I am so excited to share my conversation with the very magnetic and beautiful Lalese Stamps, an amazing ceramicist and owner of Lolly Lolly Ceramics in Milwaukee. We talked a lot about following your intuition and trusting the process which has been a core belief of mine too as a business owner. I hope you enjoy learning about her as much as I did!
Caroline Z Hurley: So let's jump in. I'm excited to hear more about your journey, I have to tell you that I am not on Instagram that much. So I didn't do a deep dive on your Instagram. But I did do a very, fairly thorough dive on your amazing website, which is so cool. Did you design that?
Lalese Stamps: No, a good friend of mine works for an agency based in Ohio. And they were super gracious. They're like, we see that you are growing. And we want to give a nice friend-discount on a good website.
CZH: I love that. It's beautiful. They did a great job. I wanted to talk about your background- where you grew up, where your parents are from, what's your cultural upbringing.
LS: I grew up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, which is where I am now. And my dad is from the south, his family's from Mississippi. My dad's black, and my mom's white. My mom's side of the family is German. Actually, I've been learning a lot about my family history as of lately, so it's good timing to talk about that.
CZH: Can you share more? That's such an interesting mix. I love that.
LS: Growing up, I always identified as kind of just being biracial. And I didn't really know where I came from. And I think as an adult –I turn 32 soon– I've just been really curious about how people identify and I still don't have very much to tell yet because I'm really in the early stages of it all. But a lot of the history so far, it's kind of sad. I don't have great things to say about it, especially for my mom's side of the family. But I don't let that shape who I am as a person. I lived in Ohio for about 10 years and decided to move back to Milwaukee because I think it's such a burgeoning city and there's a lot going on here and a lot of young talent. So I'm excited to be a part of the community here.
CZH: When did you move to Ohio?
LS: So I actually went to school in Chicago, I went to Columbia. I wasn't successful there. I went to school for architecture and didn't really like it. My parents thought that because I was creative and architecture was lucrative that it would be a good fit for me, but it didn't work out. And I met one of my best friends at school in Chicago, and he was from Ohio. And he's like, “You should just move here for the summer and see what it's like.” And I ended up staying for 10 years. So it wasn't for school. But I did end up going back to school about five years later, when I was there. I spent a lot of time just working for different companies. I was the kind of person that should not have gone to college right out of high school.
CZH: I think I was the same. I did. Unfortunately, I had a hard time. But I don't think I was ready to commit to a profession at the time; I just didn't know who I was.
LS:Yeah, same. And I'm glad that I did stick to my gut and stopped going to school for a while because it allowed me to work all these different jobs and figure out what worked for me. And going back to school for graphic design, I got a job right away out of school, worked that for literally three years, and then started a career in ceramics full time. At some point in between there, I started ceramics for fun. It was like my way of using my hands while also doing digital stuff.
CZH: And then you taught yourself, more or less.
LS: I took a class at the local Cultural Arts Center in Columbus. I just love it so much. It's so interesting how our journeys kind of dictate the things that happen along the way, dictate where we're supposed to go.
LS: I'm so happy that I listened to my intuition along the way, because I never took ceramics before. I started it when I was 26 and it just happened to be the creative field that I landed in. But I also have this great background in graphic design which helps so much with running a business.
CZH: Oh my gosh, yeah. I think that there are multiple journeys you have before you find your passion, and there can be another passion after that one. I went to school for acting, and it still informs how I live my life and run my business. And that's not a part of my current story, but it is a part of my history. And it's so important to me. At the time I didn't know what it was leading towards. I don't think I ever had the desire to be an actor in a real way. I just knew I needed to find my voice and figure out my body and know how to be in the world. It is crucial to who I am now. So I totally can relate to that feeling of trusting your gut
LS:Yeah, maybe that's the secret to being an entrepreneur –trusting your gut and taking healthy risks. I feel like I'm oftentimes taking risks that feel not safe, but you have to go out on a limb sometimes and just trust your gut.
Right: Lalese by her kiln; Left: The wheel where lalese throws each mug by hand
CZH: I've had a couple of these conversations with business owners and that always seems to be a point that we land on which is: it doesn't seem like the logical decision a lot of the times. These choices that you make in your business if you follow your intuition, are always the right ones and I think it takes some time to figure out what that intuition is and to trust it and to know if it is leading me in the right way. It was important for you to take those years and really build that muscle and understand how to trust yourself.
LS: Exactly. It's only been a year since I quit my full time job and decided to take on Lolly Lolly full time. It's so interesting because a lot of people don't really know that . But lately, I've had the opportunity to take on some investments. And I've had a lot of people reach out about it. But finally, I have found an opportunity that I think is really great and can really push us in the right direction. So that's just like another example of listening to your gut.
CZH: That's so cool. That is massive, because I had such a hard time with that myself. And I ended up not ever taking investment, which I think looking back was kind of a mistake, because it kept me sort of in this one zone. And now I'm much more open to it. And it feels like the right move. That's really smart of you; I can just tell from the way you're talking about it. It's really exciting.
LS: Yeah, I feel like I've kind of carried this thing pretty far. And we have this big audience; we have a lot of high demand for the work. And I do want to grow. I don't know how big. Sometimes I underestimate how big things can grow. But this idea of having resources and a team of people that I can refer to –I think I'm just ready for that. Still burned out in some ways…
CZH: Totally. You've built this! I mean, it's only been since 2019, you said? A little over a year, right? You've come so far! But it is definitely hard to do everything alone. So I can really relate to that. It's grueling, and especially in your field which is so hands on.
LS: The scaling up problem is what we're trying to overcome right now. And we have solutions, we know exactly what to do. It's just the funding.
CZH: I'm excited for you. I can't wait to see how it all grows and takes shape. So my next question is about the 100 Day project you did. And I love that that's how you started your business. It seems like such a simple prompt to give yourself but you really stuck with it. I love that it's such a simple thing that really took you to where you are now. So can you talk to us a little bit about that? How did you decide to do that, where did you hear about it?
LS: Yes, the project is a known thing; I've seen it on Instagram a lot. And usually people do an illustration or a painting, but it never felt quite like in my lane. I thought doing something in ceramics would be really cool.
I thought about a mug. There are so many different ways that we could think about this object, but it's just so standard. So I started to sketch these ideas. I was like, I have a lot of different ideas that I could run with for this. I'm actually writing a book about this process, because a lot of people ask about it. But I started it because I felt like I was making a lot of the same things. And I started to see people locally who would buy the same clay and maybe start to have things that looked kind of similar. It was a way to push myself out of my comfort zone. It worked so well. As a designer, you see so much inspiration out in the world. And you kind of have a hard time knowing like, is this original to me or see something out there in the wild?
CZH: Yeah, that collective unconscious. it's still original to you, but you're seeing the world constantly so it all seeps in.
LS: This project was like one of the first times that what I made truly felt like a product of my own mind and I sketched out so many ideas and was really true to myself and it helped me develop my own style.
CZH: Totally, you can really feel that in the work that you pushed beyond a boundary and you really found your voice through the project, you can really feel that. Can you talk about who you're inspired by? It can be artists, ceramicists, politicians, anyone really. Is there anyone right now that you feel really particularly inspired by?
LS: I have some people in mind, but I just loved how you said politicians. One person that came to mind that I’m super inspired by is Simone Biles. With everything she went through this year, it's so cool to see someone overcome adversity–having to step down from the Olympics. But she's such a badass, and she listened to her intuition. She did what she had to do .
Who else am I inspired by? Issa Rae. I don't know if you watch insecure, but the new season just came out. I watched it and I love her. Her aura, she has such good energy. And she's another person who had an incredible journey where she started making YouTube videos and it just kind of transpired into this successful show. She's opened up opportunities for other people. And I realized that I love that story and that journey. Even though she’s in a different realm, in film and TV, I see how some things she does can translate to what I'm doing.
Lalese researching, planning and dreaming up new developments
CZH: The relation to me is very clear. Like you guys both have a very strong voice. I keep I keep using that word a lot in this interview, but it does feel like you have a very authentic and just very true way of being in the world. You guys both have that. So I get that inspiration for you, too.
LS: Even growing up, with the friends that I've made in my life, I've gotten that same kind of feedback, being authentic and genuine. And I'm an Aquarius; I'm really empathetic. Really caring to people, but I'm also really direct, unabashedly. So I think that that translates really well as an entrepreneur and as a leader. It's been really cool to see the various types of people who have stepped up and have told me they’re inspired by what I’m doing and the way I present myself. That’s really cool.
CZH: Love that. I can feel it even through this interview. It is very authentic. It's very real, and it doesn't feel put on at all. And I think that is what we're all craving, especially on social media platforms, you know, so it makes sense that you've had this amazing success and that once you started to put your work out there really like was so magnetic because you're just being so true. I'm just curious about what Milwaukee is like, and what's it like to have a small business there as someone you know, running her business from Brooklyn and living in this huge metropolis? It's, you know, it's very appealing to me thinking about a smaller town. So can you talk about that a little bit?
LS: The city was incredibly welcoming. Before we even moved back. We did this big article in the business section of the local paper and our contact was in there and so many people reached out saying if you ever need help building tables or if you ever need help packing shipments –elderly people, other business owners.That was the first time that I knew that I was making the right choice. One of my reasons for moving back, among a multitude, but with the pandemic was that I really wanted to be close to my family again. And I'm the kind of person who has a lot of family and my friends. I've made so many close friends living in Ohio for 10 years, but a lot of them are moving. And I had to kind of just reevaluate, should I move too if this business is gonna grow? Should I keep it here and grow it here? Or should I take it somewhere else where I have family? I thought about moving to New York, but the cost of owning a business there is probably out of control.
And I want to be close to a body of water again, I grew up on Lake Michigan going sailing, spending so much time by the water. So it made the most sense. Being here has only validated that; I've made such a community of people here already. And it is small, but I'm also only an hour and a half away from Chicago. So that's like, nice. If I ever want to take a weekend trip, I can just go and totally get in. Exploring the city that I grew up in has been fun.
CZH: That's awesome. And so you've been making new friends, but also your old friends as well are kind of integrating into your new life, which I'm sure is so fun to have. How would you like for people to see your work? What space would you like your work to live in?
LS: That's a such a great question, because we make functional things. But to me, they’re such art pieces. So for example, when I think about wholesaling, I think about seeing them at the MoMA gift shop.
CZH: like on a pedestal like being shown as a work of art, right
LS: I see them on the wall. I see them, dangling from the ceiling at different heights as an art installation.
Left: Lalese at the wheel; Right: Mugs drying prior to glazing
CZH: Yeah, I see that too. Can you tell me what makes you feel most grounded?
LS: My friends; my friends have always been that source that I can go to to come back down to earth. My friends are always there and always say the right things.
CZH: I love that. That's really sweet. That's great. That's so important, isn't it? And then my last question, which I also ask everyone is: what do you like to do the moment you get home from a long day?
LS: I take all my clothes off immediately because they usually have clay on them and I throw them in the laundry room and I sit down on my couch for a little while and I usually watch Rick and Morty. Then usually I just put candles on and I have Philips Hue lights in all my light bulbs. So I can turn on a different color mood, whatever I'm in the mood for. Sometimes it's green. Sometimes it's like a deep purple. But usually that helps me to start relaxing.
CZH: Was there anything else that you wanted to share? Or anything that you wanted me to ask that I didn't or anything extra?
LS: I don't know. I guess I can touch on, like, a few future things that we had. Yeah,
CZH: I would love to hear that!
LS: Yeah, no, I mean, we just talked about goals the other day. So it's really fresh on my mind. April 2022 has been weighing on me lately, in a good way. I think I think we're gonna be in a good place by then as far as production and workflow and being consistent about putting product out there. That's one of our pain points right now is; we put something online and it just sells immediately, which is not a bad problem to have. And I mentioned this book that I'm writing, hopefully that will go into production. We are looking to start a retail slash coffee concepts shop next year in Milwaukee and maybe open in different cities if it's successful.
CZH: How exciting. There's so many fun things coming.
LS: Oh, and YouTube. We want to get into YouTube. Start some more progress videos. Got to do more of those. That's one way I learned.
CZH: That's cool. The people need this. This has been really fun. I'm so happy to get to know you a little bit more. I feel like if we lived in the same place, we'd be friends.