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Product + Evolution: Malene B.

March 2, 2016

Over the years, Malene Barnett has blossomed from product designer to lifestyle expert. But before any of that she was (and still is) a gifted artist. She’s studied painting, photography, and even fashion illustration at FIT, where she decided to change her canvas with textile design (carpet design in particular) eventually going on to revolutionize the accent rug business of major retailers. It was when she struck out on her own though that she truly made her mark. Through her travel experiences, heritage, and plain ol’ street smarts she developed into the total package as a business owner, with expertise in not just designing and creating, but also sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing and brand development.

Here, we’ll chronicle her journey towards her ultimate goal of connecting people to the global community through beautiful design.

Malene B. opens for business

After gaining some invaluable market experience at various companies, Barnett started her own in 2009, breaking out onto the scene with carpet. “It was a great way to combine my love for painting and drawing and creating a functional product,” she said.

The travel bug

Barnett has traveled the world, from Thailand to China, Ghana and India. She takes photographs everywhere she goes, carrying a sketchbook as well, and has an affection for crafts and anything handmade from these locales. Her design process usually starts from these remnants, selecting different elements to create an icon to build and draw off of. 

Next steps … getting digital

Sketches then move to the computer where she decides if a design should go into repeat or become enlarged or scale back. “Once that layout is created, I decide on color. Do I stay true to what I saw, or do I change it?” she asks.

Clever construction

She’s developed a wide range of offerings in terms of weaves and fibers from hand-knotted Tibetan wools made in Nepal to bamboo silk blends. Different fibers create different textures and different constructions create different looks.

A new frontier

Barnett started offering handmade cement tiles, produced in Mexico, and wallpaper digitally printed in the U.S., in 2015. “All designs tell a story,” she said, and her bold graphic aesthetic is now allowing users to think outside of the box for even more product genres!

Expanding her brand

This month, Barnett will add an educational piece to her business with Malene B. Essentials. This e-guide series shows other designers how to develop and market a product. “This was a natural route for me, as many reach out to me to see how to make things happen. And I believe there’s room for everybody.” Available at maleneb.com by the end of the month.

About the Author

AnnMarie Martin | Editor-in-Chief

AnnMarie has been covering the commercial design space since 2005 and has been on the editorial staff at i+s since 2011. Her style and vision has helped the brand evolve into a thought leader in purpose-driven design and cultural movements shaping the way we live and work. She returned to the role of editor in chief at the start of 2023 and her journalism and fiction writing background have helped to craft bi-monthly issues that don’t just report the latest industry news, but tell a cohesive tale of some of the biggest topics facing designers today.

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