Meet Sandy Corsillo. He and his brother Emil are the masterminds behind Hickorees’s Hard Goods. I realize the interview is long but Sandy is really eloquent and I think this story warrants a bit of breathing space. See what you think. (All the office supplies I’ve used to illustrate this piece are available from Hickoree’s. And the sling shot at the end? Well, honestly who can resist a good sling shot?)
How long have you worked from home…and where is home? I began working on a nameless company in the beginning of 2007. I had taken a job in finance a year earlier and although I loved the company I worked for, the job itself wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So we set up a legal entity and called it Max Corsillo, after my childhood dog Max, and began talking to friends and family about ideas for the company. All I knew was I wanted it to be menswear related and I wanted it to have an online presence.
Fast forward to spring of 2008. After a number of false starts with graphic tees (they always looked like cheap homemade graphic tees), I pulled my whole family together (father, mother, sister, and brother — all artists except me) and made this proposal to them: I want to build a site with the objective of being a great menswear store that sells a small curated selection of the best brands in the world. Then I want to slip into that selection our own brands, products that we create. By doing so we could hopefully give the products we come up with an immediate legitimacy that they might take years to gain otherwise, and at the same time let the site itself feed off the exclusive ownership of the newest brands.
For this to work, I told them, we need two things: a great website (which I would build), and ideas for new brands that were unlike anything else being done at the time. Simple right? I told them all to come up with ideas and then I assigned the design/art direction of the site to my brother Emil. My mother managed the initial conversion to html/css and set up the domain and all that good stuff.
Next I began researching e-commerce design. I talked to a web designer friend who told me how much it would cost to have the site built. The number was too high. I bought a book on PHP and MySQL and spent the next nine months learning how to build the site myself. I was still working at my old job so this was all done before and after work and on the weekends at my apartment in Soho. Over the next 9+ months the site changed and morphed into what it is today. The name Hickoree’s Hard Goods was Emil’s idea. Originally it was the name he came up with for his vintage clothing collection, but it seemed to work even better for the whole store. We also changed our focus a bit and began to think of the site as a sort of modern day general store. Something that every town in America had in the 1950s.
During this time Emil started experimenting with ties made out of dead stock fabric. He made a few prototypes which were really well received by our friends, and before we knew it The Hill-Side was born. In March of 2009 our friend and soon to be partner, Hisashi Oguchi, sold 420 ties to United Arrows in Japan. The next day I put in notice that I was quitting my job and started planning to move into the apartment in Brooklyn next door to my brother. We made my new apartment our office. We launched the site in June. I stayed on at my job until the end of 2009, then in mid January we moved to our new office and apartment in South Williamsburg.
In other words, I have been working from home basically for around 3 1/2 years.
What does an average work day involve? How do you structure the day? We try to spend about half the day working together on all the little things that need to get done immediately. Things like shipping out packages and responding to emails. The other half should be spent on longer term projects. For me that means getting all our finances in order (a daunting task for one person), planning the production of next season’s The Hill-Side line, and working on new, upcoming projects. For Emil this means photographing new Hickoree’s products, researching new products, planning future seasons for The Hill-Side, seeking out new shops to work with for The Hill-Side, and also working on new projects.
This is the plan, but most days seem to begin with a plan and end with us feeling like we didn’t get enough done. We are at a place now where we need to hire people but we also need to invest everything in the growth of the business. This means each of us is overworked, especially Emil. Check back with us in a year and hopefully things will be very different.
What I’m really excited about is the future of Hickoree’s, from a tech perspective, beginning in the hands of a true web developer. I’m working towards this with a good friend from college who is on a totally different level than I am. Talking to him about what’s possible inspires me. It’s also a relief. Running a custom site by yourself, built by you, can be extremely nerve-wracking.
How do you organize your space? I’m thinking here of your physical space but also your virtual space. In terms of the spatial setup online, we want the site to be organized so that you discover something new when you come to the site. This goes back to the site being a modern day general store. We want the user to feel like he/she can comfortably peruse our shop and neither feel overwhelmed nor feel like the shelves are empty.
It’s more difficult to pull that off than it may seem. If you look at a lot of online stores they have like 50 brands all listed in a way that makes you feel like you’re in a generic department store. When I walk into a department store I feel overwhelmed. I want to go in knowing what I want and I want to get it and get out, quick. It’s fine for us if a customer knows what they want on our site and goes right to it; we are organized to make this easy. But we also want them to discover new things in the process. We are constantly striving to present an unexpected assortment of objects, yet when you look at the store as a whole it really makes perfect sense.
If I were a Hickoree’s customer, this is what would keep me coming back. I would be excited about the unexpected things I might discover on my next visit to the shop. It is important to have a diverse range of products and styles in the shop, but it all has to be coherent. We want each product and each brand to make the ones around it look better and in turn to be improved and enlivened by the products that surround it. This is what the front page is all about, and the “EVERYTHING ALL AT ONCE” link is our favorite part of the site. I guess our goal is for a customer to feel like they walked into a small, uncluttered shop with a surprising selection of stuff. And we want them to want everything.
What item from your desktop can you not do without? I try to keep my desk stark. Everything on it should be necessary or it should be cleaned off. My cup of iced coffee I guess, although that’s a little bit like a pack of cigarettes, I wish I didn’t need it.
What music do you listen to while you work? Right now I’m listening to The Shepherd’s Dog by Iron & Wine
What inspires you? There are two things that I think of when I think about inspiration: Inspiration like when you see someone eating cake with their hands and think, “Oh my god, why not make palm sized cakes and call them cupcakes!” (I imagine that’s how it went down), or inspiration, which may be closer to admiration, like when you hear about someone quitting their six-figure salary job to move to Honduras and set up a non-profit to teach young adults how to be entrepreneurs.
In terms of the cupcake one, I have no clue what inspires me until it does and I can’t predict what that thing will be before hand. It’s kind of like when someone asks what type of a woman I’m attracted to. I don’t really know until I meet her, but when I do it makes perfect sense. This is all vague, but so is the process of inspiration in my head. I do know that when I am inspired by a new idea or a new way to do something better it is an incredible feeling. And when that inspiration turns into a completed project and is well received… there’s nothing better. I think both Emil and I are driven by that feeling.
In terms of the admiration type, I’m inspired by people who fail repeatedly but refuse to give up. For me, the important thing I now understand is that it is highly unlikely an idea that comes from a moment of inspiration will turn into a success. I think this leads a lot of people who could do really great things to get discouraged and give up. Three years ago I was silkscreening on American Apparel t-shirts in my parents’ basement and was convinced I was going to make a ton of money from it. It was a total failure. The designs were good, but so are a million other t-shirt designs.
I realized that something I had worked really hard on and almost staked my future on wasn’t going to work, and I got really discouraged. But from that I was able to see what could be successful from a much better vantage point. So I came up with another plan and when that didn’t work I came up with another and another. Along the way, bits and pieces of the earlier ideas informed the next ones. In other words, the failures made for the success. I talk to people who say, “I wish I had a really good idea like Hickoree’s or The Hill-Side” as if the idea for either came to us in a dream or out of one conversation. That’s not the way it works. So when I hear of success born out of failure I am inspired, it makes me feel like things are possible without relying on a once in a lifetime idea that comes to you out of the blue.