You describe yourself as a painter, photographer and printmaker. What inspired you to use these skills to launch Stevie Howell Studio?
Experimentation! I started combining all of the different mediums that I was working with into one when I realized the prints would make interesting textiles. Once I began reading about textiles and playing around in the studio, I fell in love with the history and the process of making patterns. While it’s very similar to painting, textiles allow me to interact with a much broader audience. I loved that my work could make someone feel good, providing them with comfort and happiness. It was that feeling that made me want to start a business.
Once you decided to start your business, what was the first step that you took?
After my initial samples were made, the first big step was to start showing people. I knew my work wasn’t completely perfect but I needed to get it out there, so I booked a trip to NYC and set up meetings with a couple of showrooms and editors. I began working with the showroom, SEED Inc., which helped me officially launch my first collection.
Take us behind the scenes and describe the process of how a new textile is created.
Just like the very first textile I ever created, a lot of it is about experimentation. I am constantly drawing and painting, testing out new techniques, new marks, and new color combos. While I try to have a theme in mind when starting a collection, it will normally morph multiple times before I actually consider it complete. The creation of the art itself is a pretty intuitive process—with a lot of failed attempts along the way. I think every season I edit out about 90% of what I’ve actually made!
How do you continue to keep things fresh and generate excitement for your brand?
I think the fact that I am so excited about it really helps. One of the reasons why I love textile design is because I don’t feel constrained to one product—there is a huge range of possible applications. I try to bring unique beauty, luxury, and comfort to everything I create, and I really see a huge range of what that can mean in the future. If it doesn’t feel fresh and exciting to me then I move on.
How do you cultivate your creativity?
For me, creative energy comes from seeing new things. It could be as elaborate as traveling across the world or as simple as taking a new street on my way home, but seeing things with fresh eyes always excites me—it’s like hitting the reset button.
How do you balance creativity while also running the day-to-day business?
To be honest, I’m not very good at finding a balance—it is still a work in progress for me. In the rare instance that I am balanced, I have set aside specific time periods for different areas of work, such as creating, strategy, sales, and so on.
How do you create meaningful connections with your customers and keep them coming back to your brand?
Making people feel good is at the brand’s core. We ensure this by producing a product customers are 100% happy with, providing enjoyable shopping experiences, and having a story people like to share with friends.
You have had many well-known celebrities embrace your products. What strategies have you used to make this happen?
Since we don’t have an outside PR company, it’s been up to my customers and me to spread the word about my products. Luckily, as a result of those meaningful customer connections I talked about, I not only get amazing customers, but brand ambassadors, too!
One night I received dozens of texts informing me that my robe was on a major TV show on E! A few months before, a certain celebrity had been on vacation with a friend who was wearing one of my robes. She had loved it, tracked me down, and within half an hour had purchased a few for her and her daughters. I was flattered and excited, but had no idea they would appear on the show too. In a way my strategy has been to value our customers—they are the best PR team of all!
In a way my strategy has been to value our customers—they are the best PR team of all!
What is your best advice for entrepreneurs navigating international business relationships?
Get to know who you are working with, try to learn from everyone, and be patient with the differences in work and communication styles. Good relationships are sustained by loyalty and hard work.
What is your favorite thing about owning your own business?
There are many amazing things—and many amazingly hard things. What I find tips the balance between the two is knowing that I am giving it my all. To me, this is the feeling of “embracing ambition,” of pushing my own boundaries and not letting fear dictate anything. This has helped me through some of the bumpy moments and mistakes I have made along the way.
As a Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program Loan Recipient, you spoke at the Women Lead Forum hosted by our partner Bank of America. Tell us about this experience.
It was such an incredible event! I am terrified—and I mean TERRIFIED—of public speaking. But while it was out of my comfort zone, it was something I really wanted to be part of. So, I made sure I knew everything that I wanted to say up front, and to my surprise it was much easier to be on that stage than I thought. The best part of the event was meeting and talking to so many excited and ambitious women throughout the day.
What other ways has the Capital Program helped your business?
The Capital Program helped me expand my collection and hire my first employee! It also first introduced me to the incredible organization Vital Voices and their mini MBA-equivalent program. This past March I was one of 10 women accepted into Vital Voices’ Global Ambassadors program to accelerate the growth of women-owned businesses.
What’s next for the Stevie Howell brand?
I am about to launch my fabric by the yard and wallpaper line! It’s been about 2 years in the making (and perfecting) so I am really excited to get it into the world and into your homes.
What does #EmbraceAmbition mean to you?
It means being brave. It means listening to yourself and your wildest dreams, and pushing yourself to pursue them.
The Tory Burch Foundation Capital Program powered by Bank of America provides affordable loans to women entrepreneurs. Learn more.