During my week long Mosey Instagram Takeover, I discovered many new businesses and met some amazing local creatives in the Monterey area. Two of those people were Hanni and Jesse, owners of Lilify Designs, a local artisan shop and boutique design company. Lilify is a beautifully curated shop that features artisan goods, vintage treasures, and handcrafted jewelry. Lilify shares their space with Bright Coffee, making it an inspiring and relaxing environment. I had the chance to sit down with Hanni and Jesse and chat about their journey to starting Lilify, working together as a couple, and overcoming stumbling blocks.
Can you share a bit about yourselves and your backgrounds?
Hanni: I am originally from Alaska and I went to school on the East Coast, in New York City. Then I worked in Japan for a few years and did a design apprenticeship in South Africa for just over a year. Jesse is from California. He went to school at Humboldt and worked oversees as well. We met in South America when we were both Peace Corps volunteers. We moved to Monterey five years ago and two weeks after we got married we started renovations on this building, which was derelict. Everyone said we shouldn’t do it. So we worked on it inside and out for two years. And we then opened the shop just two weeks after final inspection. Then Bright Coffee joined us a year after opening.
What made you decide to start this business?
Jesse: Since we met we have talked about different ideas for opening some type of business. When starting out, long before there was any ability to start the business, Hanni did freelance floral design and we made and sold jewelry on Etsy. Doing those things were the initial seeds of a business and it did help to fund it and get our name out a bit.
H: We both have backgrounds in shops like this. I started working in the back of a boutique when I was fourteen and by the time I graduated I was working in the front. I first started unpacking goods and doing the shipping and then worked in the front. In a way, it was a natural genesis of what we are good at.
I’ve met a few couples who run a business together or make a product together and I find it so fascinating and wonderful. I would love to know how you compliment each other with your strengths and weaknesses.
J: There are a lot of couples who are in really great, strong relationships, who couldn’t do it. It can be kinda intense, but it works for us.
H: Yeah that part is not hard. As for strengths and weaknesses, I am the one who comes up with the big ideas, business plan ideas, design ideas. I’m not saying that Jesse isn’t innovative also but I’ll be awake at night coming up with some idea. And Jesse makes it into something that is actually functional.
J: I take care of a lot of the backend stuff, getting the product labeled and entered into the system.
H: This can be true of any kind of partnership or marriage, you have to have your roles. Neither one of us could do this on our own. The scope of what we do and what we offer is not a one man gig. This is a full time job for both of us.
Can you share a roadblock that you have experienced starting the business?
H: Most people don’t own their retail space. We spent two years renovating this space to what it is today, instead of just finding a place to rent. That had so many challenges come with it.
J: We live here, this is our space. Technically we could be two years ahead of where we are now if we had just rented a space. But this is obviously the route we wanted to go. This is what worked for us.
H: So when we were developing the plan for the brick and mortar, we envisioned a partnership with a coffee shop, but it had to be the right one. We approached some people and it never got fleshed out. So when we finished the construction, we thought well we are just going to do this ourselves. But we were solely responsible for bringing in the customers, paying all the bills.
J: We didn’t want to just advertise “space for rent.” We didn’t want just anybody.
H: No because it is a very fluid experience [between Bright Coffee and Lilify]. It is the perfect example of when you reach a roadblock, you say “Okay, we are just going to jump”. Then one of the people we had spoken to found Cameron [of Bright Coffee] and we couldn’t imagine our business without Bright Coffee. And definitely, figuring out how to make it a pleasing experience serving coffee and shopping has been trial and error. The two businesses have to have different hours. It would be unreasonable for a gift shop to open at 6:30 am. We had to figure out how to make it less awkward for the customer. Having Bright Coffee has been a huge benefit to our business that we didn’t have when we first opened. Plus, we just love having that great coffee here.
How do you foster and work with the creative community of Monterey?
H: Well first of all, we are just honored to be a part of it. Jesse and I have both lived in very very big cities and very very small towns and so this for us, personally, is a happy medium. We are invested in this community. We also know that we won’t make everyone happy. Some people just won’t get what you do. We are not trying to appeal to the masses.
J: But if you appeal to the masses, then the mass is your target, and that is fine. But if you want to appeal to an artisan community, not everyone likes that or is in to that, so you find your market. But I found that there is a pretty big artisan community here. I think any time you get into a beach town, you’ll find that artists are really drawn to it. And maybe we are exposed to more of it because we have this shop. When we first moved here, Hanni got a job with the Youth Arts Collective, a fantastic organization.
H: And Jesse got a job at Pierce Ranch Vineyards and we both worked there through the construction and through the start of our business (and continue to work there a few hours a week), and we got exposed to so many great creatives.
You’ve already said, you work here, you live here. This business is your life. What do you do in your downtime to escape from it?
J: We exercise. I do a judo class a few days a week and we have a kettle ball class that Hanni and I do together. Hanni does yoga and pilates, and jogging.
H: When we were in construction, and working these other jobs, we didn’t do any of that. The only time we would stop would be when one of us would get sick. When I was working in New York in a very different lifestyle, it was the same. I worked worked worked and then would get sick.
It’s just a very big blessing to work for yourself, to be doing what it is you are most talented at. So many people don’t have that as an option. I constantly remind myself of that. It’s not that it’s not work but it’s your life’s work. We are basically delighted that we get to do this for a living. It’s incredibly satisfying and incredibly enjoyable.
Thanks so much to Hanni and Jesse for sharing a bit of their experience as business owners and letting me takeover their space with my camera. Their shop is such an inspiration to me in so many ways.
If you are in the Monterey area, Lilify is a not to be missed destination for one of a kind gifts and artisan goods. And of course, grab a coffee at Bright Coffee so you can sip while you shop.