Many of us have dreamed about changing course in our careers—finding the role that really fits and making a leap to something new. But it can be hard to take that next step and actually make a big move.
Childhood friends Christiana Coop and Aimee Lagos are proof that taking a risk and changing course can be incredibly rewarding. After both beginning their careers as lawyers and forging their own corporate career path, they knew they wanted to take on something new. So when they saw an opportunity in the wallpaper market, they jumped at the chance to do something creative within the design industry and founded designer wallpaper company Hyggee & West.
While the road to their business success didn’t start off smoothly—launching a business when the economy crashes isn’t ideal—they worked hard to make it through and now have a business that they love.
Name: Christiana Coop
Current title/company: Co-founder Hygge & West
Location: San Francisco, CA
Education: BS in Natural Resources Management, Colorado State University; JD, UC Berkeley School of Law
Name: Aimee Lagos
Current title/company: Co-founder Hygge & West
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Education: Public Policy Studies, Duke University; JD New York University School of Law
How did the two of you meet?
We went to same preschool, but both more clearly remember becoming friends in second grade, bonding over ballet, Esprit, Smurfs, and Michael J Fox. Our first collaboration involved creating a very comprehensive catalog called “The Denver.” We spent hours and hours drawing outfits after school. We like to think that they were very on trend for the 8-year-old 80s kid crowd, you know, lots of matching and lots of polka dots.
You both had very different career paths compared to what you’re doing now. How did you decide to start a wallpaper business?
Christiana: My decision was formed out of desperation to stop being a lawyer and really wanting to be in the interior design field. We randomly came across the opportunity to be the U.S. distributor for Ferm Living, and I jumped at the chance to get my feet in the design world and work with Aimee. A year later, we wanted to try something more creative so we started our own brand, Hygge & West.
Aimee: I’d started a small baby product company previously and really enjoyed most of that experience. After I sold it, I always thought I’d end up doing something entrepreneurial again at some point. When Christiana and I became the U.S. distributors for Ferm Living, it opened a lot of doors for us within the design industry, so it seemed like a natural progression to create our own brand of wallpaper.
At the time there were hardly any small wallpaper companies, and wallpaper as a design trend was experiencing a big resurgence. We were lucky to find a good niche in the market, which allowed us to create a business doing things that we love.
How did you come up with the name Hygge & West?
We’d worked with Ferm Living, a Danish company, prior to founding Hygge & West, so had already fallen in love with the Danish design aesthetic. Somehow we stumbled upon the Danish word hygge and were completely drawn to it’s concept. Living in the moment, enjoying the small things, appreciating what you have, surrounding yourself with people that make you smile, and things that give you comfort…it’s the best! So we thought we would try to bring that concept to life in the States (the West) through happy, personality-filled wallpaper.
Living in the moment, enjoying the small things, appreciating what you have, surrounding yourself with people that make you smile and things that give you comfort…
Take us back to the beginning of Hygge & West. How did you bring the idea to life?
Back in our Ferm Living days, we created a custom wallpaper for a project using a bird design we both fell in love with by the incredibly talented Julia Rothman. We received such a huge positive reaction to photos of the install that we wanted to make it more broadly accessible. That was really the event that started everything. We reached out to Julia about designing a full collection, did a ton of searching for a printer until we found the right one for us and what we wanted to do, and then we just kind of went for it!
We were able to leverage connections we had made earlier while promoting Ferm Living, so we received a lot of launch coverage and everything took off from there.
What has been one of the hardest lessons you’ve learned since starting Hygge & West?
Christiana: Not taking things personal that are out of my control. I’ve really learned to focus my energy on what’s in my control and learn from those successes and failures. There’s not much I can do about a UPS missed delivery, the weather, a customer who seems to just be having a bad day in general, except apologize and move on… I used to get a lot more stressed and upset about those types of situations.
Aimee: How to delegate, I think. I hesitate because I’m not sure I’ve completely learned it yet! It’s hard for me to trust people to take over portions of the business because we’re so used to doing everything. Like most entrepreneurs, I would just rather do things myself than rely on someone else to do it. As we’ve grown, though, I’ve come to accept that we need to bring in more help and we’ve been incredibly lucky to find some great partners.
What has been one of the best moments in business so far?
Christiana: Wow, we’ve had so many great moments! Working with the amazingly talented people we are lucky enough to collaborate with is particularly rewarding—every new collection launch is such a thrill for us. Or, when a customer shares a photo with us of their wallpapered space that they love—that’s always the day’s highlight for me.
I’m not sure if I was having an extra emotional week, but I remember tearing up with happiness when we found out they were going to put up some of our wallpaper in Bergdorf Goodman—it felt validating somehow.
I had a moment when we were in Paris for Maison et Objet last fall when I realized I was in Paris with my best friend FOR WORK. How much better does it get than that?
Aimee: Definitely all of the above! We hit some financial goals this past year that were really exciting. Given all the work we’ve put into Hygge & West over the years, it feels like reaching those goals gives us some real legitimacy. And we’ve had the chance to do a lot of travel recently, which has been amazing. I had a moment when we were in Paris for Maison et Objet last fall when I realized I was in Paris with my best friend FOR WORK. How much better does it get than that?
What does your team look like? Tell us a little bit more about who is working behind the scenes at Hygge & West.
We’re a pretty lean operation! Between the two of us, we manage every single aspect of the business from emailing customers to monitoring inventory levels. On a more day-to-day basis, Christiana does most of the social media and customer service while Aimee focuses on product development and production.
There is, of course, a bigger team as well. We’ve been lucky to find an incredible fulfillment warehouse who really go above and beyond just shipping. We’ve been with the same printer since we launched, and he’s been invaluable to our business. The team that prints our papers are true artisans who really care about the quality of the paper. We also have a photographer, a graphic designer, a programmer for our site, and a writer who helps with some of our blog content. And, last but not least, a very good accountant because we realized early on that accounting was not our jam.
Where do you see H&W heading in the next few years?
We hope to continue to grow and expand! We have a bunch of exciting wallpaper collaborations in the works—our next launch will be a collection by Katie Rodgers of Paper Fashion. Our production schedule is completely full through 2017 which is really exciting because we’re getting the opportunity to work with more artists, designers, and brands that we truly love over the next couple years.
We’re also starting to think about how we expand into new product lines and have a couple things in the works. If you love our patterns, you may want to wait until later this year to invest in a new shower curtain, hint hint…
Let’s be honest, being friends is one thing but being business partners is another. How did you know that you had the right personalities and goals to partner up successfully?
We’ve know each other forever and are basically family at this point. We also prioritize our friendship over the business, so while we will disagree from time to time on certain things, we would never let that escalate beyond business hours. We’re very aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses too, which is extremely helpful in day-to-day operations and overall communication.
While we will disagree from time to time on certain things, we would never let that escalate beyond business hours.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to leave their corporate career and strike out on their own?
Christiana: Do it! But be prepared for some ups and down and make sure you’re committed to the road ahead. We had a rough start (i.e. we launched our brand about two months before the economy collapse) and it took some time to recover. For quite a while one or both of us would work at another job to keep our business going on the side. It will likely take some serious perseverance and a strong belief in yourself and your brand…but, ultimately, life it just too short to not give it a try!
Aimee: Compared to when I started my first business, it’s amazing how good out of the box website solutions have become. It’s definitely much easier and less expensive to start an online business now than it was ten (okay, twelve) years ago. I think this allows people to try a business out before they’re ready to completely commit and leave their day job.
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes especially as you are just starting out—it’s cliché, but we’ve definitely learned more from our mistakes than our successes. If you have an idea that you believe in and you’re not afraid to work hard, it’s absolutely worth a shot.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Christiana: Love who you are now! Don’t wait until you’re older and wiser (and more wrinkled…) to do that.
Aimee: Don’t worry about what you’re “supposed” to do—figure out who you want to be and start making it happen. Taking risks will never be any easier than it is right now!
Christiana and Aimee are The Everygirls…
Best advice you’ve ever received?
Christiana: Growing up, my dad would always yell out as I was leaving for school, “have fun, learn lots, do fair.” I never really gave it much thought until I got older and realized that if I could fill each day with those three things, I’d be doing pretty well at life.
Aimee: I was a bit of an overachiever as a child, and my parents would always tell me “just do your best.” Now, as an adult, that’s become my mantra. There are so many things in life that you can’t control, but if you always do your best you tend not to have regrets.
Christiana: I get up around 7:00 a.m., make a Nespresso (or 3) and jump on email. Because our operations are happening in central time, I like to start my workday early so my inbox doesn’t feel overwhelming. I know some experts advise against keeping your phone in the bedroom, but I do sometimes like to ease into the day by clearing out some inbox items on my phone and posting an Instagram in bed.
Aimee: I have two sons (12 and 13) and three dogs, so usually my day starts around 7:00 a.m. when someone gets hungry and wakes me up looking for food. My husband and I tag team the next couple hours, making breakfast and getting the boys ready for school. Once everyone is out the door, I pour my coffee, bask in the silence of my empty house, and head into the office to get started for the day. First, I choose a podcast or Pandora station to listen to, then attack my inbox.
Perfect day off?
Christiana: That’s a great question and an easy answer for me! I’d be in Paris and it would involve lots of cheese eating, cocktail sipping, window shopping, street wandering, and people watching.
Aimee: Mine would be at our cabin in the summer with my family (dogs included of course) and our close friends. We’d sleep in and have a big breakfast. Then we’d go down to the lake to play in the water, fish, or read while sitting in a floatie. (Ice cold beers may also be involved.) I’d cook a big dinner and we’d sit and visit until it got dark enough to head outside, start a campfire, and do s’mores with the kids.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
We both grew up in New Mexico, so would love to have lunch with Georgia O’Keefe. We’d eat at one of our favorite lunch places in Santa Fe, The Shed, and order house margaritas and then anything that comes with a huge amount of green chile on top. We’d ask her about what NM was like when she first moved there and then learn as much as would could about her process and inspiration. It would be interesting to ask her too about what she thinks of the art world today, social media, etc.
I wish I knew how to…
Christiana: Draw or paint. We work with so many talented artists and I am continually in awe of their talent. I’d love to be able to sit down with some pencils or paints and create something beautiful!
Aimee: Play the guitar. I’m a huge music lover and I regret never learning to play an instrument. About twice a year, I think about signing up for lessons, but just haven’t found the time. Someday…