Mela & Roam founder and Baton Rouge native Courtney Barton. Photo by Augusta Photography.

Material world: East meets South in Mela & Roam’s colorful wares

Standing in a shop at the Houston airport gathering magazines and snacks for the 27-hour journey to Jaipur, India, Courtney Barton couldn’t help but laugh when her husband JJ walked over to the checkout, his arms full of cowboy-boot coffee mugs embellished with bold letters spelling out “Texas.”

“I thought, ‘I am not spending money on those,’” recalls Barton, a Baton Rouge native who has returned to the Indian city year after year on buying trips for her textile and interiors company Mela & Roam. “But JJ insisted that they were the perfect gift for the vendors that we would be meeting with on the trip. After all, I was bringing him along this time because I seemed to always have difficulty with business there by myself. Turns out, these mugs were the key.”

After JJ’s job brought the couple to Malaysia in 2009, Barton fell in love with Southeast Asia. Throughout the couple’s two years in the region, Barton says she seized every opportunity to take a cooking class, explore a new place and connect with new people. And on those excursions into the inviting unknown, Barton was struck by the beauty, craftsmanship and history of everything from handmade textiles to books to baskets.

“On a trip to Nepal with one of my friends, I fell in love with these ‘summer blankets’ or ‘dohars,’” says Barton. “They were the perfect weight for Malaysia, but they were also perfect for the weather in the American South. I bought some and couldn’t wait to share them.”

Armed with a degree from LSU in apparel design and textile science and a professional background working under fashion designers Jill Stuart and Ralph Rucci, Barton started her company Mela & Roam in 2011, upon her arrival back in the States. The name, a nod to the Hindi term for a local trade show or village fair, as well as a Cajun expression meaning “look at that,” not only blends Barton’s two worlds, but also demonstrates the common themes that connect people, no matter their location.

“With the mugs, it was something as simple as gestural act going much deeper,” says Barton. “It’s just like in the South—people want to feel a personal connection, and it has nothing to do with how much you spend. It’s how you treat one another.”

Now, what started as Barton simply selling her imported textiles at a friend’s local craft fair has turned into a brick-and-mortar store in Houston, textiles designed by Barton herself, and even the honor of being named one of the LSU 100 fastest-growing alumni-run or owned businesses in 2017. Her business now offers everything from the original vintage textiles to furnishings, jewelry and baby items.

“I’m kind of being pulled along with my feet on the brakes,” says Barton with a laugh. “I love the community and support I have with the people that come to my shop, as well as the people I work with abroad, but the most important thing for me is my family.”