• Chad

Interview with Stasia Wierzbicki of Shockingly Subtle

We're dipping back into the Midtown box to finish up that batch of interviews. This one was with Stasia. She was responsible for those sweet ornaments that you hopefully got to use on your Christmas tree. We talked a bit about roller derby, her love for colorful things, and more. Check it out!

Start by introducing yourself, and tell me a little bit about Shockingly Subtle.

STASIA WIERZBICKI: Okay. Well, I'm Stasia Wierzbicki. I go by Shocker. My roller derby name is Shocker Khan. I own a roller derby pro shop. That's my main business. Shockingly Subtle came from that by accident. I was rearranging the shop about a year ago almost, and I realized I had so much vinyl. So, when I first started, I was doing helmet decals, and decals for vehicles, and stuff so that skaters could get their name and number on their helmets, or on their shirts, or whatnot. I bought these boxes of vinyl and that was about six or seven years ago now. When I was moving everything, I realized the boxes were super heavy, and I looked, and I had gotten boxes that were two feet wide by 50 yards long. Oh geez. STASIA: Yeah, it's half a football field. *laughs* Right, yeah. Like, "What do I do?" STASIA: Yeah. And I'm one of those people that saves every little scrap if I can use it later. I had so much vinyl, so I started selling it and still wasn't even making a dent. I've always been really creative, so I started just coming up with different designs on my own and showing them to people. People really liked it so, from there, I started making these decals, and people would tell me, "I like this, but I don't know what I would put it on." So, I started putting it on different things as examples. Vases, water bottles, coffee mugs, stuff like that. And then people wanted to buy my examples so that's how the business accidentally got started. Most of my designs, I try to put something Alaskan into them. And a lot of them, people don't notice until I point it out and they’ll say, "Oh yeah. Now, I see." That's where the subtle part came from. And Shockingly is Shocker. So that's for Shockingly Subtle Designs. I've only been doing it for -- It's been less than a year now.

Wow, okay. So pretty new still. And for how long had it been when you first had started because you're doing the roller derby, and you were putting them on the helmets and stuff. That was a couple years ago or a few years ago? STASIA: I've been doing roller derby for almost a decade, and I've had the 2N1 Skate Shoppe, this past July, for seven years. Wow. Okay, cool. STASIA: Yeah. And I have been doing the decals and stuff for most of that time. Working with vinyl isn't something new to me, but working with it in this way is a bit new and it's not a very forgiving medium. You can't get super detailed with it or the vinyl will just rip or it comes up. The circles will come up while it's cutting so that's been one of the challenging parts is trying to figure out how much I can take out and have it still look like what I want it to. Something that I’ve been doing more recently is people and faces.

Yeah, I saw a picture on your Facebook, someone, the little girl, she had gotten her face painted and you had a decal over it.

STASIA: Yeah. She's my friend's daughter, and she's actually an actress. She's an amazing girl. She has a manager now. They were down to LA. She does commercials here in Alaska, so she's at the fair shooting a commercial for next year. I didn't realize she was going to have face paint, but I had made a decal and put it on a coffee mug for her, and she loves it so much. She wants that to be one of her things that her fans can buy. *laughs* She's such a little entrepreneur already. She's like, "They can get my face, but their name." *laughs* She's already into branding and stuff. That's awesome. STASIA: Yes. And then, I started doing animals, people's pets, because people go crazy about their pets. I know I used to have a couple dogs that I'd do anything for. I've tried dogs and cats. I did a bearded dragon and that was fun. It's nice to have something that's not just a generic lab. You can see that that's your lab. I've had more and more people wanting to get those decals. It's something a little more custom too. It speaks to their animal. STASIA: Exactly. I started just doing it for friends as birthday gifts, wedding gifts, stuff like that. And when I gave it to them, when you give somebody a present, you can really tell when they're just like, "Oh my God, this is awesome" and everything. That's the response I was getting. I made one for my boss at Koot's because I'm a bouncer on the weekends, and he was just over the moon about it. And he's this big, curly-haired, bearded guy. He's just all giddy. STASIA: Yeah. *laughs* So that's one of the things I'm trying to push, especially with the holidays. I've gotten a lot faster at it. Before, when I first started, it took me about eight hours just to do one. But through that, making it for friends and stuff, I finally got it down to about half an hour to an hour-ish. Improving, was that about just getting your system all figured out? STASIA: Yeah. I try to take the photo that I'm given and change it so that it comes out to just the details that you need for your eyes to recognize it as that person. I've looked around online, and I can't find anybody else that's doing it. Even the other decals, other designs that I have, most of them are two-color, and I can't find anybody else doing anything like it. So it’s a niche to fill. STASIA: Yeah, it's very unique. I've turned them into magnets, in addition to putting them on different objects. So far I've gotten a really good response. I started doing markets around town. It's been really awesome to see people get really excited and to see who notices the little things that I hide. Honestly, I hadn't noticed at first. It was LeeAnna that told me about it. After I knew, of course, I was checking every single one. *laughs*

STASIA: Yeah. The only thing, I think, that doesn't have anything is the turtle, which has been very popular. It was the little girl that you saw, Monica. Her mom, Ruth, she loves turtles, so she requested it. I was working with it. I was trying, and it just wasn't working out, and then I went, "There are no turtles in Alaska." *laughs* So I just decided to run with it, and people have liked them and haven't really said, "There's nothing Alaskan about it." The "Made in Alaska" design with the mermaids, I wish I would have taken a picture of the process to get to that because the first iteration was so bad. I had it in my mind, I knew what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t get it to work. I wanted it to be a play off of the Made in Alaska bears, the mama with the baby. I knew I wanted the mama with a baby mermaid. The beginning was so bad compared to the end. The next time I do something, I think I'm going to try to take a picture of the process of all the different iterations to get to the final one because I think people would find it interesting. Totally. I think people appreciate that, seeing that it's a process, that it takes time. Are most of your items custom? STASIA: I've gotten to the point where I have a good amount of inventory, so now I want to work on getting my custom orders because that's where I get a lot of my bread and butter, is the custom work. I get big rolls of magnet sheeting, and I can cut it to any shape and size. I've had a lot of people who wanted custom magnets for their vehicles for advertising their businesses, and that works really well for me on the days where the market is slow. Usually, people start wandering around to everybody else's little tables. That's something that I have a lot of really good feedback about, and I get orders from the other businesses. Even if it's a slow day, I still get orders from that. And then, from that, people see the magnets on people's cars. "Oh, where did you get that?" So word of mouth. Advertising on top of it. STASIA: Yeah. I made a bunch of signs for the O'Malley Castle Market. I've also done the fair for seven years -- I think, six or seven years. Okay. So you've been doing the fair for a while.

STASIA: Yeah. I started off selling helmets and some pads and trying to see because not everybody had been coming to buy skates, so I was trying to figure out what the normal public would want to buy and everybody bought the socks. I have these funky knee-high socks I get from Sock It to Me, this company out of Portland and every year it was less and less of the other stuff and more and more socks. And then, this year, I did half socks and half Shockingly Subtle, and had really good feedback from that, so I'll probably continue to do that because I have people that come and go with a year's worth of socks from me every single year. And now, they're also coming to get vases, or decals, and other things like that. Were your regular buyers pretty surprised when they saw all the new stuff that you had? STASIA: They seemed pleasantly surprised because it's still -- I'm a very colorful person. When you come into my shop it's like, "Did a rainbow throw up in here?" *laughs* Yeah, like the ornaments you did for us. It was a huge variety. STASIA: Yeah. I just always really like a lot of different colors, and I think a lot of people are attracted to that. That's why I just try to see what people gravitate towards and do more of that. That's been an interesting experience to see what people like because sometimes I'll like something and it won't sell, and then I'll make something that was kind of a mistake and that will be the first thing to sell. "Oh, okay. I guess I'll make more of that.” Yeah. You have to cater to your customer and all that. STASIA: Yeah, definitely. The custom stuff, that's all catering to them and it's fun because it's something different. I don't get bored with it. Which is good, yeah, if you're always doing something new to keep you on your toes. Do you have a favorite design out of everything you've done so far? STASIA: I really like the seahorses, the ones for The Bear Box. I also really like my recumbent octopus. That's the one that's laid out, right?

STASIA: Yeah. That's one of my favorites that a lot of people really like. It always changes though. *laughs* I have people that come in and ask, "Do you have any otters?" or "Do you have any of this?" The seahorse was actually -- somebody came in and asked me, "Do you have a seahorse?" I came up with the rear fin being the shape of Alaska and that was the second one where it's the actual shape. All the other ones before, like the Maid in Alaska, don't really have anything hidden. It's just if you know the bears and the Made in Alaska, the different spelling and all that. Yeah, then it suddenly looks familiar. STASIA: Exactly. I've also started making a few more butterfly decals recently. That one, it was the very first one where I used the shape of Alaska in the bottom portion. I was playing around with the butterfly, which somebody had requested, and I thought it was a good idea because a lot of people like butterflies. Something about the shape just clicked, and I thought, "Oh, I could use this," and it worked really well. It's nice when things work out that way. STASIA: Definitely. Being inspired by somebody else bringing something to me. It's like a collaboration. That's really cool. You mentioned that you've been to the state fair for the last seven years. With the size difference between that and the smaller markets, how has that experience differed? STASIA: It's been good. I mean, this is the first year for Shockingly Subtle at the fair, but I have had a lot of business come out of that. People message me and say, "Oh, yeah. I met you at the fair. You said you can maybe do this for me." I get a lot of that from the markets as well. Even if I don't necessarily do that well monetarily at the market, I do get some residual business from it, so I try not to see it as a loss. It's just something that I always have to keep in mind. I try not to get too down that I didn't necessarily make back my table fees that day because, usually, something is coming in the future.

Yeah, for sure. You talked a little bit about your process before, how it was difficult with certain designs. How do you tackle those situations, when you maybe have a tough design and it's giving you trouble? STASIA: Stepping away from it really helps. I'll get bogged down in the details, and I'll get to a certain point where I'll force myself to stop and work on something else. Especially with the faces. I'll get to a certain place and say, "I think this looks fine, but I've been staring at it for so long, I'm not sure." So I'll send it to somebody else and ask them, "Hey, who is this?" Somebody who knows that person and can give me good feedback on it. I haven't ever had anything that I have to just come back and say, "No, I can't do it." I've been able to figure a way around it. And now, after working with this so long, I'm able to make suggestions to a customer. For example, the signage for vehicles, I'm working on one where the guy wanted a table and a tree and wanted a little bit too much in it, so I suggested to him, "Hey, how about we just put half the tree going up this side. Then have the table be the focus.” Especially with the car magnets, people are going to get maybe 10 to 15 seconds to see it. So you want your name, maybe a phone number, and something where it, obviously, shows what you do. I have to edit myself, help my customers edit, or understand the editing process. Once I explain it and say, "Hey, if you only got a few seconds, you can't be putting all these names." A website that's going to go all the way across, nobody's going to remember that. Nobody is going to be writing that down in traffic. Just something where if they search for it, you're going to come up really quick. That's how I do things. Yeah. It's great when you're able to take some of the knowledge your probably apply in your own business and translate that advice to a way to help them. STASIA: Yeah, exactly. It's hard for people to do that sometimes, to let go. Once I've sent them some proofs so that they can see what I'm talking about, that usually helps. Oh, I'm sure. As far as the Bear Box, what about the Bear Box made you want to be a part of it?

STASIA: I was down at the 49th State Brewing Company for a First Friday. It was LeeAnna and Monica, and they came by the booth and mentioned it. I had seen it on, I think it was Facebook, so I already knew about it. That's always a good feeling. STASIA: Yeah. When they mentioned it, I was just like, "Oh, yeah!" And I felt honored that you all wanted to put something of mine in there. It was fun designing the ornaments, but that went through a couple of iterations of itself because I didn't have an actual ornament yet. Yeah. I think LeeAnna was telling me that it's the first time for ornaments, that it was a new thing. STASIA: Yeah, it was. And it was definitely a process there, but it was fun, and I learned a lot. I actually was able to work with resin a lot more than I had before. Now I've incorporated that into other designs. Hopefully it gets more exposure for us both. I've told a lot of people about it because I was really excited to work on the project. So far I've talked to a lot of people that had never heard of it, so I've been telling people about it and trying to spread the word. Yeah. We're a pretty tight-knit community when it comes to purchasing local and supporting each other and it's been nice to be on the inside of that. STASIA: I think we get tired of the big corporations and especially those that come in and try to make it seem like they know about living in Alaska. This is a really cool concept, and I'm really honored to be asked to do it. Yeah. We're super excited that you said yes, that you wanted to be in it, that you were able to be in it. We're really excited about the ornaments. I love the fact that they're all unique and not just the subtle part with pieces of Alaska, but just the designs, and the colors, and everything. Everyone that gets a box now, it's going to be fun sharing on Facebook. Everyone being able to share, "What did you get? Which one did you get?" And people will see that there are different ones, which I think is going to be really cool. STASIA: Yeah, it's exciting. And down the road, I'd love to do something again. The ornaments, that was definitely a labor of love. *laughs* For sure. We appreciate all the effort that went into it. We're definitely excited about doing something again in the future, once we swing back around to the same box location.

STASIA: That'd be great. I know the marketing is so hard now. We've actually found this with roller derby. With my skate shop, it's a little different just because it is such a niche market, but it's been a lot of word of mouth. I'm a veteran, so I have targeted teams. There's a lot of teams that are stationed overseas. I've gone to Korea twice and to Japan where the leagues there actually brought me over to train them and sell them gear and show them how to take care of their skates. There's a lot of people that get told, "Hey, shop at 2N1," because there's a lot of companies that don't ship to APO or FPO addresses because you have to use USPS. And I know that. That's what I almost exclusively use just because of their flat-rate system. And so, for me to ship to Wasilla is the same as if I ship over to an APO address in Korea. That way they're not paying exorbitant amounts in shipping and they get it relatively quickly. That's definitely a way better deal. STASIA: Yeah. And I've been stationed overseas. I understand that too. I have it on my website that I'm a veteran, so I get a lot of good word of mouth from that and try to just have really good customer service and just get things out of the door really quick and people are amazed. Sometimes they'll get something from me before Amazon even ships their order and they're down in Texas. Oh wow, that's a huge difference. STASIA: Yeah, it's definitely a major factor. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. I really appreciate it. It's been a lot of fun. I've learned a lot. A lot of the fun of this is all the things that you learn as soon as you talk to people. STASIA: Oh, I bet. Yeah. And I'm looking forward to everyone getting their ornaments. STASIA: Definitely. Thank you. I'm really glad to be a part of it.

Thank you to Stasia for sitting down with me and making those cool ornaments for The Bear Box. You can check out more of her awesome designs on her website. Make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram as well!