You’re walking along the street when you spot someone wearing a grey t-shirt emblazoned with Nike’s familiar “Just Do it” slogan. But instead of a swoosh, above the block lettering is a terrified-looking fellow being chased by Death himself. Yeah, something’s not right. It’s that kind of loony merch found at Hambone, the brainchild of writer Molly Young, artist Daniele Frazier, and illustrator Trenton Duerksen. Friends since high school, they’ve long sought a way to collaborate, finally stumbling across the idea of a weirdo online shop as a way to unite their inner-freaks. Hambone is a mix of curation and creation, a combo of esoteric tchotchkes they find abroad like the “Portable Sports Bar,” and their own creations, like “Best Fiend Clip.” (You’re better off checking them out for yourself.) We met up with the trio at the eclectic Sunshine Mart on Broome Street to discuss their mission, where the name Hambone came from, and how they create their weird and witty products.
I really want to know how you came up with the name Hambone.
Molly: Hambone is a secret ingredient in stew. It’s high in flavor and low in pretense. And it’s salty. We are all of those things, I like to think.
Daniele: It’s a word that sounds good and it’s a visually nice thing.
Trenton: It sounds like it has a cartoon presence, and almost like southern slang or something like that. It’s a goofy word and we’re a little bit off color so I think hambone really sums it up.
How long have you been planning on opening Hambone? Did it take a while to start?
Daniele: No. I think it took one week.
Molly: We’ve known each other since high school. She was my only friend in high school, and we’ve remained compadres against the odds. Hambone was a way to collaborate.
Daniele: Our paths diverged, and we would always say to each other “I wish there was a way we could be working together” but because of what we do for a living we had to create our own way of working together.
Trenton: It’s been percolating for a long time. I’ve done stuff with Molly, drawings for her before, and Daniele and I have worked together at an illustration business and so it was just kind of an occasional thing that now we’re happy is more of a constant exercise in the new projects we come up with.
Did you guys ever think you’d work on clothes or jewelry?
Daniele: I always thought that I would. I make clothes, drawings go on t-shirts well. I make jewelry. But I think the thing for me is that I travel a lot so I’ll find things in another country and think, God, I wish I could find this in a store in New York.
Molly: I have a lot of t-shirt ideas in the moments before I fall asleep at night when I’m ultra relaxed, and my subconscious is doing its take on riffing on an air guitar. I don’t have the visual capabilities to realize those ideas but they definitely do.
Daniele: Yea, it’s like we’re all editors for each other. I might think of a t-shirt, but it would be like why would I make more than one? Or I’ll make a piece of jewelry and people would be like where did you get that and I’ll be like oh I made it. Instead of the conversation ending there, now we have an outlet and can tell people where to get it.
Molly: Also a t-shirt is both a private pleasure since it’s something that you wear on your body, and it’s also a very public pleasure—it engages other people or forces them to engage with you.
Have you noticed a trend of where your buyers are from?
Molly: Many international buyers. We’ve had Singapore, a repeat customer in Israel who I’m a huge fan of, Korea, Canada. A lot of Canadians. And other than that, just sprinkled around the United States.
How’d you come up with the idea of mixing in weird candies?
Daniele: When we started Hambone, I was in Mexico and was emailing them things that I had found, and then Molly saw the skeleton hair clips and thought that was something we could sell. We were all in different places when Molly was like, let’s start Hambone. I made the site then started buying things abroad, and I had found candy and we were like, why not sell candy. My favorite part of a store is the area by the register where all the small cheap stuff is, and you can just gift those items.
Molly: I think offering cheap crewels is important.
Trenton: Yea, it’s better than a quarter machine, and it’s also better than the MoMa store. What we’re selling is not pretentious—it’s tongue-in-cheek and I guess some people can think of it as an inside joke but there is no secret club except for knowing about it and the limitations of the supply. There’s a huge proliferation of tchotchkes in this day and age. If you took a picture of a counter at a place like this 10 or 15 years ago and now, you see there are 30 more varieties of potato chips or on the counter there are 30 more types of tea stringers, all these weird experimental things and toys and tchotchkes and millions of kinds of chocolate. But we’re going in a different way, but not like super high end production. We thumb our nose at MoMa design, I would say. Is that okay to say?
Molly: That’s ok to say, I endorse that. Also, everyone knows what to do with candy. You put that shit in your mouth and eat it. No instructions necessary.
What’s your creative process like?
Molly: I think it’s basically nonstop dialogue between us throwing ideas to the wall and modifying each others’ ideas.
Daniele: We’re learning as we go. I’ve never worked with someone who’s really skilled at writing and selling things with a description. Realizing the power of that, that adding words can create a story, concept visuals that come to mind that aren’t even necessarily a thing is so powerful. That’s advertising. But what we’re doing is sort of subverting that whole thing because when people come to our store, what they’re seeing is incoherent in a certain way except that it’s a store and you go there to buy something. I don’t know what people go there thinking they’re going to buy, and I think that that’s a good thing because that keeps our creativity free to do whatever.
Molly: My goal with any Hambone product is, you know when you’re reading a book and you come upon a sentence and the sentence perfectly nails a feeling or a thought that you’ve had but never could articulate? I want people to go to Hambone and have the products be those underlying sentences, like the thing that speaks to you directly and in a very weird way.
Trenton: Working in this triangulated relationship is great because say I’ll have some doodles or Molly will have some writing or Daniele will have some ideas, and I would otherwise be really self-conscious about a cartoon or a doodle for a t-shirt, but they can take them from me if they think they’re good. The onus isn’t on me necessarily. What that means is that the people that Molly speaks to through writing are a different group of people than who I speak to.
What inspires your ideas?
Daniele: I’m inspired by the world of objects. I think about it mostly when I travel and I see how a spool of thread or a simple tool or a nail clipper or a very basic item is just done slightly differently in different places. There’s a different standard for mass production of objects across the globe, it varies a lot, so I’m interested in the opportunity that something on a cheaper end represents for us. Being from the United States, the mass production of products’ standards are high, so being able to see things elsewhere produced cheaply is an opportunity to enter that conversation and be like I can make something too. With jewelry or candy, stuff like that, it doesn’t have to be perfect or have a Wal-Mart quality.
Molly: I think we’re inspired by the intersection of playfulness and intelligence.
Is there anything else you plan on producing besides prints, t-shirts, candy, jewelry?
Daniele: The sky’s the limit.
Molly: We’re going to be releasing a book pretty soon. It’s very exciting!
Daniele: We’re also going to have some holiday items coming out, some wrapping papers that we designed.
Can you talk more about your overall theme? I do see that it’s tongue-in-cheek, and dark and sinister. Can you explain what you’re all about?
Trenton: I don’t think we’re so sinister. I think we definitely can be satirical. We’re not cynical about the world or about what we’re doing so we don’t have evil intentions.
Daniele: I also think that as a consumer, everything is really mediated by the person that’s selling it to you. Sometimes you feel like there’s something you want that’s not out there, and I feel like the editing that companies do often takes the form of censorship in a way. To be able to reclaim a little bit of your own voice in the things you wear and to experiment with arts and commerce feels important.
Molly: I think everybody has an inner freak and inner weirdo, and our Hambone mission is to make everyone feel comfortable with their inner freak. Like slipping into a warm bath, that’s how you should feel about your inner freakishness, and Hambone is the faucet.