Art

A Fashion Line of Wearable Retro Pop

West Side designer Kelly Eident makes hip apparel and jewelry out of nostalgia, kitsch and troll dolls

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West Side designer Kelly Eident’s fashion line I’m Your Present is a sparkling pastel world of retro pop culture references: childhood nostalgia made hip, with a dash of irreverent snark. There’s a skater dress made out of fabric printed with 90s-style troll dolls; acrylic necklaces of Gizmo from Gremlins and sleepy-eyed Furby drop earrings that are actually furry; and a “Plus Size Barbie” necklace written in that classic Barbie font. Unicorns, ice cream, candy, planets and stars are common themes, dotted with iconic pop culture figures like Miss Piggy, Krusty the Clown, the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and Betty and Veronica.

Kelly’s cheeky-chic designs have attracted the attention and patronage of celebrities including Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus, but the RISD grad says she derives the most inspiration from fellow small designers in the Etsy and Instagram communities. As a child, she was “always making stuff for fun,” and started selling her creations at craft fairs when she was 13. Shortly after Etsy went live in 2005, Kelly opened an online shop; now, nearly all of her business is done through it, including the newer Etsy Wholesale division.

Kelly describes her aesthetic as “fun, pop, kitsch and colorful.” When I visited her off-Broadway studio, which is decorated with whimsically stylish items largely curated from thrift store finds, Kelly’s assistant Liz was using a sewing machine to stitch together dresses made from a New Kids on the Block fabric: “They’ve been going on tour basically every summer, so it’s New Kids on the Block season right now,” Kelly explains. Thrift shopping is a longtime passion, and she often reuses old T-shirts and sweaters in her designs, but does most of her fabric shopping in Boston’s fabric district and finds jewelry components at Wolf E. Myrow here in Providence.

Although she has been making and selling clothes and accessories for about a decade, a major turning point in Kelly’s designs was when she discovered laser cutting. “I always made jewelry, but it was a lot more crafty – hot glue gun stuff,” she says. “Then [an artist] I had been a teaching assistant for at RISD pre-college was at school in Los Angeles using a laser cutter and I had her cut me out some [pieces].” Inspired by the results, Kelly signed up to use AS220’s laser cutter to create the base pieces that she then glues together into earrings, necklaces, collar clips and more.

“I love laser cutting because I feel like I can just create anything,” Kelly says. After about five years at AS220, she eventually was able to purchase her own laser cutter for in-house use.

When asked how she weathers the unpredictability of being an artist and an entrepreneur, Kelly responds that “it can be nerve-wracking to not have a steady income and to take chances that way,” but that living in Providence makes it possible. “It’s such a great community, from designers, to artists, to musicians; people are really interested in supporting each other.”

Katy Perry found I’m Your Present through MySpace about a decade ago, and blogged about it when her own career was just starting to take off. “She’s probably the reason I have 20,000 Twitter followers,” Kelly says, laughing. Although she misses the days when Etsy was a smaller community with a lot more actual handmade stuff, she believes that “people still really value original and unique items – even if they’re finding me through Instagram or something.”

I’m Your Present
Available at the RISD Bookstore and Share Space