Curved lines, interesting textures, and playful scale—chances are, you’ve seen furniture designer Francie Lowman’s work at stores like Anthropologie, Interior Define, or Urban Outfitters. With her own brand, Mangata Experience, which she launched in 2020, she is looking to break down gender norms around carpentry and redefine what it means to be sustainable in furniture design. (Mangata, an enigmatic Swedish word, roughly translates into the strip of moonlight that lands on water.)
After seeing how other industries, including fashion, are responding more thoughtfully to consumerism, Lowman was inspired to apply the same philosophy to furniture. “While visiting a factory overseas, I saw what the production side was doing to the planet and how the employees were treated,” she says. “It led me to want to do a more sustainable, ecofriendly version of furniture and lighting.” Each piece is made to order to reduce the potential waste of inventory.
Lowman prefers to work in local white oak and is proud of her partnership with Eutree, a Georgia-based tree removal service, from which she sources all of her lumber. She uses fair-trade, all-organic cotton that is naturally dyed and, likewise, relies on sustainable solid brass. “Our solid brass comes from countries with certified labor laws, so we know that the people making it are getting paid fair and equal wages,” she says.
Carpentry is an industry dominated by men, and Lowman experienced a light-bulb moment when attending a presentation by furniture industry icon Paula Fogarty at High Point a few years ago. “I’ll never forget what she said: ‘90 percent of the people designing and making furniture are men, but 98 percent of the people buying furniture are female-presenting or feminine.’ It changed the idea of how I wanted to design,” she says. “I also thought it was badass to be a woman woodworker.” In her work, Lowman now tries to “find femininity, form, line, and texture.”
Those motivations come together beautifully in pieces like the Cressida Cuddler, a low-seated, curved-back upholstery piece (from $6,500). Made from sustainably harvested walnut that’s dried using solar energy and finished with an ecofriendly wax, it’s a statement piece. The vegan shearling upholstery is made from organic cotton and treated with natural dyes.
Lowman—who grew up in Kennesaw and Vidalia before heading to SCAD, where she learned everything from woodworking to welding to natural dyeing techniques—recently staged a successful pop-up focusing mostly on ceramic goods at Ponce City Market. For 2023, Lowman is refocusing and pursuing her first loves, furniture and lighting. Her studio is in Adair Park, but her products are available online. “I love the intimacy of furniture and how people use it,” she says. “They have a real relationship with their furniture.”
This article appears in our March 2023 issue.