Tell us a bit about yourself (name, location, affiliations, personal stuff).
I’m Avery Bloom, I started Empire Empire 2 years ago in Seattle WA. All kinds of good stuff is made under the watchful eye of Empire Empire including screen printing on vintage, new and handmade clothing, as well as accessories and Art Wearables. Empire Empire is a member of the art collaborative, Majestica, featuring Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty and Mixen Dixen. The Majestic Situation kneads Fashion, Performance, Video, Installation Art, and Business into a delicious monkey wrench that mucks up the whole works.
I started Empire Empire just out of college, when undergoing a typical ¼ life crisis. I saw millions of opportunities spread out in front of me, with the only next sure step being death somewhere down the road. Everything between here and there was open. There is a sort of agoraphobia of the soul at times like that.
The original idea was to screenprint clothing that I was proud enough of that I could live with it as a job, and make enough money at it that I could work three days a week, and spend all the rest of my money and time making other art. Other than the three days a week thing really being seven, I think it’s actually basically worked out like that. Weird.
What is the first thing you can remember making by hand? How and why did you make it?
I made my first piece of clothing in High school and I’ll never forget it. My god.
At some point I decided that feety pajamas were the coolest thing ever and it was a sin and a crime that these things weren’t available for me, 180lbs, 6’1”. I went to a pretty sweet fabric store with bolts of amazing fabric from floor to ceiling and bought a couple of yards of black fleece. My parents were going into NYC so I had the house to myself for the night. I put on a bunch of jazz CDs, and hauled my mom’s sewing machine into the dining room. I just went right for it, took off all my clothes, hacked up that fabric and got mega crazy on those jammies.
Finally by midnight I had a really really weird piece of clothing. It was a full body onesie, and I climbed in through the neck and then fastened one of the shoulders with random buttons. If I’d had a pair of peg legs, weighed 300 lbs, and had twigs for arms, then it would have fit like a glove. I wore that sucker to school the next day. Take that High School.
What inspires you? Where do your ideas come from?
Usually what I do for screenprinting is I take the garment I’m going to print on, and I look at it. And then I sort of try to hallucinate ideas (no drugs here), trying to picture different prints on them. Eventually I come up with something.
There are two sides to the art making process. The first is creation, and the second is reception. If it’s art, then the process of making and receiving the art will separately provoke distinct moments of openness and both creator and receiver will learn something.
This is extremely rare, and I don’t live up to my own standards most of the time, but if it was easy, it wouldn’t be worth it.
What are your favorite materials?
I love screenprinting. It’s magic. Seriously magic. I also love jersey cotton because it forgives my trespasses against it.
Also I am a big-time spreader-outer. When I work on a project usually I’ve covered every inch of the space in something or other and it’s a total disaster zone. Maybe Mess is my favorite material.
What have been the most valuable lessons learned from other artists on Etsy?
Ruffeo Hearts lil’ Snotty have taught me a lot as collaborators. They’re relentlessly creative, and never acquiesce to being predictable. Their commitment to breaking the mold is a constant reminder that it is flexibility, creativity, and micro scale that actually makes us artists competitive with mega corps.
Etsy is an amazing tool, and it, and every other selling opportunity that I’ve been in has made one thing very clear: The difficulty facing small companies in the Etsy-esque vein is not production, but distribution. I could make $500,000 worth of clothes in a year no problem. I’m a work-a-holic, so that’s really no big deal. But once I’ve made it, unless I sell it, I’ve got to store it, and without venues, having all that clothing in my basement isn’t doing anyone any good. What Etsy does that is so admirable is that by providing a democratic, affordable marketplace, Etsy is actually changing the landscape of cottage industry by creating an international venue where competition and investment are commensurate with the resources of the scale of the New Cottage Industry.
Why should people buy handmade?
People have been calling this the Craft movement, or the DIY movement, but from my vantage point, that’s an inaccurate portrayal. What I’m seeing is a resurgence of cottage industry as a direct response to the monopolization of the marketplace by large corporations and brands. Cottage Industry is the perfect response to this. It reduces the degrees of separation between buyer and creator. Safe and fair working conditions, are a possibility. It reduces the reliance on and appeal of slavery. It has the potential to create an international market and more level playing field for creative people across the globe.
However, there are serious drawbacks to the new scenario on the horizon. As a community we must address what happens when we outgrow our own ability to produce at cottage scale. How quickly will the successful cottage businesses sell out to becoming larger and larger increasingly dehumanized corporations? We need to innovate a model of what a mid-scale company can look like that can maintain things like health insurance and sending children to college, without selling out the benefits and ideals of being Cottage Entrepreneurs.
What features/services would you most like to see on Etsy?
The thing I want to see most is for amazing artists to not rip themselves off. There is beautiful work being done here that is worth more than the 28 dollars we’re charging for our labors of love.
Otherwise, being able to reorganize photos would be great. Also, I’d love to see creative competitions, with prizes like ‘a year of health insurance’ and things like that. Also, it’d be rad to have tools for sellers that extend outside of the internet, like a directory of stores that are interested in independent designers, or wholesaling utilities.
Also it’d be great to have people who buy stuff be able to post pictures of themselves wearing purchased gear attached to etsy stores.
Apart from creating things, what do you do?
Make art and cook.
Read any good books lately?
It’s pretty silly, but I’ve been reading Getting to Yes which is a book out of the Harvard School of Negotiation. It’s some pretty amazing stuff. Also Brazen Fantasies is a personal favorite, and Forbidden Desire, a classic.
In ten years I’d like to be…
As happy as I am right now.