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Orient Linen Co. founder Janet Markarian with her daughter, Abigail Collier, who has recently taken a more active role in helping run the shop and business. (Credit: Tara Smith)

The small Village Lane storefront home to Orient Linen Company has had several identities since it was added on to a historic 1850s home in the 1920s. Originally, a barbershop. Later, a quilt shop. Then, a living space. At one point it was even used as a childhood bedroom for Abigail Collier, whose mother, Janet Markarian, launched the business in 2002.

“It has all these different lives,” the 29-year-old Collier reflected on a humid summer morning from the shop, which she’s now helping run full-time.

“My daughter has sort of taken the reins,” Markarian explained. “She’s expanding the original concept.”

Markarian, a local real estate agent, has a background in textile design. She studied weaving in the highland Andes, once taught at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has worked with the costume collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and as a textile conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

She eventually moved to China, where she raised her children and designed and manufactured her own line of textiles.

“This is where my passion lies and [Abigail] decided that this was where her passion lied as well,” Markarian said.

Though she doesn’t have the same background as her mother — Collier worked in news, digital media and politics until July 2022 — she has fond memories of learning about the art as a child.

“[My mom is] a textile conservator, so growing up, that’s what we did together,” she said. “We did weaving projects or knitting. I remember when she taught me to sew, like all of the women on her side of the family.”

When COVID-19 struck, Collier, like many others, left New York City in search of a more bucolic place to lock down. She felt lucky to return to Orient, where she spent many summers growing up with her family.

While many of us explored new hobbies during the pandemic, Collier returned to a familiar one: sewing with her mother. She got to learn about the business — and about herself. “I don’t know if I’m much of a city person,” Collier said, reflecting on the period of self-discovery. 

She was also ready for a change, describing her career in news and politics at such a tumultuous time as “exhausting.”

Now, Collier is spending her days helping Markarian expand their selection, scale production up and digitizing the business. She’s already launched a new website and social media presence that’s already led to an uptick in orders from near and far.

The curated shop is still well-stocked with beloved favorites, like custom quilts and wool throws that Markarian began making in the early 2000s. You’ll also find soft-washed towels and tea towels, aprons, baby bibs, potholders, tote bags, shower curtains, bath mats and more. There’s also a small selection of home goods that make perfect hostess gifts like French lavender soap or a box of Maldon salt packaged with a Weck jar.

The shop doubles as a studio, where in one corner you’ll see a functional sewing station with bolts of linen and cotton fabric in a neat pile.

Holding a bolt of blue striped linen fabric, Markarian explains that most products in the store are washed before they’re put out for sale. “It’s not terribly interesting until we wash,” she said. “We’re really into embracing the wrinkles.”

Easy to care for and launder, linen gets softer with each wash and is having a bit of a moment thanks to the current Coastal Grandmother aesthetic trending on TikTok this summer. The term was coined by creator Lex Nicoleta, who described the look is for anyone who “loves Nancy Meyers’ films, coastal vibes, recipes and cooking, Ina Garden and cozy interiors.”

The style — linen pants, loose button-ups, chunky sweaters — was immediately embraced, but extends to home decor too as it adds chic, sophisticated and calming vibes to any space. (Think white walls, neutral curtains to softly filter sunlight, textured rugs, cozy blankets, wicker baskets and other natural elements that result in more subtle than literal coastal decor.)

Collier and Markarian both appreciate the timeless nature of the natural material, one of the most sustainable or oldest sources of textiles that predates synthetics, pesticides and chemicals.

As she grows the business, she also seeks to honor what her mother built, keeping the iconic red rooster logo seen on the store’s sign and on each handcrafted tag. 

Markarian recalls the rooster logo was created and inspired by a Chinese papercut, a style of folk art that inspired her. “It really resonated,” she said. “The rooster is a very potent symbol in China for good fortune but also very American,” she said.

In years past, happening upon the shop unexpectedly was half the fun. It had no set hours, no phone number and no website. Sometimes, a door connecting the shop to their home would be ajar and a curious customer would find themself in their kitchen.

Collier is excited for the future and hopes to continue expanding with a focus on locally made and made in America products.

“[The pandemic] was a time where people really rallied around small businesses. They had to shop local because of supply chains,” she said. “So it’s a really exciting place to be.”

For more follow @OrientLinenCompany on Instagram.