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Mothering Nature: An Unexpected Journey into Stone & Tile

August 2, 2018

Gracie Morris, founder of NuWa Stone, momentarily likens herself to a unicorn during our interview. It’s no surprise: in the mostly male-dominated industry of tile and stone, women can be an anomaly; a Californian Asian-American woman even more so.

Stone Industry Passion

But the industry has proven a fit which aligns with Morris’ passions. “I’ve always envisioned my life as a purpose-driven life,” she explained. “I think that falling into this industry has really allowed me to connect my passion for design, for natural material, and to see that products come from the ground. To oversee the whole production process, the logistics process, and sometimes the installation process, and to see that completed project is so fulfilling to me. Although, [the stone industry] is probably the most difficult industry that I have ever encountered besides being a mother; I think [it] toughens you up quite a bit.”

Morris’ standing as a woman in the stone industry and her cultural background is apparent in the name of her company. NuWa comes from Chinese mythology. The goddess Nuwa not only created mankind, but used natural stone to repair the pillars between heaven and earth when they were destroyed in a war between the two. In doing so, she made it so that humanity could survive.

“I use this story and the name for my company because I find the beauty in that she is a woman and she’s capable of doing something like this, for one,” said Morris. “Number two: that she uses natural material to provide a safe haven for everyone to survive.”

An Unexpected Introduction

Morris’ introduction to the tile industry was out of the ordinary. “My background is in economics, and I was fortunate enough to purchase some properties that needed to be renovated right around 2008,” she said. “From there I got to know the surface industry a little bit and thought it was really intriguing. When I was doing all the renovations, I kind of fell in love with natural stone and how many varieties are out there; just how it made me feel every time I’d look at the material.”

The stay-at-home mother of two then was approached by family friends who own a basalt quarry. “They came to me and said, ‘We have this material called basalt; it sells really well in Europe and Australia, but it doesn’t have a lot of traction in the United States. Would you be willing to look into why that is and perhaps think about getting into the industry?’”

Thinking back on it now, Morris says she realized her passion for architecture and design had rooted itself early in her life. “Just thinking back, every time I went to a big city, I would always look for an architectural tour, or I would always take pictures of buildings or interesting things that are design related,” she recalled. “Maybe this is why every time I look at natural stone, it emotes something in me.”

“When I went to the quarry for the first time, it was really such an eye-opening experience for me because there’s something about being part of nature, seeing what Mother Nature created, and what is allowing us to kind of harvest and utilize [it] to improve our own lives and create environments that are beautiful and give us a sense of belonging.”

Morris emphasizes her work and its connection to the earth. Outside of being cut and polished, the final product’s beauty comes from the ways in which the material was created deep within the planet’s crust. “Here’s the thing. The product is from Mother Earth, so no matter where it comes from, it’s quarried in its natural stage,” she stated. “When people around the world talk about quality, the manufacturer is not a locale, the manufacturer is not a region of the world or a country. The manufacturer is Mother Earth.”

The New Mother & Mother Earth

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Morris would feel a connection to the creation of Mother Earth as she was entering the stone industry as a new mother herself. “I got my hands on the sample of [basalt] when my youngest was probably nine months old and I was still a stay-at-home mom. Then a month after she turned a year—so probably three or four months later—there was an Orlando Coverings show. I went there with my breast pump because I was still breastfeeding!”

Morris laughed while remembering her first experience at the show, running back and forth from the educational sessions and the show floor to her hotel room. “I would literally go to some educational sessions, and then go back to my hotel and pump; then go back to the show and walk the floors, and then go back to my hotel and pump; then attend the networking events and then go back to the hotel and pump. It was insane.”

Broadening Reach in the Stone Industry

Now in their third year of business, Morris is looking towards wider distribution and the evolution of NuWa Stone.

One aspect that is particularly important to her is the transparency of her company and in telling the stones’ stories.

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“There are so many different layers of the supply chain and the complexity of the supply chain and where the material is really coming from. It’s impossible for the design community to really know what the heck they’re looking at. So I want to change that a little bit. I’m not sure how yet—I’m still trying to figure that out—but in my business practice, I am completely honest in letting people know where the material is from and the background stories of how the material was discovered. And then any other information that I have to bring the human element into this industry—letting people know the kind of people or the families that I met when I went to the factory, or the families that I met while visiting the quarry, or these ladies that can lift a ton of stone every single day, and then still go home and make dinner for their kids.”

“All of these different stories I collect every time I go overseas to look at my material or find material. I bring those back with me to tell a story because every hand that touches this material has a story to tell.”

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About the author
Kadie Yale | Former Editor-in-Chief

Kadie Yale holds a BA in Industrial Design from San Francisco State University and a MA in Decorative Art History and Theory from Parsons the New School. In her role as editor-in-chief from 2015-2018, she led the interiors+sources team in creating relevant content that touches on sustainability, universal design, science, and the role of design in society.