Mirrix Looms is a family business run by mother/daughter team Claudia Chase and Elena Zuyok from Francestown, New Hampshire and Seattle Washington, respectively. Each loom is lovingly crafted in our wonderful manufacturing facility located in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin.
Mirrix Looms are Proudly Made in The U.S.A.
- The Mirrix Story by Claudia Chase
The Mirrix Story by Claudia Chase
The year was 1995 and I was living in Wisconsin, my first real encounter with the mid-west having lived all my life on the coasts (California, New York, New Hampshire and England) with my first husband (which clearly implies at least one of two) and two fairly young children. I was pretty much what you would call a stay-at-home Mom, who spent all her free time weaving tapestries sold through galleries and commissions. I wasn’t exactly getting rich, but that wasn’t the point. I just loved weaving and it fit into my lifestyle, whatever that was.
By 1995 I owned two large vertical tapestry looms and a metal Hagen (no longer imported to the U.S.) None of these looms (even the Hagen, which was about 24 inches wide) was really small enough to take places and use, like watching my kids at gymnastics practice or at the beach, in a hotel room or in a tent, etc. I wanted something little, something light, something I could carry in a bag on my shoulder and that would not scream: “This lady is hauling around some big piece of strange equipment and now we can all stare while she whips it out and weaves a few lines.” So I talked to a friend’s husband who was quite handy (mine was not) and we came up with the first prototype for the Mirrix Loom, which looks nothing like the current Mirrix. It was made of metal tubes, had no shedding device, but it was little and it was portable although not particularly attractive. I think I still have it somewhere. It was fine, but it wasn’t what I wanted.
At that point my first husband decided I should go into business making small tapestry looms. I thought that was a really dumb idea. I wanted to weave, not make looms. Besides, we hadn’t come up with a great design yet. I had this silly little prototype whose only claim to fame was decent tension and size.
But then another friend’s husband came along and after much discussion he threw together the loom which truly was the Mirrix prototype. Made from “stuff” he had in his garage, scraps of metal from the fire truck company where he was employed, the Mirrix prototype was made from copper (plumbing pipes), aluminum (fire truck trim), steel threaded rods (from the local hardware store). The black tray that holds the spring was also some kind of fire truck trim. A few bolts here and there and we had THE FIRST MIRRIX LOOM. But it had neither shedding device or legs. We spent hours discussing those two pieces. The first legs look just like the legs we use today. But the first shedding device did not have those fancy hand-milled brass pins to hold the bars. It had these funky little wire things. We also hadn’t designed the black clips yet that hold on the shedding device. We had some other complicated and not very functional system. Made from off the shelf hardware store parts. But within six months we had a loom that to the untrained eye looks just like the Mirrix of today.
Six months after Mirrix was just a gleam in my eye, we were in business. I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be in business. I am a naturally shy person who hates making cold calls, has a hard time talking to strangers, and has a desire to run and hide whenever the phone rings. I guess people can change. At least a little. Now whenever I tell someone I am shy they laugh at me. And then there is that political thing . . . that elected position in the NH House thing . . .that really now gives me no leg to stand on when I insist I am painfully shy. Ah, but I am getting too far ahead of myself.
In June of 1996 first husband and I were leaving Wisconsin to move back to New Hampshire. I had known when we started Mirrix that we would be leaving Wisconsin and that the looms would be manufactured there. We got an 800 number, credit card capability and even a web site, one of the first loom web sites. We were ready for business. Sort of.
Before I continue with this story which must have you riveted to your seat, I know you want to know whence the name Mirrix came. I had made it up a few years ago when my first husband decided to start his own management consulting business. It was a combination of a couple Latin/Greek words meaning “to wonder at, to mirror.” I stuck the “ix” on the end. Eventually, I decided to also call my tapestry weaving business Mirrix. The full name was “Mirrix Tapestry Studio.” When we began the loom company we incorporated it under the name “Mirrix Tapestry Studio Looms. Ltd.”
Right before we left Wisconsin I convinced three people to do three different things: a very well-established yarn/equipment catalogue/retailer to carry our looms; another well-established retailer of fiber stuff to take our looms to “Convergence”; and a well-known and wonderful tapestry teacher to endorse our loom. The movers came and got all our stuff and we packed the kids and all the various other family members into two cars and drove to New Hampshire in two days. When we arrived and plugged in our phone I got our first 800 number call from a customer asking to order a 16″ loom (which along with the 32 inch loom made up the entire Mirrix fleet). I asked how they had heard of us. They said they saw the loom at Convergence. I asked why they did not buy the loom there. The answer: because all 16 looms that were there had sold out in three days!
We were obviously in business. I was elated.
Ah the changes that were to come!
My first partner, who had quit his Fire Engine building job to both run the manufacturing end of Mirrix and a landscaping company, decided that landscaping was enough, and after two years of long-distant business together, he wanted out. The timing could not have been worse. That first husband and I were no longer together. Mirrix had just started making money, enough to think that maybe it could support me in my new endeavor as necessary wage earner, but I was flat broke. Plus we were just starting to realize that Mirrix is also a bead loom and to explore that market.
I called a friend (in Wisconsin) who just happened to be flush after having sold a lucrative business and gave him the sales pitch of my life. Within a month he had both bought out my original partner and moved Mirrix to its current location: Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin. Mirrix lives within a facility that employees mentally and/or physically challenged adults. We are the only resident business and we love that status. In fact, we love everything about our new digs from the amazing folks who work there to beautiful open spaces and general sense of joy and permeates everything.
The only catch was that I probably over-sold Mirrix. I didn’t really want to grow it into a multi-million company and that really is the point of investing in a company: to grow it and sell it. I wanted to keep it forever. It was my third child and I love it. After a year, I bought out my second partner but left everything except the formal name the same. We became: Mirrix Tapestry & Bead Looms, Ltd.
In 2004 I decided to complicate my life and run for the NH State Rep. seat in my district. Against all odds I won. Six years of serving and running Mirrix from the State House three days a week during session, which runs from January until June, took a toll on both Mirrix and me! In December of 2010 I retired from my political duties in order to devote all my work time to Mirrix.
But before that, something wonderful happened. My daughter Elena decided that it wouldn’t be such a bad thing to join Mirrix. Who was i to resist considering that she had been our website mistress since she was in high school. Armed with a Communications degree and all her energy and enthusiasm, Elena became Mirrix’s first Marketing Director. And boy did we need one.
The changes to Mirrix since Elena came on board have been daily. It’s like a whirlwind of change on which we both thrive. The website is updated so frequently I can’t keep up with the changes. Our social marketing effort has sent us to the top of the charts. And best of all, I get to work with Elena every day, although often through Skype since we live on different sides of the country.
You know how they say: it’s all good (often in response to it being all bad)? Well, it really is all good.
Within all that drama we invented many different sizes of looms and kits, the wonderful loom stand and treadle, as well as bead patterns, yarn kits, bead kits, you name it. As we grow we change in fun and exciting ways to further serve the needs of our every growing customer base.
I am still wondering at Mirrix and all it has brought me and my family and our wonderful employees. At Mirrix the bottom line is not how much money we can make, but how much joy everyone who touches it can feel. From the world’s best employees to the world’s best customers, Mirrix has a lot on its plate.
Claudia Anne Chase
President, Mirrix Looms
- The Mirrix Story by Elena Zuyok
In 1995 I was ten years old. If you had asked me at the time what my mother did for a living I would have said, “she’s a mommy”. And she was. Turns out she was also a professional tapestry weaver. At the time I thought it was perfectly normal to have a living room filled with floor looms instead of couches and a mom who constantly commented, “that would make a great tapestry”. I fondly look back on the days when I would come home from school and lie on the carpeted floor of the living room chatting with mom about my day with the sound of NPR and changing sheds in the background.
Soon my mom (Claudia Chase, you may have heard of her) decided she wanted some smaller looms so she could weave while at my endless gymnastic meets, Zach (little brother) and my soccer games and the other various places she spent half her life driving us to.
Problem was: She couldn’t find a professional quality small loom.
Solution was: Invent one.
I take full credit for Mirrix’s beginnings. The man who helped build Mirrix’s first prototype (and many after) with fire truck parts was the father of a friend of mine. Without that connection, who knows where Mirrix would be now. Certainly not made of fire truck trim.
I didn’t really notice Mirrix starting. We were in the middle of moving halfway across the country and I was preoccupied with making new friends and getting another horse. Looms weren’t very interesting to me.
Fast forward to high school. I worked for Mirrix some in high school, website stuff and envelope-stuffing type tasks. It was fun and nice to work for mom, but I was never very invested in Mirrix. It was mom’s business, not mine.
After high school I went to college, majoring in communications and political science. There I got very deeply entrenched in politics and even ran two of mom’s campaigns for State Representative. She won, of course, and that was when I realized what a fantastic team we were.
A few days after graduating from college I moved to Greece with the intention of teaching English. I ended up writing and editing for an English publishing company and meeting my husband. We eventually moved back to America where I got a job in sales (but my ambitions were to get into marketing). One day I was meeting with a fellow salesman and discussing my life. I went on and on about Mirrix and my incredibly wonderful mother.
The salesman looked at me, tilted his head, and asked, “Why aren’t you working for your mom?”
It had never occurred to me. Here I was with this incredible family business right in front of my face and I’d never thought of it as what it is.
I talked to mom about doing marketing for Mirrix and she was thrilled, as if she’d just been waiting for me to figure it out. Figure out that this business was never meant to just be hers, it was meant to be our family’s, it was meant to provide for all of us.
And now, here we are. I live in Seattle with my husband, but probably see mom more than I did when at college an hour and a half away. We Skype all the time, sometimes just both working, silent, as if we’re in the same office. We have an amazing ability to work together, to respect each other and to encourage ideas and growth.
I have had the freedom to mold Mirrix’s marketing campaigns as I choose and don’t feel like an employee, but a partner.
I believe in Mirrix. In its practices, in its products and in its customers.
Mirrix has become my future and I hope someday my (hypothetical) daughter will realize that Mirrix can be her future, too.
- Mirrix Manufacturing
Mirrix’s manufacturing facility is located at Sunshine House, an amazing place that provides services and supported employment to Door County, Wisconsin residents with special needs and/or disabilities. Our amazing manager Sandy works with other fantastic Sunshine House employees to make every Mirrix Loom with love and care. We are so happy to be a part of such a great organization!