In the Wild with Alex Stone
Photography by Hint of Thought at Sézane Shop. Seattle, WA.
We’re chatting with Alex Stone, or better known as Soothefolk, ahead of her art show, Hanging Linens here at Wild Cactus Boutique: a collection inspired by Alex’s years abroad in France and passion for textiles— one of the earliest forms of technology.
Sit down with Alex Stone, and Madison Skye, to talk about Alex’s sources of inspiration, dealing with creative burnout, to the story behind Portland's beloved chain stitching, Soothefolk.
Tell me about “Soothefolk.” Why Soothefolk?
When I was in grad school I was searching for my “why.” Why did I want to be an artist?
I’ve had chronic pain since I was a kid, chronic pelvic pain. Fast forward to grad school, I had only been diagnosed for a year. I was struggling with the physical and emotional trauma related to it.
A lot of people were talking about chronic pain at the time on social media, and I felt like I didn't enjoy seeing only anatomical representations, or PMS art. I wanted to use it as a focus subject to bring on a more empowering perspective to it, and I knew I could connect to other people on a deeper level.
I remember seeing Kinfolk, and thought what if I make a play on that? Soothefolk came from that idea of helping people, and helping myself, while also making fun of Kinfolk.
How long have you been doing this?
A year. A little over a year. I’ve practiced everyday over the past year, and I’ve done markets every single weekend since May.
So to you this probably feels way longer than a year?
Oh yeah. It definitely has. But it’s also like—wow, this is taking me places. It’s the perfect thing for me. I like talking to people, I like doing research, I’m technically interested in the machine, and how to take care of it. The fact it’s reviving this old craft is super inspiring to me. Teaching others that this thing exists…it’s powerful.
You recently transitioned to making this your full-time job. First of all, congratulations. What has that process been like?
Thank you! It’s been really gratifying. One of my missions within my art is to also empower other people to become artists. I don’t want it to seem impossible for others to make this a career— I want it to feel like a real job. If anything these last few months have taught me that being self-employed is exhausting, but you can do it. That’s the main takeaway.
You said you’ve been working seven days a week?
Oh yeah, it’s non-stop. Even when I’m not doing stuff, I’m thinking about it consistently. I’m talking about it with everyone, it is completely my identity. You don’t get a break from it.
As a freelancer, who’s in the creative field myself, I feel that on a much much smaller scale. You can’t just let it go, I’m emotionally tied to everything I put out there.
You can’t just check out. No, you can’t.
I would imagine for you, as someone who is self-employed, with no bosses, it’s even more so?
I realized this year, I don’t want to work for anyone else. I work a lot better when I am my own agent. I know I can hold myself accountable, I don’t have anyone else keeping the score for me.
That’s a really great way of putting it: you don’t have anyone keeping score. That must be creatively liberating in a sense?
People's judgment, and that internal struggle, wanting to impress someone else, wondering what people think of you, it just gets more streamlined with the individual you’re working with.
Where I come from, yes it’s creative, but it’s also analytical, it’s through numbers, it’s through sales. It’s interesting that you get gratification through the public. You don’t have a boss, but you have Portland.
It’s wild. It’s really wild. I’m at this point where I’m successful, at least from a starting perspective, and there’s opportunity ahead of me, there's momentum. But what people don’t realize about artists, and me specifically, no matter how many compliments people give you—there’s always the internal battle of “this isn’t good enough,” “I’m not happy with what I’m doing.” The biggest struggle of the artist is never expressing exactly what you want to say.
What places, or people, keep you inspired?
Small businesses, the people I’m actually working with are incredibly inspiring to me. Not only because they’re so accomplished, and they’ve taken that plunge, but they’re also super encouraging of me. I’ve never met a small business owner here in Portland that hasn’t treated me well.
My morning routine I’ll have my cup of coffee, and watch Architectural Digest, or Vogue Living. So much of my process is inspired by peoples living spaces, because I’m always thinking of people and what symbols or treasures they resonate with. Those videos are just beautiful.
They’re such a fantasy. These are people with unlimited funds, who build these fantasy worlds.
I must know:
1. How do you drink your coffee?
2. You have to tell me your favorite Architectural Digest home.
Okay! Favorite way to drink my coffee: black with a little bit of cream. So not black—coffee with cream.
Favorite AD home, or actually Vogue home is Bode. I always return to that one.
Let’s talk about burnout. That’s been a major theme for me recently, and I would assume with you working so much– how do you come back to life during a burnout period?
I always hit a point where my body literally shuts down. I cannot keep going. I push myself to the brink, and then I have to tune out and watch really shitty reality T.V. for days.
My dog, going on walks, that’s the best medicine. And friendship. All the friendships I've made at these small businesses, that’s everything to me. If I get sad I'll go into a coffee shop I know, or to Wild Cactus. Oh, and comfort food. Really unhealthy comfort food saves.
Now I need to know, what’s your favorite comfort food?
Corn Dogs from Hungry Tiger.
Well now I know what I’m doing this weekend!
I’m honestly an American fast food whore. Burgers and fries…it heals.
What advice would you give creatives today?
I would say: you can make it happen. The best way to do that is through meeting people in-person. Cold calling, emailing, DM’ing, anyway you can connect with someone. And don’t be afraid to be a fangirl. Don’t be afraid of overselling yourself.
I think what people don’t often realize is when you work for yourself, or are freelance, or in any non-traditional role, you do everything. You’re constantly selling yourself, you're constantly advocating for yourself. You're a creative, but no one teaches you how to do finances, no one teaches you how to negotiate. It’s exhausting. If you don’t have someone looking out for you, you’re taking on the creative labor, but also everything else.
My therapist gave me the most amazing advice, and it’s so simple: You don’t have to do anything perfect the first time. You can give yourself permission to fuck up. You can fail, and it will get better with time. People are afraid of failing. Give yourself the grace to do it badly the first time.
Give yourself grace to be bad…
Let’s change gears. Let’s talk about fashion. Chain stitching is so intertwined with the world of fashion— tell me about your personal style.
Okay personal style, my least favorite question ever.
I am a gunge girl. I like to destroy my clothes, and I can’t keep myself clean. I get crumbs on myself, I get paint on myself. I like to get my hands dirty, so t-shirts, pants that are straight legged, or a long skirt.
Footwear is my favorite thing ever. Not because I’m a brand girly, but I like to feel comfortable in what I wear. I like it to do its job, but also it’s an amazing accessory.
You can put on any footwear with any outfit.
Dickies, Chunks, Baggu, Wolf Circus…
Silver or gold?
When I think “Alex” I imagine black and olive green. I love how sometimes I see you in these feminine heels, but sometimes it’s bright Nikes. I love the mix of masculine and feminine that you play with in your personal style.
That’s a huge part of my fashion sense. I love to play with masculinity and femininity because it’s a power move. You can put stuff on and feel differently about your gender, just depending on the day.
I must ask: who’s the dream brand? Who’s the dream business?
I would love to work with Samual Zelig, Outsiders Division from Spain and Older Brother from L.A. Oh! And First Aid Kit, the band.
Okay final question: if you could decide where Soothefolk ends up in 5 years from now—where are we going?
We’re going international, baby!
I mean, I’m trying to take it day by day. With that being said, I’d like 2 employees, a brick and mortar, and making high end 1x1 pieces or collections. Also, wedding pop-ups.
None of this is crazy, with the speed you're going on at, I give it two years. Tops.
Hanging Linens will open at Wild Cactus Boutique, Friday, September 29th from 7-9pm. Come celebrate Alex with some wine and good company.
3638 SE DIVISION ST,