Marla talks about the inspiration behind her shop, Hold General, and the surprising items she treasures most.
The idea for Hold really started when I was still in middle school. My dad and I would talk about different ideas of things we could make, about food-based co-ops and a kind of general store. My family has a farm up island, so I grew up working on the farm with my family and doing farmers markets in the area. I got really obsessed with packaging the vegetables in special ways, meticulously wrapping them with washi tape and special paper. My grandma didn’t approve or want me fussing over them, but I loved selling people things that felt really special. To me they were incredibly special because I knew where they came from and what went into growing each one. I wanted them to look how I felt about them, and not just put out like all the other vegetables at the market.
I went off to school for Holistic Nutrition and Herbal Medicine, but through all of that I would spend a lot of time illustrating plants that I was learning about and visually trying to represent them. I realized how attracted I was to design, so then I went to school in Australia for graphic design. I really loved food packaging and thought I would go in that direction, but the more time I spent doing that, the more I was drawing out ideas for a store. At this point I had about four years of notebooks with ideas for a store. I was working for a few smaller companies doing in-house branding and things like that when one place in particular I was working for, the owner just told me, “You need to do this shop, like now.” So that was it.
Actually, yes. I love it so much. There is so much opportunity within it that I just have to keep up with it. I got the keys to the shop on my 23rd birthday, so I started out with the advantage of naive enthusiasm. Keeping that enthusiasm has become really important, as well as balancing that with the consistency of the everyday. Right now it still feels easy to wake up at 5am and go pick flowers for a few hours, before going up to the farm to pick veggies, before fitting in a swim and coming into the shop so that I can arrange all the produce and screen print all the bags.
It’s also so wonderful that I can bring everything I love into this one space, and be able to visually represent all of the stories of the things you bring into your everyday life. There is this incredibly honest appreciation that I feel towards the items I keep in the shop, which makes me so comfortable selling them. Each has its own story, and it all feels so full of love. It’s almost ridiculous to say, but Hold is really about the special beauty and honesty in the everyday.
It’s definitely my favorite part. I didn’t always feel that way about what we grew, but it’s become so significant to me over the last several years. The farm itself belongs to my grandparents but my parents live there now, too, so it’s kind of home base for me. Having an element of that part of my life in the store is so important to me. It’s become this connection point, something I can talk to my 90 year old grandparents about that we’re equally passionate about.
My grandmother is very opinionated, but she loves it. The farm was a retirement project for them, but she loves art and has this totally other side to her that isn’t a 100% practical farmer. I think that’s why it connects with her so much, because farming for her is very serious business, but there’s still romance in it all for her. She always wants to know like what the latest food trends are, and we get excited together about pink radicchio or whatever hot new vegetable is trending at the moment. It’s nice when people get excited about vegetables. It’s like when Birkenstocks got trendy, like what a practical, wonderful thing to be popular!
Yes, my family has been so amazing and supportive. My dad is really busy with his own career, but before we opened he spent every weekend building things up at the farm and then bringing them down to the shop. He’s listened to me articulate things I wanted to have in the space in some crazy way and just figured out how to build it. It’s great because he doesn’t know any “standards” for these sorts of things. He’s an environmental biologist, not a carpenter by trade, so he’s making things out of pure practicality. My mom, too, has been an incredible support. She has such a gentle spirit, and has been such a voice of reason through everything, and taught me to have a true appreciation for the natural world.
I generally have an item in mind that I want to carry, and then look for the best version that exists. The more raw products like the sheepskins I source as locally as possible, and all of our current clothing is made in Victoria or Vancouver. Everything that isn’t local is the best of it’s kind, and made in highly trusted factories. All of our brushes come from Germany or Sweden, I bring in a little bit of stationery from Japan, some knives made in France, and scissors made in England. I’m always trying to find that balance of precious quality with respect for the objects and the people that made them. The emphasis is on practicality and design; as much utility as possible. In the pottery there is a little more whimsy represented, but for the most part I want everything I carry to be used and loved and to last. I grew up a lot on boats and now I live in a tiny home, so I favor abundance but never excess. It’s not minimalism, it’s just practicality; not having all this stuff around to fuss about.
Because I care so much and spend so much time here, it can be difficult to separate my own emotional state from how the shop is doing day to day. It’s something I have to work on, knowing that even if the shop has a bad day it doesn’t mean that my life is falling apart. And vice versa. If I’m personally bummed out about something, it doesn’t mean that the shop is doing poorly. I’m really excited about this season we’re in now where I’m bringing in more and more people in different ways, and having more influence than just my own, because another big challenge for me has just been defining my own role in all of this as it continues to grow.