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X Chrome Fave Babe: Jena Blazevich (AKA @vichcraft)
Thinking about smashing the patriarchy probs.
“Jenna Blazevich is my white whale”
I told my Amy over drinks.
I scrolled through our email chain, showing her a back and forth correspondence of busy schedules, last minute cancellations and kind persistence that went on for months. Jenna is hard to pin down, if that wasn’t obvious from her Instagram. With her flourishing design studio Vichcraft, traveling and promotions, events, pop-ups, panels and you know, non-work related things, she’s got a lot happening. But serendipitously enough, as Amy and I wrapped up dinner, my phone lit up with a message from Jenna. Success! We’d finally found a day that worked for both our us–it only took roughly 30 emails!
Jenna was kind enough, amidst what I’m sure what a crazy schedule, to invite me to her Humbolt Park studio, where we spoke the day after Trump’s now infamous– and sadly, unsurprising– trans tweets. With this shit tornado presidency taking up even more of our short-term memory space, we talked about what it means to be a woman-identified person in this moment, the power small victories and the role of art and design.
“With the way things are right now, it's very challenging to try to find ways you can be productive with your energy. It's really hard to put your energy anywhere and feel like you’re helping anything because it’s an unprecedented amount of shit to get mad about.”
It’s hot, it’s the end of the day, yet Jenna speaks in long, impassioned sentences that shake me out of my 6 o'clock slump. In a year when our news outlets function as a tsunami of stress and so many of us feel as if we’re fighting a war of attrition against our backwards, inconsiderate political systems, it’s refreshing to sit in the energy field of someone with some much positive can-do spirit (and her bird, Pineapple Zone, who is chilling in her carrier on the table in between us, naturally).
I immediately start asking her questions, trying to soak up as much from her as I can without overstaying my welcome. From looking around, there’s a lot going on. Vichcraft is known for her black and white, punk rock vibes– an aesthetic that, to her 22k followers, seems anything but unplanned. But hindsight is always 20/20, and in hearing her story it’s seems like a perfect puzzle of experiences that fit together to create a larger picture of the present moment. She began college as a fashion major, soon discovering it wasn’t for her.
“I had all these years leading up to me pursuing fashion where I was scouring thrift stores, tailoring pieces to fit me and making clothing. I loved being able to create with my hands and reinvent something and wear it. Once I was in school, I became very overwhelmed with how much I did not like the fashion industry.
“There was a very dramatic and rebellious shifting–It’s funny because it wasn’t gradual at all. I wore the same Harley Davidson black shirt and black pants for an entire semester. It wasn’t an intentional thing but it was very dramatically stating ‘I am over this’. I think the most productive thing that came from it was learning to be critical of what drives me and what is of interest to me.”
Another productive outcome: discovering her passion for graphic design.
“In my freshman year, I did an internship at a gig-poster shop, and it allowed me to learn more about what graphic design and print making was. After it ended, I decided to pursue graphic design instead of fashion and eventually, down the road, it led me back to Chicago. ”
After college, Jenna cut her teeth in entry level design positions. She saw quickly the agesim and sexim present in both the office culture and in the work she was tasked with. She began freelancing and taking on her own clients, eventually winning enough work to support a solo endeavor. But, as a 20-something, she felt the weight of uncertainty and her perceived “inexperience” meant she wasn’t ready to start her own business.
“Age and accomplishment level were such a consistent means of holding myself back, until it all came to a head where I had the opportunity to start VIchcraft. [Take it from me,] Don't wait until you've reached a certain age or you have achieved some notch in your belt to consider yourself capable of doing something with meaning or substance. When i was in school, (it took me 6 years to finish my undergrad because I switched majors) I felt so antsy to grow up and be taken seriously, especially because I look young for my age. More recently, I used to think “I can't teach calligraphy classes–who’s gonna want to learn from someone who looks younger than them?”
Answer: A lot of people. In the years since starting her design studio, she’s created wearables, prints, branded materials, had her own pop-up shows, spoken on panels, and yes, even taught calligraphy. In all of it she’s learned that the continued pursuit, not just the starting, is important to creative development and overall confidence.
“I was just in my hard drive looking for a project and ended up in my files from 2010. There were just hundreds of lettering projects that I’d made that are objectively bad. But I wouldn't be good if I hadn’t done them. I’d just forgot. I tell my students, you have to practice a lot, you have to find a way to hold yourself accountable because it's going to be years until you are good. Those earlier things are rough, but they need to happen.”
While her name in now synonymous with badass, outspoken feminist slogans, she told me that wasn’t always the case. Blazevich admitted feminism was something that piqued her interest while in college.
“I didn’t feel like I had an entry point into feminism until I was in a formal feminist class in college. I think it should be something that's more accessible much earlier both in terms of learning about more women in history and also not looking at feminist studies as an exclusively academic endeavor. I was worried about saying, ‘I’m a part of this movement!’ and then have someone say, 'But you don't even know who Gloria Steinem is!' and think, ‘Oh wait, maybe I shouldn’t have called myself a feminist?’ which, by the way, never happened.”
We’re in a time when social norms and societal pressures can be broken an redefined, when even just ten years ago–pre social media– that wasn’t the case. Still, there are still those that consider “feminist” a dirty word, or that it carries the assumption that women are better than men, all of which point to how much work is still left to do. And it’s people like Vichcraft that are making these sentiments more accessible.
“I think that's one of the reasons why my friends and I who are trying to make feminist faces and feminist opportunities want to make sure things are accessible and understandable, rather than excluding anyone who’s interested in feminism.”
Because, as Jenna puts it, if it’s not everyone, it’s no one: “If you’re unsupportive of women-identifying people who are not like yourself and you’re criticising them in a way that doesn't push us all forward as a whole, that's actually creating a new problem rather than contributing to a solution.”
To some, Vichcraft’s body of work actually reflects and plays with the notions of feminism: an intimidating, punk rock aesthetic on first glance, with an intersectional heart. But Blazevich isn’t just embracing the anarchist principles in look alone, she embodies the “change the system” mantra through and through. Because sometimes, the best way to say it is through punk, not pouting:
“You think about anarchist punks and what they're singing about decades ago- some of them had a way more productive way of dealing with things that others. If you think the system is fucked up, go out and do x, y, z thing to change it. Some people want to be mad for the sake of being mad, but that’s not productive.”
Purpose feels central to everything she does. The way she speaks, the work she creates–it’s all deeply authentic to her, almost self-consciously so. She’s hyper aware of what she stands for and what her audience expects from her–open to both criticism and conversation. And while she’s grateful surge in support over the past year, she’s clear about the fact that she’s here to create meaning, not #content.
“It’s worth saying that I wish we were having this interest in feminism for another reason than Donald Trump, but it’s created an opportunity for those who otherwise weren’t being critical of how this country operates. However, it's tricky when companies decide to capitalize on this new resurgence of feminism and hop on the bandwagon to make money. It makes it less productive to consider yourself a feminist because you bought a shirt from Forever 21 that says ‘Girls Rule’. If you’re interested in feminism, do a little bit more work than that to contribute to something that's actually changing things; contribute your money, have the difficult conversations, don’t just support a company trying to make money off this situation.”
It’s a line that she herself struggles to find the right balance between constantly. When is the message commodifying an experience, and when is it something that can offer support to others as well as profit?
“I think about [pandering] every day in everything that I do. I want to keep criticizing whether something's coming from genuine place. I want to be very selective and intentions with what i'm creating and on what topics and for what reason.”
Take, for example, her recent Nasty Woman work around the 2016 election. “People from all over were telling me ‘It would be so cool to have a Nasty Woman shirt and go vote in it.’ and I thought, ‘Cool, I’ll go design it and I can only justify it if I donate all the proceeds to Planned Parenthood. Then we can all wear our shirts and vote for the first female president and that’ll be that. But of course that didn’t happen. Donald Trump won and I'm still making these Nasty Women shirts, but i can still justify making them because it's not something i’m interested in profiting off of.”
But when does it feel like enough? I ask her how she differentiates between perseverance and total exhaustion. How do you keep pushing, keep fighting for what is right, without completely burning out? She admits she’s still trying to figure it out too. We talk about the small moments that keep her going– the personal wins, the small steps in the house and the senate, even the direct messages from fans who tell her wearing a Vichcraft patch gives them the confidence to speak their mind and walk into a room full of men. Sometimes, that’s all you get. But from the looking around her studio– from the multiple projects in motion to the way she speaks about her work–it’s clear she looking to do more.
“Art inherently is not enough. I have the ability to make phrases look pretty and engaging but it doesn't mean anything is happening if i just letter a phrase. As a designer, I think there are opportunities to take next steps and the obvious one is to donate money–whether that’s donating a percentage of profits or designing for non profit organizations. When people are creating art, whatever it is, even if it has activist undertones, it won’t change anything unless the motivation is to really disrupt as well.”