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Off the Loom

Our Design Journal

Design Innovation at Merida

When Merida made the decision to manufacture in Fall River,  almost two decades ago, we knew well the rich textile, heritage that was right in our backyard.  We’re honored to be a part of the effort to revive the town’s tradition of textile manufacturing with our workshop that combines the talents of local craftspeople, designers, and product developers. Today, Fall River is an emblem of transformation, with a new story to tell, and Merida is part of it, bringing textile design innovation back to its American roots.

Merida’s approach to textiles is unique in that we are both a manufacturer and a design house. More commonly,  companies are one or the other – sending their designs off to an outside manufacturer or producing third-party designs on contract. But we’re no ordinary rug company.

At the heart of this approach is the partnership between design, led by our Artistic Director, Sylvie Johnson and production, guided by John Carvalho, Merida’s first Master Craftsman. More than just a job title, Master Craftsman is a designation that recognizes superior talent, artistic skill, and knowledge in a chosen craft. Recently recognized officially with this designation, Carvalho has spent a lifetime developing his mastery and Merida is incredibly proud of his skill and this accomplishment.

Master Craftsman John Carvalho

John emigrated from the Azores when he was just three years old, settling with his parents in Fall River where his mother worked in a textile mill. John joined the industry as a teenager, working his way up from carrying rolls of finished fabric to weaver to loom fixer to management at one of the one of the largest textile companies in the country. He joined Merida two decades ago, and it’s here that he cultivated his passion for textile innovation and a meaningfully integrated design and manufacturing process.

After 35 years in textiles, John’s knowledge of weaving is rich and deep, including developing a patented technology for making paper rugs.  John and artistic director Sylvie Johnson, herself a weaver, have forged a partnership that is both exciting and challenging.  “Working with Sylvie is an opportunity to take all of my knowledge and really put it to work,” John says. “Our designs now are pushing me to learn even more. There are challenges, but I’ve found that we can work around any roadblock, and that doing new things that others don’t try is incredibly rewarding.”

This partnership has also broken down the typical barriers between design and production. Together, John and Sylvie lead a highly skilled, multi-disciplinary team that works together under one roof, collaborating to solve design challenges and push the boundaries of textile innovation. Everyone is hands-on, including the designers, who might elsewhere be tied to their computers with little working knowledge of manufacturing. “At Merida,” explains John, “we’re pushing to limits to get everyone out of a silo mindset and prove what’s possible when you can orchestrate true teamwork between design and production.”

A design team member in the Fall River workshop

These threads of craft, collaboration, and design ingenuity have allowed Merida to revive time-honored but long-forgotten tradition of weaving in Fall River, in a way that is new and uniquely ours. In the process, we have elevated the expectations in the design community for quality and originality—rare things in today’s mass-oriented world, and true luxuries.

Merida’s philosophy begins with the yarn.  Our design team inventively introduced new yarn types to the looms and designed to the limits of the looms’ capabilities to create new patterns and textures.   While a focus on the yarns may seem straightforward, it’s our team’s commitment to exploring the material that heightens Merida’s designs. “Making the rugs is incredibly involved and in the end, they are based on the beauty of the yarns,” John explains. “Take time to look closely and you will see incredible depth and complexity. All of which, as he notes, wouldn’t be possible without our unique, integrated approach to design and manufacturing. “At Merida,” he says, “We are all better together than apart. We learn together, we change together, and we’re all working together to produce something really special. At the end of the day, we’re proud to say that everyone is a part of each rug.”


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