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Creativity has been known to blossom in some of the most unexpected places and during the most unplanned-for times. While some artists develop with a clear creative path forward, others find themselves on a windier road with twists and turns to a destination they might not have ever seen coming. This was the case for Jacob Winter and Franki Peroff, the co-founders of the fresh-faced and innovative rug company Mush Studios.
When the pandemic first burst into our lives and uprooted the status quo, both Winter and Peroff found themselves jobless in New York City and thrust into the unknown. "We really saw that time as an opportunity," Peroff tells Hunker. "We've always wanted to be creative, but we never had the time. Quarantine gave us time to hone in on us being creative."
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Winter has a background in marketing, and Peroff previously worked in fashion, but neither has any sort of technical art or design background. That didn't stop the pair from accessing their innate design sensibilities after coming upon a tufting video on Pinterest.
"We realized that making rugs was a thing that we could do because the machine was actually very small. So that led us down a rabbit hole," says Peroff. They found a tufting gun for sale on Etsy and made the purchase. "It was a big risk because it was expensive at the time for us because we were unemployed. We had no money," Peroff continues. "But we took the plunge, we got the gun, and we decided to take what we were doing and put it on TikTok."
Mush began to amass an audience and customer base through its TikTok, which led to a steady stream of custom commissions. "We gathered an audience and realized that this was the best opportunity to do what we love while living in a society that doesn't really put creativity on a pedestal," Peroff says. "Especially pre-COVID, there was so much pressure to not do anything creative, even in school. I hadn't taken an art class since elementary school, but I kept that artistic touch within me and always needed an outlet for it. Then, the universe presented rug tufting as our outlet for all of this built-up creativity."
After initially starting their enterprise under the name Jake's Rugs, Winter and Peroff quickly realized they wanted to aim higher and shift their brand identity based on the success they were having just two weeks into the launch. "Everything within our brand happened very, very, very quickly, so within that two-week period, we realized we really wanted to make a brand," says Peroff. "The name Mush and the original brand identity just came to us."
Fueled by an outpouring of creativity that had laid dormant in each of them for so long, Winter and Peroff were off to the races, creating swirly, blob-shaped rugs in bold colors unlike anything else on the market. "We wanted to create statement pieces that were not traditional but could be looked at as timeless," says Peroff. As such, their area rugs are far from a typical rug you'd find at Wayfair or IKEA and instead are made in unique, organic, and almost gooey configurations typically composed of one to five colors.
"When we approach design, we look intrinsically. We both have connected intensely to our inner child and who we are at our core," explains Peroff of their distinct aesthetic. "We've given that person the ability to express themself and create. We've really honed into our subconscious to find our ability to design. We prioritize staying true to who we are; we don't design for anybody else besides ourselves. If we stay true to that, it'll read that way."
Queerness is a core component to Winter and Peroff's imperative to design in a way that's authentic to who they are. "I am an out, very loud, very proud gay man," Peroff tells Hunker. "My gay identity and my queerness heighten who I am as a person tenfold. I embrace it, and I have always embraced it since I could remember. I go against the grain in many aspects, so innately for us, when we decided that we were going to create rugs, we didn't want to create the traditional rectangular rug. We wanted to create something that would not necessarily cause a ruckus but something that's not been seen before in a category that is so traditional."
"We as queer people are always told that what we do isn't necessarily right or doesn't make sense," Peroff continues. "Even to this day, we get comments like, 'You guys aren't designers' or 'This makes no sense. This is just a squiggle.' But that in and of itself is part of who we are. We don't allow the negative to silence us."
As creatives so committed to making art that's completely true to themselves, it stands to reason that Winter and Peroff's art is infused with a celebratory queer energy. "We never try to put on a mask or be anybody else or design like anybody else," says Peroff. "Looking at our brand from an outside view, we really do see ourselves in it so much."
While Mush exclusively offers rugs for the time being, Peroff says they have plans to expand to pillows and other home department products in the future. But don't worry — their rugs aren't going anywhere, as the duo continues to push the form. "We are definitely going to continue to stick with rugs," Peroff concludes, "and really experiment with new techniques and textures and combinations of materials — really elevate and innovate."