Terralee Armbruster

  Punchy Magnolia came about from one mom’s resourceful and traditional Canadian roots to provide warmth to help prepare her little girl for winters in Minnesota. Every touque was formerly a cashmere sweater that has been individually hand-crafted into a luxurious item to provide protection from the mild to the bitterest of winters. 

Each touque carries its own story, style, and fit. Magnolia grace collection is crafted especially for children, providing the same luxe feel in smaller sizing.

To meet Terralee and learn more about Punchy Magnolia in person, be sure to stop by her demonstration at the Minnesota State Fair on Friday, September 1st at 5PM. Her demonstration, sponsored by Arc’s Value Village is all about ‘ T-Shirt Transformations: Isn’t it time to update your collection of vintage tees?’. Learn more here!

What inspired you to begin the creative endeavor of Punchy Magnolia?

It started off initially as a fundraiser project making mittens and touques (Canadian term for a beanie, cap, or a knit hat) from felted wool sweaters. Afterwards, they became Christmas gifts following inline with my family’s tradition to give only handcrafted items. I would experiment with different fibers, one of which was cashmere. It was like a cloud of heavenly goodness covering your head; it became the mandate moving forward to only use cashmere. Then one day three years ago, while out shopping with my daughter wearing her pink touque, the very first wholesale order came about. That's was beginning of Punchy Magnolia.  

 

Have you always been creative? What forms or channels have you explored in your creative journey?

When you live up in a remote northern climate, you find ways to keep your mind occupied during the long winters. Coming from a very craft minded family, I learnt a variety of skills at an early age. At five, I was making bedazzled pine cones and selling them to neighbors. Growing up, it was my dream to work for a magazine in NYC. This led to attending art college for design and eventually a career in user experience design. I fulfilled part of that childhood dream working in New York, just slightly different career path. There is a constant stream of new ideas bubbling away in my mind from to creating a new display out of discarded skis, refurbishing warehouses, or transforming a sweater sleeve into a stuffed animal. Prior to starting Punchy, I was actually looking at starting a side business of a coffee and juice bar that focused on providing healthier food choices. Then fate decided to take me in a completely different direction.

How has your creative voice and style evolved in your work? How have you evolved alongside it?

The premise of the touque is based on traditional Canadian or Voyager styling, a woolen knit hat with a fur pom. The basic pattern has not changed since I began making touques, whereas the components have. In the beginning any cashmere sweater would be used, whereas, now I have become more selective about the colors, textures, and patterns. Most notably has been the evolution of the fur pom making it the keystone brand identifier. At first, scrap fur was being used. With the increased demand, this was not possible to get enough good quality scraps. Now I work directly with ethically sourced fur companies that believe in sustainable hunting practices. This year, I started working with Minnesota farmers for the coyote hides. There is currently an over abundance of coyotes due to the lack of natural predators to which they prey on the farm’s livestock. This provides a sustainable solution. The evolution of Punchy becoming a recognizable brand across the country has been extremely rewarding. When past customers approach me at shows to tell me how much they love their touque(s) it is beyond gratifying and the reason I keep doing it.

It's not uncommon for artists and makers to simply want to create, falling shy on the business side of their creative endeavor. How are you on the business side of your work? Is it difficult to do both aspects well? 

I have always believed my career has been an exploratory evolution, through the fantastic experiences and not so much. Every now and then life hands you a humblizer. This past year has been an interesting juncture in taking Punchy Magnolia to a full time initiative. Try, fail, try again, fail better. The corporate background has been quite instrumental in navigating the business needs and understanding demographics. The challenge in operating a sole proprietorship is being responsible for all the moving parts, fulfill the demand, and keeping true to the roots of the brand.

 

Why is it important to you to run Punchy Magnolia in a sustainable, ethical, and charitable way? 

There is refined beauty in transforming something worn out and giving it a new refined purpose. One of the key essentials behind each of the items created at Punchy Magnolia is it’s handcrafted uniqueness. People appreciate the thoughtfulness of re-purposing a favorite sweater into a one of kind gift for loved ones or themselves. With the growth of the business, I have become even more conscientious as a maker and a consumer. It has heightened my awareness of the current environmental issues related to the textile industry. With that in mind, it has become my mantra of exploring innovative ways to re-purpose different materials.

What do you find special about working with textiles?

I have always had a love affair with textiles especially natural fibers. One of my favorites aspects is still the process. The quest to find the most ideal sweaters with different patterns and textures, taking it through the transformation, then finding it a new owner. It’s also the education on all the wonderful qualities of natural fibers and removing all the false stigma associated with a luxury fiber. Cashmere is a sturdy lightweight fiber that can keep you both warm and cool as well is naturally water resistant. There is huge sense accomplishment in creating a luxurious outdoor essential that is that people cherish and wear proudly.

 

 In terms of living and making in Minnesota, do you feel connected to this place? Why is local important?  

There has been a tremendous growth in the handmade evolution happening across the country, and especially locally. Evident at any of the bustling markets and featured handmade events throughout the city any given day of the week. It's fantastic to witness such vibrant support of locally run small business and entrepreneurship. People truly are interested in the stories behind the products they purchase. Which is the other wonderful aspect, is meeting other makers/entrepreneurs/artisans across the country. It’s like an ever-expanding family that support, educate, and nurture each other in this adventure we have embarked upon.

What do you see for the future of your business?

Ideally, I would like Punchy Magnolia to eventually grow into a full outdoor lifestyle brand. Encouraging people to get out and explore more by providing the necessary gear in comfortable style. Which may even branch into travel adventures at some juncture down the road.  This needs to occur organically and thoughtfully. I am applying the same approach with collaborations. This year, I am looking to go beyond a sole proprietor to bring on designers and sewers that can contribute in a flexible work from home type of model. As well, reaching to a few local colleges to mentor interns. It's all about creating a balanced lifestyle that will enable people to flourish in this creative environment. This will provide the opportunity to grow the Punchy collection.

 

Do you feel like making and creating through your business allows you to contribute to something larger than yourself?

It definitely has. Aside from providing a necessity that is comfortable to wear, building this business has provided a sense of inspiration for others to fulfill their dreams. It has been especially empowering for women who are looking to for a change or new direction in their career. It doesn't need to be a big technology start up with huge funding to become successful business. Sometimes the simplest of ideas are the token gems that shine. The greatest influence though has been with my daughter. She is thrilled to be involved in the business as the director of colors. It has encouraged her to further explore her creativity, to dream big, and she constantly pushes me to try experiment with new concepts. This summer, she started attending some of the markets which has inspired her to create her own ideas for a business. It is teaching her that with dedication and perseverance, it will be rewarding.