Designer Feature: Girphant

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

Hey, this series has been in the pipeline for some time now. I have wanted to share some of the designers/makers that I know and love and this will be the start of that. I hope to sprinkle these in the rotation from time to time, so watch for that (and let me know if you are interested in being featured!). Without further ado, here is our lovely designer featured: Sarah Jalkanen of Girphant.

Sarah runs the Etsy shop Girphant and occasionally posts process, ideas, and inspiration on her blog. I have asked her to open her studio and creative process to us. Here are her thoughts, process, inspiration, etc.

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

When did you decide to start you business? How did you go about choosing a brand and creating it?

My intention was not to start a business. Starting an Etsy shop was all about me building my portfolio and resume. I wanted to gain experience selling my work through a setting where the buyer didn’t know me, the seller/designer. My hope had been that once work sold, I would have to replace said sold work with new work, which would motivate me to continue working and designing. I would be able to see what people liked and design around that. While working on work for the Etsy shop I hoped that I would also find out what I liked designing and find out where I wanted to go with my skill set. Unfortunately starting an Etsy shop and selling work on an Etsy shop are two very different things and I have yet to figure out the latter. I do know how to sell work, just not on Etsy.

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

How has your work flow evolved once you made the leap to start a shop?

As for my overall work flow, I feel starting an Etsy shop did the exact opposite of what I wanted it to. Instead of motivation throwing me forward with creation of dozens of projects and bags, I found myself totally unwilling and utterly unmotivated to create anything, either or myself or for the floundering Etsy shop. I had just only recently graduated from university that December (2013, I opened the Etsy shop in March of 2014) so I can see where I might be lost for a bit of time. Leaving an environment where people are constantly seeing what you’re creating and you get to see what others are creating, can be debilitating to ones work, especially if the people in the college environment were a crucial link to your motivation. However, it wasn’t just a bit of time, it was months of me saying heck to the Etsy shop, and doing whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to. Amazingly the only thing that really motivated me to work was either guilt or a deadline and since I was no longer in college I didn’t have any deadlines creeping up on me, so guilt did get some work done. I felt that I wasn’t doing enough to really amp up my portfolio like I wanted, so I went into another slump where I didn’t do anything. I did eventually post more items to the Etsy shop (that I had created during my guilt phase) after it had been empty for months. Admittedly I have yet to find a nice schedule/routine where I am working for the sake of wanting to, but I figure as long as I can guilt myself into work, I will get some work done and that’s a hell of a lot better than no work done.

Do you have any other hobbies?

I feel that if I could manage to include my two favorite past times, gardening and reading, into my work I would be a million more times more productive. I have this dream where one day I will live in one of those tiny houses (how I’ll manage with all my stuff is beyond me, but I can dream) where I will garden in the morning, design and sew through the day (in a separate tiny house located very close to my other tiny house) and read my pains away in the evening. However, I have yet to figure out how to combine all three in a way that I can do all three without favoring one and forgetting the other two (which as of late has been occurring with books taking over my life).

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

What do you look to for inspiration?

I really want to put it out there that I LIKE DESIGNING AND SEWING (for the most part). I just hate my sewing skills (and the idea of working on said skills fills me with the dread of that tedious boredom). That being said, I am inspired by everything. I am almost never without an idea for a design (it’s just the implementation of a design that causes me to halt, ‘Wait how am I supposed to sew that?’). When I do find myself in a design rut or if I wanted to cement out a design I will wonder on over to Pinterest and look up some keywords to get the juice flowing, although it is rarely successful (doesn’t stop me from spending hours scrolling through the site). I find that inspiration is an uninvited guest who is always welcome.

Do you have music or tv shows playing in the background (or foreground) when you work?

When I do find the drive to work I like to multitask. I know, I know, multitasking is a myth, but it doesn’t stop me from trying nonetheless. During the designing phase I like listening to music. Right now I’ve been really into a Sigur Ros, Explosions in the Sky, and This will Destroy You phase. Something really chill and relaxing. No crazy vocals to make me want to skip a song. I just click on one of them while listening to Pandora and start designing. Sometimes if I feel less motivated and feel like I need to kick out the depressed feelings I will go crazy and with some Korean or European Pop music. Although it’s really just there for me to sing along with with a small hope I’ll actually design something. During the actual sewing phase I find myself really drawn to wanting to watch something. It is either one of my ten thousand shows I watch on Hulu or one of the ten million Youtubers I watch religiously.

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

What is your favorite piece you have made to date?

I feel that my favorite piece of work is always my most recently finished work. If it isn’t my most recently finished work, you can bet your ass I am out designing to fix that mess. I do have a fondness for my Zipper Messenger Bag, it’s a mess to make though.

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

What is your workspace like? Large and open, small and clean, scattered, downright disaster zone?

Along with my lackluster sewing skills I find my work environment, aka my bedroom, is super impractical and a motivation drainer. Granted I have a huge bedroom thanks to my awesome parents and siblings who let me have the same room (the biggest) far long after I have lived out my welcome. One must never work in the same room where they relax, because you can bet all those books and movies look a whole lot more welcoming than a pair of scissors and a sewing machine. I try to make the best out of my workspace, organizing it so that the majority of my work is done on one side of the room while the relaxing and sleeping occurs on the other half (along with items that correspond with each task, books and movies with in the sleeping portion and fabric and sewing machines in the work portion). However, when one doesn’t have a table to make patterns or cut fabric and has to put a table top on top of your bed to do said jobs, it can be hard to really separate the two.

What is your design process? Do you keep a sketch book or do you dive in and take note later?

As you know inspiration usually hits me while I’m not expecting it, but once I have an idea in my head for a while I like to try and work out the details in a sketchbook or on my tablet before I go and create the design. This usually just involves me figuring out the sizing and overall construction of the new design. Picking fabric is a gut feeling and is almost never done during the sketch phase. Once I have completed a design I never sketch it again. I’m not big on taking in-process photos or note taking. If something goes horribly wrong during the sewing phase, I’ll remember and won’t do it again, but I really do not have a sketchbook to look back on to see what I did and how I did it.

Featured Shop: Girphant, Wooly Mastadon

What does a typical creative day look like for you?

A typical work day for me would involve me getting a pattern designed and cut out along with usually getting the fabric chosen and at least patterned, if not also cut out. If it’s still early out I will move forward and start ironing interfacing and sewing (I interface pretty much all my bags). If it’s been a long day I usually leave the sewing and interfacing to the next free day (I am working part-time as a sign coordinator/maker at a local grocery store). A completed design will usually take me one to three days to complete. Granted I do not spend the entire day sewing or pattern making.

A typical day could look something like this.

9:00-10:00am I sleep late if I can, eat breakfast, converse with the family

10:00am-3:00pm do some sewing or pattern making

3:00pm eat a very early dinner (my mom works nights, she does what she wants)

3:00-6:00pm continue sewing or pattern making

6:00-7:00pm workout (I’ve been trying to get healthier and exercise during this cold and long winter can help lift ones attitude quite a bit) or lounge time if I’m lazy

7:00-8:00pm shower and stuff

8:00-11:00pm I watch too much T.V. Okay

9:00-11:00pm read a bit and bed time.

What would be your one takeaway piece of advice for being an independent designer/creative?

One piece of advice I would give to aspiring self employed artists/designers. MOTIVATION/DRIVE. You have to have it. You don’t have someone telling you make things anymore and you have no deadlines to worry about other than you ones you set yourself, so MAKE THEM. Another thing to know is do your research before you do anything, including going to college. If I had one one regret it would be going to college. I know you learn a lot more than just “learning” while in college. Heck, you’re supposed to make your life long friends while in college, but just as some people love milk, others are lactose intolerant. College isn’t for everyone and I feel that as designers and artists, we really need to focus on what we can do over where we went to school. I feel the right employers are not going to be fretting over what school you attended, but what your portfolio and resume has to offer. Looking back I realized I could have learned everything online, for free. Yes I do admit, I wouldn’t have learned about these techniques without having gone to college, but I would’ve rather have found out along the way than be 30 plus grand in debt and without any real knowledge as to how to motivate oneself, which college didn’t teach me.


Well, thanks Sarah! What a great look into the creative process. Check out her Etsy shop Girphant for awesome bags and the occasional coiling project. Until next time.

~Stay Inspired