Sam & Nala’s Story: A Starting Place for Change

by Jen Melton May 19, 2021

Jen with artisans

Since my first international trip at 14 years old (clad in pink sweatpants and a white Esprit sweatshirt), I’ve never stopped moving, nor lost my zeal for travel. While other kids were partying in college and buying new cars, I saved lifeguarding money for a summer trip to England with my best friend. Fancy cars and big TVs were an easy trade for congested airports, darkened train stations, overnight buses, and the soul-filling conversations along the way.

Fast forward to 2014, when I started a journey of a different sort. Having sold a business, sold a home, and gotten divorced, I was looking for solid ground. A newly-single mom, I moved forward by building a house, with my dad’s help, as a fresh start for my daughters and me. Care and intention went into selecting casual, comfortable, and beautiful items as I created a home that I hoped would welcome all.

The rest of life adjusted to these changes and continued to provide me with opportunities to travel. On Christmas in 2018, I found myself traveling solo in Guatemala. On a whim, I journeyed into the highlands and wandered through the markets, drawn especially to the textile displays. In broken Spanish, I connected with the strong, eloquent and talented weavers and craftswomen who created these complex fabrics. Transfixed by the color and designs in each weaving, I learned that every huipil, corte and faja (traditional blouse, skirt and belt) told the story of the woman whose hands wove it.

Back in my cozy Panajachel hotel room, I reflected on a lifelong dream to combine my love for entrepreneurship and desire to contribute to women in developing countries. By establishing relationships with artisans and paying them fair prices for a curated collection of high quality and beautiful items, they could extend the reach of their craft in another marketplace. Normally I would share these finds with close friends, but instead, I could create a way to introduce these goods into chic and playful homes across the globe. 

My thoughts wandered to the sad little corner of my otherwise cheerful house with its cheap, flat dog bed. I knew just the place to start. I’d been so meticulous and intentional about selecting details for the rest of my house, but fell short when it came to creating the cozy corner my dogs deserved. My first product would be high quality, comfy and decorative dog beds. Sam & Nala’s first dog beds were made from heirloom weavings, giving a second life to the huipils that had originally enchanted me.

With the wheels turning, I began sketching a website before I boarded the plane home. My dream was suddenly concrete: Sam & Nala was the starting place for change. True to form, I haven’t stopped moving since, building a business on my belief that where a nonprofit’s reach ends, local entrepreneurship can fill-in and flourish to truly change individuals, families, and communities. 

Since my solo journey started with a dream in Panajachel, our Sam & Nala family has grown to include our wonderful team, customers (pet people are the best people!), and of course, the artisans, whose visions and art we enjoy each day.



About Me:

When not enjoying the outdoors or hiking with my dogs, Tiller and Elsa, I enjoy exploring unconventional travel locations...unconventionally. I am passionate about investing in mutual respect among suppliers, vendors, and customers, with the belief that a rising tide raises all ships. 

I’d love to know more about you and your story if you want to share! Come hang out with us on Instagram.

Jen Melton
Jen Melton