Stitch-by-Stitch With Coral & Tusk


Best known for their adorable patterns of foxes, feathers, evil eyes, and arrows, Stephanie Housley and husband Chris Lacinak opened up a charming passion project and textile shop, Coral & Tusk, 9 years ago. Most recently, Coral & Tusk has expanded their business from Brooklyn to Workshop in Jackson Hole, WY, developing their fabric by the yard and bespoke services. Here, the talented Stephanie shares her family history of handiwork, design process, prep for the trade, and deep appreciation for team Coral & Tusk.

Stephanie, you founded Coral & Tusk with your husband, Chris Lacinak back in 2007. As a couple, how did you decide to create an embroidery company?
I began Coral & Tusk with my husband at the end of 2007 as a side business. After graduating with a BFA in Textiles from the Rhode Island School of Design in early 1999, I worked as a woven textile designer for a domestic manufacturer until 2004, and then an Indian vertical mill from 2004-2012. From the time I got the embroidery machine in late 2007, I felt the need to pay it off by creating something with it that I could sell. At no point did I ever set out to begin a company or be self employed! However, it all really came together with a lot of hard work and a lot of luck. My husband was the one to be the beacon in how to turn a hobby into a business. Over the course of 4 years, working full-time during the day as a textile designer, and full-time at night on Coral & Tusk, it finally became obvious that I needed to make a choice. I had spent all of my free time cultivating the company (while continuing to work full-time) and we grew very modestly and organically with the limited capacity we had in terms of time, focus, production, and distribution points. Before I left my day job, we started to hire a part-time team, led by Alija Craycroft, who remains an integral part of everything we do! Once I finally made the decision to focus exclusively on Coral & Tusk in late 2012, we all grew as a team and company, and it has been an incredible and amazing evolution.

Stephanie Housley

Photo by Will Ellis

How did your upbringing in the Ohio Valley with your family of Appalachian women influence your vision and designs?
All the women in my family had some kind of handiwork project in their hands when they were not maintaining the family and house. My Great Grandmother made lace, my Grandmother made dolls, and my own Mom would make any project together with me as a kid. I have always loved to draw and embroidery was something I just fell in love with at a really young age. I do not know how to technically embroider – I have always taken a drawing with thread approach.

Your hand-drawn, enchanting illustrations are incredible – what’s Coral & Tusk’s production process, from inspiration to stitch? 

I am constantly gathering information and ideas through a variety of ways: being in nature, looking at magazines, researching a concept or theme. We create two collections a year. All of us in the studio discuss what feels interesting at the beginning of developing each new collection to explore further. Once we finalize concepts and get a good idea of what types of products and designs to solidify, I make a list and begin drawing. I always start with a pencil drawing on paper of original artwork, and then create the embroidery file by re-drawing the illustration stitch-by-stitch. It is a very laborious and tedious process, basically like drawing a hand-embroidery on the computer. We prototype when possible in Brooklyn, and then send the final file and color selection to India for initial sampling. Once approved, we go into production (anywhere from 12 to 120 pieces). The pieces come back from India to our Brooklyn loft where they are finished by hand and shipped.

Coral & Tusk SketchPhoto by Martin Scott Powell

Coral & Tusk recently moved from Brooklyn to Jackson Hole and opened a Showroom in Workshop, how exciting! How has the move influenced your inspiration and impacted business in general?

It is SUPER exciting! But to clarify, it’s an expansion more than a move. My husband and I searched for a home in Wyoming all of last year and were blessed to land in the best place on the planet. We decided to commit to being in WY full-time for at least a year, to see how it factors into our lives, but more importantly, our businesses since we are each small business owners. The rest of the Coral & Tusk team, all 8 wonderful young women, all remain intact in Brooklyn. Sue Fleming, owner of Workshop, has been representing the Coral & Tusk collection for years and she offered me a space within Workshop to cultivate our fabric by the yard and bespoke services. From a business perspective, the vision is that with my physical departure, the team at C&T will have the opportunity to take further ownership and responsibility of their individual positions, making the entire company more well-rounded and stronger. And for me, the goal is to spend more time on driving big picture goals and taking more substantive next steps. From an inspiration standpoint, being here feels like everything I could ever want.

What will you miss most about New York?

The Coral & Tusk team! The girls of C&T are such a rare, talented, inspiring and hard-working group. I am deeply and sincerely grateful for them each and every day and am so aware of what their contributions mean to the progress of C&T. I cherish them and am blessed for their willingness to be such a great team. I am constantly stunned and impressed by their abilities and attitudes. It is the first time in my life that I get to choose who I work with. I so love it and am so happy for the positive work culture and environment they have developed at the studio. We spend a lot of time talking on the phone, which is certainly helpful when I am missing their camaraderie. I will be traveling back and forth regularly throughout the year to reconnect face-to-face.

Coral & Tusk Brooklyn

Photo by Will Ellis

It’s been an exciting year for Coral & Tusk, and you’ve been published many times. What are some projects that you are particularly proud of?
Launching a fabric by the yard collection at Coral & Tusk has been extremely rewarding and returns to my training and experience as a textile designer. After almost 15 years working within the restraints of repeats and colors, and the things that go along with textile design, creating end products at Coral & Tusk felt like total freedom, and initially, I had no interest in creating running yardage with our signature embroidery style. But, it was inevitable and finally felt so right!

I had so much fun designing this new collection! The entire collection is inspired by wind, and how wind affects landscape.  Drawing a parallel between wind and embroidery, the impetus was to return to the act of embroidery – how the actual making of a stitch on fabric affects the overall flow and movement – shapes, tones and colors – of a cloth as a whole. My process is usually to focus on the illustration – a particular subject that comes alive with embroidery. For the Winds Collection, it was more about the relationship between the stitches and the ground, and less about the design of the embroidery subject itself. The approach was a brand new one for us, and a wonderful exploration I look forward to continuing!

Coral & Tusk Winds Collection

Photo by Will Ellis

Which pattern designs are your best-sellers?

Foxes, feathers, evil eyes and arrows continue to be signature products and customer favorites, whether it is on a pillow, tea towel or stationery.

Coral & Tusk Feather Sketching

Photo by Martin Scott Powell

How does Coral & Tusk prepare for a design conference, trade show, or fair?
It differs show to show – where it is, when it is, and what message we are trying to send. We look a lot at display ideas per product type, assess what has been successful in the past, or areas that need improvement. We look at overall booth layout and flow, remind ourselves about where clogs can occur in corners, where to place smaller scale items and larger scale products. We talk about where people need a comfort station, and also make that a place for people to spread out their selections. We make an effort to walk the shows and are always on the look-out for new ways to best accomplish our goals through display. We have always made and installed everything ourselves, which is satisfying, but exhausting. Last year, we were blessed that Aggie Armstrong joined the team. She worked at Anthropologie, building elaborate and beautiful displays and is fearless when it comes to figuring out anything.

We also hustle on what we do to build visual assets in anticipation of each show, like coordinating wonderful styled-out photography, and then leveraging those through printed matter and social media. Alicia, Aggie and Alija worked together to create all of our marketing materials this year for Fall/Winter/Holiday and they nailed it. We are so excited to begin sharing them soon. And then of course, we set goals and game plans at the show with a focus on customer interactions and try to make the most of these rare times we get to be face-to-face with our valued clients. Alicia heads both our press department and wholesale department (yes, she is a VERY busy gal)! She manages to stay incredibly delightful and forge meaningful relationships, both new and old.

Lynsey heads our Fabric Division, and equally, works diligently to be informed and current so that when she meets designers that she’s been following, the immediacy of a connection forms and she can pleasantly and swiftly navigate next steps.

Coral & Tusk Table Runner

Photo by Kate Lacey

What are some challenges you encounter when working with interior designers?
Finding how to be a relevant contributor in every room of the house with Coral & Tusk products. As our business grows, so does our audience and our own desire to expand the product offering and design style to fit into a diverse range of homes and rooms within.

If someone is first introduced to our company through our more fun and playful designs, like a pocket doll, it can be an uphill battle to clear their pre-conceived notion and find acceptance for our mature, sophisticated, clean and contemporary large scale geometric designs.

And with the fabric collection, navigating how to best place the line, per region, in order to get it in front of the correct audience (i.e. showroom, road rep, direct outreach, design center representation, etc.).

Coral & Tusk Air

Photo by Martin Scott Powell

What are 3 tips of “best practices” to offer interior designers for choosing the right fabric and making the most out of pattern when decorating a space?
It feels presumptuous to be a textile designer giving an interior designer decorating tips! But, here is my personal approach:

1) We try to make it super easy for customers to borrow as large a reference of any of our fabrics under consideration for use in a space. I personally really benefit from seeing real life mock-ups before taking the plunge on an expensive upholstery, window, or bedding project. So, tip 1: do as close to possible application mock-ups in the space you are doing

2) We designed our fabric collection to offer a variety of scales of patterns and unified the vibe through color stories. We envision using these together in the same space and capitalizing on the variety of scale of design accordingly. The effect is a more modern mix without trying to say too many things. So, tip 2: offer variety in the space but keep something consistent.

3) We are blessed to get overwhelmingly encouraging feedback, frequently being, “this just makes me smile”! That was never a goal, but I cannot explain how good it feels to know you’ve put something out into the world, already so full of so many things, that makes people happy. In my opinion, it is the fabric in any given space that breathes life and provides character, color, design, and texture. So, tip 3: choose one that makes your customer truly happy!

Coral & Tusk Bed

Photo by Kate Lacey

Based on your knowledge of the industry, what trends are you forecasting for 2017 in regards to textile style, pattern, and color?
It used to be a huge part of my job to quickdraw these answers, but since starting Coral & Tusk, our mantra is to design something timeless, ageless and genderless. We believe in making something that we feel super excited about and believe in, and hope that comes through to the person selecting it to live with for life. That said, while of course we still absorb what’s in the air, since we all have access to the same magazines, Instagram, trade shows, and everything else, I do not feel overly compelled to be in tune with trends. But then again, maybe that is because I couldn’t get into last year’s color of the year, Marsala:).

What’s next for Coral & Tusk?

We have some exceptionally exciting potential partnerships developing that would substantially expand what we make and open up some incredible opportunities. We will be thrilled to share more about those as they unfold!

In the meantime, our goal is to be observant and present in what we do and how we do it, show gratitude for this amazing opportunity to do what we do, and work hard to grow and evolve with mindfulness and strength as a team.

Coral & Tusk Prep

Photo by Will Ellis