Monday, July 1, 2013

Artist Abolitionists: Christen & Joy Smith, Illustration & Graphic Design



Christen and Joy are entrepreneurial sisters living in New York City. They first opened their online business enterprise, Smithereenes, in 2010, where they illustrate and hand craft holiday greeting cards. As sisters, Christen and Joy have always been collaborators—creating and conspiring together since their early days when they would draw and chat the day away at the kitchen table in front of a box of 120 Crayola crayons. Now as adults with the injustices of this world revealed to them, these two use teamwork, their creative abilities, and their beautiful illustrations to join the fight against sex-trafficking.


NN: Tell us what inspired you to start your company, Smithereenes? What is your preferred art form and medium of choice?  

CS: The idea behind Smithereenes dawned when we realized that our passion for illustrating could intersect with a need we saw in the world. We had already been designing holiday greeting cards to give our family and friends for several years. When we became aware of the issue of sex-trafficking, and especially what was going on in our city, we just had to join the fight against it! But, being freelance artists living on tight budgets, we weren't able to financially contribute as much to the abolitionist organizations as we wanted. That's when we realized we could use our art to generate revenue that can be put towards fighting injustice. As a result, our entire business model is based on the goal of donating 90% of the proceeds to an organization devoted to fighting against human trafficking, and running our operation on 10%. To offset our production costs as a fledgling business, we are slowly raising the percentage we donate each year until we reach that goal. This holiday season, we will be donating 50% of the proceeds from our cards. Our preferred medium is art prints of our hand-drawn and digitally-drawn illustrations printed on recycled paper as greeting cards.


NN: Tell us about your latest artistic endeavor? What was the last project
that you did that demonstrates transformation/freedom?

CS: Currently, Smithereenes operates as a seasonal business. During this past 2012 holiday season, we offered a selection of holiday and winter-themed greeting cards and gift tags, which were sold through our Etsy site, and at local craft fairs. This past season was also the first year we introduced our designs printed on high-quality recycled paper and packaged in environmentally friendly cello bags! It seemed to be the logical way to run a paper products business dedicated to making an impact for the greater good. Our work for Smithereenes is more character-based than the designs you'd expect to find on most holiday cards out there. We are inspired by an image or a feeling, and then we work to visually communicate the story behind it by creating a scene through the interaction of characters and environment. Though we tend to execute our own visions individually, our back-and-forth sister-banter is still integral to the process, providing creative, moral, and technical support for each other, as well as inspiring new story concepts that refine our zany brand of sister-sarcasm!

While the content of our designs don't necessarily allude to the struggles of victims and survivors of human trafficking, the people that peruse and/or buy our cards (and the recipients of our cards) are made aware of our business mission to fight trafficking by donating our proceeds. This often leads to conversations with curious customers that allow us to share more with them about the reality of human trafficking in New York, or lead them to learn more about the efforts of organizations like Nomi Network that are seeking to combat it.


NN: How did you hear about human trafficking and Nomi Network?

CS: We were first made aware of the reality and proximity of modern-day slavery at the 2007 New Year's Eve fundraising gala to benefit Restore (www.restorenyc.org). The following year we attended a screening of the activist film Call + Response, which was in part organized by Nomi Network (www.nominetwork.org). But it was not until 2012 that we finally connected with Nomi Network’s executive team at the happy hour they were sponsoring for the Believers in Business conference!


NN: What’s a small step someone else could take to become an Artist Abolitionist?

CS: Look at your body of work, examine your creative process, and identify the injustices in the world that fuel your desire to make change happen. Use the creative output you are already generating as a starting point and build off of that, whether it be adapting a message of freedom in your work, or causing your audience to think about these issues, or using your work as a platform to generate awareness or income that you can donate. Do not wait for the future to implement your bigger ideas. Use what you have right now and work with it.



NN: How should someone find out more about your awesome work?

CS: Since we are currently still operating as a seasonal business on Etsy (www.etsy.com/shop/Smithereenes), the best way to keep in touch with us right now is to 'like' us on Facebook www.facebook.com/Smithereenes or follow us on Twitter @SmithereenesNYC. Here you can stay up to date with photos of our newest designs, craft fair appearances and other events, news about the abolitionist organizations we are supporting, and info regarding when our shop will open for business this 2013 holiday season!

NN: If you are an Artist Abolitionist or a friend who wanted to support this movement please buy a campaign tee or tank today! Email info@nominetwork.org with your name and the number of tees or tanks you’d like.

Then share a photo of yourself in your tank top with Nomi’s Instagram account (http://instagram.com/nominetworknyc#) by using hashtag #togetherwithnomi so we can see the faces supporting the cause!

- Nick Lauda, Alissa Moore, & Christen Smith

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