The Story Behind CRMY
by CRMY Studios·
The Story Behind CRMY: An Interview
So, Tell me, how did this all start...
Oh wow, where to begin...
CRMY (originally Creamy) started as a side project for Peter and me (Stephen) back in 2018 while we were living in Athens, OH. We were burnt out from the traditional college scene and looking to use our free time to create something.
I don't know what our goal was at the start, besides the desire to enter the fashion or art scene with the hope of being full-time creators. I knew I wanted to sell clothes and make graphic tees, but I didn't have the capital to produce anything. This is where the idea of painting second-hand clothing came in; Peter and I liked art and thrifting, so it made sense to blend the two and see where that led. After all, tees can be a lot easier to sell than canvases. Plus, the rise of eco-conscious fashion made starting a "grassroots" brand on the backs of preexisting clothing an even better idea.
Now... I can't say that I immediately intended to run my own business by my mid-20s. I thought that if I could prove to people in the industry that I could develop my own products and brand, they would see me as an attractive potential hire. Essentially, I saw starting CRMY in Athens as a way to tap into the fashion world while being stuck in an area that lacked a fashion scene. It's not like we were living in New York or LA; we were living in a small college town in Appalachia.
To achieve this, Peter and I needed to become full-time business owners, even if we didn't approach CRMY as a business at first. So, in a sense, we both became accidental entrepreneurs.
Through this, the idea of Creamy Studios was born — which eventually became the brand known today as, CRMY.
However, CRMY will always be an art project for me. Continuing to think this way keeps the experience stimulating and helps me stay tapped into the original excitement that made me want to start it all. Of course, we now approach it as a brand - but - in my head, I still view it as an art project.
What do you mean the brand is an art project? You think you're some galaxy brain, art prodigy - huh?
Throughout the entire founding of CRMY, we always viewed the brand as an ongoing art project. From the actual artwork/designs on the garments to the finished 1-of-1 pieces; from collection curation to the specific world-building; from the campaign photography to the marketing rollout— every collection, as a whole, that we create through CRMY is a work of art.
For most of CRMY's history, we essentially live-workshopped the brand on the internet. Peter and I experimented with all-sorts-of branding styles, products, marketing techniques, etc.
In a sense, I think of CRMY's early years as a performance art piece. The overarching medium was Instagram - but the sub-mediums were upcycled clothing and the various means of getting art on said clothing. The brand-building of CRMY was an exercise that took place on the internet - in real-time. I don't want to go into too many details - but CRMY has seen many iterations. Maybe one day, the archives will be opened.
Hey, I mean, through all this - Peter and I built a world, universe, or whatever you want to call it that contains both our artistic styles. The duality of both styles creates a rich and dense landscape that we share and that others can experience and participate in.
I don't know if it's too lofty of a claim to say that the creation of CRMY is/was a performance art piece. But, in my opinion, we did just that and continue to do it - and that's another core aspect of the brand.
I don't think this is a cutting-edge concept only specific to our experience. I think many people did this same thing throughout the early years of the internet, and it still continues to this day. Social media created a window to allow creators like us to share the creative process directly with their audiences.
Ok, ok, ok, I see where you're coming from. Now - back to some basics - what did the original clothing look like?
Peter and I started producing pieces, or 1-of-1 clothing items, by hand-painting designs onto second-hand shirts and sweatshirts. Our first designs were either abstract faces on blank garments — or drug paraphernalia / punk-ish illustrations on preexisting graphic tees and sweatshirts.
We experimented with all types and styles of garments. However, I admit some of our early designs/pieces would not pass our quality standards now. But hey, that's growth. The fact that people have supported it and love it is what keeps us going.
As CRMY developed, we began to raise the quality standards so that no matter what garment we used, it was durable and heavyweight. We wanted CRMY's pieces to be known for their art and the exceptionally high-quality garments we used.
Beyond hand-painting, we began at-home screen printing and doing specialty embroideries, which were just new ways to get our art onto second-hand clothing. During the summer of 2020, we started airbrushing - the medium through which we honed our original concept. The airbrush quickly became our favorite medium and now is an integral part of the brand aesthetic. We never fully embraced the traditional airbrush style and technique. Instead, we used the airbrush as a marker to create bold lines with color fills. The point was to stand out from the rest.
In 2022 our work became immensely popular. To keep up with demand, we created hundreds of airbrushed pieces; we continuously experimented with styles, concepts, and themes. In addition, we honed our storytelling and began curating collections into even more specific and niche themes throughout 2022.
However, through this process, we lost sight of the original identity behind the brand (which is what this whole post is about). Going forward, we're excited to bring these identities together to construct a strong core for CRMY.
What do you mean you lost sight of the original identity?
We just got caught trying to create as many airbrush pieces as possible. We essentially did a drop every week last year. Through this, we lost touch with our audience and lost control of the brand narrative. The main push was - pieces, pieces, pieces. Demand is crazy high because people really like our art - and supply is low because we produce each piece by hand. This creates really awesome exclusivity within the brand - however - since all the pieces are handmade - it prices a lot of customers out.
Since we were so deep into this production mindset - I didn't realize we needed to pivot and create more accessible products for our audience (in addition to making the brand and the story more accessible).
On one hand - we honed in on the "1-of-1" aspect of the brand - but we also left lots of people hanging. This year we're changing that. We're refocused on the brand and how we can share our story with everyone else. We're still going to have airbrushed pieces available, but we're going to have a lot more than just that.
I see I see. So after these four years of creating CRMY - when you look back at the early stages - did you guys originally plan to start a brand? Or what was the idea behind "CRMY?"
In the beginning, we didn't focus too hard on branding or even creating a brand. We were trying to sell art, and clothing proved the best canvas.
If anything, Creamy is an idea and lifestyle — in a way — we encourage people to be more adventurous and creative via the products we offer. Back in the early years - it certainly was more of an "idea" than a brand.
Being adventurous with clothing is something I've always enjoyed. I like a fit that stands out a bit from the crowd. Peter and I like art that stands out, so this approach has always been authentic. Pairing bold and eye-catching graphics with one-of-a-kind clothing — the themes of embracing uniqueness and making a statement became an undercurrent of the CRMY concept. I mean, people have to be confident in themselves to wear our clothes; because they are bound to garner attention and comments. So, early on there was more substance to CRMY than, "Oh, that's some start-up t-shirt brand."
I also wanted to create a community more than a brand. In the beginning, I was pretty lonely and wanted to make new friends with creative people. So the communal aspect of CRMY was always important to me too.
For example, if someone owns a creamy piece, they are part of the CRMY extended universe. In addition, that customer become part of a larger community that values the blending of art and fashion in this form. It's like they join two communities at once.
Beyond creating a community around products, we try to involve as many people as possible in our projects to create an umbrella collective of like-minded creatives with the same DIY spirit. I've met so many cool creatives along this journey that I never would have otherwise.
So yeah - half of the reason for doing all of this was to network with fellow creators - and the other half was to sell art on clothes - and the easiest way to do all that seemed to be creating a brand.
Gotcha - so I see what the original idea behind all of this was - but what about the brand's identity - what is that?
Like I said earlier, the original idea for CRMY was to rework/reinterpret second-hand and vintage clothing by putting our own art onto the garments. So I think identity is grounded in our art.
The name CRMY comes from the idea of "whipping" or "stirring" ideas/concepts/themes/ etc together.
As a brand, CRMY is "well stirred." The brand mixes art, vintage, fashion, and music into clothing collections and contemporary art projects.
The illustrations and graphics behind the brand also cause a stir — they lean towards the bizarre and horrifying. Even when these elements are tamer, they are still focused through an edgy and bold lens.
Why not stir things up a little? Why not get people talking? Why not be a little bold and stand out? To me - life is too short not to have some fun with it.
So, yeah - I'd say the brand's identity is creating conversation through art on clothing.