Lalese Stamps, the brains behind the cult ceramics startup Lolly Lolly, is reimagining what it means to be a creative entrepreneur.

Lalese Stamps, the brains behind the cult ceramics startup Lolly Lolly, is reimagining what it means to be a creative entrepreneur.

How I started my business is…
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When a new batch of Lolly Lolly mugs drops online, they can sell out in under a minute.

The clayware coffee cups have generated major buzz, defying expectations of what mugs should look like. Some have handles that jut out like spikes; others have handles shaped like rings orbiting a planet, or that spill out from the side of the cup like a slack rope. All of the unique designs have found a passionate fan base during the pandemic, when the simple act of sipping tea or coffee has taken on outsize importance in so many people’s daily routines.

Lalese Stamps, the 31-year-old ceramicist who designs and produces the mugs with her “small but mighty” team, is thrilled by the challenge of creating something both beautiful and functional. But trading a steady, high-paid graphic design job to launch Lolly Lolly was not always her plan — and it has tested her deep-rooted sense of optimism.

“It never really crossed my mind that it was even a possibility to be an entrepreneur. It always scared me. The people who I saw as entrepreneurs were rarely Black. They were rarely women,” said Stamps.

“I had to really take a leap of faith,” she added, “and trust my judgement.”

How I started my business is…
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Trading a steady paycheck
for creative freedom

Stamps has always been creative, dabbling in everything from illustration to weaving. She didn’t try ceramics until she was in her late 20s, but from the minute she sunk her hands into clay she was hooked.

At the time, Stamps was working as a graphic designer with a major branding and marketing agency, while making ceramics for family and friends on the side. She sold some mugs on Instagram, but didn’t really see it as a possible career until she tried the #100DayProject that is popular among artists on social media who push themselves to create 100 works in 100 days. Stamps made 100 different black mugs, with 100 different handles, in 100 days — and they were a hit online. In September 2020, Stamps decided it was time to leave her steady paycheck and go all-in on Lolly Lolly, although she did have doubts.

“I was like: ‘Am I smart enough to even know what the next step is?’ It’s funny, because I had gotten myself to that point already on my own,” she said.

There was no magical “aha” moment when Stamps knew for certain she was on the right path, but she knew the path she was on felt really good — and that was enough for her to keep going.

“My financial advisor was like, ‘Hold on a little bit more! Save up a little bit more!’ But it felt too right,” Stamps said. “It felt like the right time to transition.”

The idea for my 100 Day Project came from…
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“I was like: ‘Am I smart enough to even know what the next step is?’ It’s funny, because I had gotten myself to that point already on my own.”

Trading a steady paycheck
for creative freedom

Stamps has always been creative, dabbling in everything from illustration to weaving. She didn’t try ceramics until she was in her late 20s, but from the minute she sunk her hands into clay she was hooked.

At the time, Stamps was working as a graphic designer with a major branding and marketing agency, while making ceramics for family and friends on the side. She sold some mugs on Instagram, but didn’t really see it as a possible career until she tried the #100DayProject that is popular among artists on social media who push themselves to create 100 works in 100 days. Stamps made 100 different black mugs, with 100 different handles, in 100 days — and they were a hit online. In September 2020, Stamps decided it was time to leave her steady paycheck and go all-in on Lolly Lolly, although she did have doubts.

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“I had to really take a leap of faith and trust my judgement.”
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Becoming her own boss

Though Stamps didn’t always believe she was destined to be an entrepreneur, she has surprised herself by realizing how much she likes the actual business of running a business — relishing bookkeeping almost as much as she enjoys creating new pieces. She has had to be nimble and learn fast.

“It was a bit of a shock when I had to transition, and really had to dive into a lot of things, like figuring out payroll, hiring employees, copyright, and trademarking — all of those important things that come with running a business,” Stamps said.

Lolly Lolly does not have any debt at the moment, a fact that Stamps is proud of. And this summer, she and her team are upgrading from a 544-square-foot studio in Columbus, Ohio, where Stamps lived for a decade, to a 3,000 square-foot studio in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where she grew up, which feels to her like another accomplishment.

Still, there are always unexpected financial considerations, like paying for copyrights — a relatively high cost that Stamps did not consider when she started out. Or balancing her personal commitment to sustainability with her fledgling business’ need to keep costs low.

Take packaging. Lolly Lolly ships fragile objects, but Stamps does not want to use packaging that is bad for the planet. She has poured unexpected money into experimenting with packaging, though she hopes it is ultimately a thoughtful investment that will pay off in the long run.

My personal spending style is…
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Still, there are always unexpected financial considerations, like paying for copyrights — a relatively high cost that Stamps did not consider when she started out. Or balancing her personal commitment to sustainability with her fledgling business’ need to keep costs low.

Take packaging. Lolly Lolly ships fragile objects, but Stamps does not want to use packaging that is bad for the planet. She has poured unexpected money into experimenting with packaging, though she hopes it is ultimately a thoughtful investment that will pay off in the long run.

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Always seeking new inspiration

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While Lolly Lolly is Stamps’ passion, it is still a job, and like any job, there are times when it feels like a grind. Stamps admits to feeling burnt out on social media these days, though she knows it has been vital to Lolly Lolly’s success. So she has hired someone to help with marketing (in addition to a studio assistant and studio manager), so she can focus her energies on the parts of running Lolly Lolly that she really enjoys: being creative and moving the business forward.

Because while Stamps is proud of the mugs she has created so far, she is wary of making the same things again and again — no matter how much excitement Lolly Lolly drops continue to generate.

As she moves into her new studio space, Stamps is taking time to learn new techniques and methods, like slip casting and mold making, which she hopes will push Lolly Lolly into new directions.

She has been sketching lately, too, something she hasn’t done in almost a year, and the team has been holding brainstorming meetings. Together they’re reaching and stretching and growing, trying to feel out what comes next.

But whatever the future holds for Lolly Lolly, it won’t just be about ceramics. Social activism is important to Stamps, who has been thinking a lot about ways in which she can mentor fellow ceramicists who also want to make this their career (something she already does), and create scholarships for other young entrepreneurs and creators of color.

“Being a Black woman, and being in the position that I’m in, I know it’s not just about me anymore,” she said. “It’s about a broader community of people who can see what I’m doing, be inspired by it, and be motivated by it.”

What excites me about Lolly Lolly’s future is…
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But whatever the future holds for Lolly Lolly, it won’t just be about ceramics. Social activism is important to Stamps, who has been thinking a lot about ways in which she can mentor fellow ceramicists who also want to make this their career (something she already does), and create scholarships for other young entrepreneurs and creators of color.

“Being a Black woman, and being in the position that I’m in, I know it’s not just about me anymore,” she said. “It’s about a broader community of people who can see what I’m doing, be inspired by it, and be motivated by it.”

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“Being a Black woman, and being in the position that I’m in, I know it’s not just about me anymore.”
What excites me about Lolly Lolly’s future is…
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