Amie Cunningham | Thief & Bandit
Working in fashion came almost as an happy accident, really. I’ve always loved fashion but studied painting in sculpture, as well as film in undergrad and grad school. After graduation I waited tables and worked on my art. Randomly, I was asked to design a t-shirt for an art show and I simply drew on a shirt with sharpie. I got such a good response from that design that I wanted to make more, so instead of drawing on several shirts I decided to teach myself how to screen print (a technique I didn’t study in school). The process of screen printing really fascinated me. The layering of color and immediacy of ink onto fabric was like painting but quicker with unexpected results. I was instantly in love with this medium. From there I made a bunch of shirts and literally sold them out of my backpack to strangers on trips to NYC to visit friends. At this point I realized that this could be an art medium that I could share with lots of people so I decided to go all in and start an online shop.
In all honesty, I was worried about finances and making ends meet. My husband and I got a bit of money from our wedding and I used most of it to finance my business, which was literally buying a box of t-shirts and spending some cash on ink and screens. This business has grown slowly and I really like that. I’m thrifty and cautious but I think that that is a good thing because if you take it slow you learn what to do and not to do and you can experiment more, which is so important. As an artist I want my designs to stand out and not get lost so taking the time to make sure everything is just right is really important to me.
Getting started was a bit tough. My husband said, ‘You need to do this, this will be really good, everyone loves your stuff!’ but I was really scared because I was pregnant and wasn’t sure I wanted to take the leap, especially with a baby coming. His encouragement helped, though. He is also an artist so neither one of us has ‘steady’ income. That can be scary at times but we both work really hard to follow our dreams and we have each other’s backs so that helps.
I don’t really feel like I work in an ‘industry.’ I don’t really follow any rules within the fashion world. I don’t do trade shows, I have minimal wholesale accounts. This is not necessarily because I don’t want to, it’s because we physically couldn’t keep up with the demand. We print all of our fabric by hand and sew it all in house and this is something I never want to change. If I was to take on more wholesale accounts, I would have to change my system and upgrade all components. I see that happening in the future but I’m not quite ready for that yet.
I’m lucky, I can’t believe I get to have this life sometimes. I have total freedom of creativity and that is what excites me most about this business. Sometimes it can be difficult, but when I’m happy with what I’ve created, the sales are rolling in, and the girls who work for me are busy and content, I’m over the moon. I’ve got three little boys and I get to hang out with them for most of the day. I work my ass off when they are not around but I love to work so much especially on anything art related. I feel like 10 years ago I thought I’d be teaching and working on my art. I’m sure if my younger self could see myself right now she’d be pretty pumped!
My younger self is also a part of my inspiration. Whenever I need somewhere to draw inspiration from, I think back to how I started making art. I look back to one summer where I was about 8 or 9 years old. I spent the summer with my Uncle and Aunt in a small town in British Columbia and it was then that my Aunt really recognized my love for art-making. So, she gave me a book about the history of fashion. I loved that book so much that the entire summer I copied the pages. Art making really became my thing after that, but I realize now how influential that book was for me.
In terms of my work, I absolutely feel like there is room for growth. I’ve got so many ideas, it’s just finding the time to make them a reality. I look to when my children are all in school as the turning point for my business. I plan to step it up a notch for sure.
On that note, there’s really never a dull moment. I’m so busy I honestly never get bored with my work because I have so many ideas. My goal is to use my time designing and being the creative end of the business. To have a full time manager who can take on some of the jobs that I do that are time consuming would be incredible. That’s a short term goal that I want to make a reality over the next few months.
Throughout this process, I've learned that working hard (and by that, I really mean working your ass off) will pay off, but you must have a positive outlook as well. It’s not easy by any stretch but it’s so important to the time to meditate, go for a run, whatever you need to do to turn your thoughts around, it’ll make your output that much better. Success for me doesn’t necessarily involve huge financial gain. If I can support my family and we are happy and healthy that’s success to me.
My advice for the #LFCommunity is that if you want to succeed, be prepared to work harder than you have ever worked before. Be prepared to cry, fail and feel horrible. But also be prepared to pick yourself up, dust your shoulders off and reevaluate your situation and then get right back to work!