“Jump off the cliff and build your wings on the way down.”
The above quote is inscribed in a journal designer Stacy Garcia received years ago from a friend when she first contemplated starting her own business. They are words that still adorn her bulletin board – words by which she’s lived, having built an illustrious career, two companies, multiple brands and licensing agreements from the ground up. (Photo: Designer Stacy Garcia has followed her passion for creating big, bold designs for more than 20 years—and the risks have been worth the rewards. Photography courtesy of Stacy Garcia)
Guided by the belief that success comes by pursuing your passion wholeheartedly and taking risks, Garcia’s journey has been fraught with both challenges and blessings, bolstered by an entrepreneurial spirit, a strong work ethic and a supportive family.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Early on, she had no idea whether she would sink or swim when she ventured out on her own 20 years ago. But that’s what faith is all about—believing a path will emerge with each step forward, however great or small they may be.
And for Garcia, that initial leap of faith was a big one—and there would be more to follow.
From Study to Practice
With a passion for the arts stemming back to childhood, Garcia enthusiastically enrolled in extracurricular courses in art, ceramics and sewing during high school. She built a portfolio that helped gain her entry into Syracuse University’s Visual and Performing Arts program, where she studied surface pattern design.
Garcia also had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program in London’s world-renowned arts and design college, Central Saint Martins, where she was exposed to bold patterns and bright colors.
Photo: Stacy Garcia Commercial for York Contract, React
“The study of textiles has definitely been part of what shaped my own personal aesthetic, this idea of the layering of patterns and creating these interesting pieces,” she recalls.
Upon her return from Europe, Garcia was fortunate enough to be recruited by lifestyle brand icon Ralph Lauren Home for an internship in its Madison Avenue studio prior to her graduation. It was there her eyes were opened to the textile design business, through selecting color palettes and assisting in design and showroom development, and where she was first introduced to the concept of product licensing.
“It was really fascinating to see how it was put together, the way that they really make lifestyle come to life and to have that opportunity to work with them in their showrooms,” she says. “It was also my first exposure to the term ‘licensing.’…I remember a spark being lit where I thought, ‘Wow, this is a great way to put a business together.’ You don’t need to have the money for all the inventory, or you don’t need to know how to import or how to manufacture or how to do every single piece of it—you can actually find partners and license,” she explains.
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From there, Garcia took on freelance work and spent some time at a small company producing prints for bedspreads, draperies and country kitchen curtains. Soon after, she was hired as a designer for Richloom Contract Fabrics, where she ultimately directed the textile and pattern design for its hospitality division—a move that would prove to be a formative one in her career.
“I was designing really fun patterns and themes, and part of my job then became to travel,” she says. “I was able to go and start learning from the sales reps what their customers liked and what the ecosystem of the hospitality industry looked like at the time and who the vendors were. But I was really their fabric designer, their fabric stylist, and would help them create patterns for these properties—and I was hooked,” she recalls.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
In the back of her mind, Garcia always had a vision of launching her own collection and running her own business—an entrepreneurial spirit she inherited from her parents who encouraged Garcia and her siblings to pursue their passions. The catalyst for change finally arrived when she became pregnant with her first child.
“The pregnancy was kind of the beginning of the turning point to say, ‘Well, if I’m going to be a mother, I want to have control over my schedule. I don’t want to have to schlep into the city to work for somebody,’” she recalls. “I started really planning the business at that point, getting ideas and taking a couple of trips overseas.”
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Tapping into her personal savings, Garcia took “bold action steps” by traveling to Germany for the Heimtextil trade show and to Italy to meet with textile mills as part of her research to lay the groundwork for her company. Then, she made another daring move by purchasing a series of vintage 1940s wallpapers from friends she made while at Richloom that she believed could be turned into a contemporary textile collection.
“I scratched out a personal check, which was basically a chunk of the savings I had at that point in time, and I bought these vintage wall covering documents,” she says. “And ultimately those pieces became the catalyst for the first collection that I ended up launching. I probably bought them two years prior to actually launching my collection, but it was all these little steps of faith that I had taken, just sort of believing that at some point it would turn into something.”
Unfortunately, the payoff wasn’t immediate, and, in fact, there were even greater hurdles ahead. Garcia left her job after the birth of her firstborn and continued freelancing and incorporated her business under the name LebaTex in 1999 while developing her first collection.
Meanwhile, her husband quit his accounting position at Ernst & Young as part of a career change. With virtually no income, a newborn, a mortgage and dwindling savings, Garcia decided to begin pitching her Stacy Garcia collection to every textile company who would give her a meeting with the hopes of licensing it.
The problem was that no one was interested or willing to take the risk on someone they didn’t know. Discouraged, Garcia finally decided to borrow the money to launch her own collection at the suggestion and with the full support of her husband.
Again, the daring step didn’t come easy, as a banker explained that no one would extend her a business loan without sales. He did, however, suggest she take out a home equity line of credit to fund her business.
“With the $50,000 line of credit in a business that had been incorporated already, I took the next leap of faith,” Garcia says. “I signed up for the Hospitality Design trade show, took out a booth, worked with a company that made trade show displays and bought a booth, had samples of my first collection printed and hired a publicist.”
Unsure how she even knew to hire a publicist, Garcia says the woman she hired was a godsend, going above and beyond by mentoring her and putting her through “boot camp” in sales and tradeshows. “She really helped set me up and shape the success that I had at that first show and got me some of my first press pieces,” she recalls. “It sort of legitimized what I was doing.”
Photo: Stacy Garcia Commercial for Artline Studio, View From Above
Bold Steps Equal Big Growth
After her first HD Expo, Garcia hit the ground running and began what she refers to as “the hustle.” She began selling, hiring reps and employees, and slowly but surely developed a reputation for bright, colorful and energetic textile patterns. People soon took notice—especially competitors.
In fact, she was approached early on by the CEO of Hunter Douglas who was interested in purchasing her business. Young and self-assured, Garcia didn’t even entertain the idea of selling out, but she agreed to meet with the window fashions giant—another pivotal decision in her career.
“That was sort of the catalyst to really get into licensing at the time,” she says. “I ended up incorporating a second business under Stacy Garcia, Inc. to just put licensing deals together, which is how I own two companies. So, Stacy Garcia was really just an offshoot business to put these deals together to take some of the patterns and license the designs elsewhere or create complementary designs. And we ended up growing that. Today, we have 23 active licenses in categories from floor to ceiling.”
Garcia still continues to grow the business, having recently launched her new Modern Legacy collection for Crypton Home Fabric, her second with the performance fabric manufacturer. Color-wise, the collection incorporates a mix of jewel tones, neutrals and soft color washes to create unique combinations and standalone solids.
[On Topic: Stacy Garcia HD Expo]
She has also launched a home collection exclusively for QVC under her brand, Stay by Stacy Garcia. This collection includes bedding and bath essentials inspired by bringing the luxury of five-star hotels home.
Most recently, Garcia announced her entry into the residential market through a strategic partnership with Klaussner Home Furnishings to bring her distinct aesthetic to two of its brands—Comfort Design and Klaussner Outdoor. The new line, Stacy Garcia Home, will debut at High Point Market later this year and will include indoor and outdoor furniture collections and accessories.
The Crossroad of Art & Design
As far as her ideation process goes, Garcia says her job is not to be an artist in the purest sense of the word. “If I wanted to do things that were inspiring to me and hope people like them, then I would have been a fine artist.” Good art, she says, moves the needle on people’s thought processes or helps open up their minds—but that’s not the job of the designer necessarily.
“Design is different,” she observes. “Design really lives at the crossroad. It’s somewhere between art and commerce. So, I’ve always believed as a designer, it’s my job to understand what people want, what they’re looking for and to solve those problems through the language of design, through the language of color and scale and comfort—all of those things that come into play when you’re designing a product.”
Garcia notes she tries to be trend-forward, but not so far out that it doesn’t resonate with consumers. She’s made the mistake of getting excited about a new trend or concept and invested time and money into it, only to discover it doesn’t sell well. As such, she says, “Trend forecasting is very much part of our process, to do that research, to go to the international trade shows, to attend Color Marketing Group’s summit and be part of that conversation,” she says. (Photo: Stacy Garcia Home for Crypton Home, Modern Legacy Collection, Available at Calico)
It’s also important for designers to interpret those trends and put their unique spin on it to create designs that are memorable. “I do think it is designers’ jobs to meet people where they are and then help them inch forward to something that maybe they wouldn’t have done otherwise, to give them that courage to take chances with their interior design space or their pattern selection or their furniture selection, because that’s what makes that ‘wow’ feeling. That’s what makes design special so that it’s not all kind of vanilla.”
Because at the end of the day, creating designs that are daring and impactful requires both belief and action. “If you don’t take that leap of faith, nothing happens. The action is what moves everything,” Garcia says. “Whether that’s action to create a bold, new interior design, a bold, new fabric pattern or a bold, new career choice, it’s those bold moves that propel your life forward and can make waves and change industries.”
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