Visiting the Magnolia Pearl premises, where Robin showcases her line of “Victoriental Funk-Orphan” clothing and innovative interior designs, is like stepping onto a set of sorts, where nothing is incidental and everything breeds a sense of lightness. Or, more poignantly, it is like entering a magical kingdom where the physical world intersects with the visionary brain of a true artist. It’s a place where wonderful surprises loom, ornate objects steal your breath away and a sense of space promptly replenishes it, as new space prepares to accentuate the next delight. It seems every fiber here has a story, inanimate objects seem uncannily close to coming alive, and every loving detail exudes the old comforts of a simpler time—or of a time that never was…
“We are like licorice. Not everybody likes licorice, but the people who like licorice really like licorice.”
— Jerry Garcia
Robin’s love for scraps and salvaged things extends naturally from a rough and tumble childhood in Northern California and San Antonio that often found her family on the fringe of subsistence. Uneducated, yet brilliant, her parents were archetypal gypsy artists who used their fierce creativity and resourcefulness to survive but struggled with the setbacks brought about by addiction.
When money was scarce (most of the time), the family would make things together to sell. Robin calls her parents, “the two most creative people I’ve ever met,” and credits her unconventional upbringing for her inventiveness and resilience. It is evident that an optimistic knack for “making something out of nothing” runs through Robin and John’s splendid Magnolia Pearl empire (founded in 2001) which influences a generous-minded philosophy on life and business. But, inside the aged lace, flour sacks, paint-spattered cottons, dented bathtubs, wood crates and one-of-a-kind objects that undergo Robin’s uniquely brilliant curation lies a statement more powerful than a simple rags-to-riches storyline. In Robin’s designer-eye lies the essence of what makes us human.
In it lies the poetic truth that all things broken and old and discarded together make a whole—even when, by all logic, they should not. We are the strongest and most beautiful in our broken places. We’ve been through stuff. We all obtained our essence the hard way. Yet, we give it freely. The “Magnolia Pearl” approach to design is not afraid to turn us over, to truly know us, nicks and patches included. Redemption of these unlikely and recycled objects is redemption for us all, and Magnolia Pearl’s devoted global fan base agrees.
“You can do what I cannot do, I can do what you cannot do. Together we can do great things.”
— Mother Teresa
Like any true creator, Robin eschews repetition and works tirelessly, piecing together vintage fabric and lace fragments to make exquisite, one-of-a-kind garments that will last a lifetime and longer. Owning one of Robin’s pieces is owning something ephemeral and special. While Robin firmly plants her heart in the thriving soil of Magnolia Pearl along Highway 290 that she and her husband constructed from humble beginnings, her art remains a gypsy—always and forever on the move. In the world of clothing and fashion Magnolia Pearl invents its own category, so authentic and original it defies competition.
“You were given life; its is your duty (and also your entitlement as a human being) to find something beautiful within it, no matter how slight.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert
Obvious integrity runs through all of its operations, and there is a legitimately family-like rapport among the team, whom Robin refers to as, “a beautiful collection of people driven by love,” adding, “We are a great big family”.
It was childhood poverty, ironically, and a family history of selling found and made objects that formed Robin’s intuitive abundance model, a model whose optimism pervades its designs and the company’s entrepreneurial principles of love, honesty, generosity and compassion. “[There is] an abundance in this life, and if you are open to that, then things show up when they’re supposed to and so there is no need to force things. It takes rain and sunshine to grow a flower, not thunder!!!” she says and advocates for “mastering the art of giving and never fearing scarcity.”
In a disposable world, where material and human capital are groomed to feed the conscienceless pit of gross consumption, Magnolia Pearl is a throwback to a time when craft and materials were cherished and value resided in the creators and beholders of beautiful things. In an economy that believes it cannot afford the exuberance of kindness, Magnolia Pearl represents nothing short of a courageous and daring approach to entrepreneurship, but one that will likely prove to be the way forward in business success.
Robin advises us never to take our work too seriously because, “That’s not your soul speaking, that’s your ego”. She also suggests that taking a positive but realistic outlook is a good way to stay grounded. It is far too easy to disappear into a spiral of despair and self-doubt when things are not going well but recognizing and being grateful for the good things, and acting on them keeps the keel of an operation steady.
She also encourages the art of learning to ask for help and says, “A smart woman isn’t a woman who can do everything. A smart woman is a woman who can get everything done”. Finally, we should always create with the intention of making the world a better place.
“May your heart always be kind.”
“By the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying thank you. Forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert