In Stephanie Hall’s youth, afternoons hunting for treasure at her grandmother’s in Holly Hill, SC, often produced sparkling amounts of vintage glassware in colors like emerald green and amber.
“All of these trips were about finding beautiful and unique things and then presenting them,” said Ms. Hall, 45 years old. Her grandmother Estelle Summerson Williams displayed found objects and family heirlooms in two china cabinets. She also loved entertaining guests.
When Ms. Hall was looking for colored glass pieces for her own home in Summerville, SC, just outside Charleston a few years ago, she was surprised that her search was limited to the secondary market. There didn’t seem to be a modern brand of glassware that offered the variety of styles and colors she’d seen as a kid.
“I just thought it was really unfortunate that colored glass – I felt like it was becoming a dying art,” she said. So she decided to start her own.
Estelle Colored Glass, which began selling to customers in October 2019 and has since opened a wholesale store, offers decanters, wine glasses, cake stands and champagne coupes in shades that can be mixed and combined into multi-colored collections. The growing product range is the result of several years of research by Ms. Hall.
She looked for a manufacturer in South Carolina and the United States, but none of them had the capacity or the tools to create what she and her industrial designer envisioned. She found her employees in glass production in Poland, a country with a long history of glass production.
Just a few months after Ms. Hall started her new company, Covid-19 arrived. In a way, the timing helped give wings to their emerging brand.
The pandemic sparked renewed interest in household goods and also led to an increase in alcohol sales. Suddenly there was a need for glassware that could be used to take or store drinks at home until the conversation became more realistic.
According to Joe Derochowski, NPD Group’s home industry advisor, The housewares category (which includes glassware, kitchen utensils, textiles and personal care) was “extremely hot” during the pandemic.
“The consumer has been spending their money on three places: eating and living at home, working from home, and keeping active and entertaining at home,” he said.
A summer of protests and calls for support for black-owned companies also drove sales up. “We have a lot of brand awareness from the Black Lives Matter movement,” said Ms. Hall.
Around 70 percent of sales are achieved through the company’s website. The other 30 percent is in wholesale, which includes boutiques and e-commerce sites like Food52, West Elm, Goop, and Zola.
“We featured Estelle in our annual Christmas Gift Guide last November. Both the stemless rose glasses and the rose cake stand were listed in our host’s gift guide, ”said Roxanne Marie, Goop’s fashion and home purchasing manager, who noted that Goop’s glassware sales had risen sharply over the past year.
Ms. Marie said she was drawn to “the femininity and bold jewel tones and lovely soft pastels” of Estelle Colored Glass, which she sees as part of a larger trend in tableware.
“There is definitely a trend towards opulence from added or layered colors. When it comes to table design, our customers tend to have a more-is-more aesthetic, ”she said. “During the pandemic, abundance and glamor in the home became a downright escapist luxury. The idea that the “good china” should be kept for the guests went out of the window. “
The trend is so popular that colorful, copycat versions are popping up, though many of them are made from acrylic or lightweight polymer substitutes. They are not hand-blown by a “100 year old heritage company”, as Ms. Hall said of her manufacturer in Poland.
In the early days of Estelle Colored Glass, the core business was the rental of events. However, according to Ms. Hall, idle fingers flicking through social media in quarantine and a desire to support a black woman’s business, especially in times of racist unrest, helped her small brand tremendously.
“I wouldn’t say it was overnight for me because I’ve been in entrepreneurship for 15 years,” said Ms. Hall. “But that kind of growth was definitely not on the charts.”
As the year warms up into summer, Ms. Hall plans to introduce a variety of new colors and styles in time for boozy backyard gatherings (which will no doubt become more common as more Americans are vaccinated). A sultry midnight blue option is added, along with more “elegant” flute glasses and martini glasses.
Mr. Derochowski believes that the summer and fall, Americans will be more comfortable entertaining larger groups.
“One of the things you want to find out about when you’re conversing is how you make people feel safe,” he said. “And one way to do that is by color. You could say I have a light blue and a light pink, a light of this color and a light of this color. And I know from the color which is mine. “