Hopie and Lily Stockman are sisters and the founders of Block Shop Textiles—a Los Angeles-based company that produces heirloom scarves and other textiles hand block printed in Jaipur, India. This summer, we swapped notes about the business practices, attitudes, and beliefs that transformed the sisters’ dreamy art project into a high-demand line of unique, socially responsible products.
Once you had your gorgeous scarves ready to go, what did your launch process look like? How did you take your product to market?
Hopie and Lily: We ran Block Shop out of Lily’s living room in Cambridge, MA, working nights and weekends. We were pretty disorganized and made lots of mistakes at first, but we were having FUN. Most importantly, we believed in our products and our incredible team of printers in India.
Our greatest stroke of luck on launching was receiving coverage in Design*Sponge, the beautiful and highly influential design blog. That single post launched our business into orbit and spawned great coverage from other blogs and magazines, which is what generated our initial customer base. We quickly sold out of our first run, which meant that we had customers lined up waiting for our second run. Our (unintentionally) limited supply and growing demand created a scarcity value that trained customers to pay close attention to new re-stocks and launches. This is definitely part of the reason we have such an engaged sisterhood of customers!
We read in your Forbes interview that female mentorship played a huge role in helping you cultivate your business plan. Can you tell us a little more about how other professional women helped your dream become reality?
Hopie: My best mentor was my boss in a private equity research job I had for five years before business school. Five things I learned from her that apply to any job or industry:
1. Respect. Treat everyone with the same level of respect from the CEO to the janitor. You will earn it in return.
2. Move Up, Not Over. Don’t make lateral career moves. If you’re changing jobs, always take a bigger job than the one you’re in.
3. 5-Minute Feedback. Have your team take 5 minutes after each meeting, presentation, or project to provide informal feedback on how it went. If you’re still a wee underling, ask your boss if she’s willing to instate this practice. Constructive feedback is a GIFT (not an assault on your character!)
4. Raise that Hand. Force yourself to speak at least once per meeting. Be the first to volunteer to take on new projects.
5. Humor & Humility. Just be a good egg.
Hopie and Lily: A good mentor isn’t there to tell you how talented, amazing, or sturdy-like-a-Shetland-pony you are (Hi, Mom!), she’s there to push you to do your best work. Great if she’s supportive; even better if she’s tough. Sidenote: Lily once had a painting mentor ask if her paintings were “dumb on purpose”...you’d better believe Lily *cried* upped her conceptual game after that.
Since we’re a financial literacy organization, we’re super into the numbers behind running a business. What financials did you have to build to start Block Shop? Were there any major (or surprising) adjustments that had to be made as you got going?
1. UNIT ECONOMICS. How much could we make per scarf? We looked at comparable pricing for similar products, figured out our cost per unit—accounting for fair wages in India—and our desired price (to account for retail AND wholesale margins), which helped determine sales projections.
2. SALES PROJECTIONS YEARS 1 - 5. We came up with a growth strategy based on really simple factors. We did best-case and worst-case growth scenarios, and figured out how many units we’d have to sell per day, month, season to get to our best case. Twenty scarves per day? Piece of cake! Or so we thought. Turns out it takes a lot of work to get twenty different humans to buy your (not inexpensive) product every. single. day.
3. COST ANALYSIS. We laid out all our potential expenses, and tried to figure out our fixed costs and variable costs, to see how those would change as we grew and scaled. Keeping costs down while growing the topline remains our biggest challenge. Welcome to every business.
4. YEAR 1 SPECIFICS. Once we had these basics in place, we launched our business with a simple goal: reaching $XX in sales and $X in profits by the first year. We thought if we could reach this goal, then we could pay ourselves just enough to have Block Shop as our sole source of income and still afford the occasional avocado toast. We reached this goal after six months, and off we went!
Hopie, can you tell us a little more about your background in Private Equity Research?
Hopie: Since I can remember, my father, a serial entrepreneur in the medical device industry, always urged us four girls to “Take risks, own your own business, and MAKE SOMETHING.”
Against this backdrop and after graduating from Brown University, I pursued a job at the investment consultancy, Cambridge Associates. My innate interest in management deepened over five years on the U.S. Private Equity Research team at CA, where I analyzed the impact of portfolio companies on the hundreds of funds I evaluated. In the process, I developed an expertise in the consumer and retail sector.
While my experience at CA gave me important analytical and leadership skills, it also led me to realize that I wanted to be in the trenches; I wanted to run a company and design products. This job provided me with fantastic business and leadership skills and landed me at Harvard Business School, thanks to the guidance of my incredible mentor. I used HBS as an opportunity to pivot into the career I've always dreamed of; running my own creative business with a socially impactful mission. We started Block Shop as a passion project, but it quickly became the manifestation of that dream.
You have a ton of amazing stockists, like JCrew, in addition to your online store. How do you approach those outside vendors?
Hopie and Lily: Our approach to wholesale is organic, mostly inbound, and very selective. Our rule of thumb is the “shout it from the rooftops” rule: if you’re not proud of it, don’t do it.
Working with family is an incredible opportunity, and yet, because of the personal element, not always the easiest task. As sisters running a business together, how do you keep your work relationship positive and productive?
Hopie and Lily: We have a radical honesty policy with each other and the benefit of 32 years worth of shorthand (and bad jokes), which makes communication really easy. It saves a lot of time. So if one of us is say, giving birth to a human infant, the other one picks up the slack without batting an eye. Of course we get in sisterly spats over vital issues like Instagram captions, and there’s really no boundary between life and work—but in general, we have a culture of positive, can-do attitudes at Block Shop, and we’re pretty flipping proud of it.
As a follow up to the last question, what advice might you offer the girls of IIG reading this blog about collaboration or team projects?
Hopie and Lily: Be kind and do good work.