Today we’d like to introduce you to Brown Crayons.
Brown Crayons, we’d love to hear your story and how you got to where you are today both personally and as an artist.
We are a local Los Angeles, mom-owned, multi-racial t-shirt company for kids. That’s our primary focus, we also do notecards, tote bags and even have onesies! The three of us, Tina, Rikke, and Patti have been friends for several years. Brown Crayons came about because of our friendship and our conversations with each other which can sometimes be intense. As a multi-racial company, we need to be able to have open, trusting, blunt, intense discussions regarding race especially as race is an ever-present force in our society and our focus as a company is illustrations of powerful, brown girls.
Tina was the catalyst in noticing. She couldn’t find any girls t-shirts that reflected back to our daughters who they are – strong, quirky, authentic, multi-layered, fantastically complicated and BROWN. There was a lack of representation which renders people invisible both to themselves and to the rest of the world. Well, once you notice something you can continue to ignore it or try to do something. We decided to try to do something despite those being a lot of adjectives to put on one shirt. It would be our unique Brown Crayons vision of what representation on t-shirts, notecards and totes can look like for Brown girls. There is an image from photographer Chris Buck of a white girl looking up at a wall of brown dolls that resonates with us deeply. The traditional narrative is of a brown girl looking up at a wall of white dolls searching for any representation of herself. It is important to us to shift that narrative. We want to reflect, represent and empower all girls of color. We want them to see themselves in the world and know that they are seen and celebrated.
None of us had any experience in fashion manufacturing or t-shirt production. However, all three of us felt and continue to feel very strongly about the need for our images in the world so we weren’t going to let that deter us. Figuring it all out together was key. If we have each other, we feel so much stronger than going it alone. We are inspired by, inspire and support each other sometimes very straightforwardly but usually in completely goofy and funny ways. Which goes back to the friendship. We like working and being together as a team trying to do something meaningful and making any impact we can.
We always knew we were going to use the word brown in our name. It fits us as a multi-racial, company. We know that Black is beautiful and white is well, just the default basically. We know that brown is associated with negative connotations but it really fits us as it encompasses so much. We are reclaiming it. Brown is sometimes considered the least favorite color. Not for us! We went through many interesting names, one of which sounded like a tattoo parlor until we came to Brown Crayons, which in retrospect seemed so obvious to us! Kids use crayons, crayons make imperfect scribbles and color outside the lines. Children who are asked to draw themselves with crayons, often color themselves lighter than they are, rarely using the brown crayon. There was even a crayon called “flesh” until in 1962 Crayola realized it wasn’t the color of everyone’s flesh, and changed it to peach, which still doesn’t work (there are some other reasons they may have changed it as well but we’ll leave it there for now). As a company attempting to put images of an array of diverse girls and embracing all cultures, we knew brown was important. We welcome all into our brown crayons family, we aren’t exclusive but are embracing a big, huge part of the world that is usually excluded and put on the fringes. We are putting them front and center in our designs.
You won’t find these in a box! That’s our tagline and it has layers of meaning for us and again refers back to being brown. There is the layer of limiting someone by boxing them into a specific category which we reject. There is also the box on the census or any application or form which asks you to fill in your “race” expecting people to fit into a box defined for them not by them. A box that makes white people comfortable. We celebrate self-definition. There is also that you need to take the crayons out of the box to use them. There is a beautiful quote attributed to Lauryn Hill, “I consider myself a crayon. I may not be your favorite color, but one day you’ll need me to complete your picture.” As usual, she says it perfectly.
We’d love to hear more about your art. What do you do and why and what do you hope others will take away from your work?
We make t-shirts, tote bags, notecards, and onesies. We have ideas for expanding into other products but we need to focus on what we are doing right now which can be tricky enough! Rikke is our illustrator. One of the first drawings she did was of a girl doing a powerful kick. BOOOM! We loved it. Rikke says her inspiration comes from the girls she knows in her head and her heart. Even though Tina and Patti love Rikke’s illustrations because they are unique and kick-ass, we still have long discussions about all the artwork which can get intense. Because of our friendship, which is why Brown Crayons came about in the first place, we are willing to push each other, challenge each other and disagree a lot. We discuss the girls’ skin color, the history possibly reflected in the drawing, their clothing, hair, eye color, we try to discuss it all. We are attempting to be inclusive and we aren’t there, we miss a lot of things which really knocks us down but we try to learn from our mistakes.
Our most popular design is Be Distracting! (not all designs have an exclamation point). Patti heard the story on NPR of Zulaikha, a 13 year old South African, who was protesting her school’s rules that she straighten her naturally curly hair. They said her hair was “too distracting.” Patti sent the story to Rikke and Tina because it resonated so deeply with her. Rikke drew what inspired her, based off the story and a photo of Zulaikha and Tina exclaimed BE Distracting! We want girls to stand up for who they are and what they believe in wherever they live, whatever country they are in.
We believe girls especially, but ALL people should push back when others try to limit them or put them in a box! Once we decided to say Be Distracting! We had to figure out if it should be straight or crooked if it was too big or not big enough. Would people understand it? Would it resonate? Then, getting our shirts printed is a whole other process.
We do digital prints on our shirts which is pricey and while it should be an exact science, it isn’t. We have discussed getting our own printing machine but we haven’t yet, we don’t know where we would keep it! While it is really important to us that our girls are a certain shade of brown (and that varies) our printers can miss that. We had a print where the girl’s skin ended up orange and the printers hadn’t noticed. Thank goodness it was only on one tote bag!! We have been told we are very particular….and we are! Because it’s important. It matters.
People have asked us why we don’t do boys and will we? We really need to get the girls down first before we start doing boys! We’re still working on the girls. Boys are welcome and encouraged to wear our shirts with girls on them. Boys can wear shirts with awesome girls on them, but for whatever reason, they don’t. Again, shift the narrative!
Our kids have started coming to us with ideas for shirts. They are questioning why our shirts don’t feature a girl who uses a wheelchair or a girl with vitiligo and why we haven’t translated our postcards into Spanish, Mandarin or Korean. We love that they are pushing us and they are right!
We want brown girls in particular, but all girls everywhere to feel empowered, seen and celebrated for who they are.
What do you know now that you wished you had learned earlier?
We feel like people, from a really good place, have a lot to say and advice to give. Many times it can send you down a road that is far from where you know you need to go. We are lucky there are three of us because we can pull each other back and try to stay true to what we are doing. We all get really excited sometimes and then are let down by people (celebrities always want something for free and make BIG promises). But again, we have each other to lean on and stay inspired.
Being an artist can be lonely, so finding a community is important.
Social media can be a mixed bag. We have met some amazing people through social media and it has allowed us to connect with people we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to. But the pressure to post, stay relevant, say something and have content is enormous and is a job in and of itself. It is important to step away and be in real life, remember how curated most of what we see is, and have friendships that keep you growing and honest.
We always wish we had more money for our company and are always learning to be better communicators with each other and with everyone we interact with!
- Website: https://www.browncrayons.com/
- Email: email@example.com
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/welovebrowncrayons/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/browncrayons/
Julie Daniels Photography, Karen Steyr Photography