How a European Sabbatical Inspired a Successful Business Idea For Decorative Throws
Starting a business isn’t a decision that comes easy.
Some people mull over it for months – or even years – before making the jump.
For Jala Smith-Huys, it was a thought that ebbed and flowed for over a period of more than ten years before she finally did it.
Since launching Seek & Swoon in 2016, a business selling travel-inspired decorative throw blankets, her products have been featured in top publications like Cosmopolitan, Forbes, and the LA Times.
Here’s the story behind how Jala got started, the motivation behind her unique products, and business goals.
The Trip That Triggered It All
When Jala took off for her two-month European sabbatical with her husband and two sons in 2015, the idea that she would one day start her own business was still just that – an idea.
It wasn’t until she returned that she was hit by an epiphany.
“I realized that I was ready to pivot my career,” says Jala.
But it couldn’t just be any business. It had to be something she enjoyed doing.
“I decided to sit down and really think hard about the things that I was passionate about.”
Jala knew she wanted to start something that would allow her to preserve her travel memories and, at the same time, create a quality product people could enjoy owning.
So she decided to merge her passions into creating decorative throw blankets inspired by beautiful places around the world.
“Sustainability, travel, and home goods all came together. And that’s how Seek & Swoon was born.”
She chose the name “Seek & Swoon” to represent the excitement of a new discovery. And this could be anything like a house, a dream holiday destination, or even a soft throw to wrap around yourself for comfort.
Throws Inspired by Travel
As she once penned in an Instagram post:
“Traveling is unexpected. It’s newness around every corner. It’s uncomfortable and exhilarating. It’s something I never want to stop doing.”
With her European trip at the core of her decision to start Seek & Swoon, it was clear that travel was (and still is) a fierce passion of Jala’s and one that would have a heavy influence on her products.
The Birifini Throw, for example, is inspired by the Malian mud cloth, a handmade cotton fabric in Mali that dates all the way back to the 12th century.
The name “Birifini” means “blanket” in Bambaran, a language native to the Bambara population in Mali.
The same travel theme is seen in the Reika Throw, which is inspired by the Hallgrímskirkja church in Iceland.
The church’s design itself represents Iceland’s breathtaking scenery of trap rocks, black sand beaches, and glaciers.
Though the motivation to start Seek & Swoon came from Jala’s trip to Europe, her products today are not only influenced by international travel destinations but also local ones.
The Sedona Throw, for instance, represents the US Southwest and, in particular, its sights, sounds, colors, aesthetics, and indigenous artisanship.
That’s not all.
Jala is also collaborating with Native American knitwear designer Jennifer Berg for her heritage collection, which offers pieces that are inspired by the art, land, and people of the Navajo Nation.
The Homeland Throw, for instance, features a traditional diamond shape that represents the four sacred peaks of the Navajo and honors the nation’s resiliency.
Sustainability in Procuring Materials and Business Practices
Travel aside, sustainability also forms a big part of Seek & Swoon’s brand value and identity.
Their throws are made with recycled yarn, which is mainly comprised of unwanted and unused scraps from large pieces of fabric in apparel factories.
Instead of being chucked, these scraps are gathered up, broken down, blended with recycled material from plastic bottles, and regenerated back into yarn.
“The benefit of using recycled yarn versus new yarn is that it uses less water and less energy to make,” says Jala.
For Jala, sustainability goes beyond material procurement.
“Part of being sustainable is not just the materials that you use but it’s also the practices you incorporate into your business,” says Jala.
That’s why she partners with a second-generation family-owned and operated knitting mill in the US that shares her commitment to comfort, quality, and design.
“It’s important for me to keep those jobs locally.”
Decorative and Functional
Through Seek & Swoon, Jala aims to make beautiful products people can take pride in owning.
It’s what drives her to create throws with designs so unique they’ve even inspired her customers with new home decor ideas.
“I’ve heard from customers that they’ll purchase a throw and then design an entire room around the design of that blanket,” says Jala.
But there’s much more to Jala’s throws. Aside from sprucing up a room, they’re also functional.
“I think one of the things that surprised one of my customers about my blankets is that they choose one for their home, they place it in their room, and it’s kind of a decor piece,” says Jala.
“But it’s actually really functional and they end up using it every day.”
A Challenging and Rewarding Experience
Though Seek & Swoon was started five years ago, it wasn’t until recently that Jala was able to fully focus on it.
She’d also been running a social media consultancy business, which she closed in spring 2021.
As a former freelancer who was used to handling multiple jobs at once, the transition to running her own business took some getting used to – an adjustment she was happy to make.
“It’s very exciting to just have one job,” says Jala.
And this full-time dedication to Seek & Swoon is precious time Jala will need.
Since its launch, Seek & Swoon’s products have found their way to over 80 stores across the US (including a handful of boutique hotels) and even abroad.
Though it’s been a challenging few years for Jala, the experience has been rewarding, and one that she describes as “nothing short of joy.”
One thing that’s particularly motivated her this year is seeing her retail partners bounce back after being hit by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic – something she says speaks volumes about their dedication and determination.
Looking ahead, Jala has one goal: for her throws to offer those using them a sense of belonging and comfort that they find in their favorite place.
“I want my blanket to be your favorite blanket in your house.”
Seek & Swoon’s products are available for wholesale purchase starting at $90. Browse their entire range of products on their profile page.