Lisa is a serial knitter, foodie and collector + the CEO of Artful Home. We caught up with her to get a little inside scoop before her Alembika Zoom Café event that was Friday, May 6th. Here’s what she had to say.
What came first for you? Art or fashion?
This is such an interesting question, because it depends on when the question is from and during which period of my life. What I mean by that is that from a very young age, fashion was a part of my life, so much so that when I hit 12 years old, my parents told me they would no longer support my habit, so I started sewing my own clothes. My intention was to not look like anyone else. I wanted unique clothes, unique looks.
I went to art school and graduated with a BFA in Textiles and Sculpture. So, from an education perspective, Art came first. I attended the California College of the Arts (and Crafts, at the time) and studied drawing, painting, sculpture, and my beloved textiles: weaving, printing, off-loom techniques.
When I graduated, I set out as a costume designer and had the wonderful chance to work briefly with the Oakland Ballet and the San Francisco Lyric Opera, but I quickly realized that I was not fantasy-oriented enough and that my heart was still in clothing. So, back to school I went to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, got a degree in fashion design, and swept up into my first job just a few weeks prior to graduation! I was hooked.
As a result, the first part of my professional career was as a designer, design director, head of design for manufacturers, and then for a major retailer. I spent 2 decades in the world of specialty retail, having evolved and morphed from design and merchandising to marketing and creative. What an extraordinary thing it was for me to come full circle when I joined Artful Home, marrying my passion for art with my knowledge of retail and e-commerce. And then we added apparel and the rest is kind of history.
As an artist, what is your favorite museum to visit and why?
This is like asking a mother which child she loves best! May I answer in multiples? One of my favorite museums is not a museum, but the Storm King Art Center in New York. Large scale work interacting with nature or being about nature inspires me and fills me with a kind of awe and amazement I find nowhere else, connects art to the earth and sky and reinforces the magic that is life and that is art.
On a smaller scale, I adore smaller, focused museums. Here in San Francisco, there are two museums which I visit again and again: The Museum of Craft and Design, and the Museum of the African Diaspora. Both afford and allow an intimate art experience and allow me to really connect with the work.
As a women’s apparel designer, what is your greatest source of inspiration?
I am always inspired by two different things: fabrics (remember that background in textiles?) and my customers. I like to think a lot about women and what will both fill a need and absolutely delight them. Delight is so important. If we can design something which makes a woman smile when she puts it on, makes her feel great about herself, makes her feel like she is truly expressing herself, then that is the best design in the world. Of course there is inspiration from the runway, but that is so very, very far down the list in terms of inspiration.
Tell us about one of your most favorite art objects in your own artful home… Where did you discover it? Who is the artist?
Oh no, asking to choose among my children again, lol! I have a piece by Gugger Petter that I adore. Her medium is newspaper, which she weaves in a process she developed and creates extraordinary portraits. Imagine being able to create a soulful portrait out of newspaper. I first learned about her at the SOFA show in Chicago many many years ago, and hoped that one day I could get one of her pieces. Finally, that day came.
Another favorite piece is my mailbox and chair, created by Boris Bailey. I found them both at Artful Home! Boris creates work using recycled traffic signs and I love how he uses his artist’s eye to re-purpose the material. As I said, I first learned about Boris at Artful Home way back in 2001, and I was one of the earliest customers of the company, long before I joined as CEO.
And finally, my other favorite pieces are hand-blown drinking glasses created by my husband, Andy Astor. Andy took up glassblowing with the intention to make simple, perfect cylindrical, clear cups. His cups are a delight to hold and use and I smile and think of him every time I use one.
You have a reputation for not only being a strong, successful leader, but as a warm and supportive person to work for. What is one piece of sage advice you can offer to other female entrepreneurs in the retail world?
Be truthful and fair with your team, your vendors, and your peers. We are all just people, regardless of title or status or role, and relationships founded in honesty are the foundation of successful business. Without strong relationships, no one who works for you is going to put her all into the work. Without strong relationships, you won’t weather the rocky times that happen in all businesses. Without strong relationships, growing a business is a really lonely place to be. And without strong relationships, you won’t be able to experience much joy and fun in the work.