Online gallery and concept-store Velvit is somewhere I like to spend my time. This beautiful web portal specialises in introducing its visitors to independent artists and designers working to create dark art, be it fashion, music or fine art. I spoke to Velvit’s creator Jaimie Lake to gain a deeper understanding of the mission behind this exciting new venture.
How did the initial idea for Velvit come about, and did you need much encouragement to make a start on the project? Were there any anxieties about if it would take off, or were there only positive vibes surrounding the endeavor?
According to my friends, I’ve always had a knack for finding the up-and-coming or undiscovered. I was encouraged by a friend of mine— who also happens to be the proprietor of The Order (a label on Velvit) —to start a site that was focused on a very specific style I happen to have an eye for. But of course, all in black.
I was very tentative to start Velvit, because I had reservations about how customers’ loyalty would be to designers they already support; buying straight from them rather than from Velvit. I was and am still very anxious about the survival of Velvit because of this.
Was the title Velvit your first choice? How did you come across it, and what made you decide it was right for this venture?
I wanted something easy for my company’s name, and I didn’t want a name that would be temporarily trendy or focused on a specific cult market. I wanted the name to be gender neutral, approachable, and welcome every customer type. Between all my other ideas, Velvit was the only name I felt would be a good fit. It’s a name I could easily have as an umbrella company in which I could start other projects under, and doesn’t only imply “fashion”.
Was the creation process from first thought to having live content on the site lengthy, or did everything come together nice and quickly?
I took the first steps of starting Velvit in April 2014, with a few emails to a select few designers just to put feelers out there to see how many of the designers thought that a site like this was a good idea, and how involved they would want to be. It honestly came together pretty quick. Colleagues that actually have said it came together incredibly quick. I am a very organized individual, very business savvy, and pretty resourceful. Of course, I have learned ALOT from starting Velvit from scratch. There are quite a few things I would do differently looking back, but i believe the outcome thus far is an accurate representation of my vision.
Velvit features dark art from a variety of disciplines. Was this the intention from the very beginning?
Absolutely. Because of my fine art background, my intention has always been to incorporate a variety of disciplines in each curated collection of Velvit. There are some very closed minded individuals that perceive art in a very specific way. Actually, there is a certain neighborhood art coalition in Chicago I applied for to have a pop-up gallery, and they wouldn’t allow us to have one because their consideration of what art is was narrow: 2- dimensional painting and/or sculpture.
They continued to inform me that what I was trying to do with Velvit was not art. I was so offended I didn’t even respond to their email. I understand art is subjective, but who is to categorize what art really is? Is clothing not art because it’s wearable? are leather bags not art because they carry our personal items? Just because a creation happens to be an EP, or a ring, does that make it any less artistically creative? My intention to showcase a variety of disciplines of art together is so viewers can appreciate curated collections in a way that is not normally done. I want to break the mold.
How do you decide who to work with?
Initially, I wanted to be strategic about who I carried for the first launch. I asked a small amount of designers I have been fans of for years about their interest, which only a lucky few I actually heard back from. I of course want to carry labels I love. I then took some time to research and discovered labels I also had never heard of that didn’t have a large following.
Something I want to do with Velvit is give artists and designers opportunities that larger online retailers and stores may not give to up-and-comers or lesser knowns. I also want to make sure that the pieces I carry don’t fall into a certain mold. I want each piece to be timeless, unique, and not fad-focused.
What is just as equally important to me is how each artists creates their pieces. I always want to make sure labels and artists we support and carry fit into the slow-fashion model.
——and how has the collaboration experience been thus far?
To be honest, rocky. There are definitely collaborations that have been better than others. I’ve been learning to triple cross all T’s, and if it’s too good to be true, it is. Artists are hard to work with, and believe me I know. I am an artist and I used to be hard to work with.
There are currently two curated collections on Velvit: Yin and Yang. Where did these collections evolve from, what can be found within and can you reveal some of your favourite pieces from the collections?
I decided to focus on the idea of Yin for the very first curated collection because the meaning behind what Yin is in traditional Chinese philosophy. It’s dark, feminine, passive, cold, and negative. But I took these characteristics and tweaked them in a manner that is not necessarily portrayed in Chinese philosophy. All of these attributes on their own have a certain beauty, and in my mind, I saw Yin as a set of identical twins. since identical twins are in fact, identical, there isn’t any balance— so no room for Yang.
But of course, there needs to be a balance, so we are trying out the men’s market potential through Velvit and have come up with our first unisex initiative, Yang. Classically the white associated with the aggressive, masculine, and positive energy of the Yin Yang, our goal was to experiment with themes of heavy contrast. If we allowed the “light” aspect of Yang to become swallowed by the darkness of Yin, what is left? The highlights of skin, the folds of layering pieces, and the reflections from textured surfaces. We wanted our 2nd campaign and curated collection to depict Yang as the positive energy that emerges from YIn, the dark, transformative space.
There’s a trend going on right now; this, dark, witchy, American Horror Story (III) chic vibe that is blasted all over social media. There has been so much demand for that specific niche that black clothing is often wrongly categorized into that specific vibe. I wanted to showcase black clothing in a cleaner and more experimental way. As I like to put it, “hanging up all black brimmed hats at the door”.
Some of my favorite pieces from YIN: the Heavy Lace Scarf by Maude Nibelungen (she originally gave it to me as a gift when I visited her in NYC, and I just had to sell it through my store, it’s a best seller!), the Asymmetrical Drop Crotch pants by Eleen Halvorsen (these pants will literally change your view of the traditional “harem/drop crotch pant”), and the Trouser Skirt by Sadie Clayton (probably the most experimental piece we currently have on Velvit, I applaud this London designer for every risk she takes). I wear my 1-100 bar earring every day, it’s so simple but I always get compliments on it. The Monochromatic Necklace by LaLaYeah is my go-to piece for any dress or tunic I wear. I never leave home without my
Laurel Tote by The Stowe, but most of all, Lykanthea’s EP MIGRATION is a must listen.
You can hear the entire EP under our Media page, and buy her cassette for $5 through Velvit. It really was the main inspiration for sealing the YIN collection.
From YANG: The Angle Dress by Noctex (there are literally weeks I wear this dress 3 days in a row because it’s so comfortable and goes with everything), the Tetrahedron Ebony ring by Cindy Leper (she is such a rock star with her medium).
I also am inlove with all of the fine art work both Jas Helena and Vivien Chan have developed for each collection. I am very impartial to Jas Helena’s “The Twins” because I specifically commissioned her to create this piece based of the concept of our editorial. She nailed it.
Velvit recently unveiled Portal, a downloadable magazine, which is part of a collaboration with Josh Walker’s dark style platform Colourblind. Where did Portal emerge from, what can be found inside and can you reveal anything about the second issue?
Josh and I have established an ongoing collaborative relationship with much more exciting things to come in 2015. Portal is one of our many current and future collaborations, sort of a beautiful mini preview for what is to come in the future for Velvit & Colorblind. In Portal 1, the viewer can find new showcased interviews with a few of our current designers, an artist’s statement from Jas Helena about her exclusive series for Velvit, the look-book to YIN, and the preview to YANG.
Portal 2 is still under wraps! But will most likely include some special features from a new curation Velvit is working on directly with Josh. That’s all I can say!
How has your career as a fine artist assisted in the creation and establishment of Velvit, and in what ways does Velvit contribute towards your work as a fine artist?
Well, there wasn’t much of a fine-art career before Velvit, except for the work I have done for The Order (a series of fashion illustrations for her first collection “Illa Magus”, and a graphic novel for her 2nd collection “La Grande Pretresse”). I had been very caught up at my previous job and position to have a career as an illustrator. But I do know that my educational background and fact that I am a lifetime artist has assisted in my establishment of Velvit. Instead of being a “buyer” or “business owner” working with artists, I am an artist working with artists. I understand artists because I am one.
In the future, I have been thinking about having my own series shown through Velvit, but probably not for a long while. My intention was not for Velvit to be a way for me to push and promote myself, but to help push and promote others, and I want to keep that in the forefront.
Eventually, I am also planning to have my own label once Velvit gains more momentum.
I have relished each and every one of my visits to the Velvit site. It’s beautiful minimalism makes for almost meditative experience. When laying down ideas for the site, from which sources did you garner inspiration
I don’t think I can honestly say I garnered inspiration for the actual site itself. When it comes to digital content, I like things to be clean and tidy.
What kind of experience would you say people can expect when they visit for the first time?
I have been in customer service my entire life. I am used to giving people superb service and an exceptional customer experience with every client I meet, but with an online platform, it could be more difficult because I am not servicing the client face-to-face. I have tried to provide this same level of exceptional service digitally and through each order I send out. I want to create an ambience for each visitor, which is one reason I like working with videographers and musicians. A visual and audio experience can really set “the mood” haha.
When visiting the site, a person can expect a good amount of content that is easily accessible, but also relevant to each curated collection. There is a little something for everyone; beautiful imagery, sound, art, clothing, articles, artist bios, and of course the downloadable Portal. We also have our blog in which we post exclusive artist and designer interviews, Velvit news, and updates about our artists.
Sadly, my knowledge about your home city of Chicago is practically non-existent, but that makes me all the more curious about the ways in which your surroundings inspire you and your creative work. What is it that you love most about where you are based?
For the past few decades, Chicago has been going through a rebirth. Rebirth is something that’s very consistent in Chicago; we are literally a city that rose from the ashes of 1871. We are always evolving and growing as a city and never seem to be “finished”. I think that’s what I love most about my city, that although some things are set in stone, what’s on the foundation is always changing.
There is a lot of darkness that resides in Chicago, and a lot of geometry. Even Chicago streets: the entire city is built on a grid system. I think this ironically reflects the mood of everything in Chicago, from its buildings to its people. There is a bit of minimalism, a lot darkness, and sensible practicality in true Chicago.
Do you find travel necessary to gather new ideas and insight?
I find travel very necessary to be content in where you call home. All I need is a short trip to break up a stir-craziness I may be feeling in my home city. I wouldn’t just travel more if I had the means to, but I would relocate more often. Travel only gets you so far, but really emerging yourself in another town, city, or region can you really pull the true roots of inspiration from that destination.
Despite it being many miles away, I was still excited to discover about the Pop-Up Shop you will be hosting in Chicago. Just how important are these events, and what makes Velvit’s Pop-Up Shop special and distinctive?
This was our first pop-up actually, friends of ours at Owen + Alchemy, a juice apothecary, hosted the event for us. I think that having the physical pieces Velvit carries in a space where people can see the items up close and personal is important for the potential customers. All of the items we carry are unique and very well made and I want people to see that.
The pop up shop this round is unique! I have invited The Order and Hunter Gatherer to show a few of their pieces as well (both live locally in Chicago). But I’ve had the pleasure to invite a special guest, Agathe from LaLaYeah, who was visiting Chicago from Montreal. She showed a few select pieces as well.
The most important part of the pop up was spreading awareness for every small business that was involved.
How would you define your personal style, which item are you unable to live without and where do you go online for fashion insights and influence?
It has to be black and I have to be comfortable. That may be breaking every “fashionable” rule, but I don’t care; if it’s not black and not comfortable, I won’t wear it. It’s the same principle I applied when I started buying for Velvit. I even had a friend of mine try almost everything on when we were visiting studios, and practically interrogated the models about comfort and fit of each piece after dressing them.
My favorite clothing items I couldn’t live without would be a pair of tall lace-up leather boots, my David Choe “Bangs” t-shirt, black leggings, and an oversized black shawl. That’s basically my uniform.
I am heavily influenced by music and imagery, I honestly really don’t go online for fashion insights or influences… I think that social media is a great tool for online “research” but for influence, I rather be outside observing.
As someone who supports the slow fashion movement, how would you say your relationship with clothing has changed, and how important is slow fashion in today’s world?
My relationship with clothing has changed drastically in the past 3-4 years. I buy way less, and what I do buy I make sure I know where it comes from and how it’s made. I see clothing more like art and each piece is an investment, not something to be treated carelessly.
What is more important than the slow fashion movement is educating people about the negative effects of fast fashion, and somehow making people aware that they need to WANT to know where their clothing and accessories have come from. Without people wanting to know, the slow-fashion movement won’t be as impactful.
One quote which I uncovered during my research was that you would find the world boring without black. This led me to wonder how and when your affiliation with black began, and what the shade means to you nowadays.
I started wearing a lot of black in middle school actually, then i went thru a small phase of wearing silk scarves, and then back to black. I have always gone back to black. Black is absorbs so many different energies. Black is comfortable. Black can be romantically edgy. Think about all the other colors. Have you ever seen a mysterious and intriguing person wearing all pink? Or yellow? Or blue? No.
Today, black is my business.
What are your hopes and goals for Velvit in 2015 and on a long-term basis?
In 2015, I want to help the consumer realize that purchasing and getting involved with Velvit is still supporting their favorite independent artists. Recently, I have realized that potential customers will still reach out to the designer to purchase exclusive product instead of instinctively purchasing through Velvit. I don’t think they realize that the designers’ checks have already been cut, and the larger purchase the designers receive from me helps them out way more financially than the small payment that the customer gives them. For example, this time I could write a check for a couple thousand to one designer.
By supporting Velvit, if everything sells, the next check I could give them could be twice as much, which is way more helpful to them than the…. $200 payment a customer may make to them for one purchase, one time. The more that is purchased through Velvit, the bigger checks I can write each independent artist on my site. In my eyes, as an artist and business woman, I’d rather have the continuous big payments, than the scattered small payments I have to pay tax on. Eventually, what I hope is that the designers can then focus more on creating than the business end, knowing that at least with Velvit, they can trust in my loyalty to push their designs. By the end of 2015, I hope to see a shift in customers’ purchase history and see return customers that understand the way I am doing business.
On a long term basis, I want to have my own line through Velvit, assist in publishing a bi-annual print magazine, and to have a studio space where I can hold gallery viewing for the fine artists that are a part of Velvit. Something else I would eventually like to venture in with Velvit is art direction for musicians that I feature on my site. There is so much that can be done, which is why I never exclusively advertise Velvit as a strict “fashion” platform. Velvit is an umbrella for many possible ventures.
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