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Meet the Sisters Behind Block Shop

Sep 19 2017

There are creative crushes and then there are girl crushes. This qualifies as both—squared. Sisters Lily and Hopie Stockman are the founders of Block Shop, a textile company based in Los Angeles and Joshua Tree. I discovered Lily and Hopie a few years ago through an online web of women makers, and have been feverishly following their work ever since.

While beautiful textiles (and now prints!) are Block Shop’s most recognizable output, there’s a good deal more going on behind the scenes. The duo created Block Shop in partnership with a family of printers and dyers in Bagru, Rajasthan to keep the artistry and craft of Indian block printing alive. (They donate five percent of their profits each year to building and implementing community healthcare programs.) If their reverence for craft and respect for humanity isn’t enough to make you weak in the knees, this interview should do it.

Stockman Sisters

Lily Stockman (left) and Hopie Stockman (right).

In one sentence, who are you? 

Hopie Stockman: Josephine March with an MBA.
Lily Stockman: Gertrude Bell on a camel after too much coffee.

What do you do? How did you learn it? 

HS: I run Block Shop—a textile and design studio—with my sister, Lily. In reality, I work seven days a week, but five of them take place in our 11th floor downtown Los Angeles studio. I design everything from rugs to public murals to business strategy and Grand Central Market lunch orders for Block Shop.

We both went to grad school; I went for for business and Lily for painting. Rather than dividing our work rigidly between business and creative, we’ve found that it works best when we share responsibilities. 

A lot of our education happens in Jaipur, India. In 2010, Lily was living in there and apprenticing under master Indian miniature painter Ajay Sharma when she first met our printers. Since then, we've gone back to Jaipur twice to year to work with them on new designs and products. Everything we know about wood block printing we've learned on the ground while prototyping with our team, lending a hand in all aspects of the process, from dye-mixing to block registration on the fabric.

Woodblock Prints

Woodblock prints, hand block printed by 5th generation master printers in Bagru, Rajastan, India. Sidewinder, left + right, and Sunwave, middle.

On the business side, the most valuable advice has all come from the (mostly) women running their own small and successful businesses here in LA. For example, our friend who runs a candle company helped us build our wholesale strategy. When we started out, we thought we wanted just a few huge department store-style accounts to streamline our operations and provide reliable cash flow. She helped us to understand the marketing power of wholesale: that smaller, well-aligned shops could be better storytellers and champions of our brand, and likely wouldn't discount as aggressively.

Another friend who has an independent furniture line shared invaluable advice on how to collaborate with large companies, emphasizing the importance of control over the design and fabrication process. Megaretailers actually need the cool factor of small, independent brands in order to be relevant. The question for small brands is whether the paycheck and promise of exposure is worth the potential chargebacks, brand dilution, and even customer alienation. For us, we've learned that it doesn't work unless we're making the products ourselves and have control over the storytelling.

What are your 3 favorite possessions? 

HS: 

  1. Otto, our bearded mutt.
  2. A painting of a rabbit that my great grandfather painted 60 years ago.
  3. The Kishore Kumar Bollywood poster that my now-husband and I bought together at the Chor Bazaar in Mumbai, when we had only been dating a few months. It sort of signified that leap into a shared life—jointly owning things. 

LS: 

  1. My baby Olympia.
  2. My dog, who I bought from the pound for $85.
  3. My gold bangle bracelets given to me by our surrogate grandmother, collected from her travels around the world.
Girard Scarf

The Girard scarf, Inspired by repeating details in Alexander Girard tissue paper cutouts from the late 1960’s.

What does a typical work session look like?

LS: On design days, we hide our laptops and put the screens away. No phones, no nothing! Out come the old art books on Anni Albers, Arp, Matisse, and Sheila Hicks. We put some Grateful Dead on, get the watercolors out, and swap sketches back and forth across the table. The result is so much better when we do it together. We’re always improving each other’s work. We try to design like this for two-to-three hours once a week, which is pitiful, but that’s the reality of running a small company; the actual drawing sessions take up only a small percentage of our time.  

When it comes to our work, we have a simple design rule: Everything Block Shop touches must hold up as a holistic composition. That means it needs to have balance and a sense of quiet. My favorite painting teacher said, "You know a painting is done when it's quiet. Nothing on the canvas is yelling at you." And if it doesn’t look good hanging on the wall, then it doesn’t go into production.

How do you get over creative block?

HS: Take Otto for a walk past the old movie palaces in downtown L.A. to remember that inspiring design lives everywhere in architecture. On a recent prototyping trip to India, I started panicking that we’d exhausted all geometric patterns—THAT’S IT, WE’RE FINISHED! WE’VE USED EVERY ITERATION OF CIRCLES AND TRIANGLES! Then we went for a walk to get chai with our sketchbooks in hand, and boom! All sorts of ideas emerged from the marble latticework and archways in the old city. We simply needed to look.

Ace Hotel Palm Springs

Block Shop was commissioned to hand paint a mural on the 80-foot long Commune Wall at the Ace Hotel Palm Springs.

What was the last item on your to-do list?

LS: Plan a Texas road trip starting in Marfa, where our friends run the El Cosmico.

How do you see the world in 2078?

HS: A degree or two warmer. Governed by data and manufactured by robots, with no boundaries between advertising, entertainment, and politics. Hopefully, I’ll be with the people who’ve returned to hands-on, empathy-based, slow living….off with my grandkids somewhere outside making pinch pots.

What's your number one bucket list item? 

HS & LS: Design a boutique hotel.

Who are you creative crushin’ on lately?

HS: Katja Blichfeld, co-creator of High Maintenance. (If you’re out there, hey.)

  • Sarah Codraro

    Marketing Lead, IDEO San Francisco
    Sarah Codraro is a Marketing Lead for IDEO San Francisco. Passionate about both business and art, she is a strategic thinker who seeks to combine these two pursuits whenever possible.

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