Wednesday, July 31, 2013

BeastWares: The Wardrobe of Whimsy

It is Wednesday and you know what that means. Bam! New episode:

I wanted to take a little extra time today to speak in particular about the BeastWares Kickstarter that I mention in this vlog. I cannot tell you how much I love these people. 

I first stumbled across them when I was doing work for Crave Local as their Style Pirate. I approached Phoenix Zoellick (BeastWares owner and creator) about doing an interview and product review when I was in San Francisco and she graciously accepted my offer.

But it became very clear that while BeastWares was COMPLETELY my style personified, it was a bit too wild and crazy awesome for the audience that CL was aiming for. Instead, I decided to help in a way that would be far more beneficial, talk about her and her company directly with you fabulous people. This clothing is sturdy, well made and beautiful. Perfect for adding a bit of whimsy to your wardrobe.

The following is transcribed from my original interview with her in mid-January of this year. If you follow my blog, you can probably guess by the month why everything halted and got put on pause for a bit. 

However, now I can be of more help because I have a platform of my own AND they are advertising their crazy awesome kickstarter.

Kiri: How did this all start?

Pheonix: I was doing illustration and products around that. I was doing shows--alternative press expo and Bizarre bazaar. So I had prints and postcards and greeting cards and t-shirts and all that kind of stuff when you like make art and stick it on things. I did that for about a year or two while I was still working and then I did some of the hats for a holiday show just on a whim. I honestly don't remember why. I think I was in a fabric store and found the fur and was like, "I wanna make hats!" So I made like twenty of them for this Christmas show and sold them all... and was like "Huh... that was fun." And it just sort of clicked. I love art and illustration but I think I was having trouble understanding who I was as a brand in that genre. You can have talent but to make a living you have to be able to sell it and to sell it you have to be able to know what it is that you're selling. Who you are and who the brand is and who your customers are--you really have to know that. 
I'm kinda schizophrenic with art. I can't sit still enough to make what I can see as a cohesive brand. But when I started coming back to the clothing it just clicked.

K: Why BeastWares?

P: It was one of those things where you sort of wish that you could go back in time and think about it a little better? Cause the name’s fine but if I’d realized I was naming an entire company I probably would have thought about it longer? Or, I dunno, named it some complete nonsense word that means absolutely nothing? But at the time my friend and I had a bunker studio together and were calling it The Beast Parlor and it was just sort of a thing we were doing. And I was making all of the monster hats at the time and I needed something to call them so I thought—“Ah! They’re the beast wares.” But then I started expanding it into all the other clothes and now I have a whole clothing line that’s sort of grown out of a name that started as a joke.

K: So how long have you been doing this?

P: Two years.

K: Wow, so you've done all this in only two years?

P: Mmhm. I was managing a restaurant and I quit my job to do this full time in fall of 2010. Then I fucked off to Hawaii and lived on like a yoga commune for a couple months. [Laughs] I was decided I was going to do art full time and I had been working so hard for so long to save up enough money to do that. So I decided that I was going to live rent free and do work-trade in Hawaii before diving into work full time again.

K: I read that you started in Illustration because they didn't let you in to the fashion department?

P: Well, I don’t actually know if they wouldn't have let me in—I didn't actually apply for it, they just really discouraged it because I didn't know how to sew—well, I knew how to sew, I just didn't know how to sew that well.

K: So you took up to illustration instead of fashion--can you talk a bit about your background with that?

P: I went to New York City straight out of high school… which I’m not sure I’d recommend. It wasn’t actually the school so much, it’s just… I wasn’t used to living with anybody? And we were basically living in a small one bedroom apartment… with four girls. So you’re just all on top of each other.  One of them was an indie film star—she was in “Welcome to the Dollhouse”. One of them was super anorexic—two of them had some kind of eating disorder. It was just such a strange place to be. It was a good experience but I only stayed there a year.

I had this idea about art school being this Utopian meeting of the minds because I was so weird in high school… I thought it was going to be like a musical—I thought it was going to be Fame. Just singing and bonding all the time. And it wasn’t, it was a bunch of angry kids who didn’t really want to do the work and so that was just weird.

So I only stayed in New York for a year and then I did the “I don’t know what I’m doing” thing for a couple of years and moved around. Got this idea in my head that I’d go to a real university with a big campus. And then I decided that was a bad idea. And I ended up going back to art school two years later--in Maine of all places. Which turned out to be a great place. You sort of forget that it’s up there. It’s great.

K: Did you continue illustration there?

P: Yeah, they did not have an illustration program at the time but they were building one. My class was actually the first illustration graduating class. I got to be on the search community that found our Department Head and got to be really involved in just building the program. It was like six people in my major’s graduating class. It was a really great experience.
I sort of wonder where I’d be if I’d actually gone to school for fashion but on the other hand it’s been really good for me to have that background. I have all of these rounded skills: Drawing, branding, graphic design—that gives me a much more commercial brand sense that I don’t know if I’d have if I’d gone into pure fashion.

K: Do you incorporate your illustration skills into your designs? How does that fuel you on your current path?

P: In the most practical sense, I do all of my own design art. Logo stuff and business cards and everything. So that’s nice that I don’t have to hire anybody. But aesthetically—I’m not doing anything with screen printing at the moment—I’d like to eventually do screen-printed leggings—there’s definitely a similar sense of humor from that that I use when designing clothes.

K: I feel like the fashion industry needs a bit more of that.

P: Yeah, takes itself a bit too seriously.

K: Which is odd because frankly, I don’t think most college students do.

P: Exactly, I think that’s why you go to college for it. What high school at this point still does fine sewing classes? You don’t even really do Home Ec anymore. My high school, we didn't have Home Ec—we had some kind of cooking class but no sewing. I mean… it was Boulder (Colorado) which is like “We’re very progressive, this would have been too embarrassing. It’s too domestic! No, no, we’re very forward thinking here.”
So yeah, my step-mom knew how to sew so I knew SOME sewing. She, you know, helped me with my prom dress etc but we went to go tour colleges and they were extremely discouraging if you didn't already know how to sew really well.

K: So you self taught then from there on out, I’m assuming?

P: Yeah. I took one class at the community college we have here but uh… it wasn't great. I think they have some other classes that I’d like to take but their schedule is kinda… You know, I have the internet. This would have been infinitely harder if I had to do this all on my own 10-15 years ago. Now it’s like, “Okay, I want to make this kind of article of clothing” and I can research… everything. There’s a million tutorials.
So when I try something new it takes so much longer because I have to figure it out and screw it up 10 or 20 times, right?
I brought in my first pair of pants and my teacher said they were good and I told her it was like my 3rd or 4th pair since I’d tweaked the design so many times. And she got on my case because she said I needed to use a muslin for that… but I can’t really use muslin for stretch pants.
So it’s just something I have to do, I have to mess it up a bit to get it right and then those just end up existing in some other form [Arm warmers etc].

K: Where do you get your fabric?

P: I order it all online. Just rolls and rolls of fabric. We’ve got a couple suppliers that are all based in New York. So I just buy rolls of spandex from there. And our “fur” from places in San Francisco.

K: And you sew this all yourself?

P: Yes. I have one seam-stress in San Francisco who helps me out with some of the hats. Thinking about possibly hiring another one. It’s difficult because I can’t promote as much or grow as much because I do have to sew so much of it myself. Completely kind of ties my hands for a lot of things. And I’m willing to relinquish some control but I’m very picky about it. You need to be absolutely neurotic to work with me. And make sure this is a really high quality because that’s what we do. So it’s tricky. So there are two routes I can go, I can outsource to a sewing house which pieces it all together for you—they do everything and it’s great but it also costs a lot of money but I think I’m a little more drawn to the possibly more difficult way of doing it. Hiring individuals—because I like that kind of local grass roots feeling. I like knowing who the people are, being able to talk to them… I like growing slowly and organically that way. So that’s sort of the path we’re taking now.

1 comment:

  1. Great post Kiri! I love the idea of crowd sourcing as a way to get a lot of eager fans engaged in making something happen that they really care about--that kind of investment turns fans into rabid advocates, which is the dream of any marketer. The other side of the crowd-sourced coin though is the abuse that so often takes the form of entitlement. You MUST support me. Over and over again. Because I'm creating ART. Well, guess what, we still created really cool art before we had the option to get all our friends and web followers to pitch in... if you have the means to do it yourself, DO IT. The kickstart is just to get you going, a healthy short-term investor, not a perpetual sugar momma. P.S. Super heart for the glitter britches--great interview with one of my fave etsy people!