NYC based artist Malene Barnett knows a thing or two about taking creative risks.
In 2009 the FIT graduate started a carpet design business right when the US economy tanked. In 2012 she decided to go solo after a business partnership turned sour. Last year she lessened her focus on her carpet design business. Images of her working in clay in Italy and painting beautiful black and brown women in her studio started populating on her Instagram feed. 
"As I mustered up the courage to introduce myself, I drew back on my childhood envisioning my sisters prodding me forward."
When she launched her new logo and revealed a freshly designed website we finally understood, this was about a really good rebrand, which we were happy to ask her about We also got a chance to chat about her media superstardom, and how her marketing strategies have changed over the years.
You’ve always been visible in some of the most popular design magazines in the US: Interior Design, NY Magazine, Luxe Interiors+Design. Did you start out as a media darling?
My first goal was to always find a way to get media coverage. How was I to do that when I didn’t know anyone and I couldn’t afford to advertise? I began with a list of the top 10 magazines that I would like to appear in. I meticulously studied the content and names of the people who worked at each publication. Fortuitously enough, my efforts paid off in a big way. While on a plane I spotted the editor in chief of one of the top design magazines on my list. As I mustered up the courage to introduce myself, I drew back on my childhood envisioning my sisters prodding me forward. I introduced myself to her and got confirmation she was who I thought. She graciously allowed me to share my work with her. She loved what she saw and offered to do something to help jump-start my business. And that she did!! Before I officially launched my company I had a full-page feature in her magazine. I still maintain a close relationship today and she continues to be a strong supporter of mine.
So networks are important in the design world as they are in the business world?
Yes. You need to network/connect with other designers, industry insiders, editors. When it comes to editors you can build a relationship on social media platforms. But don’t underestimate the old-fashioned, yet not completely outdated, forms of connecting like inviting an editor to tea/coffee touch-bases. I’ve done it, and I know a few creative professionals who swear by editor meet-and-greets.
"My focus was not just on designing carpets but on being a cross-media artist who is constantly working in different mediums..."
I just peeked at your new website. It's gorgeous but so too was your previous one. Why did you decide to change?
The old website didn’t represent my growth and new business focus of fine art. I had broadened my company, my product offerings became more diverse. My focus was not just on designing carpets but on being a cross-media artist who is constantly working in different mediums creating products and I wanted my website to reflect that.
There is some focus on driving sales, is that objective being met and if yes, can you share a best practice that worked for you that other creatives can benefit from?
The website takes visitors on a journey that showcases my work and experiences. I enjoy the storytelling aspect, it allows me to share my truth in a way that is refreshing and earnest. Selling product is important but the journey through my world before deciding to purchase any products is even more so. This strategy works.
"The most satisfying part has been discovering my love for clay."
Did the change feel risky at all?
It’s funny because I’ve always said, I have no other option. You go in knowing that this is it. You don’t think about how it’s not going to work—you just keep figuring out how to make it work. I learned my purpose in life a long time ago—and it’s to inspire.
Your recent rebrand must be one of the most inspiring changes you’ve undertaken?
Yes. The most satisfying part has been discovering my love for clay. I’ve never worked in the medium before but now I’m in love. Over the summer I went to Italy to study figurative clay. Currently, I’m in an 8-week residency at Greenwich House Pottery. I have a studio space where I’m exploring the medium and developing a new body of work inspired by the house decoration in Burkina Faso, Ghana and Mali.
Africa and the Caribbean have been constant sources of creativity/ inspiration and your Instagram account is vibrant and colourful as is your life. How do you plan out your content?
I plan my content weekly. I think about the work I’m doing and the images that will reflect that work. I don’t really stick to themes, I need my storytelling to be organic and authentic. I use Planoly, to arrange and organize the pictures which I mostly take myself on my Sony NEX-6 camera or iPhone. I’m a huge fan of my Sony camera because of its download capabilities via WiFi to my phone.
Clearly what you're doing is working because your followers are steadily increasing? How did you get your engagement to increase as it has over the last two years?
I reviewed posts that were the most successful which were photos of me sharing the business lessons on a regular basis, plus I noticed my audience was interested in my process, travel experiences and were eager to learn from me. I started focusing on content that resonated with them and asked them to participate in the conversation by asking them questions. In addition, I created specific hashtags blocks that worked with each post. Plus I do my best to keep all of my photos in the same colour tone, bright and saturated with colour. I post only once a day at the same time of day, the morning. You have to figure out which time works best for you and last I only share what is meaningful and on brand.
There is plenty to feast your eyes on your Instagram account. Recently though you’ve taken up advocacy issues on your IG feed, obviously, you believe this is ok. How would you advise creatives to become activists on their platforms without alienating their followers? Is that even something they should consider?
Artists have always been at the forefront of any issues relating to injustice on any level. We should stand up for what’s right and not be concerned if your followers are in agreement or not. We follow accounts to inspire and encourage us and people do the same for me too. I encourage not only creatives to speak up against injustice, but everyone should speak up as often as possible. One of the things I’m passionate about is representation in the design world. I mean, we look at the major design magazines when they have the Top 50 list and we’re never on it. Activism promotes change.
You’re fully engaged in the sharing economy from your air bnbs to peer space rentals. Does it allow you a certain level of economic freedom to pursue your creative dreams?
Yes. Having various streams of income is important whether you’re an artist or not. Creative freedom needs economic freedom.
You travel a lot for your art and inspiration. Where are you going next?
I haven’t planned a trip yet, this year my focus is on my studio but next year, I’m hoping to go to Ghana on a potters tour workshop. I want to learn more about the craft from the originators of hand built pots.

Thanks for reading! 🙂

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2 Comments. Leave new

lorraine Gibbs
October 29, 2018 12:11 am

this is a very beautiful article, would love to get my hands on one of her pieces

I started following Malene a couple of months ago firstly because I was searching for people of colour who are involved in clay And secondly, women if colour involved in clay
Now I will add another reason: her insightful business savvy. Thank you both.

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