Seven Questions with Lalese Stamps of Lolly Lolly Ceramics
What started as a collegiate side hustle for the CCAD grad is now a burgeoning small business.
Lalese Stamps is having a pretty good 2020, all things considered. The owner of Lolly Lolly Ceramics started the year fresh off her 100 Day Project: From September through December 2019, the artist made 100 mugs, each with a different handle. The ambitious undertaking brought a larger audience to Lolly Lolly and led to write-ups in Popsugar, British Vogue and Architectural Digest.
In August, Stamps moved into a new studio at The Fort, and a month later she launched a crowdfunding campaign to help her “take Lolly to the next level.” So far she has raised $21,273 of her $75,000 goal. She also left her full-time graphic design job to commit more time to Lolly Lolly.
Today, clothing retailer Madewell announced its latest class of Hometown Heroes, of which Stamps is a member. The program aims to support and promote creatives from across the U.S. through mentorship, exposure and a platform to sell their wares. (You can now purchase several of Stamps’ mugs on Madewell’s site.)
Columbus Monthly spoke to Stamps about growing Lolly Lolly Ceramics, leaving her full-time job and the importance of supporting Black small business owners.
Can you tell me a bit about yourself and how you got into ceramics?
I'm from Milwaukee, and I've lived in Columbus now for about eight years. I went to CCAD, and I studied graphic design. While I was there, I was taking classes at the Cultural Arts Center, just because I had a lot of friends who were taking classes there. A friend was taking ceramics, and I was really enamored by what she was making. I started taking a class; from there I kept going. I think the big push for me was when I made a whole bunch of ceramics to help raise money to study abroad back in 2017. I was struggling to make some extra income so that while I was abroad, I could live and not worry about that. Since then, I started selling, and it gained this momentum. So I just kept up with it.
Was it difficult to leave graphic design behind?
I loved growing in my career as a graphic designer. There's all these different milestones that you reach. I always saw myself being a really good creative director, so that was always my goal. It was hard to make the decision. In my mind, I felt like I was mourning the loss of this thing that I was building. People have helped to give me the confidence, like, you're not really quitting that job. You're just building your own version of that. You can still be a creative director for yourself. I think that really helped me build the confidence to move forward with everything. And honestly, I was starting to feel incredibly overwhelmed. I was taking a lot of meetings for Lolly Lolly during the workdays while I was working for my other job and doing photo shoots that were coming up during the day. It was starting to feel like too much. I was like, maybe now's a good time to really start to consider what my next steps are.
How did the 100 Day Project come about?
I had a particular style that I was working with because it felt comfortable to me. I didn't really have a lot of expendable time to grow in the ceramics realm. I could try different things, but I still felt really limited as far as time goes. The project really started as a way for me to push myself out of that comfort zone. One thing I tell people is that, as a graphic designer, we're programmed to look for inspiration on the web all the time. But with the 100 Day Project, I was really forced to look at my surroundings. I'm at the park right now. I'm walking around Schiller. I'm looking at this light pole, and there's elements of this light pole that I can see being made into a handle. It just turned out to be one of the best things that I've done for my brand and for my business, for myself.
After you launched the project, your audience began to grow on social media. When did you start to notice that a lot more people were paying attention?
I started to notice more people paying attention to my work and the 100 Day Project back around June. I think when I started that project in September 2019, I was around 2,000 [Instagram] followers. By May, I had about 10,000 followers, but that's before the big spike happened. What really happened was people really wanting to make an effort to support Black businesses. There was one point back in June, where I was getting 10,000 new followers every day for four consecutive days. That's the moment when I started to realize that there is a shift happening and there is more attention on my work. It's hard sometimes to realize that it happened because people were trying to be really supportive of Black businesses because of the Black Lives Matter movement. I think at the time, it was hard for me to really understand it and what was happening. There were times when I was actually upset by it, because I wasn't sure if the support was really there or if it was performative. But now that time has moved on, I'm still gaining a lot of followers, and I know it's truly because of the work that I'm doing.
You recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to grow your business. How is that going?
I just feel so grateful. Already I've been able to get so much equipment for the studio. I feel like it's really going to help me to go into this next stage of making pieces and meeting this high demand. That's something I'm trying to figure out. I'm not so used to producing so much work. I started off really small and just having fun with it. Now I'm at the stage where I'm really having to consider what I really want to do. Do I want to outsource? Do I want to continue making every piece myself? It's been a hard thing to figure out, but it's also exciting.
Do you see any overlap in your creative process as a graphic designer and your process as a ceramicist?
Yeah, definitely. People have noticed my skill set for graphic design comes through in the ceramics, especially with that 100 Day Project. People don't necessarily know that I'm a designer, but when they find out they're like, “That makes sense. Your mugs are so clean and utilitarian, and the way you present them online, we can really tell you have a unique focus for detail.” I think that's one thing I definitely want to lean into more. I definitely see some overlap, as far as the way I start my day: figuring out what I need to get done for that day, and figuring out how I want to attack each project. The way that I sketch things out beforehand, that's something I will always do. It just helps to really visualize the final outcome.
Your business is growing at a time when small businesses everywhere are trying to adapt to COVID-19. How has it been for you as a business owner?
It's definitely changed the way I interact with my audience. I wasn't even selling ceramics online at all pre-COVID. But now that we aren't doing as much in-person contact, I've been thinking through what my online presence will be like. That's exciting, because that's always something I knew I would have to do, but COVID has expedited that. It's been positive in a way. People are at home more, and people are in their spaces trying to figure out how they want to make their spaces feel unique for them and comfortable for them. I've done some research, and the sales of home goods have gone up. It's an exciting thing for people to see these unique pieces that I'm making. It can be a part of their daily routine, because they're home all the time, and they want to make it good and interesting and comfortable for themselves.