If you’ve had a chance to visit our online shop recently, there’s a good chance our new special-edition Negroni cocktail napkins, made in collaboration with Dot and Army, caught your eye. Here’s an inside peek behind the Georgia-based napkin pros.
Beginning at age 8, Jennifer Zamudio got her creative kicks from behind the wheel of a used sewing machine. It was a pastime picked up from her mother, who sewed all of the clothes worn by Zamudio and her three siblings. “She would have me sit on her lap and show me the basics of sewing,” recalls Zamudio. From childhood on, Zamudio channeled her imaginative impulses through her sewing machine, crafting home goods for her extensive Barbie collection followed by backpacks for real-life friends. It was a homegrown hobby that she would one day build into a thriving business.
After majoring in art in college, Zamudio took a job as a teacher in her native San Diego. At home with kids of her own, she found her most impassioned sewing inspiration from the excess waste created by paper towels. “We just ripped them off without even using them all the way and trashed them,” she says. Instead, Zamudio began buying vintage floral napkins, and down the decorated rabbit hole she went. She purchased beautiful old fabrics and started designing her own napkins in kaleidoscopic colors trimmed with delicately sewn borders. Her mix-and-match wares became popular gifts for friends, inspiring her to sell them at the local farmers market. These stints proved successful enough to spawn an Etsy store she dubbed Dot and Army.
The name is drawn from Zamudio’s maternal grandparents Dorothy and Armand, and Dot and Army’s cheery handmade goods are the sweet embodiment of their namesake. “They’re very creative people, kind, generous and giving,” Zamudio says. “They’re really good examples of people you want to be when you grow up.”
The napkins themselves harken back to tablescapes of the family dinners her grandparents would regularly host, making the brand’s homage to them only natural. As Zamudio burned out on teaching, Dot and Army’s popularity soared. Online sales were steady, and wedding coordinators began reaching out to request large numbers of her napkins. It was the affirmation Zamudio needed to quit her day job and take the plunge to full-time. Along with husband, Robert, and two sons, Danny and Gavin, she moved to Georgia six years ago to be close to family, and production for Dot and Army moved in with them. Everyone, including Zamudio’s mom, contributed to the business where they could. “We went from room to room in our house—we kept trading different rooms for the bigger room, and as the business grew, we eventually took over the master bedroom,” says Zamudio, who, nearly four years in at that point, saw the need to upsize. “It’s so scary as a small business owner because you think, ‘Is it going to continue? Can we afford this?’ ” she says.
Turns out, it did and she could. After a successful year of renting, she purchased a permanent home for the business. Located in the sleepy but slowly revitalizing downtown Brunswick, Dot and Army’s atmospheric workshop has old tin ceilings and restored hardwood floors dating to the 1800s that add a vintage style reminiscent of the napkins produced within. While the growing sewing operation occupies the back two-thirds of the building, the street-facing front features a neatly arranged retail space bathed in sunlight where Zamudio’s sons learn elements of the business during breaks from school.
From their downtown hub, Dot and Army turns out over 400 handmade dinner, cocktail and lunchbox-sized napkins a day, with orders going to homes, restaurants and bars around the country. On an average morning, Robert arrives at the studio and sews nearly 200 napkins while Zamudio checks emails and gets the kids ready for school. She’ll then arrive at the office, take a prolonged downtown stroll, then sew the day’s remaining napkins while her mom (the brand’s only other full-time employee) works on reusable sandwich wraps, bowl covers, and bibs.
Since Dot and Army’s founding 10 years ago, vintage floral fabrics have become a hot commodity, and Zamudio now bundles more modern varieties for her whimsical mix-and-match goods, but never passes on the opportunity to include old-fashioned textiles. Her offerings have also expanded, as she’s found inspired collaborators in brands like Food52, Of a Kind and Drinking with Chickens. Even with expanded retail, Zamudio remains more committed than ever to the brand’s eco-friendly beginnings, selling her reusable linen “un-paper towels” alongside stainless steel straws and containers, and the newly introduced (and immensely popular) zero-waste utensil wraps. “I think it’s so important, especially these days,” she says of the commitment to sustainability, adding that she plans to continue growth in that direction.
Even with growth in the pipeline, the brand’s core remains the communal nature of a table, inspired by Dot and Army’s dinners. “I feel like people put so much intention and thought into the ingredients they’re using—organic, locally grown, searching for recipes—why not take that extra step and set a table?” Zamudio says. “Putting a napkin on the table sets the tone and makes the people sitting there feel special.”
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