We hope to introduce you to all the great Etsy sellers to be found right here in Toronto. Here at the T.E.S.T. blog, we plan to interview them all. This is the 50th in our series with Sarah of BllkBox.
Tell us a little about you and your shop.
I'm a sort-of-artist by training, which doesn't mean much except that I've taken on the life-task of making things and then thinking about them. It's a great way of being in and relating to the world, but it's too easy to float in a pristine and imaginary world of ideas, that will never get measured in the (possibly crass but also live-or-die honest) commercial marketplace. Bllk Box is a way to keep myself grounded in the real world of making and selling useful things. Running a business lets me evaluate my practice in business-terms, which are refreshingly direct compared to subjective aesthetic value judgements.
What is your "day job"?
I'm lucky enough not to have one! Besides my Etsy store, I have a couple Toronto stockists and I do print commissions for local bands, small businesses, teach workshops, etc. Screenprinting has the wonderfully useful quality of being both a creative medium and an industrially-competitive manufacturing process. By diversifying my income-streams, I manage to make a living. Of course, it certainly helps to be a young person with no dependents (except a cat). It's socially acceptable for me to frugal-it-up by eating lots of ramen and baked potatoes and splitting the rent with a couple of (fantastic) roommates.
How did you get started?
When I graduated from art school, I crashed into some difficult truths about politics and privilege. It took some long nights dodging the rubble of my fast-crumbling bullshit-castle and a year in purgatory doing social work and activism before I felt ready to rebuild my aesthetic practice. Bllk Box is an attempt to inhabit the ruins.
What inspires your work?
Tumblr, google image search, tumblr, obsolete technology, cheap plastic, dollarama, my childhood, tumblr, Chinatown, tumblr. The way images float around in the digital soup of the internet and are recycled and recombined is an endless source of inspiration. If I were an academic, I'd call it curation, but I'm not, so why get jargony? Chinatown is like 'the internet: the place'.
How did you decide to focus on hand dyed and printed clothing?
Well, I took a look at the skills I'd amassed at art school, and screenprinting seemed to be one of the only ones that were legitimately marketable. The economics of painting (what I studied) are pretty insane – work on a painting for months and end up with this rarified commodity that has to cost quite a bit if you want to get anything like fair remuneration for your time, which of course restricts your potential customer base significantly. Screenprinting is generous in a way painting isn't – it allows me to make things that people in the same socioeconomic tier as me can afford, things that are for people in a tangible way.
Small batch dyeing is something I've always loved, and for very different reasons – it's got a sort of built-in-uniqueness. No matter how skilled I become, there is always an element of unpredictability that contrasts well with the machine-like repetition of a successful screenprinting run.
What makes your Etsy shop unique?
Besides the one-of-a-kind-ness of small batch dyeing as a practice, my design practice is conceptually rigourous and my production model is entirely handmade/human-scale – but my line is still priced to compete with “fast fashion.”
What goals or plans do you have in store for your business?
Currently I'm stocked on a consignment basis, but I'd like to move into wholesale and focus on production. I'd also like to do more commissioned screenprinting (my prices are very reasonable, especially for small runs, just sayin'). I’ve been dreaming about some equipment upgrades lately – I have a carousel press, but as I'm hired for more multi-colour jobs, I am coveting a more professional model with micro-registration. Or an exposure unit that can handle larger screens (my current max-size is 20x24). Hopefully someday!
Bllk Box items are available for sale at Untitled&Co (717 Queen St. W) and sometimes at Grasshopper Records (1167 Dundas St. W).
Check out the other items available from Sarah in her Etsy shop! You can find more of her work on her tumblr and blog.
Interviewed by Flavia and Dona of BeyondTheJar in March 2013 in Toronto.