Vanessa Crook: expert embroiderer, textile designer, sculptor and fashion school dropout. She's an anthropologist with characters and colors swimming through her head at all times. The product? REALM - an attention-grabbing line with just the right mix of sass and silliness.
Crook's sources of inspiration are uncomplicated and authentic. She keeps a sketchbook on-hand at all times to chronicle the random thoughts and interactions that pique her imagination. She constantly faces the challenge of turning ideas in her head into actual accessories.
"I'm always working through things I find funny or attractive. I think it's such a funny and dated joke, this whole thing of falling on a banana. So I just started making a bag with two embroidered banana peels. But now the old joke has this entirely new meaning because people refer to unattractive penises as 'banana peel dicks.' The bag is baby banana yellow with pastel pink."
While bags, pouches and backpacks are now a huge focus, Crook originally set her sights on sculpture. While studying sculpture formally at school, Crook began incorporating embroidery into her projects. She was in a fashion design program at first, and we learn that here, she fell in love with the cultural history of textiles and fabric. We also learn she's a licensed masseuse. She became a massage therapist on the side to save money for a studio.
Crook creates pillows and blankets, items bound to the home. These are some of the first pieces she sold. But she itched to make pieces "for all different areas of a person's life."
"I wanted to see my designs play out in something someone carries with them all day. I wanted REALM to be everywhere, not just stationary. So that's when I started created totes and backpacks and things you can travel with."
Buying an embroidery machine changed everything for REALM. According to Vanessa, it blew the businesses wide open. It offered a whole new world of possibility - one where she could play with design, structure and shapes in a seamless and timely way.
Vanessa starts with a drawing or sketch, and uses computer software to digitize her work. She cleans up the design and sends it to the embroidery machine. At that point, it's a matter of what works and what doesn't. But the software allows her to play with simple shapes and infinite color.
REALM exists within the vibrant maker community quickly growing in and around Austin. Vanessa is constantly inspired by her female friends and the creative community they're forming. She strives to feed and celebrate maker women through her cheeky, bold and confident designs.
"Conversations with my girlfriends often translate into pieces. We are constantly affirming one another and channeling this vibe of 'I won't take this shit anymore!' Someone at a show once told me she could sense a strong feminist vibe from my stuff. I definitely feel like a feminist in my life, and I do hope it translates into my work."
In Austin, there's a maker movement maturing in a super organic way, but Vanessa feels the community is conscious about building even more opportunity for others.
"If you want to see it happen in Austin, you have to make it happen. Starting your own company or being a designer is tough. If you have a bad sales day you can take it personally, like 'shit - I'm not as funny as I thought I was!' We all talk about how to be more successful and how to make it happen for everyone."
Amidst the complex transformation of ideas into confetti purses, eyeball pouches and dreamy tie-dye pillows, Vanessa always hopes for the same thing.
"I really want women to see my stuff and feel like a grown ass woman, and to feel like I as a designer totally get them. With my line, I kind of try to foster a girls' club."