Heather Cade is the curator and owner of District Loom, a Washington, D.C.-based vintage and antique rug source. Working together with her husband, Cade sources rugs from all over the world, selling them in local boutiques and via their online store. She also has an exclusive line of rugs for purchase through Anthropologie. However, when Cade jumped into the vintage-rug business less than two years ago, she brought with her a professional background not in textiles or interior design, but in nursing. District Loom was born out of Cade’s frustration in finding good quality rugs for her own home, as well as a personal passion for design, and a willingness to learn. I spoke with Cade about the wonderful world of vintage rugs, what it’s like to work with a spouse, transferring skill sets, juggling two jobs, and the creative joy of entrepreneurship.

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Tell us about District Loom and your role in the company

We ethically source the best selection of on-trend vintage Turkish and Persian rugs from all over the globe for the design-minded client. We started District Loom in December 2018, and through trial and error in the world of rug importing, we’ve developed trusted international trade relations that assure fair pricing and the highest quality craftsmanship. Most of our rugs are found in Istanbul, Turkey, and this fall we’ll travel to Turkey for our first in-person sourcing trip. We are so excited to learn even more about this industry and to give our community a behind the scenes look at our process! 

We have also sourced pieces as far away as Switzerland and Japan, but we never neglect our back yard either. We’re always scouring estate sale listings and Facebook marketplace for local gems.

In order to offer the most competitive prices on these heirloom quality rugs, we avoid the costs of operating a brick and mortar storefront. Instead, we store our rugs in our townhouse (we sold all of our living room furniture and have converted the front living room into a rug storage/showroom/studio space!), and we sell directly to our customers via our e-commerce store.

We also have an exclusive, curated, boho-femme collection of rugs available for purchase through Anthropologie. In person, our rugs can be found at independent boutiques in the D.C. metro area including Park Story in D.C. and Kaleidos in Fairfax, Virginia.

My key role in the business is curating all of our inventory with the modern home in mind. I also handle all of our international trade relations, marketing, social media, and business development. My husband, Brett, handles all of the business logistics, finances, and emotional support!

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Why specifically vintage rugs?

We believe a good rug makes a room! We adore the history and character a vintage rug adds to a space—while serving as a wonderful conversation piece. In recent years, a major trend with interior design is the storied approach of mixing antique or vintage pieces with newer, shop-bought items. The most sought after yet hardest to find item to achieve this popular look is a complementary vintage rug. That’s where District Loom comes in—we help make these rare, one-of-a-kind beauties more accessible to everyone!

Handmade vintage rugs are also more durable than the machine-made rugs produced today. First, they’re made using only natural materials. The rugs we import are mostly 100 percent wool from sheep, and sheep’s wool contains a waxy chemical compound called lanolin which serves as a natural water repellent and stain resistant. If a spill does saturate the rug, however, it is still much easier and successful to clean! Second, the hand knots that make up the rug’s foundation are much more resilient to wear and do not shed. As the rug does wear, it develops a more antique look and actually increases in value making them great heirloom’s to pass on or investment pieces.

“Rug Collector” or “Rug Merchant” is not one of those professions little kids say, “When I grow up, I want to be.” For most people, I imagine, it’s not something they knew they could be. How did you and your husband come to be rug collectors?

Since a very young age, I’ve had an obsessive eye for detail—specifically in home interiors. I noticed that well-designed spaces transformed my mood and experience within a room. At my relentless request, my supportive mother allowed me to entirely redecorate my childhood bedroom every single year! Picture it: bed veils, sponge paint, stenciling, and even a red oriental rug in my ninth grade bedroom re-do (maybe that is when the rug roots started!)

After high school, attending interior design school was my plan, but my loving parents encouraged me to pursue my other strength, science, for what seemed to be a more practical career choice. I now work full time as an otolaryngology (ear, nose, and throat) nurse practitioner.

My interest in design never left me though, and my passion re-surfaced years later when Brett and I were decorating our first home. We found ourselves with two new puppies to house-train, and we quickly realized we were unable to effectively clean any of the machine-made rugs in our home. (Resulting in us throwing out four rugs in just two years!) We were so disappointed in the lack of durability and poor quality of the vintage replicas that are widely available to the U.S. consumer. We were also saddened to know the plastic backing and fibers in these rugs ended up in a landfill, contributing to the global waste crisis our world is facing.

Our disappointment in the quality of machine-made rugs and our new-found awareness of the amount of waste in the industry was the catalyst to apply our research skills (honed through years of nursing and grad school!) and to dive down the rabbit hole of vintage rug hunting. Once we started searching for vintage rugs for our home, we found out the rug shopping experience was antiquated, scarce, and expensive. After a few not so pleasant trips to local rug shops with high pressure sales and cost-prohibitive pricing, we realized the in-store consumer experience and inventory was sub-par to say the least. This motivated us to provide a more approachable, affordable, and edited inventory of on-trend pieces to design-minded homeowners and interior designers!

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Did you have any kind of educational or professional background that prepared you to jump into the vintage rug industry?

I do not have any formal interior design training, but I’ve been honing my skills for this industry my whole life! When I was just 13 I was already developing my unique ability for finding a diamond in the rough. While other kids got to go to the mall for back-to-school shopping, my mother only took us to stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, where I mastered the art of curating an on-trend wardrobe by sifting through the endless racks to create my own thoughtfully edited looks. And the research skills I developed in nursing school, plus working with my patients, helped prepare me for rug hunting and international trade negotiations better than anything else could have!

What have been some of the most rewarding parts of running District Loom? What have been some of the most challenging?

The most rewarding part of running District Loom is connecting with my community and bonding over our shared appreciation for the history, beauty, and craftsmanship found in authentic vintage rugs. Watching all our ideas come to life—whether it be a collaboration with another brand, or something as simple as the graphic design for a promotion—is so gratifying! Connecting with our clients, other creatives, and small business owners is extremely fulfilling. Nothing makes our day more than seeing District Loom rugs gracing the homes and businesses that tag us with our hashtag “#dLinthewild.”

The most challenging part of running this business is time management and finding the ever elusive work/life balance—free time is District Loom time!

Speaking of which, how do you balance your work as a nurse practitioner and running a business—along with your life outside of work?

As you can imagine, it is quite the juggling act! When I’m not at my day job, I am plugged into District Loom land during all of my free time. Life outside of both jobs is basically non-existent! But District Loom feels more like an exciting hobby for me, and having both careers makes me appreciate each one more! I get to use both the left and right side of my brain and go from a structured stable role as an employee to the unpredictable wild ride of an entrepreneur on the same day!

What has it been like to work professionally with your spouse?

Eye opening! Brett is the yin to my yang. He’s learned that I am a visionary, over-thinker, and risk taker and, well . . . he is just the opposite! He keeps me on track with business decision making, and I help to expand his ability to envision potential. At the end of the day, communication is key and making time for one another personally rather than professionally is vital. We like to schedule phone free time every day—on the weeknights to practice yoga and on the weekends we schedule a day date.

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Anthropologie now carries a collection of District Loom’s rugs. How did that partnership come about? Did you have any worries/fears about “scaling up” to work with a national brand?

That’s right! As a long time Anthropologie shopper, I was already very familiar with their brand, style, and aesthetic. Given that our taste and customer base are so similar, I thought it would be a perfect fit to pitch a partnership. I reached out to their home department via email to suggest the idea of a District Loom boho-femme collection of one-of-a-kind rugs. It was the happiest day of my life when I heard the word “YES” to my suggested collaboration! (Like, happier than my nursing school graduation day kind of happy!) Although Brett had some hesitations about how we could manage it all logistically, I had no fears about the implications of scaling up because I knew if it became too much to manage, we could always begin to hire help and outsource where possible. We have since hired a part-time assistant and continue to outsource creative direction and photography from local small businesses (such as, wldwst creative studio and Angela Newton Roy Photography).

What are your goals for District Looms growth?

We would love to partner with even more brands that align with our vision and values (sustainability is always at the forefront). We have upcoming collaborations with a couple well known interior designers, so stay tuned! While there is not an immediate plan to open a storefront, we always value customer feedback, and if that’s something we found would help improve our client experience we would entertain the idea in the future.

What sort of interests or passions might lead a woman to this kind of career? Do you have any advice (or caution!) for someone who is considering turning a passion into a profession?

Passion and drive for process improvement, people, and design would lead someone to this type of career. My advice to someone considering this is to JUST START now. It’s never too late, and the best way to learn is by doing! Also, if you currently work, don’t quit your day job! I couldn’t agree more with Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Big Magic), who explains, “The reason I always maintained other streams of income was because I never wanted to burden my creativity with the task of providing for me in the material world.” Maybe one day, I will be able to work part-time as a nurse practitioner, but I don’t think I will ever give it up entirely!

At Verily, we love our “Daily Doses”—quotes or phrases that motivate or inspire us. Do you have a mantra or phrase that you love or live by?

“It takes a village.” I absolutely could not do this alone. Scaling District Loom requires support from family, my day time employer, customers, local creatives and small businesses. It’s a community effort. It’s important to ask for help, show gratitude, and give back in order to transform a spark into a flame.

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