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Gavin's Underground

White Elephant Collective

by Gavin Sheehan
- Posted // 2010-01-10 -

With local fashion finding a new boom and the spring season on the way, people are starting to take a hard look at the material being produced by both long running designers as well as newer companies that will be in the spotlight for 2010.

One of those companies on the rise is White Elephant. A small design workshop producing material from scarves and t-shirts to the smaller accessories they've become known from such as buttons and necklaces. All with specially made patterns and sayings fit for the unique style they've made. I got a chance to chat with co-founder Nicole LaRue about her career in design, starting up the collective, thoughts on local fashion and a few other topics.

Nicole LaRue

http://www.wecollective.com/

Gavin: Hey Nicole, first off, tell us a little bit about yourself.

Nicole: Well, I'm a graphic designer… who loves to draw. I love music and all the time at the gym or running on trails that I can get. I love to make things and hear about new things and see stuff that I've never seen before. I love crushed ice and Skittles and I love figuring out life… maybe that sounds more like an ad for an online dating service?

Gavin: What first got you interested in design work and fashion?

Nicole: I've always designed stuff I suppose. Even the ridiculous stuff I did as a kid sort of led me to doing what I do. I don't know that I know how to do anything else… I love to draw and make things. And no one has stopped me yet, so I keep doing what I love most.

Gavin: Did you seek out any education for it, or was it more trial and error on your part?

Nicole: Yeah, an education has played a big part in how I came to do what I do. I got my BFA in Graphic Design and threw in a bit of grad school as well. So many other awesome people out in the world sharing all of the coolness that they do with me and with others.


Gavin:
What were some of your early products like, and do you still have some around?

Nicole: Dude, I was already designing in junior high. I mean, high quality stuff to be sure. Unrivaled dance tickets and t-shirts for random clubs. Not to mention the quality posters I'd try to pull off as English projects. These are definitely the earliest "products" I can recall in my very young career.

Gavin: When did you first start putting your own designs out for public sale, and what was the reaction you got from people at first?

Nicole:
I started my own stuff while I was working full-time at a design studio about a year and a half ago. I've always just wanted to give it a try. I've made so many things for companies and studios that I figured I could probably do a little something on my own as well. And, the funny thing about design is that most people don't like what you love and pine for. They like your least favorite and what you're least excited about… which is possibly great for the self-esteem, but makes calling yourself a designer quite scary at times.

Gavin: What made you decide on accessory pieces like headbands and buttons?

Nicole: I'd seen other people, other cool people making similar products through Etsy or featured on some awesome blog. Seemed like the most "professional" and doable things I could start with maybe. I suppose I've grown a bit since then by learning to screen print on fabric and to incorporate other simple mediums that I can apply my illustration work to things such as wallets and metal pendants and bags.

Gavin: In the process of creating something, how is it for you deciding on how it will look? And do you usually stick to the plan or improvise as you go?

Nicole: I look. I look at everything. everywhere. It tends to work out that most of my very first ideas turn into something. If I work at something for too terribly long i know somethings wrong with it and I sort of just need to start over somehow. It's not too terribly scientific, mostly just about how it all feels. which is nice. I'll always know when something is just not going to work.

Gavin: What did you think of the attention you got from media like LMNOP and even Martha Stewart?

Nicole: I don't know really… I suppose it doesn't seem as real when it's "you" getting press for something. And even though I absolutely love the thought that someone might like what I do, the I'm-about-to-fail feeling always starts over with every new project. I guess we're never safe from ourselves no matter what kind of attention we're given.

Gavin: How did the idea come about to start up White Elephant?

Nicole: The thought of a brick and mortar store has always been something I thought would just absolutely rock my world and my partner, Naomi, and I got to chatting and just decided to take the leap together. Even if it doesn't work out like we hope it'll be the best thing I've done so far in my 30 years, by far!


Gavin: Who did you approach to join in on the collective and why?

Nicole: We've looked everywhere and haven't actually made a hard fast list of specific designers. Though we have quite a few who we'd absolutely love to be involved with us. I have a feeling that we're a bit picky and hopefully that will help us keep what we do unique, fresh, interesting, intriguing.

Gavin: You started it up back in June, how have things gone with it so far? And what are your goals for White Elephant down the road?

Nicole: Wow, we've had quite the six months or so. And most of it we've spent learning who we are and where we'd like to go and, honestly, HOW to do it. We've been taking classes and workshops and learning to make coffee and selling our products at every market we could get ourselves into. And its all been absolutely essential and incredible. Right now we're looking at a physical location for a small gifting boutique and coffee house. A place where we'd sell products as a collective, keep people coming in for the radness of our coffee and treats and hopefully signing people up to take specialized art workshops. Maybe even a concert or two to involve folks in the community who think just a bit like we do.

Gavin: A little local, what are your thoughts on our fashion scene, both good and bad?

Nicole: I'd have to say that I don't know a whole lot about the fashion scene. Graphic design is a bit removed from the fashion world I suppose. Though when I make product I tend to follow trends and kind of support what I see going on everywhere.

Gavin: What are your thoughts about local retailers and how they deal with local products?

Nicole: Local retailers have been fabulous to me actually. I think its nice to see them looking closely at what their competition carries and to vary things as much as they can. I think that the brave boutique retailers that I dig are quite conscious about how to sell the coolest of cool stuff and I quite respect them for that.

Gavin: Do you have any favorite shops you like to work with or shop from?

Nicole: The ones I tend to go to when looking to put together a truly rad gift? I'd say Paisley Pomegranate, Lounge (for art prints), the Library Store, Salt Lake Citizen (with rad Mister Matt), the Blue Cockatoo, Red Kiln Pottery, the Children's Hour, Trifecta and Hip & Humble… those are where I start. And then I add to it from handmade and Etsy sites.

Gavin: What's your take on Fashion Stroll and the part its played recently?

Nicole: This year was my very first leap into Fashion Stroll and I think that Matt is doing some of the most awesome things. I think he is giving awesome folks in Salt Lake and around some well-earned credibility and showing that there is some very true talent and creativity out there. Bringing it all together just seems genius and big-minded. I do like that Matthew.

Gavin: What can we expect from both White Elephant and yourself throughout the year?

Nicole: A STORE! And lots of awesome work and… Really, just a sixty-two hundred new steps forward is my hope!

Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to plug or promote?

Nicole: Well… only because you're asking, I'll start with White Elephant at WECollective.com and WE Collective at Etsy. And a list of folks that I think are fantastic. My very personal opinion:
Matt Monson's rad collective SLCitizen at Library Square. Paisley Pomegranate in Sugarhouse. Trifecta. A freaking rad musician named Debi Graham (and her band). The raddest small plates restaurant run by the coolest women ever, Meditrina. Tulie Bakery on 7th South. A new boutique in Pleasant Grove called Patina Market. Tony Caputo's new restaurant, Tipica. Elizabeth Terry's Jewelry. Rad belts By Kali. Lounge. The radness of the Band Of Annuals music. The coolest machined rings by John O'Connor. And a really great and simple jewelry by Jennifer Boyle.

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