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STUDIO: Alexz Sandoval - Bird Trouble

May 11, 2015

Meet Alexz Sandoval. She is the maker of Bird Trouble bags, accessories, and repurposed clothing. This girl is the embodiment of the motto behind her line: “Live wild. Live free.” I am glad I got to catch up with her during her time in the Bay Area, before she set off on yet another adventure. Alexz and I met years ago, through mutual friends in Chicago, so we start off with some catching up chit-chat. 

Ana Brazaityte: Most of my friends are not in Chicago anymore, everybody has gone elsewhere.

Alexz Sandoval: Doing their own thing, growing.

AB: Yeah. I don’t know what I would come back to even.

AS: Right, yeah. That’s another big thing for me - my best friend’s moving to LA, my other best friends are in the mountains, everyone’s really far. But I love Chicago’s support system and I love California’s support system so far too, all the local people that I’ve met, everyone’s really really great. So I just wanna be with everyone universally. I don’t want to pick one place, esentially, I just want to be everywhere all the time.

AB: That’s awesome.

AS: It’s hard, I like places too much. 

AB: Haha. How are you liking it here?

AS: I feel really lucky, this place is super cheap and of course everyone here is from Chicago so it kind of feels...it wasn’t hard at all to transition. Plus, I’ve been here multiple times before so I kind of knew what I was getting into. I would love to live in San Francisco, maybe one day when I’m rich. I love that city - it’s so romantic - but I don’t want high rent prices ever, until I’m at that point where I can - where it just doesn’t even matter.

AB: Yeah, if cost didn’t really matter, then for sure, it’s an awesome place to live - no contest. 
Well, why don't you tell me a little bit about your background, whatever you think is relevant in your life that brought you here to this point.

AS: Cool, so my parents were both born in Mexico… and my grandpa was a tailor and my grandma was a seamstress. I never really connected the two until high school, as to why I like sewing, but I think it was an influence. Other than that, I've always been super creative. I never really wanted to do anything else, other than maybe be a veterinarian, but I always said, “I’m gonna be an artist”. I didn’t know what the fuck that meant but…haha. What else? I did fashion design in college for about a year. I didn't go through with it because I just ended up moving to the city and stopped going to school for a little bit to work. Before that, I was doing independent study fashion in high school. So for like three years, she just kind of let me do whatever I wanted to do, which had a lot of t-shirt revamp incorporation, DIY punk stuff, sewing and cutting skirts really short and adding lace on them or doing weird cut outs... or making mod dresses because I found a mod dress I liked at a thrift store and brought it to school and my teacher would tell me how to make a pattern, which was really fun.

AB: Cool!

AS: I think that that helped my brain just try to figure out things alone, without instructions I guess. Bird Trouble started in 2009, just because I was bored, living in Walnut Creek actually.

AB: Oh, where’s that?

AS: It’s a little more East, past here. 

AB: Oh, okay.

AS: Town that I used to live in with my ex-boyfriend and we didn’t do a lot because it’s expensive out here and it’s always been expensive out here and since the BART stopped running at 12 and we were 20 I was like, “Well, I can't go out to the city and go and hang”, so I just stayed in Walnut Creek and started sewing a lot more again. I started selling pouches and wallets and kept on going from there.

AB: I had one of those! I remember you made me a custom wallet… red plaid with red floral on the inside, it was awesome.

AS: I was just looking back at my old Flickr and all the crazy stuff I was making, with insane patterns and weird Japanese stuff. It’s fun, it’s cool to see how things have transformed.

AB: So how has Bird Trouble transformed from where it started to where it is now? What’s your focus right now?

AS: Before, I don't think it was as expressional as it is now. The fabrics I was using then were just fabrics that I would get online or off Etsy. And now I think it transformed to me actually paying attention, searching for textiles that I really like and creating this aesthetic or finding an aesthetic - a style that I really enjoy. It just took a while to find that style. I think you're always trying to find that style but it’s getting to be more of a vision where I’m like, “Oh, okay, so that’s what I like”. It’s not so confusing anymore, which is nice because now I can actually plan a little better for the future rather than just being like, “I’m just gonna wing it and do things”.

AB: Cool! So what do you look for as far as textiles? I think I saw that you're planning to go to Oaxaca for some textiles, right?

AS: Mhmmm. When I went to Oaxaca, I fell in love with the fact that everything is such a tradition - since B.C. - weaving and artisan crafts. I want to bring that in more because things are being made so fast in other places and I think we should take a step back and appreciate the story behind something.

AB: Totally.

AS: Ethically take care of people who need it. The people who are making fast fashion of course need it too, but we can offer work to them in different ways. But I’m really stoked about this textile because I did a bunch of doodles and I'm gonna go there and I'm talking to my friend Katie and she's like, “Anything’s possible, just make a bunch of drawings!” I've been looking at YouTube videos and seeing how they do it and I wonder how close it’s gonna be able to get to my sketch. That's gonna be insane.

AB: Oh, so you're gonna have custom textiles made?

AS: I'm gonna bring custom drawings, and hopefully that will all pan out and if not, I'm so down for picking out things that they've drawn. A lot of their textiles have eyes on them and I'm always drawing eyes - ojos.

AB: Is that symbolic of something for you? Or just something you've been drawn to?

AS: It’s just something I've been drawn to.

AB: Cool!

AS: I'm stoked. They use natural dyeing in their textiles so that's really cool. I wanna learn about all the insects they use, that they crush up to get colors and the grains and flowers and spices - whatever they use, I'm super curious to know. That’s just awesome knowledge to have if you wanna make some textiles at home or anyone else wants to dye something at home, they could just use natural dyes.

AB: Right! Very cool. So what are the next steps forward for you?

AS: To get this collection made, I need to fund it. With traveling and working very part-time and Bird Trouble full time - that doesn’t pay enough to get a huge savings so I’m gonna fund (hopefully) the money for the next collection through crowdfunding.

AB: Oh great!

AS: The crowdfunding will be really exciting because I’ll be bringing together a lot of creative friends to donate backer rewards, so it’s starting to feel like a community which is really nice - to have people that want to help out and donate stuff so I can have less work to do…So if that money is raised - and I’m thinking of trying to raise $3,000, which isn’t a lot - I think it’s definitely attainable.

AB: Yeah, that’s definitely very reasonable.

AS: And then if it reaches over, everything is just gonna go straight to Bird Trouble getting a mobile vehicle to put Bird Trouble essentially on the road. We’ll have a van but I wanna get a camper for the back of the van to take to pop up shows and instead of fighting the lifestyle that I want, I’m just gonna go with it. If I wanna go places I’m just gonna take Bird Trouble with me.

AB: There you go! Yeah, it’s nice to not have it tie you down but have it allow you to explore more places.

AS: Mhmmm which I think is super awesome about small business and doing your thing, you can just like see the opportunities that come up and feel it out and go for it - if it seems smart, of course. Sometimes I can be rash, but it’s always kind of helped me out. Products in the new collection are going to be made in Mexico, so I’m kind of taking a step back from making things other than custom orders. People are still gonna come to me for specific custom orders, but as for other products, I’m gonna have a whole bunch. That $3,000 is gonna be for the textile design and for production to happen because making so many bags and trying to find free time and also trying to market it - trying to do all of this stuff is extremely tiring and I just want to do Bird Trouble full time, so I just need stacks of bags here ready to take to craft shows like, "Okay, cool, done."

AB: So you’ll be making the custom orders and do you have somewhere specific you’re gonna go for the other ones to be produced?

AS: I don’t know if they do those in Oaxaca or if I have to go to another region in Mexico to do that. My friend was saying Leon and Oaxaca are the places I’ll wanna plan my trip to - support the little towns.

AB Yeah, so that’s kind of more about supporting the craftsmen in those communities then.

AS: Mhmm. I’m super stoked about it. I’m stoked to go to Mexico - it’s super inspiring there - their values in Mexico are completely different than out here, they work super hard.

AB: What was it like living there and working on Bird Trouble from there?

AS: It was awesome. Everyone’s really happy. No one really makes a lot of money - there’s a huge difference between the rich and the poor and there’s just not a lot of rich people everywhere, but everyone’s super happy and content in doing what they’re doing. A lot of the kids I met there were living all together and experiencing days by hanging out with each other all the time… I dunno, it’s kind of the same as it is in America besides the fact that it just felt more happy and festive and there's less complaining. Very cultured, very good food, people give you kisses on the cheek, very loving - whereas some people in America are very standoff-ish, especially in cities. Coming from Chicago, where people just like look down...

AB: That’s very true. People kind of avoid each other instead of...

AS: Connecting and talking and learning.

AB: And you were in Guadalajara?

AS: Yeah. I was there with my mom. That was really nice - to live with my mom for the first time in forever like, "So what are you still mad at me about, mom?" Because the last time I lived with her, I was a teenager and I was pretty crazy then so...

AB: Haha!
So besides sourcing the textiles for your new collection from Mexico, what inspired it? 

AS: It’s inspired by travel. A lot of things that I sketch are just images that I've seen while traveling. So something like this, with clouds and cactus and flowers and birds, kind of psychedelic, kind of dreamy, super colorful. I don't know if I want a black background or white background yet, I'm gonna bring the sketches and see what I can do from it. But yeah, travel. Travel inspires a lot, the meditation of traveling and the images I bring back - mountains and serenity. Mexico gave me so much, I just want to reconnect with it and keep connected to it. So Mexico is a huge part.

AB: And your Bird Trouble slogan is “Live free”, right? So travel totally goes along with it, I like that.

AS: Live wild, live free.
I've also been thinking of putting vintage and re-purposed clothing in my shop too. Since it's a sustainable line, I wanna keep things sustainable. So things being made in Mexico would be sustainable because it's globally helping out everyone and because of the natural textiles. And I bought this really cool jacket at a thrift store the other day and embroidered the back of it and I wanna do more of that - tweak stuff, or get vintage that I think is really cool and offer that to people just because I've always loved vintage.

AB: Oh, so sustainability in that is important to you as well.

AS: Yes.

AB: Cool! Are you interested in making your own clothes from repurposed textiles too or more altering vintage and making it your own?

AS: That might be one of Bird Trouble's goals for the future - a clothing line. More just because I would need to have the money to hire people to do things like that. I can definitely doodle and design and create a concept but I would absolutely need someone to help me with pattern-work, construction - I can't do that myself. So until I'm at that point where I can, I won’t do it just because it's not gonna be good quality clothing, you know? But yeah, a clothing line would definitely be awesome - having that be another department too - vintage and then sustainable handmade clothing.

AB: Yeah, I'm sure bag construction is very different in technique and craft than clothing.

AS: Fitting and sizing - all that stuff is way back in my mind form school but I gotta take classes on it. If I can get someone to come and work for me at some point and show me a few tricks, that would be really awesome - if I could work with someone and do it.

AB: That sounds like it could be a good partnership for the future. Sweet!

AS: Lots of cool things could happen!

AB: Indeed! Well, what are you up to these days aside from Bird Trouble?

AS: I've been skateboarding a lot, that’s really exciting. My friend’s here and he’s really into skateboarding so I borrowed my other friend's skateboard and we've been going like 6 miles a day sometimes, being insane. We took it to SF and I was going through China Town - it was so fun. I didn't fall...actually I kind of fell the other day and scraped my knees. I've been just taking advantage of sunny days, that's what's cool about out here, it’s really hard to not want to be outside. We’ll sit on the stoop and listen to music and work on stuff for hours. Eat breakfast, have a super slow morning and then like not spend spend any money because we both live really simple.

AB: That's great!

AS: And then go skateboarding and come back, take Ty [Alexz's adorable pup] for a walk.

AB: Is that your general routine? Take it easy in the morning and then work later on?

AS: Yeah, I like to work late into the night. Mornings, I like to make my food, have my coffee, whatever errands we need to do - I'll go and do errands before the sun goes down and then I'll come to my room and if it’s not clean, I’ll have to clean and organize it and make sure it feels right and then I can finally sit down.

AB: I totally get that. It stresses me out when things are messy and I can't really concentrate.

AS: Exactly. I'm stoked to go back to Chicago because the place I'm gonna live is gonna be less people - it’s just gonna be me, James, and his parents are there sometimes. So it will be quiet, I'll be able to concentrate. In Mexico, it was really easy for me to concentrate. Out here in this house it's a little harder just because this is a house full of artists and it's just messy when you walk through and I think I've learned that I do need pretty tidy areas. I think it’s important to creative brains, having ideas flow.

AB: It's important to know what kind of environtment you function the best in.

AS: Right, yeah.

“...everything is a learning experience and it doesn’t really matter, you just gotta do it. Let it come in.”

AB: What are you listening to lately?

AS: We've been listening to a lot of Abner Jay, he’s this Suwannee River guy, sings folk blues, very depressing. It's awesome. Been looking up a lot of GG Allin videos, it’s really really weird, getting really into them...a little too into them. Just laughing and being like, “This guy’s insane!”

AB: Very true. Haha.

AS: I'm always listening to kind of the same stuff: Bob Dylan, The Only Ones, and I still listen to punk music that I've listened to for forever... Neil Young - a lot of Neil Young,  Leo Sayer.

AB: Sweet! So, is there anything else that you feel like you would want to reach out to people about, about why handmade is important to you?

AS: It’s important because it connects you to a person and until I started making stuff and becoming a part of a community, I never really realized that...you'd go shopping and you'd buy stuff and you'd go home. And you're like, "Oh, I'm happy!" But now that I'm a part of it and I'm buying things that friends make, I'm realizing that the other stuff doesn't really matter to me. You start to appreciate what you have more.

AB: That's a good point.

AS: That and just supporting your friends - what they like to do - it's awesome to get to see them grow.

AB: Yeah, that's great. And do you have any sort of end goal for Bird Trouble in mind? Is it just going on the road and seeing what happens or do you have anything else planned out? 

AS: I think about that sometimes... it's hard. Sometimes I either wanna have Bird Trouble on the road and do a lot of craft shows every year and of course have the e-commerce website still or maybe a physical store somewhere. Maybe that would be Chicago, just because I trust Chicago more and I trust people in Chicago. That'd be cool... but I don't know. That's hard to think about, that's scary.

AB: Understandable. Well, cool, let's leave off on this: is there anything you’ve learned in the process of where Bird Trouble started and where it is now, that - well, any advice that you wish someone would've given you or any advice you would give to other people who are trying to start making their own craft into a business?

AS: Advice for other people: just do it. There are so many people that are talking and there need to be more people that are doing what they want to do. I think it's really important. People just get tired and lazy and they shouldn't let that happen because you never know what can come up from it. And advice for people to have told me? I don't know, I've never really regretted the way I've done stuff. I feel like it's taken a really long time to get something established in a sense, but I don't mind that, I kind of like that. I didn't go to school for business or anything so everything is a learning experience and it doesn't really matter, you just gotta do it. Let it come in.

AB: Let it come in...okay, yeah! I like that.

Further exploration:

And if you are in Chicago, check out these workshops Alexz will be leading in collaboration with Cara Molitor of The Dolly Fox on May 18th, 19th, 27th and 28th! You can make a leather wrap wallet, iPad case, clutch, and/or a tote. I would seriously take all of these workshops if I were in town! With these two awesome ladies, it's guaranteed to be a great time! 

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