Lifelong artists and life partners Julia Belamarich and Kyle Warfield founded Extra Vitamins as an ongoing experiment rooted in psychedelic peaceful positivity. We're very excited to host an Extra Vitamins pop up in our Brooklyn shop from June 9-11th, 2023 with a launch party on the 9th from 7:00 - 10:00 pm.
We spoke with Julia and Kyle about their brand's history and inspiration.
Could you talk about your backgrounds as artists/designers?
Julia: Creating things is something I’ve been drawn to my whole life. It’s the one thing I can really just flow with. So many of the things I do now with Extra Vitamins I can trace back to being a kid - tie-dyeing t-shirts, collecting things in nature, simple line drawings.
Kyle: I’ve loved to draw for as long as I can remember and always liked making art out of every activity. I became interested in graffiti and skateboarding at a young age, and it really influenced my style of work. In middle school, I created a skate brand with my friends using MS Paint. In high school I started a side gig designing shirt graphics for metal bands. I got really into photography and collage, and learned to see art in everything. After graduating from art school and working at a couple design studios, it was kind of a dream come true to really start a brand and print my own art and lettering on clothes.
How did Extra Vitamins start?
Julia: We actually started by just making art together and self-publishing zines. Then we brought the zines to the New York Art Book Fair, and everyone there had these really cool and creative DIY shirts and hats. That inspired us to make our first shirts, and something about that medium really clicked. We mostly just had a small following of artists at first, but we just kept making shirts until it turned into a full time job.
Some people start brands with a really strong vision, concept, and funding. Ours has been more of a slow and winding kind of journey. We’ve been constantly learning more about the production methods as we go and evolving our aesthetic along the way. We just try lots of things and get hyped when something feels very true and original and candid. Then we kind of follow that and see where it leads next.
Have you always dyed and printed your own pieces? How did you start?
Julia: This brand has always had a DIY spirit in some form. But we really took it to another level in our current studio space. We were doing a mix of in-house and out-of-house production for a while until we came across this abandoned t-shirt printing shop in East Williamsburg. We rented the space along with all the semi-functional machinery and converted it into a small print and dye studio. We really obsess over the details of everything we make. It’s professional DIY.
So, who does what [in the studio]? Why?
Julia: I do all the tie dye. The first time I dyed a shirt I was immediately drawn to the process. It feels like painting, and I like how it can be really rigid and pattern-based or just loose and organic. It also has this cool sculptural element to it because you tie up the garment and then have to think about how all the colors will land when it gets washed out. I like to mix up my own custom dye colors and come up with vibe-y palettes that feel unique.
I also do most of the illustration. I have a lot of old illustrated field guides that I look at, like the 70s Golden Guide books and random out-of-print books about butterflies, mushrooms, and flowers. And we both collect the rocks. Our designs for the STONED and SPIRAL tees came from rocks and other little bits of nature we collected throughout the summer that we then photographed in the studio.
Kyle: I do the typography, which is a huge part of our brand. You’ll almost never find us using fonts on our shirts, it’s all hand drawn by me. It gives everything a more human and organic feeling, evoking some 70s-80s graphic design before every single thing was made on a computer. Lettering inspiration is everywhere, and lately we’ve been looking at old outdoor gear, the Whole Earth Catalog, the Dome Book, and vintage surf and skate mags.
I also print all of our shirts, with help from our studio assistant Charlie. When we have a design on the press, we’ll usually print a few experimental pieces at the end of a print run. That’s where it gets really fun. I’ll throw a few new colors onto the screen to make a split fountain gradient print, or we’ll print the graphic with a crazy placement, going over the arm seam or hood. Over time we continue adding to the test prints, and it’s really fun to see the unexpected combinations of graphics. If the test print looks cool, it usually becomes inspiration for a future garment.
What are the pros and cons of handling everything in-house?
Julia: Making clothes in our studio is really alive! We can have an idea and make it a reality all in one day. And the creative process feels like a conversation. We can quickly respond to a cool dye or print idea and pass things back and forth until it’s got that just-right special feeling. It feels like we can do anything.
It’s also probably one of the most eco-friendly and ethical solutions to making clothes. Do it all yourself in one space! No shipping, no importing, no bad vibes!
The downside is that it’s a lot of work. I don’t think people often realize how many times a t-shirt is handled during this process - from tie dye to printing to folding and shipping, it’s a really hands-on process. It takes a lot of time to do it just right.
So many of your graphics refer to the natural world. Could you talk about the outdoors as a source of inspiration?
Kyle: Nature is the guide. It’s an endless wealth of inspiration and life and wisdom. Nature is art. It’s real, and it’s home, and it’s truly psychedelic. And we’re all one with it. Everything is connected. Nature is the source. You can find everything in it. And see yourself in it.
Where did “Extra Vitamins” come from?
Julia: Vitamins are good for you! Everything that makes you feel good. And you can’t have too much. Like nature is a vitamin. And so is a good sunset. And a really cool rock. Or just a really beautiful color.
There’s enough nihilism and negativity in the world, so I think if you’re going to make things, might as well try to keep it light, meditative, psychedelic, and good-vibes.
Are there special places in NYC that help you achieve that natural high?
Julia: You can get naturally high anywhere. Maybe just need some sun or cloud watching.
And definitely Prospect Park! We go there a lot, especially with our dog. We love to walk all the wooded trails, you can really get lost for a little bit. Our NYC escape is the Catskills, we go on a big camping trip every fall, it’s just insanely beautiful.
Be sure to check out our Extra Vitamins pop from June 9-11th, 2023 at Hatchet Supply - Brooklyn!
Photo: Tyler Sueda
Interview: Storr Erickson