Growing up, Kate Stice Stewart would shop for a special Christmas gift for her mother. She, her brothers and their father would nestle it—or a clue about it—in a small needlepoint stocking on the tree, and it would be the last gift opened. So it had to be perfect.
“It’s the idea that the last gift of Christmas is supposed to be the most thoughtful gift,” Stewart says. “My dad called it the bauble stocking because, on a good year, it was a bauble, which is a piece of jewelry.”
Stewart cherished this childhood tradition so much that she wanted to share it with other families. In 2018, she launched Bauble Stockings, which now sells hand-stitched stockings online and in 400 stores. It has also sparked collaborations with celebrities and popular fashion and lifestyle brands including Alice + Olivia, LoveShackFancy, Dogwood Hill and Draper James, the clothing line founded by Reese Witherspoon. We talked with Stewart about business, balance and life lessons.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q&A with Bauble Stockings Founder, Kate Stice Stewart
SUCCESS: Your vision was a sustainably produced, hand-stitched needlepoint stocking. How did you look for potential manufacturers?
Kate Stice Stewart: It’s 2017, and I’m on my laptop searching “fair trade.” I start emailing all of these different groups. That was very eye-opening because the groups write back saying, “We don’t know how to do that. But if you can come and teach us, we could do it. We need work.” That’s the hardest thing you can hear because when people say they need the work, that means there are people who aren’t eating.
S: You eventually partnered with Good Threads Needlepoint. How did you find them?
KS: I was up one night—it was 10 o’clock on a Tuesday. And we’re in our little house. And my husband’s in the kitchen. The kids are asleep. And I’m sitting with my laptop and crying. I had spent $5,000 at that point. I had samples, I was doing photo shoots and started making these wheels turn. I said, “Maybe I can’t do this. If I’m not going to know my stitchers, I’m not going to do it.” And my husband, God bless him, says, “Have you searched all the manufacturers that do the needlepoint belts?” And I said, “Yes, I have a spreadsheet. I know who does every needlepoint belt in America.” And he said, “Just search it one more time.” I searched it, and on the landing page of Google, Good Threads Needlepoint in Haiti pops up. I clicked on this website, and it was based in Jacmel, Haiti. They started by employing single moms.
S: You’ve worked with guest artists to design special-edition stockings. How did you end up collaborating with Nicky Hilton Rothschild?
KS: The whole success story of Bauble Stockings is women supporting women. In November 2020, Allison Speer, a Los Angeles publicist who’s good friends with [Nicky’s mother] Kathy Hilton, gifted her the stockings. Nicky was there when her mom opened them. Then Nicky went to the grand opening of [the women’s clothing brand] LoveShackFancy on Bleecker Street in New York. The stockings were hanging as décor, and she shared them on Instagram. I [direct messaged] Nicky, “Can I send you something?” She gave me her email, picked her stockings, and—the next thing I knew—she was posting them on Instagram. Two weeks later, she contacted me. She had talked to Page Six saying we were the best gift of Christmas. I wrote back, “Would you be a guest artist next year?” She agreed. With a guest artist, 10% of the profit from sales of that stocking goes to the artist’s charity of choice. I cannot sing Nicky’s praises enough. She gave me so much by supporting Bauble Stockings.
S: What hurdles and lessons have you faced?
KS: In 2021, I made the mistake of selling product before it arrived in the States. It wasn’t arriving fast enough, and I had to write to all of these people; I wrote 1,000 people in one day. The biggest challenge was letting people down. My No. 1 piece of advice to a new business is to communicate. Overcommunicate. Tell people if you messed up. Take responsibility. And make exchanges and returns as easy as possible.
S: How do you achieve work-life balance?
KS: I don’t know what made me think I should start a company while working a full-time job with two small children and no money. But I did. And it feels like a lot of women do that. And it’s gotten easier. We did have au pairs to help us for two years of it—from Colombia. We love them, they’re cousins; we still talk to them every week. And I’m very supportive of the au pair community. Trying to do it on your own is hard. It was really, really hard for a long time—there were a lot of late nights. It’s gotten easier. I have a very supportive husband; he owns his own company as well. Luckily, most of my business is during the holidays, so I have flexibility right in the sweet spot of spring. With my kids, I always want them to feel loved. I verbalize that to them, like, “You are my biggest priority—you and your dad. If I ever make you feel like you’re not, let me know.”
S: What part of this journey has been the most rewarding?
KS: Realizing that people are good. I have the nicest customers in the world.
Photo by ©MC BROWNFIELD; Courtesy of Bauble Stockings.