You know what inspires me? Women. In. Business. Speaking of a total girl boss, may I please introduce you to the CEO of my favorite fabric company, CW Stockwell, Katy Polsby! I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Katy and pick her brain about her fabulous company, lifestyle and inspiration! Excited to share with you all what I found out...
Q: So Katy, how did you get your start?
A: I’ve had a long career leading merchandising and product development strategies for decor and lifestyle brands including Serena & Lily, Warby Parker, and West Elm, which is part of the Williams Sonoma, Inc. family of brands. As fate would have it, I grew up in Pasadena, California around the corner from CW Stockwell's third-generation owner, Remy Chatain Jr. When he passed in 2013 our family made a decision to keep the lights on. It would be a few years until I decided to join CW Stockwell full-time as CEO. When I did, I knew that all my experiences had come together and now serve as the perfect foundation for me to take on the challenge of reviving this historic design and taking it into its next chapter.
Q: Where do you find your inspiration and how do you make sure you are constantly innovating?
A: The 2019 CW Stockwell Collection is inspired by the rich, varied archives we rescued from the company’s warehouse on the last day before the lease expired. The collections presented in those sample books centered on a very broad range of subject matter - from small geometric prints, to bold florals, to stripes and plaids all the way to some really amazing, ebullient conversational prints and toiles. Seeing this breadth in the archive served as a road map for the new collection - it helped me celebrate the idea that nothing was out of bounds, both from a pattern standpoint and from a color standpoint. I made sure to emphasize a total reinvigoration of Martinique ®, but also sought to identify the bold, powerful patterns that could one day give Martinique a run for its money.
I drew inspiration for the color palette from the archives as well - there are simply perfect shades of every color in the spectrum in these books - who needs Pantone when you have 115 years of archives? The spirit of the brand always had an undercurrent of innovation - the second and third generation owners of the company were both Parsons alumni - so their emphasis was always placed upon driving that spirit of innovation forward every single day. Knowing this has served as a sort of owner’s manual as we look forward into the future.
Q: What's the best part and the worst part of owning/running your own business?
A: The best part of running a small company is being able to try new things, move quickly, and gather instantaneous learnings, whether things turn out well or not. I learn just as much, if not more, when things don’t work. I have always enjoyed a scrappy, hands-on, start-up-like approach to building a business. Owning the belief that just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right way. Running my own company means I have the ability to rethink every step, and give myself permission to take risks.
The worst part is getting caught up in some of the mundane day-to-day tasks that simply have to get done. Running a small company means wearing Every. Single. Hat. For example, today I spent an hour on the phone with the support line for my printer! As a CEO, I am constantly thinking about productivity. Certain tasks - like fixing printers - can feel like distractions from the strategic and creative work that I want to be doing, and that are my strengths.
Q: What is some advice you have for women seeking to start a career in your industry or business in general?
A: Don’t be afraid. The way you get through your business life is the same way you get through your actual life -- by drawing upon support from your network, by asking for advice, by being proactive in asking for help or resources and by continuously getting a little bit outside your comfort zone. The best way to think about running a company is by drawing parallels to all the ways you live your life to make it the most dynamic each day. It can be scary, it can be hilarious, and it’s always exciting. There are good moments and tough moments - but it’s all worth it.
Q: What advice would you give your younger self?
A: Don’t fixate on the idea that there is just one right way to do things. Diversity of experience in travel, college, and career choices will help you find your true pursuit. I was a Spanish major. Many of my decisions were passion-driven, not necessarily strategic at the time, and sometimes I felt guilty about that. So I would tell my younger self that there’s not one clear path. It’s ok to paint with a broad brush until you find something you’re really excited about, and all the experiences you had along the way will be assets no matter where you end up.
Q: What do you consider to be you greatest accomplishment to date?
A: The accomplishment I am most proud of is building teams that are hard-working and dynamic, and that also are able to make having a good time a priority as well. I always want to maintain perspective on what’s important - people and experiences. While we’re just beginning, my very small team at CW Stockwell is the perfect example of where I find purpose and passion. We work hard, but most importantly we feel enjoyment and enrichment every day.
Q: Has living in San Francisco influenced your style, aesthetic or business in any way?
A: I’d say the ways I draw upon San Francisco for influence + inspiration are two-fold... First is the actual geology of the City. We are surrounded by so much greenery and water, and nature is extremely accessible. I find that this translates into my style, aesthetic and business in different ways…There are nature-inspired patterns in this year’s collection, and it’s really easy to find amazing color inspiration in the natural surroundings of the Bay Area. Remy in tangerine is a great example. The colors in the original artwork were reinforced when I was on a hike in the Marin Headlands. I saw the combination of wildflowers against the natural grass backdrop, and the colorway just clicked.
Secondly - the diversity of architecture, fashion, and art in San Francisco has always been a source for inspiration. It reinforces that idea that there is not just one way of doing things - the difference in houses, dress, culture, art… it’s all eclectic and beautiful. My own home is a brightly-colored 1905 Victorian with modern influences, filled from top to bottom with an art collection that is largely from Bay Area artists.
Q: What can we look forward to next from you?
A: You will see a continued infusion in collection new products drawn from and inspired by the archives of our 115 year old company, some that were never before produced. There’s a temptation to bring in more newness - our archive is so rich - but we also want to be thoughtful and methodical about how we gather inspiration for a new collection. So right now we are focused on learning and listening to our customer. But things are starting to take hold, so you will definitely see some great newness in 2020!