Q&A With POOLSIDE: The Brand For The Girl Who's Always Planning Her Next Holiday | The Weekly Cut

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Do you find yourself looking through old holiday photos or scrolling through Pinterest putting together mood boards of outfits you hope to wear someday soon? If you like us, are craving the beach and lounging back in the sun, then meet Ashleigh Stone, the founder of POOLSIDE who started her own company whilst planning her next holiday.

Ashleigh’s bags are the ideal accessory if you’re looking to up your game in that department, and believe us, her clientele is no joke. With clients like Gigi Hadid and Gwyneth Paltrow, we felt like we had to find out a bit more about her brand and how she manages to stand out in such a competitive market. As we dug a little deeper and got to chat with Ashleigh herself, we were pleasantly surprised to discover that not only does she share her love for holidays with TWC, but also her passion for sustainability and supporting female artisans. Keep scrolling and read all about the story behind her designs, and her pro packing tips for your next holiday:

Meet Ashleigh Stone, CEO and founder of Poolside

AG: Hi Ashleigh! Thank you for taking the time to chat to us about your brand and lovely pieces. To start, could you talk us through a typical day for you, from your morning alarm, to your late-night snack? Would you say you love a routine or prefer to change things up every now and then?

AS: I’m a Taurus, so I love the stability of a routine. I try to stick to a routine as much as I possibly can. I try to get up by 6:30/7:00 AM every day, and am always trying to get up earlier to stay ahead of the day. Currently, I read the news in bed with my husband for about 30 minutes. He snuggles up and we look through the NYT app on my iPhone, or YouTube videos on his phone. Then, I post Poolside’s daily IG photo at 7:30 AM, and we get up. We make the bed together every morning — I cannot move forward with the day until my bed is made. Then, my day takes one of two courses. I will either get dressed and head to a workout class (Pilates, dance or jump rope). Or, I’ll make a smoothie and drive to my office.

Once I get to my office, each day is different. I’m overseeing all aspects of the business, so that means communicating with so many different people, planning, responding, adjusting, designing, collaborating, etc.. I have calls and meetings all day. The best days are spent in one place, and if I have to take meetings, I try to be strategic with scheduling. I normally break for lunch and either grab something quick from Wegemans, which is right downstairs from my office, or I bring something healthy to eat. This normally winds up being a salad and a Spindrift. On most days, I leave the office at 6 so that I can get home, settled and make dinner. My husband comes home around 7 or 8 PM and we eat together! We like to cook, and do so on most nights.

After dinner, we will either take a walk, relax together and read or watch a TV show or just hangout in our living room. Sometimes, we will do a bit of work into the evening before bed. My husband and I both work in entrepreneurial environments, so it’s sometimes difficult to stop working just because we are at home for the night. Getting into bed and relaxing is such a reward at the end of a long day. I try my best to leave any worries at the office, and to really be present with my family.

This routine has totally changed due to COVID-19, now that we’re all working from home. Also, I’m about to have a baby at the end of May, so I also expect this routine to change a lot more 🙂

AG: As keen holiday goers ourselves, we completely relate to your story of how you came up with the idea for your brand whilst thinking about your next holiday destination. Did you find the process of starting your own company straightforward, or did you encounter surprising setbacks that you could share with us? Any tips for any aspiring entrepreneurs out there?

AS: Firstly, I couldn’t figure out where to make my first samples. I found sourcing very difficult, and it still takes so much time and effort. In addition, I have been disappointed, and I faced many setbacks along the way. One example is what we’re going through right now with COVID-19. I worked for 5 years to build our business with no outside investment, and we were poised to have our best year yet, finally having some money to invest in growth marketing.

Now, all of that has come crashing down with no clarity about how the landscape will look for us in the year to come. My advice is to follow your passion. If you love what you’re doing, and if you’re invested in your idea — no amount of setbacks, disappointments, or bumps in the road can stop you. Really take those moments to celebrate your achievements, but don’t ever stop working hard.

AG: The last few months have been somewhat of a roller coaster for everyone to say the least. What has been the hardest part of this locked down lifestyle for you, and have you managed to find new ideas for your designs from the comfort of your home?

AS: The hardest part for me has been the unknown. I don’t know if stores will cancel orders, I don’t know if customers will keep ordering our bags online, I don’t know if our retailers will have any budget to order anything new from us in the upcoming Resort and Spring markets. My entire business is self-funded. The unknown makes our cash flow basically impossible to manage. The longer it goes, the scarier it gets. While I’m constantly thinking of new design ideas, I’ve had to spend most of my time updating our budget and making operational changes.

That being said, I am looking forward to creating new designs, which can be used in seasons to come. I love our product, and know that things will return to normal at some point in the future! I’m also motivated to expand into new product categories. This way, we can offer more ways for customers to interact with our brand. Straw bags are very niche, and our goal is really to build more of a “Poolside Lifestyle” story through our brand.

AG: As the ultimate holiday goer, what is your dream destination and what has been the best one so far? Any pictures you could share?

AS: Dream destination — A few places that I’m dying to visit include Cuixmala in Mexico, and the Mezzatorre Hotel & Thermal Spa in Ischia! My favorite place thus far is Ravello at the Palazzo Avino Beach club (photo below).

AG: Moving on to your designs, are there any specific bags or collections that were influenced by personal experiences, or do you tend to get most of your ideas from locations and cultures, rather than personal memories? Could you share a bit more information behind the design process for one of your favourite items? From coming up with the initial concept, to selling it on your website?

AS: I draw a lot of inspiration from traveling to the places where we produce, and looking at the materials in the markets. Whenever I travel, I visit all of the markets and buy a lot of fabric, trimmings, fringes, shells and beads. I like to play with these items and hold them up against different bag shapes.

I also look to vintage accessories as inspiration, and think about ways that we can interpret the spirit of those items in straw, for 2020. Straw is a natural material, so I love to juxtapose some luxe / modern elements against the straw to really make the items stand out. One of my favorite items that we currently have on the site is the holly bag with feather fringe, rhinestones and a chain strap. This bag was created from a sourcing trip where I bought all of these materials in one of India’s markets and played with the straw bags at our atelier

AG: Your products are very much “Instagram click baits” as you say so yourself, and we love the natural colour palettes you’ve been experimenting with in your collections. Do you think that the usage of a visual social media platform such as Instagram may have helped your business grow? Was using this particular one part of your business plan from the beginning?

AS: I believe that Instagram launched our business. I posted our first samples of market totes on Instagram, and that’s where Moda Operandi found us and became our exclusive global launch partner in 2016. While the Instagram algorithm has changed, it’s still such an important platform for us. Showing how to style the bags is so important for our customers to see, and the opportunity for us, and for influencers to share is invaluable.

AG: In this day and age, it’s vital that brands understand the importance of using sustainable materials, as well as try to support communities which you’ve both achieved to do marvelously. How did you first reach out to the groups of female artisans in India and Morocco, and what does sustainability mean to you on a deeper level?

AS: When I started this business, I didn’t set out to build a “conscious” brand. I didn’t think about sustainability, or know anything about it. Once I started making the bags, I realized that weaving is most often done by female artisans around the world. I never felt like I could market that, since it’s just a fact of life. Once I started traveling to the countries where we work and produce, I realized how much our business was doing to support financial stability and quality of life for women in the areas where we were working. I also learned a lot about sustainability — fun fact: our products are compostable and biodegradable!

Beyond the obvious aspects of using natural materials and making everything by hand, we really try to consciously reduce waste across all aspects of our business. We produce in small matches, we try to have zero inventory wastage. We reuse boxes for shipping to retailers and push back on some of their demands around packaging. We are constantly looking for ways that we can do better. More on the topic here.

Make sure you follow Ashleigh on her social media, and get your it bag on her website

Get your own POOLSIDE bag here:

Featured images via POOLSIDE

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