Seven years ago, Stephanie Lilley received a colorful basket from her native-El Salvadoran housekeeper. That basket, handmade by women in the El Salvadoran mountains, inspired Stephanie to start her own business, The Lilley Line (available at Sotre), which wholesales the chic, utilitarian and virtually indestructible totes for a variety of uses and helps El Salvadoran women in the process.
“El Salvador is a beautiful country, but I would hear about people who couldn’t find work and wanted to come here [to the Unites States],” says Lilley. “That was one of my driving issues. If I could do one small thing to help people have decent work and do something they love and make beautiful artisan crafts, that’s a gift.”
Lilley requested that her housekeeper send her as many baskets as possible and sold them at farmer’s markets, where the response was immediately positive. She began studying her customers’ feedback to determine what they liked most and eventually researched the feasibility of turning the popular pieces into a business.
In addition to empowering women by supporting a women-run micro-business in El Salvador, she’d be tapping into the sustainability-in-fashion trend by getting behind an item that lasts. “You may want another one, but you won’t need another one,” says Lilley of the baskets that are made from the same waterproof plastic filament used in Weed Wackers. “Sustainability is an important trend now. People want to buy with meaning.”
Sotre commissioned two styles for the store, available in small and large:
and the Draper:
Lilley Line baskets are wipeable, hose-able, and won’t break like baskets made from natural materials so there’s no need to dispose of them and add unnecessarily to the problem of worldwide waste. They are also appropriate for many uses – picnic baskets, laundry hampers, purses, grocery totes, storage and more.
Colorful cheerful stripes are the hallmark of the traditional El Salvadoran bags, making them especially popular for the pool and beach. Lilley has worked with El Salvadoran craftspeople to design a selection of solid bags in a host of colors and shapes that are perfect for city dwelling as well. “I’ve stylized them to be more urban,” she says.
Handmade on wooden looms, each is a one-of-a-kind work and as such they are sold in high-end boutiques such as Sotre, yet another way that Lilley is helping fuel sustainability. A native New Orleanian who makes her home in Washington D.C., she sells to individual stores rather than mass online retailers, and that keeps small local stores in business.