A New Yorker’s Guide To Launching A Community-First Business
How one woman abandoned an advertising career to find out what life could look like beyond the 9-to-5.
Mallory Solomon answers the phone with an apology: Sorry, but, we might lose her. She’s traveling back to her apartment in Marrakech after meeting with some local weavers, traversing the Atlas Mountains in northern Morocco, and service is — understandably — spotty. Solomon is in Morocco for the next two months or so, splitting her time evenly between here and Brooklyn. Clearly, what started out as an escape from her New York City ad job has become a second home — as well as the second, unofficial HQ of her new rug business, Salam Hello.
Salam means “peace” in Arabic, which is a little ironic, considering Solomon’s often chaotic daily life as a new founder. No two days are the same: whether she’s meeting with the Moroccan women who carry on the ancient tradition of Berber weaving, explaining a custom order to one of them over Whatsapp (yes, she concedes — the language barrier is, at times, tough), or shipping off new orders to her customers stateside, Solomon has got her work cut out for her.
“Oh man. Everyday is surprising!” she says. “You go through moments of like, Yeah, fuck yeah, I’m doing this correctly! That could be one hour, and then the next hour, it’s like, What the hell is going on? The rollercoaster of emotions is something I’ve never experienced. Reminding yourself to always have patience is so important.”
Beyond the operational challenges of running her own business, Solomon also has to contend with the constant culture shock of existing between Brooklyn, New York, and Morocco. At heart, she’s still a New Yorker: “One of the things that I’m grateful New York taught me is not being afraid to stand out. I don’t mind being in a cafe and being the only woman. It’s a different way of life here; a balance I’m always working on of me observing the culture and being respectful of it, while also continuing to live the life that I want to, being independent and empowered.”
This time last year, Solomon had the sort of powerful New York ad job that college graduates would kill for: a leadership position at 72andSunny, the award-winning international ad agency. But just below the surface, her reality wasn’t quite so ideal.
“Advertising was my life, for a while,” she says. “I remember hanging out with friends, and they would ask, ‘What’s new?’ and the only thing I could think to talk about was work. And then, at the very end, I started to realize that I was just angry — and I had all this anger toward my company and toward my team, and I realized it was because I was unhappy. And that unhappiness manifested in me taking out my anger on the people I was around at work.”
Solomon left her position in the spring of 2019, stepping into the unknown of entrepreneurship with lofty ambitions of starting a company that was equal parts globally-minded and community-centric. Unsurprisingly, it’s been an education in more ways than one.
“I have had to learn to have perspective. I look back on where I was when I first started this business, and I was so naive on so many aspects, like putting together certain aspects of my business plan or parts of the budget. But I’m so happy I was naive, because it allowed me the confidence to take that leap.”
Salam Hello’s business model reflects a carefully articulated intention to prioritize gender parity. On a micro level, that means Solomon meets with every woman weaver to understand her rug-making process, pays her a fair price for her wares, and then reinvests 10% of every sale back into the community from which it came. “We’re working with women to make them feel more confident in conversations they’re having around money. When we empower them to have those conversations, they gain more confidence.”
As for her own confidence as a new business owner, Solomon cites her pursuit of true fulfillment, independent of the status quo: “Ask yourself, what do you really want? It helped me have a guiding light.”
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