“I wasn’t aware of how difficult it was for people with disabilities to gain employment, especially women, until I started working here,” Johanna Thornblad says.
It’s late evening in Barcelona, and Thornblad has finished the week as managing director of Teixidors, a textile company of handmade clothing and home goods. It’s a position she’s held for two years, but the way that she speaks about it—how she draws out the word difficult to emphasize every syllable—makes it clear that Thornblad doesn’t see her job as only work. “I’m an advocate for what Teixidors’s mission has been all this time,” she continues. “It’s important to me personally.”
Thornblad was born in Sweden, and she humorously views her long-held appreciation for interior design as part of a national interest. But she also counts her university years in America as the spark behind her own affection for personalized spaces, and after she attended business school in Barcelona, she became an agent and distributor for Scandinavian design in the Spanish market. Thornblad sought out pieces that were expertly made, and kept her ears open for good stories that came with them. That’s when she first learned of Teixidors, and the mission that would soon become a part of her life.
“I stumbled upon a brand from Barcelona that made absolutely beautiful throws and shawls from natural materials: Teixidors,” she says. “I was given a baby blanket when I brought home my oldest son from Ethiopia almost 10 years ago, and I still have that blanket to this date. And when I learned about the history of Teixidors, my admiration for the products and what they represented deepened.”
Teixidors was founded by Marta and Juan Ribas in 1983, and it aimed to provide self-sustaining jobs for people with intellectual disabilities. It was envisioned as a place of employment for those who are rarely employed, but it wouldn’t be a handout or an opportunity for pity. Instead, the founders wanted Teixidors’s employees to be autonomous in an environment that would readily rely on their expertise. In order to make this outlook a reality, a house was lined with traditional wooden looms, and training was provided for new employees with disabilities on the meticulous requirements of handweaving textiles. Those who couldn’t perform the task were given other responsibilities, like adding tags, folding finished blankets, or packaging orders, so that each job was tailored to a person’s abilities.
Weavers manually intertwine freshly spun threads
“We’re all different, so our process is about finding what each person is good at,” Thornblad says. “All of the looms are different too, depending on the type of material that’s being used. It’s important to note that this isn’t an easy job, it’s not something where someone can come and hang out. These employees are careful, they work hard, and they can be considered experts in this field. It takes skill to work a manual loom, and requires years to master one.”
Teixidors was recently acquired by a non-profit organization and moved into a factory in Terrassa, a city set about an hour from central Barcelona. It has about 20 looms, which are built onsite, and 35 employees. Twenty-five of those employees have intellectual disabilities, and Thornblad says that there’s an even mix of men and women. The ultimate goal of the company has remained the same: To give people with intellectual disabilities agency in an accessible place of work.
“Many of them have been with the company for years, since it’s our original mission,” Thornblad says, noting that it’s common for people in the community to come for tours or ask if there are any job openings for loved ones. “They’re loyal to us, and loyal to our secondary mission of sustainability.”
This subsequent objective refers to how Teixidors chooses to create its collection, which includes throws, cushions, and bedding alongside scarves, gloves, and shawls. Most of its merino wool is sourced from a small farm in Provence, and practically all of its cashmere and yak wool arrives from a co-op in Mongolia. The majority of the goods have a neutral palette—since it’s easier to see the craftsmanship in a handmade blanket when natural brown and grey wool is intertwined—but intermittent use of shades like red, blue, and yellow come from vegetable dyes.
“Our collection is modern yet classic,” Thornblad says. “But more importantly, it’s a balance between our social and environmental outlook. We prioritize high-quality materials and traceability, but that also makes it easier for people to notice the delicate work that’s done on every piece.”
Before the end of our phone call, I mention to Thornblad that I was born with a disability—so the mission of Teixidors is also important to me personally. It’s close to midnight in Barcelona as our conversation comes to an end, and yet, she doesn’t hint at any other emotion besides enthusiasm. Hearing this detail of my life, she says, “Wow, so you understand why I’m so passionate.”
“I want to continue what Teixidors started,” she continues. “This is a place where our employees are supported, and they also care deeply about what we do. That’s what I want people to see: That we’ve invested in them, and they’ve also invested in us.”