Gretchen Carvajal - Interdisciplinary Artist, BRWNGRLZ
Bay Area interdisciplinary artist and youth teaching artist, Gretchen Carvajal is the creator of BRWNGRLZ, “some of the dopest earrings you’ll ever wear". BRWNGRLZ is a result of Gretchen creating space for herself and her friends through bold, bright, unapologetic designs and attitude. It’s made for POC, brown girls, anyone identifying as womyn/femme, and is inclusive to all. It’s about connecting marginalized groups and building community. The pieces are custom designed, laser cut, assembled and packaged by hand. Their style is bold and each is named after a woman of color. BRWNGRLZ is about support, from family and friends, and in turn supporting the community. Gretchen’s work and art is a beautiful testament to her beliefs.
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How did you create your career path? What brought you to pursue BRWNGRLZ?
BRWNGRLZ came out of a time where I felt like there was no space for me and my friends at our University. It also came out of a time where I wanted to make my own mark while sustaining myself financially during a hard time in college. We were in school at a predominantly white institution, and it just felt like everything was made for the majority white students and nothing was there for us, so we got used to making our own spaces. From spaces within our school and spaces outside of campus. My answer was BRWNGRLZ, a place where I can design things for my friends to wear, model, and feel unapologeticaly themselves, all while helping me pay my bills and help my family.
What is the mission behind BRWNGRLZ? And how has the brand been received?
BRWNGRLZ aims to disrupt space. The bright colors, unique designs, the models I use, they're all intentional. They're all to make a point that we will be bright and bold and unapologetic despite white supremacy trying to white us out. My hope is that my pieces can always be associated with a certain type of womxn, someone who values purpose over presentation.
BRWNGRLZ has been received really well for the most part, by black and brown femmes especially whenever I'm in craft fairs that have super beige minimalist designs. I love those designs, but that's just not what me and my homegirls are into. I've had white folks ask about wearing brwngrlz, and my answer is always the same, if you're white and wear my stuff, that's fine, I just encourage you to do more than just support he aesthetic, do what you can in every aspect of your life to show up for people of color.
Have you always been drawn to art, creativity, design?
The first thing I remember wanting to be was an artist. I'd doodle and think that artist just meant painting, and drawing, but I've been creating for as long as I can remember. As a Pinay I grew up in music, in high school I honed my writing through poetry, in college, I decided to study art through printmaking and neon. I think of all of the art forms I know as different languages that tell the layers of my story, so anyone can understand.
What is your creative process? And how do you get into the creative flow?
My creative process is kind of a mess to be honest haha Most times its impulsive inspiration, like I'll get inspired by Solange's music video and make 10 earring designs, or even shopping for the acrylic will inspire me with the colors. I'll look through social media and screenshot things I feel inspired by and will just create and draw a million designs until I see a through line in the work, and that's how a collection is born. Right before I have everything finalized, I always come up with extra designs out of nowhere too, and end up adding them to the collection. I work better organically than with rigid goals/timelines.
What are some of your favorite pieces of jewelry you made?
I made some earrings when I was in college that were inspired by Solange's Cranes in The Sky video that are some of my favorites to this day. I just felt super connected to her work, and was able to sketch effortlessly. I really love a lot of the new acrylic and brass pieces I have in my current line the Horizon Line. I was super inspired by the color and shapes of the sky. My family's house is in the valley and the skies are so big because there aren't any mountains in the way. My next drop is gonna have a lot of engravings inspired by Philippine textiles and Asian swap meet blankets too, I'm super hyped for those.
How do you use your platform to represent Filipinx people, women of color?
I think most Filipinos love announcing to anybody that they're Filipino! I love my people and always rep them whenever I can. Through the photos I use a lot of black and brown models, the names of the pieces are always after my black and brown friends, but more importantly I represent Pinays and WOC by showing the world that solidarity means sharing the wealth. Not just through monetary donations that I make with BRWNGRLZ profits, but I use BRWNGRLZ to connect with a lot of Filipina photographers, models, stylists, and designers. I've been fortunate enough to be recognized on a larger scale now and I want to be able to lift as I climb because I wouldn't be where I was if I wasn't helped out by OG's before me. I believe in abundance, not scarcity, I believe there's room for everyone at the table and I want to be as much of a resource as I am a brand.
How do you reflect your beliefs in your work?
My beliefs reflect in my work because folks peep the earrings for the looks but they stay for its purpose. I believe we're all connected in this struggle. My work aims to disrupt white supremacy but connect marginalized groups and I think that shows whenever BRWNGRLZ fosters community in black and brown spaces. I think that shows when BRWNGRLZ allows white allies to have real conversations on how they're supporting marginalized struggles. People tell me all the time that they'll see my earrings on someone and they'll strike up a conversation and talk about BRWNGRLZ and that alone to me is dope. The fact that my work can build community in ways that I didn't even dream of.
What, who has been instrumental in your personal and creative growth?
My best friends are instrumental in how BRWNGRLZ came to be. They really believed in me and my vision and were always down to pay full price even when I would offer them discounts and things. They're the first ones to check out my website and the first ones to buy. My family is instrumental in how I'm able to sustain my business and produce more than I was able to do by myself. My mentors in poetry, the visual art world, and in life have always taught me to give back as much as I'm gaining and I thank them every day for that. That's the Filipino way of life, to give when you receive, and I take that with me in every aspect of my business.
What do you love about the work that you do?
I love that I get to be a part of peoples' lives in my own small way. Folks have worn BRWNGRLZ to graduations, weddings, concerts, dates, job interviews, birthdays, and other noteworthy moments of their lives and I feel beyond honored to know that they thought my work was worthy to be a part of those moments. I love that I can show my nieces and the rest of my family that art has value and that I was able to make something for myself that people will know and invest in.
Do you have any upcoming events, designs you are excited about?
I'm excited and scared to see the expansion of BRWNGRLZ. Other things to look out for: My next drop is coming around my birthday in July! I've got a great event with YFPA in the SOMA on May 19th where we'll be making earrings so if you're a Pinay that wants to learn more about my process and want to learn for yourself, come through!
Photos courtesy of Gretchen Carvajal