To talk to Stacie Bloomfield for more than 10 minutes is to be charmed by her: The animated artist and founder and owner of the stationery and home goods company, Gingiber, is a bundle of positive energy. With bright eyes behind large, tortoiseshell glasses and a ready laugh, she's open and honest about the challenges and hurdles she's faced as a working mom and business owner.
Bloomfield was a brand new mother, working long hours as a Starbucks manager, when she created the first illustration from which Gingiber was born.
Through Others’ Eyes
“This girl works so hard. She did the Little Craft Show with a newborn baby. I just remember thinking, ‘Oh, my word, she’s going to kill herself, she’s workign so hard.’ It was so obvious she had this amazing product. She was in the perfect spot at life with all of these other moms who could relate. She was absolutely killing it.” — Vanessa Ryerse
“I think in a world where integrity seems to be unimportant to some businesses, that’s not the case for Stacie — her integrity and her name are important to her. It’s important to her that people know she’s going to do what she says she’s going to do.” — Angie Classen
“I think that one of Stacie’s greatest strengths is her authenticity. She doesn’t put on a public face and a private face. She’s very much ‘what you see is what you get.’ I’ve known her for a long time, and she’s the same online as she is at home.” — Nathan Bloomfield
"[My daughter] Violet is 9 now, but she's really where Gingiber comes from," says Bloomfield, who found the unusual company name in a Latin dictionary while working on a school project for her design degree. "I was working so many hours, and it dawned on me -- I hadn't even decorated a nursery for her because I'd been so busy. And my husband -- who was a grad student at the time -- he said, 'Make some artwork for her nursery because you can.' And I said, 'Oh, OK. I'll try.'"
The result was an illustration of a happy sea horse -- Sharpie on manila envelope. Although Bloomfield might not have known it then, she was on the cusp of realizing her lifelong dream of making a living as an artist.
SOFTBALL DIDN'T WORK OUT
Bloomfield had always loved art, and her talent in the field showed itself early.
"My earliest memory is honestly of drawing a dog," the Springfield, Mo., native says. "From what my mom told me, I must have been around 2. When I was a little girl, I had some immune issues and couldn't go with the other kids at church and pre-school, so my mom would keep me with her at church. To keep me quiet, my dad would pull out his heavy fountain pen, so big in my hand. He would draw something on the bulletin to keep me quiet, and I'd copy it."
As she headed into adolescence, she had started to form a plan for her future.
"I was either going to be an artist or a softball player," she says, laughing. "I just love that movie 'A League of Their Own.' I thought, 'Well, that looks perfect.' Softball didn't work out, but art did.
"I was always a really focused student in high school, but I always knew when I went to college I was going to study art. There was just no doubt in my mind. And that always surprised people because I was always so studious. But that was what made me happy."
Husband Nathan has known Bloomfield since both were in middle school, although they didn't start dating until college.
"She was very ambitious," he says. "She had a reputation around the school as someone who was going places."
"I don't want to say I was intimidating, but no one ever wanted to date me," Bloomfield says with a laugh. "And that was OK because I was really focused on school."
Both would end up at Drury University in Springfield, where Bloomfield wasted no time declaring herself a graphic design and fine arts student.
"I remember, she was really into print making and lithography," says Nathan. "That was her favorite thing to do. It was painstaking and involved etching into metal plates and then hours on the printing machine, spreading ink and physically making the prints. I remember seeing the prints coming off of the press. For me, who had no inclination or talent in art, it was amazing to watch."
Before long, the two old friends were dating -- and then, much to the surprise of their family members, they were getting married.
"I always had a crush on him, but I didn't imagine I would be getting married when I was 20 and starting a family when I was 22," says Bloomfield. "But it all just kind of happened beautifully. We got married, and then we finished college. My husband has a Ph.D. in mathematics, so the big thing was, if you get married at this age, you can't stop school. And I said, 'Don't you worry. I will make sure he finishes school and then some.' And so that's what brought us to Northwest Arkansas -- my husband has a Ph.D. from the [University of Arkansas]."
Which brings us back to the quirky, silly sea horse sketched on the manila envelope.
"My husband said, 'You know, there's this online thing called Etsy,'" remembers Bloomfield.
Bloomfield checked it out, and she started seriously thinking about making a go at art as a career . She quit her job at Starbucks -- the health insurance was great and she had worked for the company since she was 17, but the hours were too long and irregular for a new parent -- and got a job as an administrative assistant at the University of Arkansas. With regular business hours, she was able to really consider taking a chance on her talent.
THE PRINTER IN THE CORNER
A professional-level printer was the first hurdle.
"I saved up for a $600 archival printer because I hand-illustrate everything and then scan it into a computer and digitally color it," she says. "If you print it with an archival printer, it gives you really high quality art prints, really vibrant color. I remember being so scared to buy that printer because it was so expensive, and we were so young. I tried to return it, and my husband said, 'No!' I just thought, 'Oh, how will I ever sell $600 worth of art prints?'"
"It's so funny, in hindsight," recalls Nathan. "She agonized over how expensive it was going to be to buy this printer, but of course, it paid for itself a few times over. Making a big investment into something unknown -- it was one of those things that was difficult to explain to your parents. This was probably 2008 or 2009, and by then, selling online was a thing, but it was not quite what it is right now. It was a scary step -- especially for her -- but she did it. I've always been impressed with what she's built out of nothing."
"And, honestly, I didn't sell anything for months and months," Bloomfield confesses. "When I finally got my first order, I was terrified. I took forever packaging that sucker, working at our dining room table."
Bloomfield says it took most of a full year to build up any momentum for the business -- and the whole time that large expensive printer sat in the corner, a stark reminder of the huge investment she had made.
But then, a big break: Her work was featured on a blog.
"It was a pretty big blogger," says Bloomfield. "And I started getting orders consistently just from that feature. And it kind of just exploded from there. It just took that one mention, like just the little nudge it needed to get people to notice it. The way it works on Etsy is, the more people purchase something, the higher your listings are on the website. So if I had popular listings, the more people were able to see them."
Orders were coming in regularly, and Bloomfield and Nathan worked hard to keep up with them. The couple was able to handle the demand while holding down full-time jobs. Bloomfield was pregnant with their second child, Lucy, when that stopped being the case.
"I got an email from Etsy," she says. "From Etsy themselves. They were like, 'Hey, we think what you're doing is pretty cool. We'd like to do a big interview feature with you and have it go live during Black Friday.' And I said, 'Cool! That sounds great. Let's do it.' But Lucy's due date was within two days of when that was supposed to go live. I was really bad at saying 'No' to things because I always feel like, 'Seize the opportunities and go for it!' So my husband says, 'How are you going to do this?' And I said, 'I don't know.'"
As it happened, Lucy was two weeks early, and Bloomfield had her on her lap when the feature went live on Black Friday.
"I sold more in one hour than I had in the previous three years combined," marvels Bloomfield, her eyes huge in wonder at the memory. "It just didn't stop. It was the most insane thing. Lucy was a very sweet little baby, and she just kind of sat in my office with me while I frantically assembled products to ship. My husband made multiple post office runs for me during the day to ship things. At that point, I think we introduced a few more products: We had some calendars, and we were selling some homemade pillows. I was hand-sewing the pillows. I was hand-cutting the calendars in my studio. I was just doing it myself, and it was crazy."
"She would print out one of her calendars on that printer, and we had a little paper cutter," says Nathan. "We set up on the kitchen table as a little assembly line, where she would cut them out and we would assemble all of them. We would both come home from work and do that. And then just take boxes and boxes to the post office to ship. I got to know the people at the post office pretty well because I was bringing in hundreds of boxes to mail."
It was an unmistakable fork in the road for the fledgling business. Bloomfield recognized it had outgrown its status as a side business.
"So I put in my notice [at the university]," she says. "That feature gave me the nudge, the push that I needed."
Working on the business full time only accelerated its growth. Bloomfield was soon selling her items wholesale and fielding requests for licensing deals. It was a heady time, but the more offers Bloomfield received, the more she realized she needed to learn.
"All of a sudden, I went from being a nobody to being a professional illustrator who had a wholesale line of business and was licensing their artwork," she says. "All of a sudden, I gained all of this legitimacy. And I just had no idea what I was doing. I'm a big fan of studying other people who I admire and their successes and trying to glean from it. And I'm not afraid to ask for help or advice. I learned pretty early on, you can say 'Yes' to things and then figure it out as you go. But when it comes to the actual nuts and bolts of the business, I've always tried to find people who are further ahead of me and genuinely learn from them."
Moving into year four of Gingiber with all of this momentum, Bloomfield rented office space for the first time and started hiring staff.
"My sister, who lives in Oklahoma, came on board to help me with the administration," she says. "Now, she manages our wholesale program, but at the time, she was just helping me with the nitty gritty stuff -- like keeping track of my finances and all of our retailers."
Bloomield's friend Vanessa Ryerse was the next hire. Ryerse came in for about 10 hours a week to help coordinate product shipments.
"That would have been right at the beginning of the indie art kind of moment," recalls Ryerse. "And [Bloomfield] was the perfect embodiment of that, with her cute little hipster glasses and very light approach. She had this really young, really light, modern take on things, just really fresh. She had a very distinctive look that was really clear. She had an outlook, a style that was really distinctive and really in the moment."
"I think her style -- especially when she first got started -- is so clean and unique," says Bloomfield's sister, Angie Classen. "She incorporates patterns into animals, and I think that really resonates with people. It looks really classy [but] still kid-oriented for nursery decor."
Today, Gingiber has five employees in addition to Bloomfield, and her designs are sold in nearly 400 stores nationally and internationally. She has designed product lines for Land of Nod and West Elm, has a wallpaper line with Chasing Paper and has designed a fabric line for Moda Fabrics. She's even designed coloring books.
As Ryerse says, Bloomfield is "killing it."
But Bloomfield is also honest about her struggles. Some of the successes were lightning bolts out of the sky -- like her deal with Land of Nod. When Bloomfield heard the email address for the company's creative director announced on a podcast, she sat down, wrote an email pitch and hit "send" -- she heard back almost immediately. But for every "Yes," she says, a business owner must be prepared to hear a series of denials.
"I think what she's done is developed a really thick skin and the ability to hear 'No,' and then say, 'Let's go try again,'" says Classen. "I think a lot of people take rejection so hard, and they think, 'One no means I'm a failure,' but she doesn't look at it that way. She thinks, 'I'm going to keep putting myself out there because I know I'm a fit for someone.' I've known a lot of people with talent, but very few people with the resilience to keep putting themselves out there."
"One of my better qualities is that I don't break down easily," says Bloomfield. "I'll just keep trying. I get discouraged, but I try really hard to take discouragement and channel that energy into momentum. I've had to work at that."
Bloomfield also emphasizes the importance of learning from others. At a critical point in year six or seven, when her energy was flagging and she was considering shutting down operations, she worked with Start Up Junkie in Fayetteville to gather the tools to take the business to the next level.
"You get the kind of education you would get from an MBA but in a really concise three-month time frame," she says. "And I have a lot of meetings in town with other small businesses. I'm in a couple of mastermind groups with other like-minded small business owners, where we just try to sharpen each other. That's become super, super valuable, too, in terms of growing and staying sane."
From the beginning, Bloomfield's art was a reflection of her personality: bright, colorful and happy. It's no surprise that her current project is a reflection of her life philosophy.
"It's a book about teaching kids how to be kind to each other -- but universal truths that are good for grownups, as well as kids -- and it's illustrated in a way that anyone would enjoy it," she says. "In a bigger sense of what I'm doing, I want to have some purpose. All of a sudden, I found myself asking, 'Can I use my artwork to encourage empathy and compassion and kindness? Not lose the Gingiber voice, but just kind of add that to it?'"
"Stacie really carries everything so personally and so close to her," says Classen. "She cares so much about Gingiber, about being honest and ethical. She has a moral compass like you've never seen, so any time there's any issue that's ever risen, she's all about 'Let's get it done, and let's get it done right.'"
And doing it right means navigating the waters of owning her own business in a way that makes sure she has plenty of time for her family -- and ensuring the other parents on her staff do, too.
"That's something that she has always prioritized, is having the flexibility -- that the business is there to support your life and not that your life is there to support your business," says Nathan. "And that's something that's too rare, especially in small start-ups. I have to say, every time I stop to think about it, I'm blown away by how well she is able to do that."
"There are lots of times when it would be easier for her if her workers could keep regular hours," says Ryerse. "But she has maintained that flexibility for everybody else, which really makes them want to make [Gingiber] super successful. There aren't that many jobs where you can have that kind of flexibility for working moms. She has done such a great job at that."
It's been nine years, and, in that amount of time, Bloomfield has created a life for herself as bright and vivid as the illustrations on her studio wall.
"I like being in charge of my time," says Bloomfield with a smile. "I really love just kind of being the master of my dreams, I guess you could say. If I want something, it's within my grasp to get it -- it's just a matter of figuring out the how.
"It's never a straight line, you know?"
NAN Profiles on 05/13/2018
Print Headline: Stacie Bloomfield