Woman-Owned Small Business Finds Beauty in the Forgotten
Upon entering Jean O’Reilly Barlow’s studio, you’ll see ornate crucifixes and centuries-old candlesticks from Europe making their home next to rare minerals and multi-faceted gems. Under Barlow’s skilled hand, these elements leave the studio as beautifully reimagined works of art.
Barlow, known to many as Ireland’s first supermodel, founded her home décor business, Interi, in 2007 after several years as an antique dealer. She runs the business today with her two daughters, Grace and Joybelle, from their home base of Columbia, S.C.
People around the world seek out Interi when they’re looking for a truly unique piece. The catalog boasts a wide range of décor with a past, from Italian sunrays now adorned with pearls to angel wings fused with smoky quartz, as well as ornate mirrors and lamps made from coral and crystal.
Barlow can speak at length about how she hunts for discarded artifacts salvaged from churches in Italy, sources minerals and gems from the Smoky Mountains, or pores over Florida coral just brought up by divers. But her true passion lies with the mission of Interi: taking forgotten, often broken items and restoring them to their original beauty and spiritual significance.
“When I step back from a piece, I think, ‘This is all of God and nothing of me,’” she says. “I feel as I though I’m anointed to do this, as the fragments tell a story from brokenness to beauty.”
Barlow sat under the tutelage of Italian artisans with a history of their own to learn traditional methods, such as gold leafing, to create her one-of-a-kind pieces. Perfecting her technique over the years, she seamlessly blends the historical fragments gleaned from Italian and French markets with materials from the earth and sea. “I want them to appear as if they’ve grown from each other,” she explains.
Barlow spends about three days creating a piece once she has the right combination of elements. Finding those elements, however, can take years. “Sometimes when I am in Italy, I will see a piece and know exactly the mineral decoration at home to go with it. (But sometimes I’m) waiting for the right application to rear its head,” she says.
Due to the age of the church artifacts, Barlow often has to make careful repairs before she can begin to fuse them with other materials. She lives out Interi’s pledge to turn brokenness into beauty by placing the most beautiful decoration on areas with the most damage.
Wanting to take their mission a step further, the Barlows partner with organizations benefiting women in need. Grace and Joybelle volunteered with anti-human trafficking organizations during college, and Grace saw firsthand the important work of restoration nonprofits while interning for Lighthouse for Life.
Through the “More Than a Fragment” campaign, Interi donates 10 percent of its online store proceeds to three women-focused organizations: Lighthouse for Life and NightLight International, which work to combat human trafficking and restore rescued victims, as well as Clothed in Hope, a nonprofit providing micro-loans and business courses to female entrepreneurs in Zambia. In January, Interi sought to raise awareness during Human Trafficking Prevention Month by donating 30 percent of online sales.
“We have a dual mission to inspire and help, and these organizations allow us to match our passion to a bigger purpose,” Joybelle says.
As a female entrepreneur who stepped out in faith to launch a business unlike any other, supporting women in business through Clothed in Hope means a great deal to Barlow. She encourages women to take their own leap of faith if they have a passion they want to pursue.
“Females can capture beauty in business in ways men cannot. We were all created to do something, and by empowering women to have opportunity in all steps of life, you are breaking barriers and creating avenues of exploration that one gender alone cannot bring to pass,” she says of women-owned small businesses.
Interi may have international acclaim, but Barlow wanted a bank with a personal touch. She found that and more in SouthState. “Employees are always friendly with proactive responses and top customer service. It’s a large bank with a ‘small bank’ feel – you are a person, not just a bank account number,” she says.
Barlow says the ongoing pandemic has impacted her business, but thankfully she has a supply of artifacts and relationships with mineral vendors that have allowed her to continue creating. While the world outside her studio may seem topsy-turvy, Barlow remains committed to revealing the spiritual splendor that still lies in unexpected places.
“There’s nothing that can’t be made beautiful again,” she says.
Read more about Interi’s More Than a Fragment campaign.
Learn more about business banking with SouthState.