A few years ago my wife and I made our annual trek to MerleFest, where thousands gather every April for this premier music event. As you might imagine, like any outdoor festival, you’re either in a camp chair or spread out on the ground. And as often happens in April, there are rain showers, which leave the ground constantly damp.
Spread out in front of us was a couple having lunch on a really neat – almost too nice looking for the ground – blanket. My curiosity got the best of me, and I leaned over to comment on their choice of ground cover. Turns out, it wasn’t a blanket after all. It was in fact a product called Tarpestry. A high quality canvas tarp married with uniquely designed tapestries created specifically to be waterproof and comfortable – complete with grommet holes. These covers can actually double as a makeshift tent or awning.
I caught up with Ted Swartzbaugh who owns the company with his wife Carrie, to learn more about the story behind this cool idea. (By the way, you can hear the longer version of the story as Ted and I chat at length on the Americana Music Profiles podcast.)
What Is It?
“It is basically a glorified outdoor blanket,” Ted said. “We designed it with functionality combined with an artistic virtue involved too. It’s a polyester backing that’s water repellent, and super durable. We did a bunch of tests to make sure it was dance worthy too,” he laughed. “We meet different artists out on the road who have these great designs, and we collaborated with them to create limited edition tapestry for the top side. We also have a collection of other designs we can choose from as well.”
The Back Story
After college, Carrie and Ted moved to Denver, Co. where they picked up service industry jobs. They both eventually ended up working at a screen printing company, where the owner printed products like t-shits, rock concert posters. “We started touring festivals selling the t-shirts,” Ted said. “Carrie’s step-dad was at one of the events, and it rained of course, as it does at festivals. He came over to our booth to get dry, carrying his soggy blanket. He began talking about a cool product idea that would be helpful at festivals – a water repellent blanket. At first it was a passing thing where we agreed, but moved past it pretty quick.”
As they were packing up the tent and t-shirts from the festival that weekend where they had hung tapestries to make the booth look nice, and laid tarps to keep the shirts from getting wet, something become vividly obvious. “We had a stack of tapestries, and a stack of tarps lying beside each other,” Ted said. “It was one of those light bulb moments, literally.”
The t-shirt company ending up not working out at the end of the year, and Ted and Carrie saw an opportunity to see if they could really make it happen. “I think the funniest part is, for the original blanket, we took a blue tarp and used hammer on snaps; we literally snapped the tapestry to the tarp,” he said.
Trial and error and several test blankets later, they had a full fledged business, and rapidly growning fan base. Ted and Carrie ran the business in Denver, Colorado first from their garage and then their basement, part time, and then full time, until 2015 when they decided they wanted to be closer to family on the East Coast. They moved back to their home state of North Carolina, to the Blue Ridge Mountains to a family farm just outside Boone, NC. “We set up our office in a beautiful old barn and found a local manufacturer, Tsuga, to produce our Tarpestrys,” Ted said. In early 2017 the first Made In North Carolina Tarpestry line was available to their customers. “We are proud of our Colorado roots, but we’re also really excited for our future in the mountains of Appalachia. Tarpestry is officially, Built in the Blue Ridge.”
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By Greg Tutwiler