their children and stay at home), to hand-dyed pillows punctuated with colorful embellished details, everything is beautifully and sustainably made from scratch. We sat down with the philanthropic designer to talk synergistic design, bucking trends to design on her own instincts, and how she strives to lead—not follow.
Apartment Therapy: What do you remember as being design inspirations growing up? What is your inspiration now?
Rebecca Bravin: Fashion, in general, was always really inspiring to me. I loved that it was art and also function. I used to draw my own fashion magazines when I was in elementary school in all my free periods. As I got older, I began watching the runway shows and loving couture and the creativity that went into it. It wasn’t just the clothing, it was also the hair and the makeup and what the designer was trying to get across, seasonally, from the runway show. High-end women’s wear and the fashion world was always really inspiring to me.
I would say that my consistent inspiration now is color and maybe a bit through architecture or nature but it’s always color that leads me seasonally, through every category. When I started Charlie Sprout, I specifically decided that I wasn’t going to look to high-end magazines and such in order to isolate what would be trending. I didn’t want to do what was already out there, because I’m trying to lead with what feels new and cool for home decor. I really want to go with my gut and my instinctual creativity and just do what I feel is right for the season, and hopefully it resonates with other people as well.
AT: What’s your favorite project you worked on in 2019 so far? (and why?)
RB: I don’t know about projects, but I would just say continuing to work on the brand every season and seeing how the collection evolves and grows, with more pieces, more styles, more colorways. I think that’s my favorite thing to see this year was looking at how much product we actually have and how much we’ve grown since our first launch in 2018. The collections still hold true to what the brand is about, but it’s definitely growing and it’s definitely evolving. That’s been the most exciting thing to watch.
AT: Is there a specific piece or design of yours that you think is particularly indicative of who you are or what you’re trying to do?
RB: I think our urns are very special to our line because they’re not only made in eSwatini, but also because they really pushed the envelope on global, which I think tends to resonate with people. We’re trying to push the envelope and make things feel really different and really special. It’s not just a basket. There are these great big vases with these fun fans on them that kind of look like horsehair, but in fact, it’s just grasses because everything’s sustainable and eco-friendly. The amount of time and skill and work that goes into our Fanned Out pieces, and all of our baskets, but our urns in particular, I think is very indicative of who the brand is. They’re fun and different, and it took a lot of work to get these women to feel comfortable enough to even try to make them because they’re very set in their ways.
AT: What three words would you use to describe your work or style?
RB: Happy, optimistic and colorful.
AT: What makes you feel at home in your own space?
RB: Being surrounded by things and pieces that feel like me, whether it be artwork or decorative accessories, or plants that always make me feel good and safe. My grandparents’ Persian rugs, and generally pieces that feel like me, mixing the old and the new, so when I walk into my space it feels like an extension of me which makes me not only very comfortable in my space but happy just being.
AT: Any big plans for 2020 or beyond you can share with us?
RB: I would say as a whole, the brand is always continuing to grow and to look for new categories to go into. Without getting too specific, we have a couple of new product categories that we’re going to be launching in 2020, which we’re really excited about. Our upcoming season for spring has a powerful energetic color palette, which I’m really excited to introduce and hope that people really love it as well. But yeah, we’ll be growing the collection into new categories and hopefully in 2020 or beyond we’ll start introducing the brands into the European market.
AT: What three words would you use to describe where you see the design world going in 2020?
RB: More enlightened, for starters. I think customers are more in tune with where their pieces are coming from and hopefully not just grabbing things that are fast fashion, but really becoming more enlightened on the process. And that they care if pieces are ethically made, or sustainable, or help people in other countries or even in your own country. Secondly, I’d say specialized, people want something unique and not something they can just grab off of a shelf from a mass market distributor or a department store. Lastly, I’d say color. I think neutrals, for example, will always be in home decor. But I do think that people are becoming less afraid of using color, even if it is in just a small way, but then that small way becomes really their pop, their statement piece.
AT: What legacy do you hope to leave?
RB: I think I would like my legacy or the brand’s legacy to be that with the right design, home decor can be artisanal and slow-made and sustainable, and help the world to be a better place.