Millstream Home

Sunday, June 30th, 2024

Featuring

Millstream Home

Hi everyone! Lauren here. I am so excited to share this interview with Janelle Stoltzfus, the founder of Millstream Home. Janelle has been working in the world of small business for years and had so much insight to share. Not only did we get to deep dive into her world of Amish manufacturing, but she also shared her knowledge and advice on running a small business, reframing the definition of success, why she supports American made, and balancing work and life as a mother of five. 

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I enjoyed recording and writing it. Click here for the full Youtube video! And click here to shop Millstream Home on Aware House!


How It All Began

“My husband had a rocking chair from when he was three years old that his grandfather had made for him and it was the toy that never ended. It looked like it was built yesterday, but it was 40 years old, and I just remember thinking, why aren't there more Amish-made things in my house?"

Millstream Home began in 2016 as an ode to Janelle Stoltzfus’ Amish heritage. Based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Millstream Home uses the most talented & timeless local makers to bring their vision to life. Named after the Millstream waterway that flows through the Stoltzfus’  backyard, Millstream Home uses traditional manufacturing methods to create everything from cutting boards and baskets, to rugs, table linens, cleaning tools and more.

Like Mr. Stoltzfus’ rocking chair, in a traditional Amish home you’ll find handmade furniture that is made with the purpose of being passed down over generations. Janelle realized that, despite her and her husband’s Amish roots, she was severely lacking these heirlooms in her own home. Generally, Amish items prioritize sturdiness and function, and lack emphasis on design and beauty. Seeing an opportunity, Janelle decided to incorporate both function and beauty into her own designs, and thus began Millstream Home.

Janelle made her way around Lancaster County from maker to maker, knocking on the doors of her Amish neighbors to see if anyone would help her bring her vision to life. The Amish community welcomed her with open arms, and gradually customer orders started to roll in. With no initial intention of starting a business, eight years later, Janelle’s creations are now stocked in over 300 stores nationwide.


Lost in Time

“A lot of the next generation of Amish aren't taking up the craft. So you have these historic production methods that might be going into extinction. My basket Weaver for instance, he's eighty-six years old; I don't know how many more baskets he has left in him. His wife passed away a few years ago and they used to weave together, so now his weaving capacity is a lot lower.” 

Like many of the makers on Aware House, Millstream Home works to preserve traditional manufacturing methods. Unfortunately, there is a severe lack of interest from the younger generations to carry on these trades, causing concern in the longevity of the supply chain. Janelle highlights how her only basket weaver in all of Lancaster Country is eighty-six, and without replacement. 

“It's difficult, tedious work, and that is not really the interest of the next generation. Their (the makers) tools are ancient. The man who makes our rugs uses a 150 year old Loom that you press with your feet. I just don't know how the supply chain will continue to be strengthened. I hope that I can see some resurrection in the tools that they use, and then I think the next generation could maybe get on board…” 

The Amish used to make their livelihoods farming - an intensive and laborious industry that is highly regulated in the community with limitations down to the type of horse permitted for use. Because of such restrictions, the Amish have pivoted over the years to the world of arts and crafts, incorporating carpentry, woodworking, leather work and more into their repertoire of skills.

It is saddening to know that these trades may eventually be lost in time. Old, broken, and outdated tools are one of the reasons Janelle believes the younger generations are reluctant to get on-board with these ways of working. Perhaps if the manufacturers acquire some improved and updated tools, then the younger generation will be more open to continuing these crafts.

 

How Did We Get Here?

“What we're in right now is not sustainable in any capacity. I started looking around my house and I was like, everything I have looks like everybody else’s; this is all from my Pottery Barn or random stuff from Craigslist. That got me thinking - Why don't I have quality heirlooms in my own house? And I have no excuse, my whole Heritage comes from heirlooms!”

Janelle highlighted a point for me that I think a lot of us are starting to increasingly become aware of: our houses all look the same. What happened to the days of having unique, quirky items in our homes? Items that tell a story, and whose purpose is to be passed on to our children?

That being said, I for one am not surprised that we have gotten to this point. Most of us have access to the same, big-brand stores wherever we go, and because most places in the US aren’t walkable and renting a storefront is generally expensive, it’s difficult to discover local businesses and shop handmade items. Even more so, shopping on Amazon or driving to your local Target is inarguably extremely convenient for our busy, modern-day lives.

 

“Child labor and the misuse of a life is so heartbreaking to me. I hope that people can realize when they pick up a product, it's an inanimate product, but some person made that or some factory made that, and you can feel the lack of soul.”

Objects in your home may be inanimate, but each one has a story behind them. Whether that’s a couch from Ikea or a ceramic bowl you threw at your first pottery class, people were involved throughout the entire production process, from the initial idea, to creation, to bringing that item into your home. As R.E.M’s lead bass guitarist Mike Mills said, “I am intrigued by inanimate objects. They're a piece of history, someone's statement and ideas of life”. If that’s the case, what do our homes and the items we own say about us and where we are right now in history? 


Janelle’s Wisdom For Fellow Entrepreneurs

“Don't lose sight of the things that matter most; it sounds sort of cheesy, but that is my new motto. I'm here to say it can be a different narrative. It doesn't mean that you have to hustle and grind and have no friends at the end of your life, but you have a really big bankroll. I'm here to say that one begets the other, and that is what I live on a daily basis.”

One thing that I immediately noticed about Janelle when we spoke is her calm and peaceful demeanor. Despite raising five school-aged children and running three companies alongside her husband, she seemed relaxed, happy, and confident. I hope this can inspire more of us to choose to enjoy the present and not live in a constant state of overwhelm like I think so many of us do.

Acknowledge that it is often our choice to engage in these extra-curricular, entrepreneurial activities. At the end of the day, we won’t remember how much money we made or how “successful” we were in our journey; instead we’ll remember the time and experiences that we got to share with our loved ones, and that’s what we should always prioritize. 

Thank you to Janelle for participating in this Supplier Sunday interview and sharing all your wisdom and knowledge with us!

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By supporting Aware House, you are supporting the many small business suppliers that we work with, and we couldn't be more thankful!

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