If you've been in London for more than five minutes, there's a good chance you've seen one of the "Crybaby" t-shirts that are now nearly synonymous with Soft Flirt. Surfacing everywhere from your best friend's closet to your favourite stores (and even in the 2017 Fall Dream Lotto Home!), Soft Flirt is a "tenderly handmade" brand blossoming in the Forest City. Alayna Hryclik took her sheepish outlook on engaging with your crush and her whimsical script-like handwriting and transformed it into sweet yet punchy lifestyle brand. However, take note — being a true soft flirt requires more than just a t-shirt.
WHAT IS SOFT FLIRT?
My goal is for Soft Flirt to become a lifestyle brand. When people hear the name, they get what it’s about: fun, light-hearted, kind. These subtle indicators as a way to guide your life with an overarching sense of mindfulness about being tender, gentle, and soft. Right now I feel as though I am in the process of building that vibe.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME?
It started as a joke! It means that you’re not really a flirt; you’re too shy to do anything, you’re behind the scenes saying “hey!” to your crush and then running to a corner to hide. It’s a reference to how I was – and am! – too shy to really flirt. My friends and I would joke that instead of going after someone directly, being a hard flirt, that I am a “soft flirt”.
AND YOU ARE A SOFT FLIRT! BUT YOU ARE A FLIRT!
(Laughs) It’s just how I talk to people! I’ve always worked in customer service that’s how I’ve always communicated with people — super friendly and joking around. I try to be really nice to everyone I meet, and sometimes that can come across as having a bit of a flirty vibe. It was actually my Tumblr username! After I made a Tumblr with that name, I thought, “Why am I not calling my business this!?” It’s funny, it’s catchy, people get it! So that was it. That became the name.
HOW DID YOU START YOUR BUSINESS?
I went to Western for a Bachelor of Fine Arts, so I’ve always made things in some capacity. I prefer to make gifts over buying them. I really like art and my handwriting, but I hadn’t found a way to put those things together. For Soft Flirt, the first things I made were banners and mountain pillows. I started to make items to sell at the Rag Bag Bazaar. I began to make pillows with custom writing for people, and that was how I was able to showcase what I was able to do with my handwriting. I was able to make a tangible piece of art that anyone could afford to have in their home. Filthy Rebena brought me on and supported me well before I was formally branded as Soft Flirt. I did a lot of markets and had a lot of support from the London community and was really well received. People began to tell me, “You can do this! This can be a real thing!” Eventually it stuck, and I started to consider how I could pull everything I made into a cohesive unit. The first step was to pick a name, so I did that! Then I started to bring in some consistent product that I knew I could sell.
WHERE CAN WE FIND SOFT FLIRT?
Currently, in London, you can find Soft Flirt at Filthy Rebena, which carries home decor and apparel, and Grow & Bloom Co., which carries exclusively home decor. Etsy! I also try to promote pop-up markets and craft shows I will be at on Facebook and Instagram.
WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION?
Soft Flirt is my business, but it's also so much of my own life! It’s what I put in my own home, how I communicate with people. For me, inspiration comes from everywhere. I love vintage fabrics — especially old grandma prints — and thrifting. A lot of the colour pallet I use comes from the muted pastels you find in old floral prints from vintage curtains and bedsheets. The phrases used in Soft Flirt are little moments...someone can read it and have a laugh. People find humour in the “Nope”, “Yikes”, and “Okay.” Two second humour is how the banners came about. One word, easy to read. The t-shirts have a larger surface which is better for a concise joke. I find inspiration for the text-based material from conversations with friends. Everything I do has a base in community and collaboration. I talk so much about my ideas. Before I make anything, I’ve probably discussed it with five different people. “I’m thinking of making this. Do you think it’s funny? Ok, I’m gonna do it!” It’s hard to pinpoint where the inspiration comes from, because it’s everything around me!
WHAT ARTISTS INFLUENCE YOU?
My biggest art influence is a designer from Brooklyn, Adam J Kurtz. He is my favourite artist. He has an honest, sincere, and succinct way of communicating to his audience, largely through text.
“Moments that make you take pause are beautiful”
WHAT DOES BEAUTY MEAN TO YOU?
I think beauty is vulnerability; to be really open and clear about how you make things or the reason behind what you are making. Kindness is really beautiful. I come back to the words “tender” and “gentle” ten times a day. Those are the things I find beautiful, and I think that’s what people are picking up with Soft Flirt. A soft moment in their day, finding a break where stress can dissipate. Moments that make you take pause are beautiful. Humour — the ability to be lighthearted and to joke about yourself — is a really beautiful thing.
WHAT CAPTIVATES YOUR ATTENTION?
Riverdale! (Laughs) I feel like I am a bit of a magpie. My attention is constantly drawn in seventeen different directions! People, objects, scenery. I am very observational. I am a people watcher. At any given moment there can be a number of things I am obsessed with. I’m on a really big plant kick right now, specifically leaves. Really small moments in plants. If a leaf has a really pretty variegation in it, I am so drawn to it.
WHAT IS THE BEST THING THAT HAS HAPPENED TO YOU SINCE YOU STARTED THE BUSINESS?
There have been a lot of notable moments since I started Soft Flirt. I used to have to really rush my practice. I would get home from my job, and I would work on Soft Flirt from eight pm until 3 in the morning. Now my life has slowed down, and I’ve been able to work in my own space for longer portions of time during the day. Soft Flirt gets to be the focus, which has been a real gift for me. I get to wake up, go about my day, make some tea. Do whatever I feel like until I feel the creative pull to make something. It is so much more relaxed.
The best thing for me is when a friend tells me they've seen a Soft Flirt shirt in public. The other day I got a message from a friend who overheard two girls on the bus talking about how Soft Flirt was their favourite brand in London right now! I am so excited that people like it enough to buy it. And they are strangers! That is the biggest change, people I don’t even know are buying my work. That has been the goal, and I’m slowly getting there. I want everyone to know about what Soft Flirt means to me and what I think it should mean for the world.
Every once in a while I will have a really nice interaction with someone at a market, and they will say some kind things about they think my brand is. Those are the best moments — hearing a pure, honest reaction to all the softness going on in front of them! A girl approached me at Punk Rock Flea once, and she said, “this is what soft femme dreams are made of!” and I died! That’s what I want people to get from it; a dreamy moment in front of them.
WHERE DO YOU GO FROM HERE?
I’d like to establish more of an online space for Soft Flirt. I have goals to make a website that is a store but also a support to the movement. I want to make a zine that is a guide for “soft flirting”, with something like “sustain eye contact for more than two seconds!” Something with a bit of humour about how to be a soft flirt.
I would like to push Soft Flirt beyond London. There are really amazing art communities in Hamilton, Guelph, and Montreal. I would love to get my work in stores there too.
My end goal is to have “soft flirt” become a phrase people use in everyday conversation!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE YOURSELF WHEN YOU WERE STARTING OUT?
I think a really important thing would be to take better care of myself. Better breaks, better stretching, better habits for my body. I make everything. I don’t always give my body the time to rest in-between silk screening shirts, sewing banners, and making tags. I enjoy doing all of that! But when I am working on a deadline, I tend to go! go! go! without giving myself a break. It’s important to give yourself a healthy foundation, and to stay relaxed. For anyone who works with their hands it is so important to rest! Take care of your body.
WHAT WOULD YOU TELL SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO START THEIR OWN CREATIVE ENDEAVOUR OR BUSINESS?
Start small! Go for it! I think a lot of people feel like starting a business is a vast undertaking, and that they have to have a fully flushed out business plan with all of their inventory figured out. My mind changes every day about what direction I want to take, what new items I want to make. You have to start somewhere. Make a few things and see what you can do. There are really easy platforms to get started online, and there are pop-up markets all the time. The main thing is to try!
I love London! London is this little city but it has everything you could need. It has such an amazing community. There are a lot of people taking their own spin on how to make themselves happy that contributes to a beautiful core. A lot of people in the maker community here are friends and really kind to each other. Some of my personal inspirations have been my closest friends. Adam Sturgeon and Savanah Sewell have been so supportive of me, and are absolute pillars in London insofar as development and building welcoming events and spaces for artist, musicians and the community to gather. Grickle Grass and Winter Spectacular are my favourite events! They incorporate fun, friendship, music, and lightness, while supporting really worthy causes. There are so many new exciting projects, businesses, and events happening in London. It gets better every year.