It can be challenging to turn a love of travel into a career, but here’s a success story to inspire anyone who’s ever had an inkling of wanderlust.
Wendy Pashman spent nearly 30 years in catering before pinning down what really sparked her interest in tableware: the stories behind each individual piece. A curator and traveler at heart, Pashman used that inspiration as a springboard for her latest passion project, The Storied Table, an e-commerce site that brings together unique and handmade dinner pieces from all over the globe.
These days, Pashman pours all of her energy into building up The Storied Table’s vast network of artisans, designers, and dreamers. “We just started in September, so we’re still babies,” she laughed. But the platform can already boast a sea of one-of-a-kind kitchen products sourced from India, Uzbekistan, Iceland, and beyond. Each item comes with a rich backstory that brings to light its creator’s history and raison d’etre. To us, that’s a company well worth following.
We chatted with Pashman about her day-to-day processes and everything she hopes The Storied Table will accomplish.
Where did you get the idea for The Storied Table?
It’s an e-commerce online destination for artisan products that you could use to enhance your entertaining. It’s everything on the table – textiles, china, flatware, and glassware. We’re hoping to have products that are very unique and have a story, and I’m sourcing them directly from the maker as opposed to going through intermediaries. I have a catering business and entertaining company, and we’d go into somebody’s home and say “What china, what flatware, what textiles do you currently own?” And people would open up their china cabinets and there would be all kinds of goodies there that either they had or had inherited, and so we’d plan the menus around the things that they own. That lead to a lot of creative solutions with people having really cool glassware, and then we would use it for soup or a glass for dessert…multi-using and repurposing things in ways that they had maybe never imagined. So then I thought, “Huh. This is really fun! I have all these clients who have all this really memorable stuff.” People like that, instead of generic and plain. That’s really where the idea come from – it was from the catering, and then we go into purchase, because most of my catering clients rent everything for their events. Now, this is a way for them to purchase really unique products.
What makes The Storied Table unique?
As a company, I’m trying to find things that maybe haven’t been seen before. So it’s always under the radar and off the path. Now, with so much tourism and travel, people are going to more far-flung places, so it gets increasingly challenging to find something that will be really surprising. It’s like a discovery.
When you travel, do you have things in mind, or do you go without a plan?
It’s a little bit of both. I went to San Miguel de Allende, and I knew it would be a place with a lot of artisans. I knew, okay, here’s a place where things are being made. But how I found what I eventually wound up with was very much serendipity. I was having cocktails on a rooftop in San Miguel with somebody named Guadalupe. She said, “Oh, my family makes glassware that’s decorated by this really cool cooperative where they do all the finishing touches.” One thing led to another, and then I was purchasing unbelievable decorated glassware from that factory – which isn’t really a factory, it’s more like a workshop of 17 people. What’s really interesting about this workshop is that seven out of the 17 people are severely disabled. I saw the products at this place and fell in love, and then I later learned as I’m walking around and seeing what’s going on that these people are severely disabled. It all started with loving the product and then saying, “Oh my god, this is a whole other story and an amazing and empowering thing that these people don’t have arms and they’re decorating glasswork with their feet.” It’s incredible. It all starts with a little bit of the adventure and the discovery, and then you hope to zero in. If I go to Brooklyn, I always go to the startups, the incubators, the places like that. So I can’t say it’s completely clueless. It’s a little bit targeted.
On your site, when you do list products, do you write about the provenance?
We’re definitely focusing more and more on the story behind the product, where we found the product…We actually have just done a YouTube channel where we’ve made five videos where we took one product and talked about where we found it. We’re going to try to put more and more layers of, “What’s the background? What’s the provenance?” That’s what our whole business is about. It’s not just, “Oh, here’s a product for you.” Because I think we all have enough products. Instead, it’s kind of like being a little archaeologist unearthing treasures.
What role does The Storied Table play in your life?
I would say it’s my latest passion and obsession. In terms of how it fits into the business, I would see it as an offshoot and a layer. It’s its own separate company and legal entity, but it’s just one more iteration down the path from catering – which is culinary, what you eat – and then you go to The Storied Table which is more visual – what you see, how you use it. It’s definitely my number one thing that I’m working on right now.
Do you buy things from the makers outright?
Yes. For instance, there was a jewelry maker in Chicago named Nancy Deal. I said, “Oh, can you make these napkin rings?” And then she made them and I bought all the napkin rings from her. I’m outright commissioning projects and then buying them from the people. On the other hand, I bought an indigo, really cool fabric from Mali, and I just bought yards and yards of fabric that was hand-dyed. I got somebody in Chicago to sew it into napkins and placemats. It’s working like that, too, where I’m buying things as a raw product and then making it into something that somebody might want for their table. I’m hoping to do more of that because I’m going to Uzbekistan in May, and I want to buy insane fabric there.
You seem to be very much a curator. Does that curation bleed into your personal life?
Oh, no. I’ve always been doing that. Before anybody talked about curation, I was doing it and just thinking, “What is this?” I’ve always had all these journals and picture books, and before there was Pinterest I was doing my own mood boards. I never really knew that it was a thing. It was just something that I always did. I have a wall, for instance, in my home office, of hundreds of journals and things that I’ve cut and pasted and basically curated around themes. I never knew it would have a business relationship to anything. It was just how I saw the world.
What are some of your favorites on the site right now?
There’s a fabric for a runner, it’s called “Sel,” that I’m really excited about because it has such a strong story. I was in Delhi at an outdoor market wandering around as I do, and I saw this beautiful length of fabric. I was drawn to it: the colors, the texture. I [started] a relationship with this women’s cooperative that she had started when all the men from this area went to Dubai for work and they started having new families. The women were looking for a way to support themselves. So she started getting these women to do this hand-dying, and these runners were part of that collection. They had never sold at all to anybody, just at these fairs outside. I got my agent, who was in India, to help them with all of their paperwork and that exciting. Now they’re selling to the United States and online. My favorites always have to do with: Where did I get that? Who did I meet along the road?
What are some of the most out-of-the-way places you’ve gone to source objects?
Hyderabad in India. It’s its own Muslim area in the middle of a big Hindu area, all the way in the south. Not many people that I knew had ever been there. It’s, like, Europe and India coming together.
What do you see as the future for The Storied Table?
I’m hoping to become more of a resource — not only for people to buy, but I find that there are many people who would like to have a more beautiful table and would like to style it. That’s where we’re going to really build up our videos. Tomorrow, we’re shooting one: If a guy wanted to have his significant other over for Valentine’s Day, what are some simples ways he could really entertain stylishly with not a lot of effort? We’re also doing city guides as we travel around. Somebody just went scouting in Mumbai for products, and they’re going to be writing up Mumbai. Iceland, Uzbekistan…they’re not meant to be exhaustive, but more like under-the-radar favorite picks if you have a design eye. Places you wouldn’t find in a book. We’re just trying to develop as many layers as we can.