Isa Beniston of Gentle Thrills

interview

There’s a lot of things coming up that we’re excited about, but we’re really excited about our upcoming LA show. We’re excited about doing WCC in a new space under that warm So Cal sun with the finest group of vendors yet.

It’s the last bit that we’re especially excited about. WCC vendors, some just starting out and some well established, are the best that the craft and design world has to offer. And so we had a thought: we should interview some LA vendors we’re super excited about and pick their brains about their lives and brands. We could call it, “The WCC Series Of Interviews for Brain Picking Brand’s Owner’s Brains About Their Lives and Brands”*, or something like that.

*Editors note: we’re definitely not calling it that.

But we couldn’t wait ask these folks some questions, from the super-important stuff like what their favorite burrito order is, to the trivial stuff, like where they see their brand in two years. We recently chatted with Isa Beniston, the founder and designer of the unforgettabl-riot-of-color-of-a-brand Gentle Thrills, to talk beginnings, brand growth, and the general drawbacks of not being able to clone yourself.
 


Where are you from and where do you live now? 

I’m from Solana Beach, a smallish, coastal town in San Diego! I moved out in 2010 when I was 17 (!) to go to school at UCLA! After graduation, I never left. I thought about leaving LA briefly that summer, but any city I compared it to seemed like it wouldn’t be better, so I signed my first lease for an (ultimately terrible) house share in August of 2014. Lately I’ve been feeling ready to leave LA, but once again, nowhere is sounding better!

What lead you to your creative practice?

I’ve always drawn or painted or sculpted or been doing some sort of craft with my mom. I went to UCLA to study art and also got a minor in teaching art, which I did for a while during and after school. In 2015, I was ready for a change and started my current full-time job of running my retail brand, Gentle Thrills, where I also get to draw/paint/sculpt/craft but also do admin/too many errands/packing and shipping.

What stumbling blocks have you encountered in building your brand?

I have a lot of beef with business growth! Basically I’m used to doing A LOT alone, and for a while that was okay and a pretty normal part of building a small business without a partner. But eventually my workload began increasing, but there was still only one of me and not enough money to hire help (or maybe there was, but I was being frugal). Getting through that period of time was a major challenge and continues to dribble into this year. I had to take a leap and invest in some outside help and figure out what to delegate and when to fit that into my schedule. I’m still working out the kinks as I try to manage/delegate to my various lovely assistants while still managing/delegating to myself... all within an 8-hour work day so I don’t burn the frick out!

I still don’t know what the future holds for the back-end growth of our brand! I can see us having employees some day but how we’re going to get from A-Z on that is elusive to me at this moment, with the main issue being that I can’t clone myself or delegate the airbrushing commissions and collaboration designs to anyone, which is what sucks up the bulk of my time!

What successes are you most surprised by and proud of?

I feel like I’ve done a safe and healthy job of steadily increasing our inventory without waste or backstock! I’m being patient and sustainable with growth to build a solid foundation for the future of the brand. The goal is to keep making strategic choices about what we make, how many things we make, and when we release them. I’m still getting the hang of it but I can see improvements between 2015 and 2019 for sure. My next goal is to have more consistent stock availability for my wholesale buyers. We’re dipping our toe in that by increasing order volume here and there where we can afford to or where it makes for a good margin! But I’m not psychic and that has made things challenging!

Worst job you’ve ever had?

Wow, do I have to pick just one?! My CV “is insane,” to quote a friend. But oddly the worst job I ever had was as an unpaid intern for these two vintage sellers. They weren’t blatantly rude to me, but they were entitled and flexing the unpaid intern muscle. I will NEVER make any of my studio assistants buy me soda at a poorly lit downtown taco stand at 11pm and then not even give them cash to get myself a drink too. I just don’t ever want to treat any of my employees like that! In the entire time I’ve been running Gentle Thrills, I’ve never had an unpaid intern!

What’s something in your closet or bathroom that your currently obsessed with?

I snagged a denim mini-skirt at Lyykke Wullf’s sample sale that I have worn thrice a week! I’m also obsessed with rahua salt spray—smells like heaven and makes it look like I spent an hour doing my hair after I spray it on my bedhead. Huzzah!

One movie, book, or song that influenced your work?

Movie is Tekkonkinkreet! Moody, colorful, & overstimulating. I found Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood to be inspiring as an artist and a woman but it didn’t directly inspire my work. And music-wise, I’m all over the freaking map!

What do you do to ward of creative burnout?

Go to museums, go to shows, buy books, listen to new music, agree to go to events I don’t want to go to, look at Etsy, go to flea markets & estate sales, draw in my sketchbook without any prompt.

What is your most effective act of self-care?

I never ever ever ever set an alarm to wake up unless I absolutely have to. Body gets as much sleep as body needs!

What’s your go-to pleace to get inspired?

My studio! I make it a point to fill my space with ephemera, tchotchkes, supplies, and books so I can be creative on demand as needed since that’s where i am all the time anyway!


Photo by Philip Seastrom

Photo by Philip Seastrom


Photo by Amanda Adams


Photo by Katie Neuhof


Photo by Sophia Maria Diaz

Photo by Sophia Maria Diaz


Outfit commissioned for Post Malone by Cathy Hahn