Most people return from holidays with souvenir T-shirts or bric-a-brac. Not Darin Strickland of Richmond, who is the assistant upland manager at Blandfield Plantation in Essex County. On a visit to Maine last year, Strickland found something a little more unusual to keep as a remembrance of his family’s trip—a woven doormat fashioned from so-called floating rope used in Maine lobstermen’s nets.
Fishing authorities recalled that type of rope after determining that it was a danger to northern right whales—and mandated that it be replaced by safer sinking rope. Left behind after the change was an approximately 12-foot-tall, 85-yard-deep, 750,000-pound mountain of the discarded stuff. Says Strickland: “When we saw the rope pile, we realized the full magnitude of the recall.” Enter David Bird, a Maine commercial rope-maker and entrepreneur. He saw an opportunity to re-purpose the rope, keep it out of landfills and create a few jobs along the way by using it to create colorful woven mats. When Strickland saw Bird’s mats, he resolved to become a distributor for Bird and to introduce the hand-made mats—some still studded with sea barnacles and infused with brine, he says—to Virginia.
His initial goal was to sell 100 mats. Today, he says, he has sold more than 1,300. The mats—priced from $49.95 for a standard size doormat to $129.95 for a full-length runner—are available in a growing list of stores including Tweed, Fraîche, Strawberry Fields Flowers & Finds and These Four Walls, all in the Richmond area, as well as at Gather in Powhatan and Posh in Midlothian. Strickland has also sold mats at festivals including Alexandria’s American Horticultural Society Spring Garden Market and Richmond’s Earth Day Festival. Strickland says he has a website in development and hopes to extend his distribution into Maryland and North Carolina. When asked if he has any other plans for his burgeoning business, Strickland says simply, “We’re taking it one mat at a time.”