A Conversation With Erin Banta, Founder Of Pepper

Real Estate

Creating timeless decor is an art and there’s no doubt that Pepper has mastered it. Launched in 2018, the brand has become a go-to for traditional and contemporary design enthusiasts. Best known for its cheerfully bold yet tasteful prints, Pepper offers a curated and customizable selection of home accessories including pillows, curtains, throws, table linens, and most recently rugs in collaboration with Loom & Company Better yet, everything ships quickly and is manufactured in the United States.

The brand was co-founded in 2018 by Erin Banta and Kelsey Brown who thought of the concept as students at Colombia Business School. “As good friends who both had backgrounds in retail, we held a shared interest in starting something together,” she tells me.

Banta previously worked in buying at Ralph Lauren and as a consumer analyst for MFP Investors. Brown was employed in retail technology at Deloitte but also interned for renowned brands including Hatch Collection, Rent The Runway and Louis Vuitton. All of these experiences along with a true passion for design are part of the formula that makes Pepper so successful. I recently spoke with Banta about what makes the brand so unique, the business aspects of running a direct-to-consumer company as well as the best ways to decorate and style with Pepper’s gorgeous prints.

Amanda Lauren: From a business standpoint, what made you want to focus on decor?

Erin Banta: We came to focus on decor in particular for two reasons. First, we visited India for a friend’s wedding and were totally captivated by the breadth of unique and colorful decor that we came across. Second, we simultaneously moved in with our now husbands and became really invested in decorating our spaces for the first time. As consumers, we started to notice that high-quality, well-designed, and reasonably priced decor was incredibly difficult to find.

After having those experiences, we felt that there was an opportunity to build a brand that offered the well-designed and well-priced decor that we wanted to buy but couldn’t find. We spent our second year at Columbia Business School taking courses that allowed us to work on this concept and, upon graduation, made the mutual decision to take the risk of transforming our idea into a business. I would be lying if I said we had it all figured out when we launched in 2018 but I believe that failing early on is what has enabled us to succeed long term.

Lauren: Can you describe the Pepper aesthetic?

Banta: I’d categorize our aesthetic as timeless with a twist. When we’re working with artists on new patterns, we love to reference textiles and paintings from the seventeen and eighteen hundreds and then interpret them to fit our perspective and our time. When we launched, we were primarily focused on bold colors and patterns.

As we’ve grown and come to better understand our customer— our aesthetic has evolved. We’ve created more balance in our offering by adding solids, neutrals, and a more expansive color palette.

Lauren: What products did the brand launch with?

Banta: Pepper is 180 degrees different from the company we were when we first launched. We started with a collection of pillows and table linens in a range of twelve patterns. After realizing we had an opportunity to really differentiate ourselves by focusing on customization, we prioritized building a supply chain that would support such a model.

In 2020, we introduced curtains along with customization options for our pillows. Since then, we’ve vastly expanded our collection by adding more customization features, different fabric types, and new patterns. Over the next six months, we plan to introduce some new product categories that our customers have been asking for and I think will be really excited about.

Lauren: Who is Pepper’s customer?

Banta: Pepper’s customer is predominantly female, usually starts coming to us in her late twenties, and seems to stick with the brand as she “grows up.” Many of our customers are renters and are looking for a quick refresh via our custom pillows while others own a home and are using a wider array of our products for a full redesign. Above all, this customer comes to us when they are at a point of transition— they have a growing family, have recently moved, or are finally able to invest in decorating their home.

Lauren: Why was manufacturing in the United States important to you?

Banta: Manufacturing in the United States isn’t just important to us, it’s essential to our business. Domestic production has enabled us to build a sustainable brand that offers our customers all of the things they value most: a large breadth of product, a vast suite of customization options, and industry-leading turnaround times.

By manufacturing in the United States and therefore partnering with factories that are easily accessible, we ensure that ethical labor practices are employed, workers are treated well, and the facilities are clean and safe.

Lauren: Supply chain issues and manufacturing delays have plagued just about every industry, but the furniture and decor industries have hit particularly hard because of Covid. However, Pepper has quick shipping and lead times, especially for a startup. How have you been able to make this work, especially during these challenging times?

Banta: Even prior to Covid, customers in our industry have been accustomed to longer lead times. That being said, our ability to deliver custom products in days versus months is one of the factors that really sets us apart. Our custom curtains, pillows, and table linens ship in seven days or less. Our wallpaper ships in two to four weeks. We are very proud of what we have accomplished on this front and I would be lying if I said that it’s been easy to get here. We have an incredible manufacturing partner who has worked with us to build a unique model that not only supports quick turnaround times but prioritizes our commitment to quality and customization.

Lauren: Sustainability has become more important than ever to consumers. What is Pepper’s approach to this?

Banta: In today’s world, customers expect that the brands they love are doing everything possible to minimize their environmental footprint. At Pepper, we prioritize sustainability in three key ways. First, we employ an on-demand manufacturing model. In doing so, we eliminate the risk of producing excess inventory which is obviously wasteful as it relates to materials and human resources.

Second, we use digital printing for all of our patterned fabric and wallpaper. This is critical because by going digital, we virtually eliminate the water wastage, electricity consumption, and pollution from dyes that have historically been associated with traditional printing methods.

Finally, we are able to use all of our fabric scraps. When fabric is cut to make any kind of product, there are inevitably small pieces that typically become unusable and wind up in landfills. We avoid that by utilizing them to make all of our fabric swatches.

Lauren: Tell me about your partnership with Loom & Company?

Banta: We partnered with Loom & Company on a collection of nine Oushak and Dhurrie rugs that feature some of our best-selling patterns. They are a female-founded company based out of Texas and we got to know each other after realizing that we shared many of the same customers.

That fact, along with our shared commitment to sustainability and quality, was the reason that we decided to collaborate. As with all Pepper products, each rug is custom-made. We offer ten sizes and all of the rugs are weaved with hand-dyed wool by artisans in India. I am currently renovating my house and am using several rugs from the collaboration throughout. They make such a fabulous foundation for any room.

Lauren: Can you share a few tips for styling and coordinating different prints?

Banta: When it comes to decorating, people are often intimidated by the use of color and pattern. If you stick to a common color to tie different types of prints together and pay attention to mixing scales, you really cannot go wrong in creating a scheme that is both balanced and cohesive!

Lauren: What are your best ideas for creating a timeless interior?

Banta: I try to avoid trends and stay true to what I personally like. As I mentioned previously, I am currently renovating a house. In going through this process, I’ve defined a timeless interior as one that isn’t too fussy or precious— it needs to be inviting and comfortable.

I see so much inspiration that I would love to make a reality in my own home but realize that, as a mom to two little boys, my definition of a perfect space has completely changed based on my phase of life. So, given where I’m at right now, I would say that a timeless interior is one that reflects your personal style, can be layered upon over time to evolve with you and your needs, and places equal value on practicality and design.

The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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