We first found out about Block Shop Textiles through a friend and quickly fell in love with their prints, mission and story of two sisters starting a business doing what they love. We were lucky enough to catch up with Hopie, the soon to be graduate of Harvard Business School, to learn more about the Block Shop story and their mission to create beautiful textiles that are both socially conscious and environmentally sound.
Name: Hopie Stockman
Hometown: Princeton, NJ
Current ‘Hood: Cambridge, MA
Educational Background: Brown University, Harvard Business School
We love Block Shop Textiles! Can you tell us how you and your sister, Lily, first discovered your love for the ancient art of Indian block printing?
Lily (my sister and co-founder) moved to northern India in 2010 to apprentice with a Mughal miniature painter before starting her MFA at NYU. Her research on traditional printing led her to the town of Bagru, where a community of hand block printers specialize in natural dyes. Enter Vijey, our head printer. He was organizing a cooperative of printers in Bagru to command fair wage prices and focus on the traditional hand block printing technique, and was looking for a collaborator. The timing was just right. They began experimenting with Lily’s large scale, geometric designs and the results were beautiful. After sending prototypes back and forth between India and my apartment in San Francisco, we hatched our business plan.
I was on a plane/train/rickshaw several months later to cement our partnership with the co-op and we launched Block Shop Textiles in December 2012. Lily and I now collaborate on all designs, run the business out of our Cambridge studio with the help of two incredible Harvard undergrad interns, and travel to Bagru twice yearly.
Your textiles are hand printed in Bagru, India, a community Block Shop is very connected to. Can you tell our readers more about your relationship with the Bagru community and your philanthropic efforts within Bagru? (What drives you to improve the economic and social welfares of the Bagru families?)
We work with a co-op of about 20 printers, whose hand block printing heritage runs five generations deep. After four years of trips to Bagru, our printers have become like family to us. Our social mission is two-fold: provide health care access and protect the environment. And that’s what we are doing.
We donate a portion of our proceeds from each scarf to a community fund focused on healthcare delivery. The rural poor in India often lack the infrastructure (transportation, personal identification numbers, health insurance) to access the public health care available in cities, and expensive private healthcare is out of the question. After a year of research we’re seeking to bridge that gap by bringing high quality doctors from the city to run day-long mobile clinics in our community.
Our second mission is to use and promote the use of natural dyes in Bagru. The vast majority of all textile printing –not just in India but around the world– is done with chemical dyes, which are brighter and cheaper, but responsible for the irreversible toxic leach into an already dangerously low water table. It’s an uphill battle trying to get printers to return to the old-school method of making dye from plants and minerals (and educate consumers about the environmental repercussion of those neon jeans), but our foreman has been instrumental in bringing that tradition back.
What does a day in the life of an Harvard Business School student and business owner look like?
I love it. Instead of extracurriculars I spend all my spare time working on Block Shop. The second year schedule is extremely flexible so that students can recruit for jobs, which was a blessing for my sister and me as our sales ramped up. We also have access to the amazingly talented pool of undergrads - our two interns are PHENOMENAL, creative businesswomen in the making.
What advice would you give to a gal looking to obtain her MBA?
It’s a fantastic, sometimes overwhelming experience and can be exceptionally rewarding if you come into it with clear goals. Beyond the business acumen and network you’d expect to leave with, I was surprised by (and grateful for) the emphasis Harvard puts on self reflection and authenticity in leadership. Two years of of time and space away from a job are a gift, so use that space to think critically about what drives you.
On your site you have an excellent travel guide to for anyone planning to visit India. If you could provide the same guidance for someone looking to start their own business, especially so connected to a culture different than their native culture, what advice would you give?
Oh thank you - we LOVE Jaipur! I’m not in much of a position to give entrepreneurship advice given our infancy. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned about doing business India, it is the importance of time spent on the ground, forming a real and long-lasting friendship with our team. Our relationship with Bagru is our business.
Working with your sister must be fun! Can you tell us more about how you two share responsibilities? Have you encountered any challenges with working together?
It’s the most fun I’ve ever had working. We are extremely open and commutative which is a relief from the corporate culture I’m used to. Given Lily’s background in the arts, and my background in business, our daily roles follow those lines. However, Lily is an extremely talented marketer and I studied painting through college. So there is very natural overlap in our skill sets, allowing us work both sides of our brains and collaborate on almost everything. We are sisters, so there’s a lot of goofiness, singing, sometimes yelling, and swaddling dogs in scarves.
What’s next for Block Shop?
We are currently working on a new line of products for the home, including pillows, bedspreads, and dhurrie rugs. But “homewares” sounds boring! We are making functional art you live with. Soft organic cottons. Beautiful slubby linens. Bohemian but sophisticated. All in our the Block Shop desert-modern aesthetic.
F U N Q U E S T I O N S:
Currently Reading: Two that I’m currently buried in are The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer, and I Shock Myself, the autobiography by the Beatrice Wood, ceramist and Dadaist muse. She led a truly inspired life.
Favorite Meal in Boston: Eggs benedict at The South End Buttery, and masala dosa at the Dosa Factory, a hole-in-the-wall Indian fast food joint by our studio in Central Square. They blast Bollywood music videos and the dosas are dynamite.
Favorite outfit to pair a Block Print scarf with: I love what a Block Shop scarf does to jeans, biker boots and a white silk blouse.
Female Role Model: Auntie Mame - our late surrogate grandmother and incarnation of the fictional, larger-than-life eponymous heroine. She was a horticulturist, traveled the world, read prodigiously and had an African grey parrot named Kato. Gold bangles up her arm from so many trips to India. A woman with a real point of view– that’s the Block Shop woman.
And we have to ask, have you tried BollyX?
No, but I did learn a few bhangra moves from our foreman’s 10-year-old son in Bagru, who is the best little dancer I’ve ever seen (you can see his moves if you follow our Instagram, here).
To learn more about Block Shop follow them on instagram, tumblr, and facebook.