These are just a handful of places Lalese Stamps’ ceramics business has been featured.
Lolly Lolly Ceramics is known for its “sophisticated” yet functional mugs. Typically black with unique handles, or speckled, they sell out “immediately” online.
And now, the Milwaukee native is in the process of relocating her company from a 544-square-foot studio in Columbus to a space nearly five times as large in her hometown.
The “biggest reason” for her return is to be by family. But Lake Michigan — where she spent a lot of time growing up — the Milwaukee Art Museum, breweries, thrift shops and Foundation tiki bar are up there, too.
“I think with COVID last year and the growth of my business last year, I felt like it was a good time to kind of reconsider where my home base was,” Stamps said. “I just see the business growing really fast and I like the idea of having a local impact in Milwaukee … It’s something that I’ve always dreamed about, actually. I think the time just feels right right now.”
100 days of creating new mugs
Stamps started Lolly Lolly Ceramics in 2017 while she was finishing up her time as a graphic design student at Columbus College of Art & Design.
“I just kind of really wanted to step away from my computer a bit and just use my hands more,” Stamps said.
The nickname “Lolly” was given to Stamps by a teacher while she was attending Rufus King International High School.
Stamps began selling her creations as a “side hustle” about three times a year at the Columbus Flea while working as a full-time graphic designer.
“It kind of took off from there,” she said.
But in September 2019, Stamps felt uninspired, like she was making the same things “over and over” again. After seeing other creatives on Instagram doing “100 day projects,” she decided to make a new mug with a different handle every day for 100 days.
A large chain connecting two small handles. A tiny handle inside of a larger handle inside of an even bigger one. Squiggle shapes on each side. These are just three of the 100 handles Stamps came up with.
“There are just so many shapes and ways to change things,” she said. “It was an exciting thing to really think about pushing the limit of what a functional mug handle could be.”
She posted each one on Instagram, which caught the attention of people around the world. When the project — which she credits as her “claim to fame” — was completed in December of that year, she put together a show in Columbus with all 100 mugs on display.
A re-launch with new products
Those 100 mugs will be featured on a gallery wall in Lolly Lolly Ceramics’ new home at the Lincoln Warehouse, 2018 South 1st Street.
The new space will have three main rooms: One for plaster, one for glazing and an office. The open areas will be used for clay throwing and storage for finished products.
The business has temporarily halted sales to take time for the move and to work on expanding its offerings. Stamps’ goal is to have the new location up and running in August.
Prior to the pause, select “100 day” mugs and Lolly Lolly’s signature speckled mug were available online (for $38 to $52). When the business re-launches, it will be adding plates, bowls and merch, like totes and T-shirts, to its inventory.
While Lolly Lolly primarily focuses on direct-to-consumer sales through its website, it previously had products available via Madewell and West Elm. The business has also done a wide range of collaborations, from a social media video with Verizon to creating a custom pair of speckled-mug-inspired shoes with Vans.
Stamps said she thinks “a lot” of people realized that they weren’t “doing enough to support” Black people or their businesses around the time of last year’s George Floyd protests.
“I think that’s when people really started to share more of the work that we’re doing,” she said.
Stamps was able to leave her day job as a graphic designer in September 2020.
“I really loved my job as a designer … and I was growing in that career path,” she said. “But then ceramics kind of took over and the demand for that work was really high.”
The creative process
Sometimes, Stamps starts by sketching out designs. Other times, she goes right to the pottery wheel.
“I think where our pieces really stand out is in the way we approach the shapes and functionality of them,” Stamps said. “I always love figuring out where to draw the line of making something that feels really clean and sophisticated, but trying to figure out where we can push that limit.”
She’s inspired by things in her daily life: shapes, architecture, furniture, product design and plants (between her studio and apartment, she said she has more than 100).
“When I told everyone that I was moving, the biggest question was, ‘Are you selling any of your plants?” she laughed. “I was like, ‘Unfortunately not.’ I’m definitely probably taking a whole truck alone for those.”
While the business has a studio manager, a head of marketing and production assistants, Stamps throws all the products on the wheel herself.
“Anyone who has ever taken a wheel class or has any experience in that will know that it gets pretty exhausting on your body pretty quickly,” she said.
To help Stamps out with that, the crew will start doing more slip casting — working from molds — in Milwaukee. They’re also going to add more people to their team.
Stamps plans to open the space up to the public one Saturday a month to give people a chance to check it out and purchase products in person.
She’s also already looking into working with local schools to put on workshops for both youth and adults.
“I know the arts have been so underfunded over the years,” Stamps said. “If we can reinvigorate that and contribute to that community in a big way, I’ll feel really successful. That’s one thing I’m really excited to do.”