It’s almost cliché to say people do their best thinking in the shower, but that’s just where Maya Malik says she was when she got the idea for her business, The Cotton & Canvas Co.
“I noticed that there was a demand for giftable, personalizable products at an affordable price that no one was really offering, nothing simple and unique that you can use every day — a timeless product, essentially,” she says. “After doing a lot of research, I saw there was definitely a market for this and no one was fulfilling that demand at that time.”
We wanted to put out something that consumers would be excited about and would be their own, and they could show off and use.
Founder and CEO
The Cotton & Canvas Co.
At that time, in 2015, Malik was CEO of two companies, one a wholesale wedding and special event supplier and the other a designer and manufacturer of dessert table decor. But she wasn’t happy.
“I was completely overworked, working countless hours on managing the team in the U.S. and then managing a team abroad, in India,” Malik says. “So, I just decided, having gained so much experience and knowledge from that experience, that I was interested in starting my own business, and just kind of seeing where it goes.”
With her husband, Zia, by her side, Malik launched Cotton and Canvas in 2017. Its beginnings were humble: The company was initially based in the living room of Malik’s parents’ house in Orange County, California, and its product catalog consisted of just a few offerings.
Success comes quickly
“Right off the bat, it just took off,” Malik says.
One day early on, the company received 200-plus orders. That caused a significant amount of chaos, especially since many of them had to arrive at their destination within two days.
“We had a printer set up in the living room, and we were fulfilling all these orders,” she says. “The entire living room, sofa, both rooms of the house were filled with orders.”
From the start, though, fortune, it seemed, was on Malik’s side. Around the time she was launching her company, grocery stores were starting to eliminate the use of plastic bags. As one of the first products Cotton and Canvas sold were canvas totes, the timing could not have been better.
“We wanted to put out something that consumers would be excited about and would be their own, and they could show off and use,” she says. “And then, for gifting purposes, [we wanted people to be] able to send a really cute message to their loved ones that was something different than the regular ‘Miss you, love you’ sort of thing.”
Products available from Cotton and Canvas span a wide range of sentiments, from the inspirational (a wall hang that reads “Darling, Believe in Yourself”) to the clever (a “You Guac My World” shoulder tote) to the downright hilarious (a makeup bag with the words “This Bag Contains My Face” on it). As the website proclaims, “We believe in positivity. Beauty. And little bit of humor.”
When it first launched, Cotton and Canvas offered only black print on all its products, but soon customers were asking for color — and that meant upping the small investment the Maliks initially made in the business.
“After seeing what the customers wanted, we had to put in more and more and more, and it worked out for us,” says Malik, who points out that almost 80% of the products her company sells are made in the U.S. “But the challenge was keeping up with consumer demand, offering what our market wanted, and making sure we had the funds to meet the demand, and then fulfilling the demand.”
Evidence of the company’s growth abounds: Malik moved headquarters out of her parents’ house and into a Los Alamitos office space in 2019, Cotton and Canvas now boasts seven employees, and sister company Zen + Zuri, which produces unique handmade pieces of jewelry, was launched in 2021.
Gift ideas from The Cotton & Canvas Co.
All hands on deck
Of course, Malik, 34, could not have done it without her built-in support system — namely, her family. Zia is president, and handles the marketing, accounting, and purchasing for the company. Her parents, both of whom are in their 70s, help with packing and shipping.
“They’re definitely there for anything that needs to be done day in and day out,” Malik says.
And there’s a lot that needs to be done. The company just recently launched its Laser Collection featuring laser-cut acrylic products that all come personalized.
“We can now convert our original designs into drink stirrers, place cards, and a ton of other products — we’re not limited to just canvas products anymore,” she says.
Speaking of drink stirrers, Cotton and Canvas recently fulfilled a big order of them for a rather high-profile client: the Golden State Warriors.
“The general manager of their team reached out to us, and she wanted something to celebrate their success as the (NBA) champions,” Malik says. “We actually did multiple orders for them: one for when they got into the playoffs, (one for) the Western Conference final, and then (one for) their championship.”
(While Malik says she is happy to do business with the Warriors, she does make it clear that, being a native Southern Californian, she is, in fact, a Lakers fan.)
Being the CEO of two companies is one thing. Being the CEO of two companies AND a new mom is an entirely other thing. In October 2022, Malik became a mother for the first time, giving birth to a boy named Zayaan.
Keeping everything on track at work and at home requires quite the balancing act. But Malik is quick to point out she is not doing it alone.
“I have a really supportive husband. He is my co-partner in this business. We started this together before we were even married,” she says. “So, I have an endless amount of support from him and my family, my parents.
“I’m very fortunate. Even right now, my little one is coming to work with us, six to seven hours a day. So, that’s how I manage being a mom — all the feeds, all the female mom stuff, along with managing our team at the office as well.”
If that all sounds like a lot to handle, that’s because it is. But if anyone is up to the challenge, it’s Maya Malik.