Makers, craftsmanship, heritage and tradition; while these terms have always been part of the design vernacular, they have become modern-day buzzwords. However, the larger commercial marketplace is still dominated by fast fashion and mass production. For me, it’s not enough to discover something beautiful — I need to know the back story in order to be connected to it in a meaningful way. Block Shop Textiles, with an ethos that combines artistic inspiration with an ethically-minded business approach, has this story in spades.
Today I am excited to give you a glimpse into the world of sisters Lily and Hopie Stockman. Together they bring that admirable combination of creative vision and business acumen to the table. Both with backgrounds in painting, they took winding roads to where they are today. Hopie worked in finance before turning back to creative pursuits. Lily followed her painting studies by leading a National Geographic-sponsored trek across the eastern steppe of Mongolia, followed by a move to Jaipur, India where she studied Mughal miniature painting. It was during this painting apprenticeship in 2010 that she met Vijendra Chhipa, a fifth-generation master printer, and learned about hand block printing and natural dyes. At a time when demand for this time-honored tradition was being replaced by cheaper, chemical-based screen printing, Lily and Vijendra started creating beautiful, oversized scarves. Six months later Hopie joined them and a business plan was developed. Fast forward to present day and Vijendra is now the foreman of Block Shop, where they employ over 20 printers in the village of Bagru, India.
Lily and Hopie take a lot of pride in how low-tech their process is. “So much of our day is spent on screens, we take legitimate joy in the challenge of bringing a textile to life from a simple sketch.” As for their unique aesthetic, they say they try to push the boundaries of traditional hand block printing by constructing large-scale compositions. It’s an intriguing combination of ancient process and modern design. “Our master block carvers carve each element of our drawings onto blocks of sisam wood. The blocks are then handed off to master printers, who use traditional dyeing, printing, and resist printing with mud paste (dabu) techniques to bring our patterns to life, one piece at a time. Our printers don’t use measuring devices; they eyeball the registration of the block – which requires remarkable skill and an innate design sense. One scarf takes two to five days and over five people to create.”
While the scarves are made in India, they spend the other half of their time in their studio location in downtown Los Angeles, along with their multi-talented studio director Nisha Mirani and dog Otto. “We fell in love with the grittiness and architectural majesty of downtown LA: our studio is an 1814 bank in the historic core, which abuts the faded Art Deco movie palaces just a few blocks away. We love downtown Los Angeles; it keeps a little New York pep in our otherwise barefoot Angeleno step. We can’t imagine doing what we’re doing anywhere else…there’s a deeply supportive design community here united by a collective, creative hustle.”
What began as an art project is now a thriving textile business. They are committed to their mission of making heirloom textiles while upholding the highest ethical and environmental standards in every step of the process. Lily and Hopie also invest 5% of their profits into a healthcare program for the printing community of Bagru. As you can see, the story of Block Shop Textiles is as inspiring as their scarves are beautiful. –Shannon