What Would Martha Do?
While her journey from caterer to magnate has been wrought with both highs and lows, those who love her, love her a lot. We’ve waited with anticipation for our latest issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine. We’ve planned our days around The Martha Stewart Show’s air times. We marveled when this CEO rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange to commemorate the going-public of her company, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc. We booed from the sidelines at her 2004 conviction related to allegedly lying to officials about her involvement in the sale of stock, and the subsequent sentencing that could only be called ludicrous. And we cheered when, after five months in a West Virginia federal prison, she dusted herself off and emerged with her head held high, determination intact, and continued to do what it is she does best: be Martha.
But the empathy for our fearless lifestyle maven didn’t stop simply because her impressive and not-surprising comeback was confirmed. We felt compassion after the untimely death of her puppy in a freak propane-tank explosion at a kennel in Pennsylvania and also after the passing of her long-time canine companion, Kublai Khan. We’ve followed the antics of her French Bulldogs, Francesca and Sharkey, in their blog The Daily Wag. And we rooted for her and her now-famed Chow Chow, Genghis Khan, when he ultimately took home Best of Breed at this year’s Westminster Dog Show in New York City. Given all this—and as an admitted long-time admirer—I feel a certain closeness and familiarity when we eventually do chat. As far as road-trip games go, no, it’s not dinner with Martha. But I’ll take a quick catch-up with an icon any day.
MD: I just have to ask first thing, the question on everyone’s minds. How do you do it all? How do you achieve balance in the face of an incredibly full life?
MS: That’s a big secret for me in that I don’t even know the answer. So much had to be done already, even this morning (before this interview). There are a lot of moving parts. I just do my best to try to be very organized.
MD: What simple steps can we take to lead a more beautiful, comfortable, aesthetically pleasing lifestyle, especially in this economy?
MS: You can edit what you have. Get rid of what’s extraneous. I do that every day… Every day, I try to go through everything. That doesn’t mean I’m not also thinking about how to make a new garden. Or when I’m going to visit my two new grandchildren. Or when I can walk the dogs and comb the cats. Every day, we can edit down to the essentials.
MD: When I’m at a place in my career and am unsure what to do, I have been known to ask myself: “What would Martha do?” What big-picture advice do you have for an entrepreneur who is starting out on her own professional path?
MS: Try to figure out what is going to work, and what won’t work. Then, focus on what will. When I started doing pet products, for example, I knew it would work. Because there was a need for quality pet products that were affordable, too. We try to make things that are playful and beautiful and well made and well priced. And so we focus on that.
MD: So, what animals do you have at home right now?
MS: I have my two Frenchies, Francesca and Sharkey. And my Chow, Grand Champion Genghis Khan. He’s just a beautiful and wonderful dog. I have four Persian Himalayan cats. We just lost one due to old age, and two more are on their way. I always like to have at least six cats. I also have 25 red canaries; they sing beautifully, they’re breeding canaries. And I have five horses, three donkeys, sheep, geese, and a couple of hundred chickens.
MD: That’s a houseful. What is the most special homemade item you have ever made for your pets?
MS: I try all kind of things. Each species requires something different. I grow catnip for the cats. I have bushels of dried catnip. And at night they have fresh catnip that I sprinkle on a towel for them. The dogs have really comfortable dog beds. They sleep in Martha Stewart Pets dog beds. They can rest their chins on the little edges. The other animals get the things I grow, like apples for the horses and vegetable scraps for the chickens.
MD: How is designing your line of pet products uniquely satisfying when compared to your history of creating products for people?
MS: I love animals. We love for them to have meaningful interactions with humans... to not be bored. We want them to be well-dressed, in that we want them to be warm if it’s cold out. GK [Genghis Khan] doesn’t need a sweater, but the Frenchies absolutely do. Sweaters, shirts, raincoats... since they really don’t like being cold or wet. We developed our Martha Stewart Pets line [made exclusively for PetSmart] with an eye to what makes our pets comfortable and happy. This is true for every product in the line, from apparel to beds, collars, toys, grooming supplies, travel accessories, and feeding.
MD: Where did you draw your strength after the recent death of your 12-year-old Chow Chow, Kublai Khan?
MS: It’s always sad to lose a pet. But on that day, he just sort of looked at me, and I knew he couldn’t get up any more. He just knew it was time. And so did the other dogs. They were lying there with their heads on his back. He was a great dog.
MD: Having experienced that, what insight can you offer others who are currently bereaving the loss of a close canine friend?
MS: For me, it’s always a reincarnation when you get the next pet. You always remember things about the beloved one who’s gone. They are different—but the same. Especially when the new pet is the same breed. I’ve had a lot of pets. All my friends say they want to come back (in their next life) as one of my pets. My pets live on 150 acres, with good food and a yard that is fenced and safe. They are happy animals.
MD: What was the experience like for you to see Genghis Khan at the Westminster Dog Show?
MS: He’s only a year and half old and in that time he’s done us really proud. By Westminster, he had a few shows under his halter. And he had learned how to strut his stuff. On the day of Westminster, he just had this look on his face like he knew that he was going to win.
MD: You’ve indisputably achieved so much. At the end of the day, when you look back at your professional journey, what are you most proud of?
MS: I’m proud of the volumes of great content we’ve created. The words in our books, the do-it-yourself information we’ve put out there, the material covered on our television programming—just the overall library of quality content we’ve put out there. That’s what I’m most proud of.
Check out cool Martha crafts on Modern Dog: