Meet The Woman Behind The Original Kentucky Pillow

In 2010 Samantha Jean Moore was a recent graduate from Transylvania University. After a lot of rejection she turned to Craigslist for short-term job opportunities. She did face-to-face marketing for a while but, although she loved it, eventually decided to look for something more stable. She ended up with a real, full-time marketing position in Lexington but was ultimately fired after refusing her bosses’ sexual advances. She, like many women who have spoken out in the heat of the #MeToo movement, felt like a failure even though she was not the one at fault. She ended up moving home, where she lived in her mother’s attic, and began working as a maid for a nearby, rundown timeshare.

Her personal battle with depression raged on during this low point and, after nearly two years of feeling lost, she contemplated ending her own life.

Yet, even in her darkest moments, there was one thing that kept her going; a tiny cross-stitch plaque hanging at the top of the stairs that read, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?” It was the first and last thing she saw every single day.

As a fourth-generation seamstress, Samantha had been crafting her whole life. In fact, the very attic where she had been living for two years was home to several boxes of old fabrics. One night she had an epiphany; she realized those old fabrics could give new meaning to her life.

“I realized that the fabric was my birthright and that it was my calling to transform generations of stale energy and unfinished projects into something beautiful,” she says. She got up and started compulsively sewing the flowers that would become her first handmade headbands.

When she first started sewing, her only goal was to make herself happy and she was totally stunned when people wanted to buy her work. She felt there was potential for something bigger so she started making custom pieces. She joined an artist community in Lexington called Griffin’s Modern Motel and participated in the first Night Market but progress was slow.

“I was making beautiful unique bags and headbands but my competitors were selling cheaper versions made in China so most people didn’t want to pay a fair price. I was broke,” she explains.

She began searching for the cheapest fabric she could find. At the time, Coffee Times was selling burlap bags for $5 each but since she bought 20 of them they only charged her $1 per bag.

Samantha ended up tracing a giant state of Kentucky on one of those burlap bags and experimenting with applique – bluegrass and goldenrod flowers, to be specific – and the very first Kentucky pillow was born.

The original Kentucky pillow created by Samantha out of a burlap bag complete with appliques of bluegrass and Goldenrod flowers. [Photo courtesy of Samantha Jean Moore + Modern Country Couture]

“When I finally made some smaller ones and took them to events, people lost their minds! Pillows became the bulk of my sales and my situation changed completely. I became known as the Kentucky Pillow Lady,” she says. At this point in time she was using her original brand name, Samsara Sana.

“It means positivity moving forward’ which was my abstract way of describing my process of recycling old materials,” she explains. Unfortunately, people weren’t able to pronounce or spell it so she created a more user-friendly alternative; Modern Country Couture.

Samantha describes Modern Country Couture, also known as MOCOCO, as a mixture of familiar, classic comfort with a rebellious streak that is apologetically messy, always resourceful and surprisingly sexy.

“It was important for me to choose a name that best describe my complex style but would also be catchy and easy to spell,” she says of her brand’s name.

Ever since her Kentucky pillows gained popularity, she’s been listening to her audience while trying to create better products and stay on the cutting edge. Although everyone seems to be onboard with recycled materials right now, they have always been the backbone of her creations.

“My focus is on recycled materials, especially fabric. My signature item is the Kentucky pillow but I also make jewelry, bags, denim jackets and even gowns using mostly vintage and recycled materials,” she explains. As MOCOCO has continued to grow and evolved, Samantha has naturally branched out into the clothing world.

Photo courtesy of Samantha Jean Moore + MOCOCO

“I’ve won a few competitions, dressed the cast of an award winning play, designed costumes for music videos and recently started doing custom wedding dresses out of vintage and recycled materials,” she says.

Over the years she has been involved in a lot of local artist markets [The Night Market, Market 301, Crave Food + Music Festival, The Flea Off Market] but at this point in her career she is in the process of stepping away from pop-up markets and transitioning to a fully online platform. This process, however, has been difficult for her because she loves meeting customers face-to-face. [I myself met her at Crave last summer]

Once Samantha transitions MOCOCO online she plans to work with musicians and other people who want dramatic costumes.

“I want to be known for my clothing and my purpose of transforming energy. I don’t know what that path with look like but I’m focusing on that intention and taking the opportunities as they come,” she says. She hopes to eventually expand her business enough to hire a couple of employees who can help out with the workload.

“I’d like to teach people how to sew and keep that long tradition alive. It’s all just one step at a time,” she explains.

It’s safe to say this girl has come a long way since living in her mother’s attic.

NightMindPhotography // @nightmindphoto

How has social media played a role in growing your business?

I feel so blessed to say that my work brings people joy and comfort. I started photographing people with my pillows for several different reasons. First, early on I couldn’t afford photographers, so taking my own pictures at events was the easiest way to generate online content. Second, it became a way of visually documenting what I had sold AND who had bought my work. I love seeing people get excited the first time they hug their pillow, or put on a bad ass jacket. Those photos are a great reminder of why I do what I do.

Mostly, though, I think it makes my life look really fun and glamorous and the reality is that I work really long hours with very little time off.

Do you make custom pieces for people?

I always tell people, “if you can dream it, I can sew it.”

I used to take orders for anything, but not anymore. At this point, I’m most interested in working with people who have a vision and want something really special. I’ve done a lot of work involving family heirlooms, using old bedding, tablecloths, and clothing to make meaningful pieces for my customers. I’m currently working on two wedding dresses, and I regularly do custom work on denim jackets.

I rarely make custom pillows anymore, unless they are elaborate or one of my larger art pieces. Since I use recycled materials I prefer to work with what is available, meaning everything I make is limited run. I won’t go out and buy fabric just to make one pillow but if you want 8, I’ll do it! Just send an email to mococolex@gmail.com .

What is your advice for starting, growing, and running a business?

You have to be resilient and ready for constant change. There are always setbacks, but you have to get back up on your feet. If one thing doesn’t work, try something new. The market is fickle and always changing, so you have to be flexible, innovative, resourceful, and have a good sense of humor. Sometimes I laugh about mishaps to keep from crying, but it’s the only way to stay alive.

Growing a business is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done (and it’s still hard every single day) but I want people to understand that it is absolutely in reach for those willing to take the risks and work hard. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing that everything I have was earned by my own dedication and creativity – and of course the support of friends and family who continued to believe in me.

I still get down about setbacks but I can bring myself back up by asking, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”

 


 

To learn more about Samantha and her work you can follow her here or visit her website here.
If you have a question for her, feel free to leave it in the comments below!

 

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