Welcome to 2017, a new age of DIY, one in which artists everywhere are able to put their money where their mouth is. As we enter a pin renaissance, we see makers from left and right creating art featuring twists of political and feminist influence. Creepy Gals is no exception.
Started by Elle Chen in 2015, the Etsy shop-turned-universe is perfect for the person who loves vintage Valentine’s Day cards, kitsch, and everything pink and red. From sweetly ironic pins that say “I loathe you” and “sickening,” to tees printed with “queer angel baby” and “anxiety,” not only are these pieces cute as hell — but they’re also packed with an important message.
To learn more, we spoke to Elle about art, feminism, queer representation, and the inspiration behind Creepy Gals.
HelloGiggles (HG): How and when did you decide to start Creepy Gals?
Creepy Gals (CG): From a young age, I always had this insatiable need to create in whatever capacity I could. I was a super introverted, shy child, so escaping into artistic endeavors was where I really came to life. I have dabbled in illustration, photography, music, fashion, you name it. Creepy Gals was just another outlet for me to create a world for myself. I worked up a few designs, made pins, patches, and t-shirts, and opened up an Etsy shop in the beginning of 2015.
I started posting my work on Instagram, and it really took off from there. I would never in my wildest imagination have expected that my work would resonate with so many people. It somehow blossomed into a full-blown career that has allowed me the freedom to actualize my Creepy Gals world and make a living off of it. It certainly doesn’t come easy, it comes with many challenges, but being able to have full autonomy over my vision and execution is truly fulfilling. I am excited to see where it takes me.
HG: How would you describe your shop?
CG: I’m serving vintage valentine, kitschy pink, and red femme fantasy, with a pinch of saltiness. You will see a lot of roses; anti-valentine sentiments; pop culture references; and pink and red-themed pins, buttons, patches, and T-shirts on my Etsy and Witchsy shops. For many of my pieces, it combines my love for kitschy and bitchy.
I play a lot with the juxtaposition between pretty imagery and a cynical sense of humor. Other themes that you will often see in my work highlight feminist and queer ideals and empowerment. Since I have the creative liberty to construct whatever narrative I want, I incorporate things that cater to both my fun, sarcastic side and my core personal beliefs.
HG: Do you have a favorite item from your shop?
CG: I would have to say my Period Panties Keychain is one of my favorite items. I drew a really cute pink frilly pair of underwear adorned with a lovely period stain. I live for cute panties and the dismantling of misogynistic, patriarchal ideology. My hope in creating this design was to help shatter the whole stigma and taboo of menstruation, and to facilitate a positive dialogue.
Historically, our society has cultivated this prevailing association of disgust and shame of periods. Yeah, it is an annoying part of having a uterus and ovaries, but it is as natural as it comes. It is important to change the way we view it and to normalize it because it is an inevitable natural occurrence for many women and gender-queer people with these sexual organs. It is these archaic ways of thinking that is harmful, so we must continue to bring up the subject until it’s no longer a thing to feel shameful about. I want people to feel empowered and start connecting with their own bodies in a positive way, and for those who don’t have periods to gain a new perspective and appreciation for it.
HG: Where do you draw inspiration?
CG: Aesthetically speaking, I’m inspired by vintage Valentine’s Day cards, ’50s and ’60s home decor and fashion, kitschy love motels, roses, Dolly Parton, old films like Daisies (Sedmikrásky), Valley of the Dolls, Rosemary’s Baby, and Hausu, and literally everything pink and red. This is the type of imagery that I gravitate toward. They really evoke this sense of serenity and calmness that my mind sorely craves, so that is why I incorporate this aesthetic into my work and into my physical environment.
When it comes to concepts, I find so much inspiration in female empowerment, queerness, pop culture, drag queens, and dark humor.
HG: You make a lot of queer-centric art, which is amazing! Can you tell us about why this is important to you?
CG: The queer community is where I feel most at home, so I wanted nothing more than to celebrate it in my work. Queer people have faced the harshest treatment at the hands of our hetero-cis normative society. As much as we’ve progressed from the Stonewall days, there are still so many injustices happening in our world against the queer community.
As a direct response to these social ills, I want my queer community to feel empowered, and to be the change that our world so desperately needs. I want people to be unabashedly true to themselves, and love who they want to love, and be whatever form of gender that speaks to their truth. ‘Cause you were born this way baby, and we’re here to stay.
HG: You’ve talked about your anxiety on Instagram before. How does mental health play into your art, if at all?
CG: My most recent design, the anxiety shirt, really hit a sore spot for me because it is one of the biggest personal struggles that plagues me on the daily. The act of expressing it for the whole world to see was both a cathartic experience and the most anxiety-inducing thing I have ever done. I’m glad that I did it, though. Ever since I experienced my first panic attack back in 2010, it has been a constant struggle living with generalized anxiety and panic disorder.
I wake up most mornings feeling a heavy weight in my chest and an overwhelming sense of dread, I get lost into negative thoughts and feel that everything is wrong. I am an extremely introverted person, so it was difficult for me to open up about it. I would escape into my artistic endeavors, which would offer momentary relief, but it can only do so much to distract from the mental turmoil. Due to a recent tragedy in my community of friends, the importance of reaching out and expressing your thoughts became abundantly clear. Mental illness can be the most elusive of illnesses. Many times, there is no indication that people are going through anything. I certainly never showed overt signs of what I was going through internally.
It is imperative that we keep the channels of communication open. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about your struggles. You are not weak for opening up about your vulnerabilities, it shows tremendous strength. And also listen to your loved ones when they open up to you. Everyone needs to cut themselves some slack. Be kinder to yourself and others. Do yourself a favor and seek help if you need it, and don’t ever forgo moments of self-care.
HG: How does feminism play into your work?
CG: The female empowerment narrative is a prevalent theme with Creepy Gals because it is coming from my own experience and perspective as a woman. Some of my designs touch upon different feminist talking points — including removing social stigmas in regards to menstruation, shattering our mainstream ideals of beauty standards, and the empowerment of girls and all minorities who have experienced oppression at the hands of our capitalistic, patriarchal society.
I create designs for shirts, pins, and patches that convey my beliefs. I try to donate to different causes through the sales when I can. Positive changes start at a micro level. An act as simple as wearing your beliefs in defiance of the society that oppresses you could become the catalyst for bigger change. You are putting those ideas out there for others to see. It could help facilitate a dialogue with the people around them.
We must not remain complacent and quiet about these matters, especially now that we live in a dark time in our political system, where many of the progressive victories are being threatened by a tyrannical cheeto face joker. I’m just doing what I can with the work that I love to do.
HG: What’s next?!
CG: I just recently moved to L.A., so I’m super excited for all the new things that I will encounter out here. I also have some collaborations in the works!