Courtney & Laren Poole
Owners of Rose & Fitzgerald
Courtney and Laren Poole are the dynamic duo behind Uganda-based design & craft studio, Rose & Fitzgerald. They left the familiarity of their California home to work hands on with local craftsmen curating and creating some seriously stylish and authentic handmade goods. We were thrilled to take a moment of their time to learn more about them as a couple and family unit.
How did you two meet?
When I was a sophomore in college at Texas A&M, my dad gifted my sisters and I a trip to San Diego, California for a few days. A good friend also happened to be in town at the time, so he convinced me to accompany him to a fun bar in Little Italy one night. Truth be told, I was 19 at the time, and had to sneak in. When I walked in, I immediately locked eyes with a tall, tan, handsome man that I recognized as one of the co-founders of the non-profit, Invisible Children (that I had just recently accepted a 4-month internship with!) I simultaneously thought: I’m a future intern that is breaking the law. This is not setting a good impression. But he’s really attractive and I want to talk to him. Maybe I just won’t tell him quite yet. We started up a conversation and at the end of the evening, I dropped the bomb that I was underage and also soon to be employed by his non-profit. He was a little shocked, but it clearly didn’t bother him too much; we ended up dating throughout my internship and then for the next 3 years long-distance, as I finished up school. We were married in October of 2009, just a few months after I graduated and then lived in San Diego for the next 3 years.
Tell us about the beginning of Rose & Fitzgerald and the move to Africa.
In the fall of 2012, Laren and I left our beloved California and moved to Uganda, Africa for Laren’s new role at Bridgeway Foundation. After being exposed to many talented artisans in my new community, I began designing products to decorate my home and compliment my lifestyle – mixing our coastal roots and design perspective with newfound materials and traditional handiwork. With every piece I created, each one constructed with unmistakable care and patience by an individual artisan, I began to realize they were truly something special. Thus began my dream – to share this beautiful part of the world with others who value handmade products from native, natural materials; products created by an artisan truly passionate about their craft. My desire to build relationships in Uganda as well as make a positive impact on the community became a reality when I realized I could offer a sustainable income to artisans, challenge them to create high quality products and expose them to the global market. My husband shared my dream and was part of building the business all along. And so, Rose & Fitzgerald was born, which comes from each of our middle names.
What does a typical day look like for Rose & Fitzgerald?
Everyday is so different! Some days I’m in the office, answering emails, handling finances and managing our retail partner relationships. Other days, I’m designing, sketching, working on an inspiration/mood board for future seasons. But my favorite days are those spent in the workshops of my artisans, discussing samples, selecting materials, discussing timelines and dreaming about all of the future potential.
What inspires creativity in your day to day?
Living and working in Uganda is a constant adventure; whether it be driving through the chaos of the city, walking through overcrowded markets, or taking in the beauty of my surroundings, there is never a dull moment. My inspiration comes in so many forms. I feel constantly stimulated by my surrounds. We travel a great deal, and the new places and stunning natural beauty of forests, ancient crater lakes, animals on safari and hikes through the jungle are all sources of creativity for me. I’m also inspired daily by the loud, bold colors that exist in African fabrics and jewelry worn by many Ugandans. Also, the simple beauty of the natural materials in Uganda, like Mugavu and Elgon Teak Wood, Ankole Cattle Horn and woven Raffia and Banana Fiber, have me dreaming up a million future design ideas.
What’s the best part of working with your spouse?
It’s amazing to share my passion with my spouse and I feel that it connects both of our dreams and goals for the future in really fulfilling ways. Working together, we have learned to communicate more effectively and have decided to treat “work “ as a shared lifestyle that we both love. It’s a really fun partnership.
Any advice for creative couples wanting to start a business together?
My advice to couples wanting to start a business together is to make sure that your creative/work life and love life have a healthy balance. As entrepreneurs, your work tends to dominate much of your energy and thought-life, but it is crucial to carve out time to just be together. Make sure you have hobbies outside of work that you enjoy doing together. Be intentional about having time throughout the day for conversations that don’t revolve around your business. It is really difficult, but important that work doesn’t become your life. For Laren and I, traveling as much as possible throughout Africa and the world, and spending time with our friends, is crucial for us to maintain that balance, and it leaves us really refreshed.
Where do you see yourselves and Rose & Fitzgerald in 10 years?
I have big dreams for Rose & Fitzgerald! Ultimately, I’d love to continue offering unique, high-quality collections of home goods and jewelry through my online shop, roseandfitzgerald.com. I’d love to design and source products from countries all over Africa, allowing my husband and I to travel and expand our artisan base. While we plan on being based in California in the long run, I see myself traveling back and forth to Africa multiple times a year, for many, many years to come. I dream of having a retail/community space by the name Rose & Fitzgerald, that carries our products, tells our story and creates a place for people to purchase handmade items, find like-minded community and find inspiration.