April 24, 2017
It’s easy to remember the bold designs at Realm; they catch your eye, sometimes make you grin, and most importantly, they’re pretty badass. Vanessa Crook, the fashion school dropout behind Realm, puts her knowledge of soft sculpture and textiles to work in her fun-loving, extremely wearable apparel and accessories.
Where did your business name come from? Is there an interesting story behind it?
Realm came from a brainstorming session when I was conceptualizing my business. I knew that the business would evolve and that my tendencies as a maximalist skill hoarder (want[ing] to make all of the things!) would necessitate that the name could grow with me. I made a list of business names that I thought were really classic and tried to suss out what was successful about each of them. Realm was [my favorite], so I went with it and tried not to agonize over it too much.
Have you always been passionate about design?
I’ve always had strong opinions about the ways I’ve styled myself and my surroundings, even when the aesthetic decisions I was making were objectively insane. My parents gave me a lot of decorative freedom, so my middle school bedroom walls all were different colors with 60’s style flowers painted on them, with a green leopard print ceiling, and a yellow and pink psychedelic checkerboard closet. Following my gut in high school, I went to fashion design school but ended up dropping out to pursue sculpture and anthropology. I learned really invaluable confidence and problem solving skills through the studio art program that help me take risks, execute my vision, and keep practicing and evolving.
Why did you start working in this particular craft?
I started making early Realm products, like dyed bedding, pillows, and some hand embroidered shirts, when I was laid up post-wrist surgery and couldn’t work (I was a massage therapist at the time). I put my stuff in a few shows, loved the response, and decided to give it a year so it would have a real chance to become a business. That year was a slow crawl with me saying yes to lots of custom and collaborative pieces to keep the money coming in, but I’m now 3 years in and haven’t looked back.
What do you think sets your designs apart from others?
I try really hard not to stack my work up against other people’s because it just doesn’t serve me emotionally to do so. As a perfectionist, I will always be striving to be doing bigger, better, and more ambitious stuff than I currently am — that’s part of the drive to work every day and keep making. It’s a distraction to look at other people’s designs and wish you were them or were making their products, and I think it dulls your internal design compass. That’s not to say you shouldn’t look at the world around you for inspiration, but in this hyper-visual social media time it’s so hard not to become distracted by the work of others that you no longer know what makes your hand yours. Technically speaking, something that sets my process apart is that because I do all of the embroidery in-house, I get to play around a lot with color and design in the final medium. That’s something I really enjoy about my studio process.
Have you had any major failures? If so, what were some important insights gained?
Not yet! I am a pretty low-risk person so I haven’t yet had any huge financial failures or anything like that so far. I’ve definitely had difficulties and setbacks — really hard shows where I didn’t feel like I connected with any customers (that’s an ego rollercoaster) and designs that just haven’t gone over as well as I expected, but I feel like that is all par for the course and just learning experiences to analyze what went wrong, where the opportunities for improvement are, and do better next time.
Have you sacrificed anything to create your business? If so, what was it, and do you have any regrets?
There have been huge opportunities for my business that I was not prepared to handle, but had to say yes to and just do the work ([talking about] 16 hour days for weeks at a time) and scale on the fly. Relationships, regular exercise, and eating schedules suffer. You don’t get to socialize or sleep and you’re kind of a terror to be around. I’ve been fortunate to have an incredible support system at home helping me through it. If I lost that, it would be a huge regret.
What has been your favorite moment since creating your business?
Seeing my products up on Bando’s site and social media was a huge thrill. Any high level attention is an ego stroke.
How does the city you live in influence your work?
Austin, Texas is a very laid back and social town, so being a part of the easy going community and getting to participate in local events like SXSW has definitely changed the course of my business.
What made you take this leap into being your own boss?
Being my own boss has always been the dream so I feel like I’ve been looking for ways to make it happen my entire adult life. I didn’t need much convincing, though I knew it was a leap of faith.
What are some inspirations for your work?
I am truly inspired by so many different sources: vintage imagery, joke text exchanges with friends, my semi-tropical upbringing, art history studies, conspiracy theories, cartoons, bootleg memorabilia, and the list goes on and on.