This month, Pollack | Weitzner has announced a new President, with a whole lot of Pollack passion. With more than 18 years of company service, Susan Whalen’s career began as Studio Manager, which escalated to Vice President and later, Chief Operating Officer, and most recently, President.
After catching the decorating bug in childhood, Whalen has transformed her interests into a passion and now a vision. GDG chatted with Whalen about her goals for Pollack | Weitzner, her past and her bright future:
Holly Speck, Editor: How has Pollack evolved and changed over the 18 years you’ve been a part of it?
Susan Whalen: We have grown so much! When I first started at the company in 1999, we had around 30 employees and 1,000 active skus. We now have 70 employees and 4,000 skus! We have more than doubled our HQ, showroom and warehouse space to over 70,000 square feet. Our collections have evolved as well. Design Director, Rachel Doriss, has imbued the line with a fresh and colorful point-of-view while maintaining Pollack’s foundation of technical and creative expertise. And our merger with Lori Weitzner in 2011 allowed us to expand into wallcovering, along with launching a textile collection under the Weitzner brand.
HS: How did you enter the world of interiors? Were you always interested in them, or did you fall into your design journey?
SW: I caught the home furnishings bug when I was pretty young. My mom was always re-decorating our home. She would take me to the fabric store, and I remember spending hours going through the fabric and wallcovering books. I would rearrange my bedroom furniture constantly—and I’d love lying in bed afterward feeling like everything was “new” even though it was all the same furniture.
In college in Arizona, I studied Political Science and Spanish, but I had a part time job at a local HomeGoods store. One of my favorite parts of the job was merchandising and display. I made a point of learning everything I could about the products we sold—whether it was an espresso machine or handmade ceramic dinnerware. After graduation, the owners asked if I would take on the store manager position and I jumped at the opportunity to get some full-time work experience. In 1999, I decided to move to NYC, knowing that I wanted to continue working in the interior design field. I applied to a job posting in the NY Times and was hired by Mark Pollack to be the Pollack design studio coordinator.
HS: What are some of the responsibilities you will have as President?
SW: In my previous role as Chief Operating Officer, I was responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations including customer service, purchasing, sampling, warehousing and IT. In my role as President, I will continue to oversee operations and take on Design, Sales and Marketing as well.
HS: What are you most looking forward to in this new role?
SW: I am looking forward to working more closely with our Sales and Marketing teams to innovate and strategize as we navigate all of the changes that are happening in our industry. I am excited to explore how technology comes into play, while knowing that nothing beats the experience of touching and feeling a textile in person. We are in the process of launching a new operating system and websites for both brands, which will benefit our customers down the line—from our showrooms and reps to designers and their clients.
HS: Any sneak peeks for the next and best from Pollack this season?
SW: Pollack and Weitzner just launched their Spring collections—they have only been in showrooms a few weeks. The Pollack collection includes a grouping of fabrics inspired by textiles in the Museum of International Folk Art, which are based on historical originals but were transformed by the studio into totally modern designs. The Weitzner collection features some surprises of color and scale, especially a clean vinyl called Fleur that will work for both contract and residential.
In July, we will unveil our Fall introductions—which include fashion-forward designs for Pollack and art-inspired patterns for Weitzner. Both are surprising and beautiful, but still true to their respective brand’s aesthetic.
HS: What do you like to do in your free time, outside of Pollack Presidency?
SW: My boyfriend and I bought a home in rural Pennsylvania a couple of years ago. We spend as much time up there as possible and enjoy taking advantage of the outdoor activities like canoeing and BBQs in the summer and skiing in the winter.
There are endless projects to work on and we have had a great time decorating the house with vintage and antique items from the area. I also love to travel and try to visit a new place every year.
HS: What’s a fun fact about you for the world to know!
SW: I really enjoy entertaining, and every year I host an open house for the NYC Marathon. My apartment is around the corner from Mile 9 in Brooklyn, so after everyone fills up on bagels, we take our bloody marys to go and head over to cheer the runners on. It has become our tradition to hand out paper towels…many of the runners make a beeline across the avenue just to grab a towel to wipe their face or hands. They are always so appreciative. It’s a lot of fun and it feels great to support and encourage the athletes. It’s truly one of my favorite NYC events.
HS: How have you grown creatively throughout your career?
SW: Spending the first five years of my career at Pollack in the design studio gave me an invaluable understanding of textile design and manufacturing. And although my path has always been more operational, working closely with the artists in the Studio and being around interior designers has certainly sparked my own creative juices over the years. I’m always working on a home project, have taken pottery classes, honed my sewing skills…and I still love rearranging my furniture.
Shop Pollack | Weitzner at DDB Suite 1722, and within Donghia in the PDC Suite B624 and in the DCOTA Suite C-250.