Nani Marquina, 70: Female Innovator

A globally successful entrepreneur, Nani Marquina is a groundbreaking female business owner who has been creating design-forward, sustainable rugs for over 35 years. She discusses how her age enhances her work life, the importance of nature in both her private and professional lives, and her continually innovative work processes.

Creating something out of nothing, when one knows only that there is desire to make it happen, is something that can confound us. As Spain was coming out of the dark years of dictatorship, Nani Marquina, daughter of an industrial designer, was beginning the journey of her namesake textile and rug brand, launching in 1987 what has become a constantly innovating, environmentally sensitive, globally innovative business. Being where she is today, as a woman who began her business in what was the very conservative culture of Spain, is the mark of a remarkable yet modest woman.

From knowing virtually zero about rugs and how they could be made, she has become one of Spain’s most successful female entrepreneurs and a constant presence on the international design scene. Her early secret is an openness to new manufacturing methods, a curiosity about what rug design could be beyond merely the utility of a floor covering, and continuing to push the boundaries of what can be utilized for materials.

At an age when many would be retiring, the peripatetic Nani is continuing to design with fresh eyes and to innovate globally. The Spanish have a way of effortlessly enjoying intergenerational mingling. In keeping with her lifelong curious nature, Nani is now using her decades of experience to help the younger generations find their way in the world of design, while they help her to stay plugged into the swirl of cultural trends they see on social media. 

How old are you?
I’m 70 years old.

Where do you live?
I live between Barcelona and Esclanyà, a little town in the Empordà region of Spain.

How did you get your start in the rug business in the ’80s?
There was a boom in the Spanish interiors market in the ’80s, when many brands were getting started and designers were founding companies to launch their own products. Most of these new companies were launching furniture and other home products but none were designing rugs, so I saw my opportunity!

I started my career in pattern design, creating prints for homewares, so it was a natural evolution to rugs as there are many similarities with rug design. I started nanimarquina in 1987 without knowing much about rugs and the manufacturing process, but once I got started I was swept away and completely absorbed by the fascinating world of rugs.

How has your work evolved over time?
My job has changed a lot since I stepped back from managing the company — that was 9 years ago — and I have been able to focus on what I really love: designing. Although the flow of my ideas and creativity has not changed. My creativity essentially comes from ideas triggered by nature or daily life, and these ideas arise from a need.

“Working at 70 years old is very different from how it used to be”

How do you feel about your age?
Working at 70 years old is very different from how it used to be. At this age, you have to dole out your energy in doses; that’s why I need some days away from the office. Even so, I still feel like I have a lot of energy and being involved with the business makes me feel great! 

The experience I’ve gained over the years has also given me a lot of confidence when making decisions. Being 70 years old gives you a different perspective and wisdom that you just don’t have when you first start out. I also feel more creative than ever before, because I have more time to reflect and be inspired. 

What is your day-to-day like?
Two days a week I work from my home, on Costa Brava by the sea. It is an ideal time and place for reflection. I take this opportunity to organize myself and compile everything I’ll need to do while in the office the other three days a week. I also take this time to create, as I am usually alone and the environment motivates and inspires me. Here, I have all the tools I need to develop my creativity. 

“The best part about working with young people is their deep connection to the larger world through social networks”

What are your thoughts on working with younger people?
The best part about working with young people is their deep connection to the larger world through social networks, which allows them to bring fresh ideas to the table. Their creativity and ideas are often a reaction or riff off what is happening in the world. It’s very enriching to experience this connection through them since I am accustomed to designing in a more introspective way and am typically not so aware of trends.

I also love working with young people because they are eager to learn and I love teaching! There is a very positive energy in our dynamic of giving and receiving. I also admire that they are eager to learn from an older person like myself. Our methods are different, but they are interested in learning how I do things and appreciate seeing different approaches.

Nani & her daughter, Maria.

What are the places you find inspiration?
My inspiration comes from color, landscapes, and nature but also from daily life, work, and fashion trends.

What makes a beautiful object for the home?
For me, a beautiful object is usually one with good design: it lasts over time and balances aesthetics, function, and use.

“We’ve always been very conscientious of sustainability”

How are you embracing sustainability?
We’ve always been very conscientious of sustainability. We work to ensure that the entire chain — from the design concept to the choice of materials, our processes, and techniques — is as respectful of the environment as possible. 

While we’re now working with an external agency to go even further with our sustainability efforts, last year we received a Climate Neutral certification thanks to our efforts to reduce our emissions year over year while also taking on projects that offset our carbon footprint. Some of the actions we’re taking in India, where our rugs are manufactured, include using rice husks produced by local communities to sustainably generate electricity and supplying biogas cookers to farming families.

We truly believe that businesses are responsible for raising awareness around sustainable efforts and setting an example that encourages individuals and societies to take action in protecting our planet.   

What is your relationship with nature?
For me, nature represents the most perfect beauty and balance. I find nature very inspiring and always want to represent it in our rugs, which is why we use a lot of natural, recycled and vegetal materials. We think one of the most important things is to live with the maximum respect towards nature, and using natural materials makes it easier for us and our customers to connect with the environment every day. 

“I find nature very inspiring and always want to represent it in our rugs”

How do you collaborate with other designers?
There are different ways in which designer collaborations usually start. Sometimes designers connect with us directly because they are interested in making rugs; other times we look for designers who we believe will be a fit for a concept we are working on; in some other cases, we meet artists who can adapt their work to the carpet format. There is no specific system; collaborations usually arise organically and depend a lot on the work of the designer and what we are doing at that moment. 

What music do you listen to?
Usually I listen to Lluís Llach, a Catalan singer that connects me with my youth. I also listen to Sting, who I had the pleasure of seeing in concert in Costa Brava. 

What are some of your favorite places in Barcelona?
Sant Gervasi – Tibidabo is one of my favorite places. It hasn’t changed over time so it connects me with my childhood. I also feel a connection to nature there because I can see so many parks and the mountains from the top of the hill. 

I also really love visiting masterpieces like La Pedrera by Antoni Gaudi and my secret spot is a tiny square located in the old part of the city called Plaça de Sant Felip Neri.

Where are some of your favorite places you have visited in the world?
My favorite and the most special place I’ve ever been is the Algerian Desert, a part of the Sahara Desert located in Algeria.

What are your 3 life non-negotiables (the things that you cannot live without)?

  1. Plenty of sunlight. The spaces where I live and work must have a lot of natural light. The sun not only fills me with energy, but I also love how it can transform a space.
  2. Order. Like most creatives and entrepreneurs, my life can be chaotic at times, so order is important at all levels. Both at work and at home, it’s important for me to stay organized. 
  3. Contact with nature. The natural environment plays an important role in my life. Nature — the sea, mountains and the beach — is essential to life and it’s where I can connect with beauty.

Connect with Nani:

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The ideas expressed here are solely the opinions of the author and are not researched or verified by AGEIST LLC, or anyone associated with AGEIST LLC. This material should not be construed as medical advice or recommendation, it is for informational use only. We encourage all readers to discuss with your qualified practitioners the relevance of the application of any of these ideas to your life. The recommendations contained herein are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. You should always consult your physician or other qualified health provider before starting any new treatment or stopping any treatment that has been prescribed for you by your physician or other qualified health provider. Please call your doctor or 911 immediately if you think you may have a medical or psychiatric emergency.


David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.


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