Not just concert tees anymore: P.E.I. musicians collaborate on meaningful, local merch
'Having different merch is so exciting. And making music is expensive'
P.E.I.-raised musician Jenn Grant announced this week she was offering sleep masks for sale, embroidered with the words Dreamer and Paradise. Dreamer is one of Grant's most famous songs — it opens the CBC show Heartland — and Paradise is her latest LP.
Sleep is important to Halifax-based Grant (of course, with all the late nights on the road), so she'd been using one of the masks for a couple of years and said she fell in love with the handmade product by P.E.I.'s shoppe juju.
Not many people are buying albums these days so you have to find income sources wherever you can.— Kinley Dowling
"I'm a big supporter of buying local, and I wanted to share what Julia's been creating with my fans," said Grant. "I believe my audience will love her stuff as much as I do! I love T-shirts but this is something unique that will pack lightly."
Merch has come a long way, it seems — P.E.I. musicians' collaborations with local artists are taking it far beyond T-shirts and ball caps.
Grant bought a first run of 30 masks from Julia Kun at shoppe juju and is re-selling them on her website for $30.
Kun is a big fan of Grant's music, she said, so she was honoured. "These new sleep masks have given my business some great exposure and it's always inspiring when someone you admire wants to support your work," Kun said.
Kinley Dowling is no stranger to unusual merch. To raise money for her last album, she collaborated with local makers Emmett & Ellie's to make a KINLEY soap, and sold posters of the album's cover art, a painting by Ashley Anne Clark.
"Having different merch is so exciting. And making music is expensive," Dowling said.
After the release of the video for Dowling's song Microphone, about sexual assault, Savannah Belsher-MacLean of Swoon Creations approached Dowling to collaborate on a merch project.
"I went home with the design idea, found that the healing properties in aquamarine and rose quartz are beneficial to victims of sexual assault, and proposed to Kinley that I would donate my time and sell them to her at cost so she could raise money for her campaign," Belsher-MacLean said.
The first batch of bracelets sold out almost immediately, and Dowling ordered more — they're available on her Bandcamp page for $20. From the sales, she said she's been able to apply for a couple of music awards and film festivals to spread the word of the music video.
"Collaborating with other artists is fun and also necessary to survive in an industry that is changing fast," Dowling said. "Since music can stream anywhere for free, not many people are buying albums these days so you have to find income sources wherever you can. #hustle."
Russell Louder is a Charlottetown-based transgender performance artist and musician who started making and designing clothes this summer as a personal project.
"I like to dress vibrantly, so I was using fabric paint to add flare to the clothes I felt needed it. Then people seemed to really like them, and started asking if I was selling them — I even got some commissions right off the bat," Louder said.
"I immediately realized I could put these garments at a merch table at my shows as an avenue for selling them. Rather than people just buying generic t-shirts with my name on them, people can get vibrant, one-of-a-kind, wearable art pieces that I personally poured energy into," Louder said.
Style is very important to Louder's identity as an artist, they said, and although they haven't tracked their earnings ("I'm not a very good business person" they admit), they said sales have been "enough to sustain my life and art practice so that's probably a good sign." Louder has one EP, Think of Light, and is now working on a new multi-disciplinary art project that will include lots of new music.
Merch for a Canadian winter
"I like having merch that isn't just going to be thrown in a drawer and be forgotten about," Menzie said.
Menzie ordered 50 hats to start for $25 dollars each — he's selling them for $30.
"Hats were appealing to me because it's something that is usually sitting out somewhere around the house ... chances are you're going to wear it more than you would a T-shirt, and it'll last longer too."
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