Lindsey Zinno of The Northern Market — creator of simple, structural and multifunctional fiber art from cotton rope.
At just 19 years old, Lindsey Zinno is juggling a full-time course load studying environmental and biological sciences at the University of Cincinnati with her thriving independent venture, The Northern Market, a beautiful and curated line of minimalist and functional pieces made from cotton rope — everything from coasters, trivets and bread baskets to market totes and backpacks. Although she just started selling her wares last year, she's already hired part-time help and has expanded her market from local shops like Made in Cincinnati and East Walnut Hills' Your Friends & Neighbors to both coasts — California, New York, Maine — and cities in between. She's even started selling overseas, and you can find her bread baskets and trivets in high-end contemporary restaurants including the just-opened Please.
And although she jokes that, "Yes, a lot of people find that shocking that I am not in DAAP," this classically trained pianist credits her mother for her wellspring of creativity. "When I was young, my mother didn’t allow us to have a lot of ‘screen time’ as they call it now — before that was a mainstream parenting practice," Lindsey says. "My mom centered my childhood around art and creativity. The majority of my childhood photographs are me in front of my easel or doing some type of art."
Have you always had an interest in fiber art? Do you have a specific memory where you had a bit of an “aha” moment, like where you thought, “Wow, I really love doing this.”
I can definitely say that fiber art has always been my preferred medium/focus. I used to have sketchbooks laying around my house filled with fashion designs I would dream up when I was young. After the first basket I made, I instantly realized that this was what I loved doing. I was 17 at the time and was already sketching out tons of designs and thinking of names to call the business that was about to transpire. I knew that I wanted to share this art. I also came into this knowing that I was not in it just to make little baskets. Though I do enjoy creating small pieces for everyone to enjoy, I hope to grow from my foundation of these simple pieces and transition it into really amazing ‘walking’ pieces of multifunctional art. My backpacks and more complex pieces are definitely on their way to meet that transition.
Do you remember the first Northern Market-style item you made? Who was it for? What did it look like?
I'll have to attach a photo because it is honestly my pride and joy…and someone else currently owns it. I wish so badly that I didn't sell it. I used to wrap fabric scraps around rope back before my Northern Market pieces were all super minimal. I wrapped hundreds of scraps around many, many feet of rope while at the beach in New Jersey with my aunt. My aunt actually taught me the basket technique — I am forever thankful for her!
When did you start selling your product? What did it feel like to sell your first item? And what drives you to continue selling?
I opened my Etsy shop in 2015 right when I graduated high school, but only had it open for about two months — I couldn’t have my sewing machine in my freshman dorm room. But! The day I opened my shop, I had my first sale and I remember screaming in excitement. Then I realized it was one of my family members who bought a shallow basket and a set of coasters. Still cool but not as cool as strangers buying your products. It really was an amazing feeling and I still get that feeling each time I get a sale.
I am driven by the people who support me and who understand what I am doing. The people that support my business are those who respect artisans and makers. They are those who take pride in a piece touched by the human hand, and I think that is why we (the makers/community) are brought together in this city.
What’s been the best customer reaction you’ve had? Or the most impactful situation involving your work you’ve been a part of?
I have one amazing customer who was so creative with my rope tray and used it as a bed for her new kitten. She (and the kitten) loved it so much that she ended up getting a second one. Then, the kitten grew up and we had to make a custom larger bed for the now-cat. She is just a pleasure to work with and is so respectful. It is always a pleasure working with buyers like her.
Is this a full-time gig for you or do you want it to be? How have your parents or family members reacted to you pursing at least a partial career as an artist?
It feels like in the last month it has become a full-time ‘gig’ for me in a blink of an eye. I mean, just in the last few weeks I have moved into a studio, expanded to over 12 stores nationally and one store in Europe, and hired extra help around the studio from time to time. It’s definitely been overwhelming at times, especially as a full-time student, but I have been super driven in regards to what I want for my future and I do know that I will continue my art career post-graduation, at least for some time. I would really love to open my own store one day, maybe a shared space with other artists. I love walking into a store where you can meet the artist — that is so powerful and I want that for others.
As for the support I have been receiving, it's very strong. My family is very supportive and my friends are, too. It is really great knowing that on the days I am MIA in my studio for hours and hours, I can come home to my friends and show them what I have created that day. Of course, studying sciences but pursuing an art career seems a little bit contradictory, but I have many passions and the environment is one of them. I am a big believer in doing what makes you happiest, and right now, doing what I am doing, I have never been happier.
What inspires you or where do you find inspiration?
My inspiration derives from functionality and simplicity. I find an idea or purpose for a vessel and create a specific piece to meet that need. The majority of inspiration comes from walking around and seeing techniques or shapes that I want to implement in my own art. I always carry a mini sketch book and sometimes I will be walking to class and get an idea and have to stop to sketch whatever idea I come up with just to get it down on paper. But what really drives me to make is the feeling of completion when a piece is finished. A sense of pride and wholeness. I always tell my buyers how much I truly enjoyed making their order and it's not a lie! I really love making pieces to meet each buyer's need and that's a whole inspiration of its own.
Can you tell me a little bit about your process? How do you get from an idea to a finished product? Any interesting materials or practices?
It all starts with cotton rope. I get huge 1,000-foot spools of rope delivered every couple days and each piece is made from a continuous piece of rope. The continuity ensures that the vessel is made to last and of high quality. Even my backpacks are one continuous piece. The ideas must meet that continuity specification, which can be frustrating for certain designs I have come up with in the past. There are a lot of interesting angles at which you must tilt the vessel while you’re making it to get the shape you want when it's finished, and this is a technique that takes some practice. The various tilting techniques allow the vessel shapes to vary from round, narrow openings to wide, straight walls.
What was one of your biggest failures and how did you overcome it?
When I first started experimenting with leather-working techniques, I was working with recycled leather. The very thick leather handles without extra stitching lead to instability... I was at a farmers market with a Market Tote prototype filled with heavy zucchinis and my straps busted. It was so embarrassing. It was ridiculous, but that old problem is all fixed now.
Do you have any advice for struggling makers out there?
Commit to your brand and take pride in what you make. Be confident and put the work into it. It can be difficult for buyers to find you. Take good photos — natural lighting, bright and light. Local makers are on your side! Utilize them. We all support each other — especially here in Cincinnati. But, most importantly, do not expect others to make the connections for you. Success does not fall into your lap. I moved to Cincinnati knowing no one in the artist/maker community and I went from store to store, networked, carried my business cards and contacted many people. Get your name out there and be consistent. Keep posting, keep making. Love and trust the process.
What’s your dream for The Northern Market? Or yourself as an artist? Like where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I want to continue being the primary maker of The Northern Market. Some people talk to me and ask when I am going to have to 'out source' or get people to make my pieces for me, but that is not really what I want. My art wouldn't be mine, nor art. There are some techniques I have come across that just cannot be taught. So, I guess for me, I would love to transition my art into more sculpture work and more advanced techniques which will come with time. But I really do enjoy making the backpacks and totes. I want to continue those and I really am excited to start seeing more people carrying and wearing my pieces as my business continues to grow and spread around the country.
What phrase or motto do you live your life by?
We are responsible not only for what we do, but also for what we fail to do.