&Friends is a group of friends, artists, writers, and collaborators in New York City. They first caught our attention with the hilarious Tortilla Towel, and we couldn't wait for the chance to get to know them.
Tortilla Towel is just one of many stand-alone projects by a collective of designers and artists called &Friends. By day, they work corporate or agency jobs, but by night (and weekend) these creatives dive into a variety of mediums including film, animation, photography, and product design. The exact nature of each project may change, but there's always a definite theme of quirkiness with an empowered, female point of view. Here's how they make it all work.
How did &Friends find each other?
Two of the founding friends of &Friends, Mary Dauterman and Sarah Lloyd, are a freelance creative team (that’s us!). We’ve been friends for a while, and have been working together professionally as partners at an agency for a couple of years. Then we started working together unprofessionally, both in a tiny makeshift studio, and over chat with Amelia Giller.
Then we realized that a ton of our New York friends were also trying to make stuff, and it would be beautiful and really fun to all work together to help actualize the ideas in each of our own heads. We all became friends at different points in our lives - a lot of us met in Austin, some abroad, some in New York or Los Angeles through the Austin connection. But yeah, we were friends first, then collaborators.
Was there an official decision made to form &Friends? A moment when the group got its name or its website that felt more official? Or did it just naturally, pleasantly evolve?
Not sure if there was a decisive moment the “thing” existed, but it was part of the whole realization that working with friends RULES so hard. The actual relationships have naturally, pleasantly evolved over the course of many years. The projects we do together just started to feel like: Oh, this is how we hang out as friends. We make stuff together.
The actual name, logo, and URL purchase happened within the span of an hour in a hotel room in Canada, though.
&Friends was the shorthand version of the “we work together, but we’re also friends” conversation. For whatever reason, it always feels really important to tell people, "Hey! Hey! These are our friends!" And to bring whatever friend mode there is to the work process.
Like the nonbiological version of working with family.
How does working with a creative collective work for you?
A lot of our projects happen when someone says or does something funny or insane on a Wednesday night, and then that weekend we’re crystallizing it into a finished project to launch on Monday. In practice, it means that some projects are just us, some are with three friends, or four, or eight - sort of whoever is around at inception, or wants to join in for the production.
That’s what happened with Horoscopes, our Tampon Tax video (thanks I-Ping Chiang and Chelsea Marshall for taking some tampons to the face!), and Tortilla Towel too! I-Ping Chiang was just joking about a Tortilla Towel, and we were like waiiit, you’re a genius, we have to make that. So we did! I-Ping designed the towel, we got it manufactured, and then we all shot the film with our friend Chelsey Blackmon. (I-Ping is also the taco filling, btw.)
Some of our projects are more long-term, like the animated series Big Cat Ranch we’ve been slowly and steadily working on with Amelia Giller. After a year and a half we’ve started the even longer process of pitching it.
When you have a new idea and need to get something made, how do you research manufacturers, software, and other tools?
The internet! That’s how we found our towel manufacturer, that’s how we found Big Cartel (<3), and that’s how we get the word out about everything we do. It all takes a lot of patience and a ton of dead ends before you find exactly what you need (circular custom photo realistic double sided beach towel??), but we consider that time and nonsense labor all a part of the process.
We’re also so grateful for the talented pool of friends who are down to help - coders, editors, entrepreneurs, and everyone with the patience to walk us through learning new skills as we chat over email and text.
What’s been your favorite &Friends collaboration so far?
Our collective has only been active for about a year - there's so much more to come! Also WE CAN’T PICK A FAVORITE FRIEND. This is a hard question.
Fair. Is there a common thread between your projects?
Humor? Absurdity? Hmmm. We try to make work that looks great and feels weird and is specific to who we are. Is that what everyone is doing? Probably. Each new project is an evolution, but it’s always from the point of view of some 29-year-old ladies with runaway brains. It feels really cool to link up our uteri and birth these freaky lil' babies together. <3. ‘S real nice.
You got great press for Tortilla Towel! Do you have a secret for getting in front of people, and can you share how you planned your shop launch?
Our secret is just sharing our projects with people we think would want to see them. Friends, Twitter people, journalists we follow, neighbors, siblings. Certain projects unpredictably gain momentum, while some are just fun and personal to make our friends laugh or say “You're nuts. WTF is this?”
The Tortilla Towel shop launch happened out of necessity. We had too many towels to keep between the four of us, and thought we could do a fun, small-batch sale to pay ourselves back for the manufacturing fees. We sold out almost immediately, but still had huge demand so we switched to taking pre-orders to fund the next batch. One week after launch, CNN tweeted us and said the video would be running on 900 syndicated local channels so we had to get a lot made, quickly, and turn ourselves into an fulfillment center.
Right. I want to hear about that! Getting the word out is great, but then you have to ship everything. How’d you handle so many orders?
Well, we almost went insane but we learned a lot! To get the towels shipped, we enlisted a few more friends and did all the fulfillment out of one of our apartments (two of us live together!). We were surrounded by 76 cardboard boxes, rolling towels in foil so they’d looked like actual burritos. It was ridiculous. And...fun? Ha. Ha. Ha. We’d recommend for any product larger than an enamel pin you look into fulfillment services. Also, get an accountant and QuickBooks.
When do you know that a project is finished?
It’s either once the project feels like it has run its course, or once we start getting obsessive about something else. Every project has a different lifespan. Some of them start and finish all within a month. Tortilla Towel lasted longer than expected because it took on a life of its own and because Pee-Wee Herman blogged about it.
Do you have day jobs? I like hearing how people balance their creative lives with paying rent.
All of us have creative industry jobs. At least as of now, &Friends doesn’t pay anyone’s rent. It means that balance doesn’t really exist yet (even though three of us are libras). Mostly, we end up working a ton, but it’s okay because we’d be hanging out anyway!
Mary and Sarah recently went freelance though, and are really excited about the flexibility to take a few months to purely focus on &Friends projects. We have so much faith in the power of friendship!
What has you most excited about the future?
More projects! More friends!
We’re about to share something we originally made for the election. And then early next year, we’re launching another product with Sarah Dauterman (Mary’s lil' sis!). Beyond that, we’re planning to do more experimentation with film and pitches. We also plan on helping friends bring a handful of ideas that are floating around to life. We have a very long to-do list!
Tortilla Towel is sold out for now, but keep an eye on &Friends to see what they come up with next. The special holiday Yule Bra just launched, and there's a lot more to find on the &Friends website or Instagram.