“Working with my hands saved my life,” says Mercedes Austin, founder and CEO of Mercury Mosaics. “There’s something therapeutic about working with your hands, and it’s what centers me. It’s the only way I’ve learned to navigate life and do something that adds value to the world. Returning to the trade is the constant thread, though; I don’t really relate to the label of CEO.”
But Austin has, in many ways, skyrocketed: from working as a dusty-booted, hangnailed mosaic artist in a Northeast Minneapolis studio to running an in-demand artisan tile brand in the midst of a very Instagram-friendly expansion, with a new design studio plus manufacturing facilities in both Minneapolis and Wadena — encompassing some 38,000 square feet of handmade, hand-glazed tile crafted by 40 employees.
“Because of my artist background, I don’t have the most traditional ways of doing things,” she shares. “But I don’t let that be the barrier. I figure out where the speakeasy entrance is; I figure out the code to the door.”
The code now looks like clients clamoring for mineral-green fish-scale tile lining the walls of their spa shower or a nearly 3D geo-hex pattern in bold pops of blue, gold and white as a kitchen backsplash above the stove.
“We’re here to wake up your walls in a way that’s thoughtful and beautiful,” Austin explains. “And we invite you to participate in how that looks. We’re super old-school, so you can talk to us and be pen pals with us. But we’re also very forward-thinking, so you can interact with us on your iPad, too. You choose your own journey.” And that goes for their business practices, too, where they’re figuring out how to reuse their “oopsies” and repurpose “misfit tiles,” becoming more sustainable by the day.
“The concept is to never give up,” she affirms. “So many things can go wrong, but at the end of the day, if you believe in what you’re doing and it’s something that inherently brings joy, that’s all that matters.”