As the woman behind growing brand and e-commerce shop Straw & Gold—which carries and celebrates the work of makers and artists—Lauren Musacchio lives and breathes her seven-month-old business morning, noon, and night out of her apartment in Red Hook, Brooklyn. As if e-commerce and blogging aren't enough, Lauren's also a talented musician (she just recorded her first EP), she knits, she sews (check out her cheeky napkins here), and she's even learning how to weave. What can't this girl do?! We recently had an honest chat about what goes into growing an online shop from the ground-up, the promise of one day opening a brick and mortar store, and the near-impossible task of shutting off (in Lauren's case, an iPhone) in a world that's constantly tuned in.
Before we begin, can I just say I love that "Work Fascinates Me" print on your bulletin board?
Aw, thanks! I found it at a vintage shop in Brooklyn for like 25 cents.
Such a great find. Where does your passion for the maker/artist community stem from?
When I was younger, my mom and I would go to flea markets and craft fairs and explore Upstate New York every weekend. She's always making something and I grabbed that from her and fell in love with it. I enjoy talking to artists, I love seeing their work and now I want to share their stories because what they do is really the future.
I understand music is also a huge part of your life.
Yes, I sing and play the piano. I studied opera in college. When I graduated, I was working at a music distributing company, and I ended up writing and editing for Rolling Stone magazine. I was there for three years and finally decided to leave to start up Straw & Gold. I wanted to make my own music and have this whole world interlaced and I thought having an online shop would be the perfect complement.
I'm interested in hearing what a typical day is like for you, especially since you're running Straw & Gold—blogging, making, and selling—all by yourself.
I usually wake up at 7:30 a.m., make breakfast, and get myself together. Because my office is my home as well, I make sure to prepare myself like I'm going to work. I spend a lot of time updating the website, whether it's uploading photos, writing descriptions, or making sure all the thumbnails are right. And I spend a lot of time on instagram, finding new artists and makers to feature, and responding to emails, whether it's with customers or makers. I get tons of maker submissions every week.
So people request to be carried on Straw & Gold?
Yes, which is very helpful to me. Right now I have a content schedule all the way up to the end of December. I try to launch two to three new artists every week.
Aside from them contacting you directly, how do you find the rest of them?
A lot of people I meet are friends of friends or recommendations or from my own research. I'm constantly looking for new people to add to the website that fit the aesthetic of Straw & Gold. I've actually been finding so many of them through instagram. Now that I think about, it's how you and I found each other!
That's right! We'd be lost without instagram.
It's amazing. So I'll meet an artist for coffee and we'll get to know each other and then I'll bring them on if they're doing something that I love.
What's the criteria for being featured on S+G? Is there a certain aesthetic your'e looking for?
Well made, beautiful things. Basically, things that speak to me.
Do you shoot all the products in-house?
Yes, the makers send me everything to be shot. I bought all the photo equipment I needed and depending on how busy I am, I have a girl that comes in to help me out from time-to-time.
Do you drop-ship or send everything out from your office?
I ship directly from here. I've been starting to think about drop-ship but it's so important for me to package the products beautifully for my customers. If the maker gives me a postcard I bundle it up with mine and then the item is from both of us rather than just the maker. Every package is like a little present so I definitely take my time with that. Some of my days are so packed that I'm working well into the night. I could always be doing something. Responding to emails takes a lot of time. There's a lot of questions between me and the artists and I try to respond to them as fast as I can.
Are you working straight through 'til bedtime or do you take breaks?
I take some breaks. I always make sure to cook my own breakfast, lunch and dinner, but it's pretty much around-the-clock. I'm almost addicted to making sure everyone is happy. It's hard to balance so many relationships and make sure everyone's getting what they need from me. A lot of the artists think there are many people working at S&G and when I say it's just me they can't believe it.
You have to be so connected all the time. Are you good at recognizing when you're getting burnt out?
I'm definitely trying to figure that out right now, because my phone can't be off which is really hard, and sometimes I just want to go do my thing and be in nature and not have to worry about technology. But I'm running a business, and I feel like if I want it to work and if I want to spread the word about artists and makers, I have to put in the time.
When you see other sites that are selling similar stuff, do you feel a sense of community or competition?
I think each website has their own aesthetic. At first I was like, "Oh no, Blake Lively is opening up an online shop for artists and makers and I'm going to go out of business!" But it's still about the curation.
Right, you each have your own spin on things. Also, you want to see other people doing it because it means it matters.
And it means the artists are being supported which is really the goal. People are now doing this full time. Most artists weren't able to do it full time in the past. They had a restaurant job or a nanny gig or whatever. They had to find something else in order to sustain their business. That still happens, but not as much.
More and more artists are making it work.
When I first started talking to one of my weavers, Maryanne Moodie, I was so incredibly taken with her work but it wasn't super popular and now she's all over the place. She's the perfect example of someone who's been able to support herself with her craft. Her style is totally different. The colors and patterns she puts together remind me of the work of Sheila Hicks.
Who else inspires you?
Phil Schappert of PS Woodworks is a woodworker based on Long Island. He works construction by day and he uses all his scrap wood to make cutting boards. He's so under the radar but I feel like his work should be everywhere.
His style is so unique. I love his two-tone cutting boards.
I want one of those!
How do you find balance?
I definitely make time to go to yoga or I take a bath to relax. And I love living in Red Hook. It's got that quaint, small town feel but it's in the middle of Brooklyn. And it's right by the water so it has the most incredible view of the Statue of Liberty. I usually bike around there and there's a bar called Sunny's that has live music on Saturday nights. Good solid music. Old guys playing their banjos. But most Fridays after work, my boyfriend and I try to get upstate to our house in Delaware County.
What do you do up there?
We hike a lot and we're always making something. We have a big garden. We ferment things. We make a lot of sauerkraut. It's a good escape. We go up Friday to Sunday, and if we're lucky, we head back Monday morning.
Would you ever be interested in opening your own brick and mortar shop?
That's definitely on my mind. I'm always looking for great spaces. I think after I reach one year of Straw & Gold (next April), I'll start scouting.
What would be your ideal neighborhood to open a shop?
Probably Williamsburg or DUMBO. Something more industrial with an artist community.
Any events coming up for Straw & Gold?
I'm having a popup shop at Brooklyn Slate the whole month of December. They have a cute space and I'll have a little zone of S&G items that are perfect for the holiday season.
What's your long-term goal?
The brick and mortar is definitely number one, and I have so many ideas for what I want to do with the it, for example, highlighting different artists each month, workshops, classes, parties. And I'd love to do a road trip across the states and do popup shops in other cities, which is such a great way to meet other artists.
As an entrepreneur, what are five things you can't live without?
Definitely my computer. It gave me a little scare last week when it crashed, so my new goal is to always remember to back up. And obviously my iPhone to instagram. A printer. Stamps. I love decorating my boxes with stamps. Oh, and my lists.
No, pen and paper lists. My boyfriend is always saying, "Put it on your phone!" but I need a pen and paper!
Finally, can you share a few words of advice for others looking to start up their own business?
Do what you love and stop worrying. Just stay the course, get through the rough patches with a little music, and enjoy the journey. Oh, and hire a good accountant.
Ha! Thanks for such an in-depth look at what you do and how you do it, Lauren! Very inspiring. Please check back in tomorrow for Lauren's favorite things on 50 States of Style.