Interview – Chewstroke
– by Beatrice Smart
Graffiti and street art in general have long held a certain reverence in my mind as an outside art form – The True Voice Of The Street, an expression of a subculture unto its self.
Despite its being more embraced as legitimate art in the fine arts world thanks to the likes of world famous (and notoriously elusive) artists like Banksy, I’ve tended to keep an eye on the fringes of the global street art scene, feeling a certain amount of respect for those who boldly leave their mark without being commissioned by wealthy individuals to do so. The fashion world has often looked to these “true voices” for inspiration – an edgy muse for clothing lines – as street art and street wear culture often intersect with skateboard and surf culture.
Chewstroke claims not to sell a story or a lifestyle, just super comfy hoodies and street apparel. But of course there’s a tale behind every interesting street brand…
Beatrice Smartt: You founded Chewstroke in 2010 – what led to your business idea and the iconic brand design?
Chewstroke: Chewstroke for the most part was just me and Marklandmarks throwing up a few posters at night. I’ve done it in Houston, Dallas, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. As far as becoming a brand, we started out selling a few T-shirts just as a test run, and they sold pretty fast. It kinda just naturally progressed from there. There really is no cool backstory, and yeah, we def are purposely trying not to sell a lifestyle. Just apparel in its purest form, simple and easy. We are only trying to make ourselves happy with what we do, that keeps it honest.
BS: How did you learn to stencil?
CS: Stenciling is easy, I can show anybody how to do it in 20 minutes. Our preferred method now is creating an original image then blowing it up at FedEx/Kinkos 500 per cent… It’s easier to put up a big huge poster than to spend time spraying or cutting one out. And obviously posters don’t last as long as spraypaint, but you can’t fall in love with a piece: once it’s up, the public owns it, they can do what that want with it. We’ve had stuff up for three years, and other stuff taken down literally within ten minutes of putting it up. That’s all part of the game.
BS: Did you go to art school?
CS: I never went to art school, I don’t believe in it. You can’t learn art, you can only learn to tap into the art you have inside you. The art I do for the website and in the streets is easy to understand and simple on purpose. The art I do on canvas and with objects that I find are incredibly abstract to the point where 99 per cent of the public wouldn’t think of it as art.
BS: What informs your street pieces, and do you have a current fave?
CS: No current faves, most of them are pulled from old pieces of work I’ve done. It has to be something original, and it has to say Chewstroke, other than that anything goes.
BS: Do you now or have you ever had any personal street art heroes?
CS: My art hero is/are/was anybody pushing the envelope, doing art that people don’t consider art. Most of them are starving and will die without ever getting the recognition they may or may not desire but certainly deserve. But art happens that way; it’s not kind and it shouldn’t be, as it’s a reflection of humans and life.
BS: Does music inspire your work, and if so, care to name bands/style of music you like to work to?
CS: Charlie Parker, Ornette Coleman, Tom Waits, Thom Yorke, Cage the Elephant, The Pixies… music is not a huge influence, just kinda background noise. I actually prefer to work with the TV on as ambient noise; it doesn’t really matter what channel, I just like the constant talking.
BS: One of your street pieces – the smoking bunny – reminds me of a slightly more jaded character from Alice In Wonderland, and less concerned by time – as many of your pieces allude to: ditching your 9-5…
CS: The rabbit represented a disgruntled worker, yes. I mean, who likes their shitty job? Nobody. People like rabbits, they like smoking, hey why not? A loose, fast approach is best when creating the street art. Quick and simple. Thinking about it too long becomes work, and we don’t like to work.
BS: You recently relocated to LA from San Francisco – how has that move worked out for biz?
CS: Not a real huge impact. I like to live in a big dirty city; the energy helps the brand. There are obvioulsy cultural differences between LA/SF and that might show in our advertising a little bit, but for the most part all big cities are the same.
BS: Do you get a lot of repeat customers every hoodie run?
CS: We do have a lot of repeat customers, which obviously is great for the brand and keeps it going forward. There is a new cycle of social media followers every year, and maybe 10 per cent become hardcore customers, which helps build a base that gets bigger every year. We’ll never have a huge selection of apparel though, that’s just not the direction we want it to go.
BS: Your online brand persona via Twitter and Instagram is pretty distinct in tone, macho, take-no-shit, and “don’t censor me, bitch!” – yet it doesn’t seem to be off-putting to your loyal female clientele. I mean, we all wish we could say FUCK YOU more often – you just actually have the luxury of doing it without fear of losing your job! Does Chewstroke have a particular demographic?
CS: It’s about a 40/60 female-to-male customer ratio. It seems like a lot more females wear it only because they are shooting more selfies than guys. We can’t control who buys our merchandise, and we really don’t try to appeal to a certain demographic. That’s the “keep it pure” part. We don’t take special requests for shirts, we won’t expand our line, we won’t stop saying “fuck” in our advertising, and we won’t chase customers. That’s us, take it or leave it. And I think that’s why people who support the brand can see that it is just us honestly telling you to “go fuck yourself” and nothing more. If we have any message or backstory at all, it’s that we take none of this seriously.
BS: What’s your fave part about your brand? Freedom from stereotypical 9-5? Even though you still have to deal with us shit head customers? haha
CS: The brand has always been just another work of art for me. Another painting in the the corner. Performance art, if you will. I’m an artist getting paid, pretty hard not to love that.
BS: Any possible plans in the future for a physical Chewstroke shop?
CS: We will never have a brick and mortar shop, that’s old conventional wisdom and lots of superfluous spending.
BS: When will the new hoodies be available in your online shop? And will you be doing a special limited edition run this time around?
CS: The shop will be re-stocked by the end of September/beginning of October, same product for the most part. The special limited run will happen right before xmas season; that’s usually when it happens, but that could change – it’s always a fluid situation here.
BS: Any sneak previews of the new hoodies?
CS: If you’ve seen the smoking rabbit, you have an idea about the limited run hoodie.
BS: Awesome, looking forward to the next run, and thanks so much for taking the time to chat, Chewy. Oh, I mean, FUCK YOU! xox