A conversation concerning social enterprise, water buffalos, and the dynamic of siblings.
MONOGRAM: List your name, profession, and place of residence:
HOPIE STOCKMAN. Textile designer / founder, Block Shop Textiles, Los Angeles.
MONOGRAM: The way you and your sister, Lily, have set up your business (part LA, part India) is so inspiring! How did the Block Shop project first come about?
HOPIE: Block Shop started as a passion project that quickly became a realization of our dream to run a creative business as sisters. We’ve always loved making worlds together, starting from when we were kids growing up on a farm making stage sets out of cardboard cut-outs.
Back in 2010 Lily was living in Jaipur, India, studying miniature painting and traditional textile processes. She got to know a family of hand block printers and started working on large geometric prints, which are totally different from traditional florals and paisleys most printers work with. I came to visit the block printing workshop to learn the art form myself, which is when we solidified our first designs – in the form of scarves – and came up with a simple plan: to make one-of-a-kind textiles in our own design language that honored and celebrated the tradition of Indian hand block printing.
MONOGRAM: What was the learning curve like in terms of the traditional processes you use, such as hand-dyeing, block printing, etc?
HOPIE: What we learned about printing in our respective art classes in college and grad school doesn’t compare to what we’ve gleaned through hands-on experimentation over the past nine years with the master printers and weavers we work with in India. A lot of these artists have knowledge that runs five generations deep.
Sampling in person twice a year is essential to our communication process, so that our designs are informed by dialogue and collaboration with our team of artists. There’s so much problem solving in pattern design, I love it. When we’re not in India, we’re on Whatsapp with our team every morning and night. Even so, wires inevitably get crossed; like when a batch of 2,000 custom napkins we made for an LA restaurant came back neon pink instead of rust-colored. Thankfully the restaurant rolled with the neon (hi Kismet)!
MONOGRAM: We love your commitment to supporting the local community near your studio in Jaipur. Has that been a part of the business plan all along?
HOPIE: It was a natural progression born out of our familial relationship to the community of printers we’d gotten to know quite well by the time we launched our business. I’d done research on the healthcare gap in rural India while studying social enterprise in business school, so I knew from the get-go we wanted to support the community we worked with beyond cashflow.
There are known environmental and health risks associated with large scale textile production we wanted to steer clear of by manufacturing in small batches in family workshops. With the help of our local, onsite community program manager we conducted a needs assessment within the community, which ultimately led to our biannual healthcare camps. We bring in GPs, eye doctors, and dentists from Jaipur into the communities of textile artists where we work to do check-ups and write and fill prescriptions.
MONOGRAM: We know from experience there are challenges to working alongside your spouse every day, so we can assume there are similar challenges when working with your sibling! Any special techniques you’d like to share?
HOPIE: It’s the absolute best, but we sure do get into some spats! You may start out with a specific vision of your 50/50 contribution that at first seems as reliable and unchanging as your DNA. But we’ve found that it is essential to have imaginative, flexible thinking around your roles. Everything is easier if you can embrace (rather than fear) the notion that your work dynamic will change over time.
MONOGRAM: It was so much fun getting to chat about spending time in India, truly one of the most magnificent places we’ve ever been. Any fun stories you’d care to share about your time there?
HOPIE: This past spring I was in a tiny rowboat in the river town of Maheshwar on my way to see an island temple at sunset, when a motorboat full of rowdy teenage boys pulled up next to me. One guy was blasting something like Hot Cross Buns incessantly on a recorder. I was kind of flushed face emoji.
Then I noticed they were gently pulling on a rope leading into the water. And at the end of rope emerged the face of a water buffalo. They were on their evening excursion to the temple with Chandu, their prized water buffalo, for his nightly exercise, and serenading him on the recorder as they went.
We spent the evening laughing while Chandu rolled around in the mud and stomped around the temple with a totally princely attitude. It was an unexpected moment of pure happiness.
MONOGRAM: Your site lists Jantar Mantar as something you’re really into, which happens to also be on our site as a source of inspiration (we visited on our honeymoon and dream about it often!). Care to share any other special places you’ve found in India?
HOPIE: I especially loved being up in the clouds in otherworldly Ladakh in the Himalayas as well as driving through the emerald tea plantation hills of Munnar in the south.
MONOGRAM: Do you have a favorite vintage t-shirt? How and when did you acquire it?
HOPIE: My mom’s extremely tattered red t-shirt from when she taught high school English during a summer school program in 1972. It’s a faded apple red and says “SUMMER SESSION ‘72” in a handwritten font around a big sun. I imagine her wearing it through her 20s, talking to her classes about her favorite poet, William Carlos Williams, going on road trips around New England and being the literal apple of my dad’s eye.
MONOGRAM: What’s your favorite way to style a t-shirt?
HOPIE: Tucked into a high-waisted pant or A-line skirt.
MONOGRAM: Do you use graphic t-shirts to articulate your point of view? How so?
HOPIE: Mostly as a signal for not taking myself too seriously!
MONOGRAM: Lightening round: describe yourself in terms of the following:
ERA: One half 1840’s transcendental Fruitlands and one half disco
FETISH: Scrolling through petfinder.com
SYMBOL: Kate Bush
OBJECT: Picasso's ceramics
BEVERAGE: Oatmeal stout
RITUAL: morning hikes to a tiny lake in Deb's park outside my back door to look at the turtles
TAGLINE: Work-related texts to Lily ending in "?????"
PHOTOGRAPHY: Vivian Rubin