The Banker Who Launched a Design Empire

And how she's helping artists leverage their talents. 

designer-mariam-naficy
Photo by Christopher Sturman

After leaving a banking career to co-launch (and later sell) the now defunct cosmetics retail site Eve.com, Mariam Naficy, a married mother of two, switched gears again in 2009 to create an online stationery boutique with a crowdsourcing concept: Minted holds challenges to select the designs that it will sell. Artists give one another feedback before the voting, and the process has spawned a collaborative community. Minted’s inventory has grown to include framed prints, fabrics, and home accessories.

Q. What sparked your interest in design?
A. My mom’s side of the family is very artistic, and my dad was an economist for the United Nations, so I grew up moving around the world every year or so. Being exposed to varied architecture and art gave me an appreciation for aesthetics.

Q. How did you decide to sell paper goods?
A. I saw that bloggers were emerging from the crowd on the Internet by producing great content, and I thought perhaps there were hidden pockets of talent elsewhere, like in product design, and I could help those designers rise. I also wanted to build a retail company where the merchandise is always fresh and completely right, and I knew I could produce two-dimensional designs more easily than 3-D ones, like clothing. We can turn patterns and images into stationery or art prints relatively fast. The crowdsourcing success was a surprise, though. At first we were selling mostly established stationery brands, but the competition is what took off.

Q. It must be rewarding to help thousands of designers find success.
A. We have so many stories of people with pretty uncreative day jobs—plumbers, accountants, lawyers—winning our competitions. They never had a platform like this to have their design work validated. The best part is the pay-it-forward spirit of the community. The designers know if they help someone else, it’s very likely they’ll get help in the future. It’s more of a "co-opetition" than a competitive situation.

Q. What’s a typical day like for you?
A. I put my kids on the bus at 7:30—they’re 8 and 12—and some days I’ll squeeze in a run or a workout after. I get to the office by 9, and most nights I’m home by 6:30 for dinner with the family. But usually two nights a week I’ll have to be late and miss it. After the kids are asleep, around 9, I’m back online, and I work almost all the way up until I go to bed.

Q. You get to see design trends bubble up on the site. Do those influence your personal style?
A. Trend spotting is one of the most fascinating parts of my job, and I do like to change things up in my house often. But the palette—mustard, rose, black, and cream—stays consistent, as does my style, global and a little bohemian. I like to pair inexpensive pieces with pricier ones: a framed swatch of fabric from a small town I visited in Turkey alongside fine art, for example. A high-low mix keeps things from feeling too fussy.

Q. Are Minted’s headquarters unfussy, too?
A. I’ve always wondered why an office has to have a corporate look. If people are spending a fair amount of time there, why can’t it feel as comfortable as a home? I love warm neutrals and lots of texture and letting the raw essence of a material show through. Our floors are made of unfinished wood that was used for outdoor scaffolding. It has a beautiful wear and tear to it. Our space is flexible. We created places where you can sit, lie down, lean back, or stand to work. We have a cappuccino bar and a stash of healthy snacks—I come from a family who love a full fridge!—and every Thursday we get everyone together for a catered lunch. When your goal is to have people from all departments collaborate, it helps to give them a chance to sit and eat together.