In honor of this year’s International Women’s Day, OAK + FORT had the privilege to meet and interview two women we deeply admire and embody the spirit of this special date—the celebration of female achievement, women’s empowerment, and support for social, economic, cultural and political gender parity: Janaki Larsen, accomplished ceramicist and art-maker of 7e7 in Vancouver, BC, and Lauren Caruso, style aficionado and highly-regarded Site Director of StyleCaster. For Janaki and Lauren, their respective vocations as ceramicist and editor transcend the strictures of mere hobby or occupation, they’re craft.
Authentic, down-to-earth, and hard-working, Janaki Larsen is as humble as she is inspirational. Known for her one-of-a-kind, handmade ceramics, Janaki is also the owner of neighborhood favorite spots, Le Marché St. Georges and newly opened, 7e7 Atelier.
Her collection of ceramics is a true testament to finding beauty in its most natural state. Every groove and natural crevice, is a symbol of handmade craftsmanship that leaves behind a personal and unique touch to each vessel. We visited her quaint, studio space on a drizzling afternoon in Vancouver to learn more about her story as an artist, business owner, and a mother. Meet Janaki Larsen.
Hi Janaki! Tell us about your personal journey. How did you get started as a ceramicist? My mother was a potter and one of my early memories is being in her studio and riding on the bottom of her kick wheel. I studied at Emily Carr University with a major in sculpture. I was working on an installation piece where I wanted to make a large bowl to catch a drip from the ceiling. I didn’t want to be a potter because my mom already was but as soon as I threw my first thing, I was hooked! That was 18 years ago. I have always had a studio and worked when I had the time. I made ceramics because it made me happy but I never thought of it as a viable way to make a living nor did I want it to become a business. A couple of years ago I noticed ceramics becoming more popular and particularly with chefs. I was fortunate enough to have started making work for an amazing stylist who was doing cookbooks for Gwyneth Paltrow, Donna Hay. That was the start of my working with chefs and cooks. I think with the farm to table movement chefs were no longer interested in just plating on glossy white plates anymore. They realized that a plate was as important in the experience of eating as the food itself. They complement each other nicely. I feel really lucky that I was in the right place at the right time as a potter!
Your studio is so cozy and lovely! I love the natural sunlight that pours into the space. Tell us about your studio. What are the essential elements of a perfect working space? Space, any space is all you need. I have worked in closets, our backyard, porches, our garage and in a windowless, heatless room. This is the first time I have had a “nice” studio in a long time. It is great to have a beautiful space to work in but I don’t think it has improved my work at all!
Do you listen to anything while you work? Ha! It varies but mostly these days it’s Snoop Dogg or most Hip Hop. it sets a good rhythm and pace for me!
What is your favorite piece of work of yours at the moment? A very small, very wonky black piece that I made in response to a poem.
Please describe your artistic style. I’d describe it as pretty quiet, simple and minimal, but with lots of texture and movement. I love imperfections in the clay, like when it splits do to drying too quickly. Clay has its own personality so I try not to control it too much. I love the concepts of Wabi-Sabi. It makes a lot of sense to me.
What is your creative process, how do you determine the final outcome of a vessel’s shape? I’ll have whatever it is I am making in mind, i.e. a bowl, a plate and then I’ll weigh the clay out so I know they will be roughly the same size, but that is it. I don’t use calipers to make sure they are all the same diameter or rulers to make sure they are the same height. For the more personal work I’ve been doing, inspired by poems, I just let my thoughts direct my hands and see what happens! They are very free and immediate. They’re my favorite!
Can you tell us about Le Marché St. George and 7e7 Atelier? Le Marché St.George is the café we opened almost 7 years ago now. It began as a way for me to work from home with my new daughter. Since I was working in the café with my 10-month-old and my sister, it naturally became like a little community center. It was an extension of our home and therefore became an extension of other peoples. Other moms brought their kids, the neighbors would wander over in their pj’s. We held community dinners in the yard, those were great times! A year and a half ago we got in some trouble for having a place that kind of blurred the definitions of a “neighborhood convenience store” or cafe. As a result, we were no longer allowed to have dinners in the yard, have baroque music in the café, or have our Pop Up Shops. I began to really miss those things and realized how important they were to me and also to other people in the city. When the opportunity to take over 7e7 came up we knew we had to take it! 7e7 is the space for us to do all of those others things and also a place for people to exercise their ideas. I love ideas and sharing ideas so this is the place to do that.
What is some of the best advice that you’ve received? “This too shall pass!” Nothing ever stays the same for long. The good, the bad, the difficult, any of it. Things are always changing so it’s best to not get attached to any of it!
What do you feel is most liberating about being a woman? That’s a tough one. I don’t think of being a woman as being liberating. Maybe as a “North American” woman I feel that I have the freedom to most anything I want.
How do you juggle being a mother and the demands of your ceramics? That is also I tough one! My daughter is very much a part of my daily activities. I think it’s important that she sees hard work and understands that that is how things get accomplished. I try to set aside time that is just for her. No phone, no computer just one on one time but that is not always easy!
What do you think is important to be talking about as women right now? Mostly, I think it’s important to support each other. There have been times where I have felt that women are far too competitive with each other. Maybe because I am older now, I see women supporting and encouraging each other more and I find that very inspiring. Vancouver has a lot of amazing female entrepreneurs and creatives and it’s great to see them working together.
You mentioned during our visit, that you work with a lot of female makers for 7e7 inventory, can you tell us more? Yes, I was just doing inventory and realized how many women makers we have. It wasn’t intentional nor is it part of our business model, it just happened that way! 7e7 is all women, Mandula Design, The Wildbunch, me, and I’d say 80% of who we carry are women. Maybe it’s the nature of the materials that I am attracted are more feminine? I am not really sure!
Who are three women that inspire you? My mama will always be my biggest inspiration. She is a fearless woman and a magician. She taught me how to find beauty where there was none (to the plain eye!) How to make a life for yourself that is your own. She constantly reinvents herself and does not hold back for anything! I admire that kind of spirit in anyone. My partner at 7e7 Hajnalka Mandula. We can talk about the texture and details of a piece of burnt paper for hours! She is a talented designer, a mother, a business woman and my go to for sharing ideas. My friend Karri Schuermans, owner of Chambar. I admire her rational mind! She is a hard-working mama of 3 and has managed to survive and thrive in a very tough industry.
We were first introduced to Lauren Caruso, based out of NYC, through a natural observation of our overlapping, minimal style. Her outfits, consisting of monochromatic tones and neutral hues is often complemented by a classic blue denim, which makes for an impeccably chic and cohesive Instagram gallery.
Beyond her social media presence, Lauren boasts highly-sought-after editorial experience at several of the most esteemed media outlets in the industry, including Allure, Refinery29, and now StyleCaster—a testament to her distinguished reputation in the fashion publishing industry. A style-maven and fashion power-house, meet Lauren Caruso.
Hi Lauren! Tell us about your story that brings you here today as Site Director at StyleCaster. Hi! I’m Lauren, and I’m the site director at StyleCaster, a fashion + lifestyle destination for women. Previously, I was the senior digital editor at Allure where I worked on digital strategy, helped execute the website’s rebranding, and oversaw all content production. And before that, I spent almost three years working at Refinery29, first as a market writer, and later as the contributor network editor that I assembled from the ground-up. While there, I worked with the wonderful Jessica Teves and Susan Kaplow, who are my current bosses at SC—it all comes full circle!
What is your day-to-day like? I hate when everyone says this, but it’s never the same. I usually spend my mornings meeting someone for breakfast—if it’s not a business meeting with a brand or a designer, it’s usually with my best friend Alyssa. I get to work around 10 and from there, I go over the day’s editorial calendar and make changes as necessary, bounce around from meeting to meeting, and if I’m lucky, I spend some time actually writing and editing before I go home for the night. After work it’s either a workout or dinner with my boyfriend, then I sign back on.
How do you juggle your work life and personal life? I feel like my job is a true extension of who I am, so I don’t mind that the line between work and play of often blurred.
Naturally, we gravitate towards your minimalist style, how did your style evolve to what it is today? Thanks! I realized about three or four years ago that I felt best in neutrals, and I slowly got rid of anything that didn’t work based on fit, color, and quality. That left me with a bunch of items that other people would describe as “basics,” but it makes getting ready in the morning pretty easy.
What are your top 5 Spring wardrobe essentials? I love a good trench coat, a pair of raw-hem Levi’s and a white tee. I basically wear some version of that on the daily.
Where can we find you on the weekends? Probably at brunch, then shopping + visiting a museum.
Do you have any advice for young women that want to break into the fashion publishing/editorial industry? Put in the hard work. Sometimes, that means long nights, weekend work, or scrapping the entire story you’ve spent two days working on because it’s not up to par. I think I’ve climbed the ranks in a short period of time because I was in the habit of over-extending myself and pitching in for other departments, or on projects that were outside my job description instead of leaving at 6pm every day. I’ve noticed so many people in the industry seem more concerned with creating boundaries and managing expectations or scrolling through Instagram instead of just putting in the actual grunt work. If you want to keep doing the job you have without growing or challenging yourself, then by all means, clock out when your job is done. But don’t expect to be rewarded with a promotion every six months. Ask questions. If you’re in editorial, see if someone in marketing can benefit from your knowledge. Always take the meeting.
What do you feel is most liberating about being a woman? The shared experience between women —and all the upsides and pitfalls that comes with—is majorly empowering. Between body image, reproductive rights, and disassembling the patriarchy, nothing is off-limits as far as intelligent discussion goes.
What do you think is important to be talking about as women right now? The patriarchy! Throughout the past few months, I’ve been both pleasantly surprised by the women who are actively challenging the status quo, and incredibly disappointed by some women who think feminism is a dirty word. There’s nothing shameful about lifting other women up, which is exactly what feminism is about. It’s important to call attention to gender disparity, especially from an intersectional standpoint, considering women of color are the most systematically repressed and undervalued.
Who are three women that inspire you? My best friend Alyssa, who works harder than anyone I know. My sister Jaea who is the epitome of strength and grace, and Elaine Welteroth of Teen Vogue, who, along with Phil Picardi and Marie Suter, is changing the way young women view themselves and the world through meaningful content.