Do you ever come across people you follow on instagram with a considerable following who you’re just like dayyyummmm you’re cool. Ruth Finn Leiser (roobs_grlclb) has that exact effect on me. I honestly just fancied being nosy (fan girl ing) and finding out what goes on behind the feed. I also believe this chick, along with countless other independent original designers, deserves all the positive recognition going
GRLCLB is an online shop selling hand sewn simplistic t-shirts with sassy messages associated with them.
I personally came across this gal when the tampon tax debate was the hot topic, as she’d design a tee that featured a used tampon and ‘Treat Yoself’ emblazoned across the front. I just found the irony hilarous and so utterly relevant that I’ve followed her ever since. I won’t say too much more but she takes a very personal approach with her followers and this approach is one of the many reasons I, and I expect others, continue to follow her.
She very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me and for your reading pleasure… have a ganders!
When and why did you start GRLCLB?
GRLCLB grew out of nothing, really. I was working full-time (sometimes upwards of 60 hours a week), trying so hard, giving my all – for a job that gave me nothing in return, and that paid minimum wage. I just needed something to keep me going. I needed an outlet – for both my neglected creativity and just as a way to regain control over what I was doing with my life.
To this day, I have no idea what provoked me to stitch a tshirt. I’ve never been a sew-er. I could do the absolute basics, but I’d never done anything design-focused before. I posted the pics of what I was making, for myself, on instagram and people just liked it. I think partly they just liked the idea of watching someone embark on a journey with them. A year down the line, I’m doing this full-time, expanding the brand, and have never been happier or more fulfilled.
What is the message you want your products and blog posts to say?
Well, there’s the obvious messages of girl power, feminism, empowerment, strength etc, but one of the biggest drives for me is the need for honesty. I want to be an often much-needed reminder of reality. In a world where you can construct an entire life on social media, I just think it’s so important to show people what’s real from time to time. People see these ‘instafamous’ accounts post pictures of a seemingly perfect – and superior – life, and fall under the spell of what is often complete fabrication. Too many people are selling a perfection that doesn’t really exist – and which relies on your audience buying into their own implied inferiority.
Where do you get your inspiration?
I truly believe that we’re a product of everything we experience. Everything we create is a product of all the people we’ve known and the music we’ve heard and the stories we’re told and the sights we’ve seen. A lot of my cultural references are centred around my parents’ success in implementing in me an appreciation for ‘the classics’ – film, TV, music – but I’m equally driven by pop culture from my generation. I think there’s something about the things that form the soundtrack to our most transitory years that guarantees they’ll stick with us in a subconscious way. Mean Girls and pop punk forming the basis of my peak teen angst years, for example.
The rest of it is, I think, just a manifestation of how grumpy and intolerable to injustice I am on a daily basis. Little things affect me more than they should. But, where other people can shrug it off with a ‘life’s unfair’, I’m like ‘nah I better put this on a tshirt’.
My favourite thing about following you is how open you are about your own personal struggles – what is the reason behind this?
I just don’t think it’s fair that so many people – and not just young ones – will scroll through social media on any given day and think to themselves ‘why am I not handling things as well as everyone else?’. I hate the illusion of effortlessness that instagram affords us. And (the majority of) people don’t do it on purpose. They’re not doing it to make others feel inferior. It’s only natural that we want to share the good bits with the world. You’re always going to pick a holiday snap over a picture of all the washing you’ve been avoiding for 6 days. But all that it does is perpetuate a system of unfeeling, competitive, self-destructive comparison.
I want people to understand that, whatever they’re feeling, there’s someone else who gets it. I don’t think I can be that person for everyone – there are plenty of things I have no authority on – but I want to create a community that leaves no-one to struggle alone. I want to revolutionise the way we talk about the hard things.
What is your favourite design of yours?
Well, that depends on if I’m having to sew it… I love the rebel girl lips, it’s sassy and the finished product looks really cool. Unfortunately it also takes me about 3 hours to complete so it’s definitely a love/hate relationship. My current favourite is the philogynist ‘girls’ loveheart. I’m really into the cursive font and it’s not too tough on my poor fingertips.
How important is having your blog as a separate thing to your shop to you?
That’s something that I’m currently learning to adapt to. For the first year of GRLCLB, the shop side of things was driven almost solely by my engagement with my instagram followers. I would write pieces that would strike a chord with people, which would, in turn, lead to them perusing the website, which would often result in a tshirt sale. The more that people have advertised the pieces they receive on their own feeds, the more I’ve received orders from people simply going directly to the site. While this is obviously the way a business grows, it has made the process seem a lot less personal and that’s been something that’s forced me to grow and change too.
The writing is the most important thing for me. My essays are what drives my creative process – often I start with writing a piece about something that’s been on my mind, and that then leads to a new design – so, for me, that’s at the heart of GRLCLB.
What are your feelings surrounding the allegations made against ZARA that they were stealing independent artists designs?
It’s been really disheartening. You look at some of the people that have been ripped off – some with 3 or 4 or 10 times as many followers as you – and you wonder if there’s any point in even trying. If they can do it to people who are legitimately established within the creative community, then the act of being an unknown and putting your heart & soul into things that you can’t prevent being stolen, makes you feel very vulnerable indeed. My explore feed on instagram regularly contains posts of people doing things very similar to me – including one girl, also UK based, who started embroidering boobs in the same minimalist style on tshirts almost a year after GRLCLB started. My private messages are full of people who’ve seen rip-offs of my work and wanted to let me know. While I appreciate immensely that there are those looking out for me, it really does bum me out to see it. There are some days it makes me question if what I’m doing is futile – but, then again, if your reason for creating is to produce something that’s 100% original and never been done before and can never be replicated, you’re not going to find any fulfilment or joy from it whatsoever.
Give me 5 facts about you, funny, weird, whatever you like that you haven’t already shared with your followers…
Oh jeez. Ok. Let me think.
1. I almost ended up studying medicine. While I was at uni doing psych I decided I wanted to take it further and look at the brain from a medical perspective, so I did A&E placements and took the entry aptitude exam & did surprisingly well, but by the end of my 4th year I decided I needed some time out to ‘find myself’ again. Maybe one day…
2. I have a really irrational repulsion towards teeth. When I was 15 or so, I was clearing out my room and I found a box that rattled. I thought it was jewellery, but it turned out to be full of my baby teeth & the adult ones I’d had removed to make room pre-braces, that my mum had just kept because she ‘felt too bad throwing out’. Perhaps understandably, they now give me the absolute fear.
3. I’m messy. But, like, not a bit messy. A lot of the time when you say that, non-messy people think that you mean messy by their standards and there’s a few clothes lying around. Think more along the lines of: holiday bags that still haven’t been unpacked since 2012. I also found a xylophone I ‘borrowed’ from school to practice for my exams in 2008.
4. When I was 9 or 10, I tried to coerce my friends at school into starting a girlband with me. I called it ‘Wild At Heart’ and made tshirts and a zine and wrote songs. I probably should’ve made sure that they weren’t just humouring me from the outset because by the time I discovered they were I had gotten really fixated on the idea, and then just had to abandon it. I reckon that formed the basis of at least 48% of my teen angst.
5. Wearing socks to bed is essential for both sleep and happiness.
And finally, where do you see GRLCLB going over the years?
I’m trying to make it less labour intensive for me on my own. Whether that means getting other people involved, or not, I’m not sure yet. I just feel like so much of my time is taken up with sewing that I can’t let the brand grow into something that can reach more people. I want to start engaging more ‘real life’ people – the goal of it was to create a safe place for people, so how wonderful would it be if that could be translated into a physical one? I want to concentrate less on the actual physical act of stitching, and more on the ways that GRLCLB can really make a difference. 2017 will see the introduction of more printed products, still with the signature GRLCLB style/sass, but that will save me so much time that can be utilised instead for organising get-togethers, fundraisers, events etc.
Go and check her out at http://www.grlclb.com
Peace and love xox