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Designing Women: Two Female Executives Share Their Views on Life, Leadership and Equity

November 12, 2021

More than 60% of interior designers are women, yet only 11% occupy leadership roles in the industry. Why is that, and how do we ensure there are more seats at the leadership table for women and people from diverse backgrounds? Join this lively discussion i+s recently had with Shannon Cochran, VP of Marketing + Design for Patcraft, and Susan Pilato, CEO of Mantra Inspired Furniture, as they share their perspectives on the role of female executives in the interior design industry and how we can make it more equitable for everyone.

Meet Our Guests:

Shannon Cochran, PatcraftShannon Cochran, VP of Marketing + Design, Patcraft
As Vice President of Marketing + Design for Patcraft, Shannon Cochran leads the strategic development of innovative customer solutions that are inspired by market insights and collaborative product development. With more than two decades of flooring expertise and product innovation, Shannon strives to maximize the synergies between design, manufacturing and sales.  Shannon is a leading expert in color and trend research and how to translate both to commercial flooring products to ensure innovation in design, product quality and performance expectations across a range of flooring solutions.  Shannon is involved in Shaw’s Women’s Innovation Network and is committed to extending the influence of women in positions of leadership in STEM careers.  

Susan Pilato, Mantra Inspired FurnitureSusan Pilato, CEO, Mantra Inspired Furniture
Susan Pilato knew at age 13 she wanted to own her own business. She made that goal a reality at age 26 when she and her business partner, Donna Counts, created what is now known as PC&A Business Environments. With a focus on corporate environments, they began with an office in Norfolk, Virginia, and have expanded to Richmond, as well as Indianapolis, Indiana. When one of their largest clients made the use of solid wood desks the standard for its offices, PC&A quickly came to appreciate the sustainability and longevity of solid wood furniture. These were the early-stage values which would vault Susan’s next business venture.

In 2018, Mantra Inspired Furniture (MIF) was born. MIF is named for a simple code of ethics - 8 Mantras - passed down from Susan’s father. As a further tribute to her father’s legacy, MIF incorporates the mantras into the design and foundation of solid wood furniture that is crafted by the Amish community in Ohio.

Responsibility towards others and our earth are themes throughout MIF, its code, and its family of employees. Education is an important part of the philosophy, so that consumers understand the true differences between MDF, particle board and real solid wood and their effects on the environment. With a mission never to have MIF furniture end up in landfills, the products are built to last for generations. MIF was created by designers, for designers – to give them the opportunity to explore their creativity within the MIF innovative product suite.

As a passionate community servant since her teens, Susan has volunteered for many and various non-profit organizations and has served on several Boards of Directors. Some include past President of Norfolk SPCA, Ghent Business Association, and the Riverpoint Civic League. Additionally, she has served on the Downtown Norfolk Council Board and Virginia Tech Interior Design Advisory Board and currently serves as Vice Chair for the Bon Secours Hampton Roads Foundation Board and is a TowneBank Norfolk Regional Board member. Susan has a particular passion for Envision Lead Grow (ELG) a non-profit organization dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty by sharing the power of entrepreneurship with young girls and women. Through ELG, Susan served as a mentor for a group of young girls and is now proud to serve on the ELG board and is their Fundraising Chairperson. Following the past and ongoing crisis of racial injustice, Susan created The Vine Experience podcast series along with Dr. Angela Reddix. These two business owners, one black and one white, co-host the podcast and hope to encourage uncomfortable and crucial conversations about understanding racial challenges and injustices.

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About the author
Robert Nieminen | Chief Content Director

Robert Nieminen is the Chief Content Director of i+s and BUILDINGS media brands, and an award-winning writer, editor and design industry veteran with more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry.