Q&A: Tina Sparkles

Posted by Rob Walker on June 3, 2008
Posted Under: Buying In (the book),DIYism,Q&A,Subculture Inc.

Today, Murketing is pleased to present the second in a series of three Q&As with Austin Craft Mafia founders who are in Chapter 13 of Buying In. Tina Sparkles built a considerable following with Sparkle Craft, which of late has been best known for her handmade, Earth-and-animal-friendly guitar straps.

Aside from the ACM, however, here she addresses a few surprising developments: On May 9, 2008 she announced she was taking her last orders for guitar straps and moving on to new things. More on that (including what went into the decision), below, as well as her thoughts about crafting and doing-it-yourself and consumption and ethics; about the pleasure of teaching others crafty skills; about why she stopped buying new clothes three years ago; and about a new book she’s working on that ties all of the above together. Here goes:

Q: Let’s start with the Craft Mafia(s). One of the things that really interested me about the ACM is I’d never quite seen an arrangement like this — you’re all independent, and your affiliation seems, to an outsider at least, to amount to sort of quasi-formalized mutual support. How do you see it at this point, and how do you think a setup like this helps the new Craft Mafias that seem to keep forming?

A: The Austin Craft Mafia is an odd magical little creature. Mostly, we are just a group of friends, a family. From the beginning we have always made decisions about our group as we went along, without any big grandiose plan about what we are or what we wanted to be and I think that has really allowed us to grow as a group organically. We tackle issues and opportunities as they come along and keep communication open and fair.

As far as other Craft Mafias are concerned, I feel like the whole bonding-together-to-have-a-bigger-voice is what attracts people to form their own groups, as well as having a localized community to support their individual endeavors.

Q: When I spoke to you while I was still writing the book, more than a year ago, you mentioned that you were considering trying to find a local manufacturer, so you could focus more on design. But now you’ve got a whole new direction — what went into your thinking on that?

Yes, I am in the midst of a pretty huge change as far as Sparkle Craft is concerned. After 7 years of hand-making and selling guitar straps (approximately 10,000!), I have decided to move on to try something new with my life.

I have lots of reasons for the change of direction. In addition to just being burnt out on making guitar straps (which is why I was considering the local manufacturer), I was really inspired to make my product more eco-friendly after I saw storyofstuff.com and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. I immediately tried to source new materials for my guitar straps and found a company that recycles plastic bottles to make a fiber called EcoSpun. Unfortunately though, in order to get webbing made from EcoSpun, you have to deal directly with a mill, and that requires a huge investment and a lot of space to store the material. As a very small business, it is beyond my capacity.

Another option that I was considering for awhile was making Sparkle Craft into a place where people could recycle their old straps. I’ve had several requests from friends to recycle their camera & guitar straps and thought that would be a fun way to get my source material . . . directly from the consumer!

At the same time, I was also inspired by your article! It definitely made me think about the craft movement in a different way and to consider consumerism in the craft world. Even if you are a small independent business, you still have to consider your source material, your eco-footprint and your place in the overall consumer game. In general, I feel like we have to draw lines when it comes to how we live our lives and/or run our businesses, because you can’t do everything. Or at least not everything at once. There is always going to be something that you are not doing or could be doing. The trick is to continually re-evaluate and make improvements as you are able.

For instance, I decided long ago to not use leather in my products, and also to not use sweatshop labor to make my products. But at the same time I was buying and using source materials like fabric, plastic parts & webbing from wholesalers to make the straps. Who knows where they got these materials and who knows what kind of negative effects the making of these materials have had on the environment or the people that help to create them? I think you can always say, “That is great that you are doing X, but what about A,B,C….?,” so I really believe in taking one good step at a time and continually re-drawing your lines when you are ready to do so.

Also, on a personal level, I stopped buying new clothes about 3 years ago, and have been recycling, thrifting, swapping & sewing myself a wardrobe ever since. I’ve also been teaching a lot of sewing classes here in Austin and I realized I love it! I love it a lot more than making and selling guitar straps, so I decided that it was just time to move on to another chapter of my life.

Q: Speaking of another chapter, you are now writing a book, so what’s the scoop on that?

A: The book! I’m writing and illustrating a sewing and fashion book on how to create a chic yet sustainable wardrobe for yourself. Basically, I just want to share everything I’ve learned over the past several years, so that other people might be inspired to stop buying new stuff themselves and start relying on their own creativity. Its going to be out Spring 2010 through Taunton.

Q: You’re also among the ACM members who have dabbled with television. Is that something you see being part of your future?

A: The whole TV experience was pretty surreal for me. It all happened so quickly and was a little stressful, but overall a fun experience. As far as TV being in my future, I think it is going to be more along the lines of internet video. The Stitch gals and I have been talking about creating a “how-to” TV show of our own on stitchaustin.com. I’m really into the idea of teaching people a skill, and doing the DIY Network show taught me a lot in terms of how to break down projects and teach them to people which will definitely come in handy doing our videos.

Q: Well, you’ve already mentioned a lot, but what else do you hope the future holds, for you and for the ACM?

A: Who knows what will happen in the future with me or the ACM, but my hopes for an ideal future involve living simple, being happy and having fun!!

Murketing thanks Tina Sparkle for taking the time to answer these questions, as well as the ones I asked back I was reporting and writing Buying In. Tomorrow, the third Q&A in this series, with Sublime Stitching’s Jenny Hart.


Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

excellent interview, rob and tina! i love hearing how people’s journeys spiral open from one endeavour to the next organically.. always inspiring!

Written By betsy on June 3rd, 2008 @ 2:03 pm

Thanks for continuing to crank out the always interesting content…looking forward to checking out Tina’s work more closely…

All this talk kind of reminds me of the somewhat recent book by Anne Elizabeth Moore, “Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity.” Check out this article if you’re interested:


Also, kind of reminds me, albeit on a different scale, of Tyler Hays from the furniture company BDDW who just gave a talk as part of our “Summer in the City Salon Series,” at the American Craft Council (that Rob will also be a part of in September!) What I found so interesting was his struggles with how to grow his company and remain true to what they set out to do in the beginning, “To make cool shit…” He also talked a lot about his hopes to make his place a good place for the people that work with him…check it out, again, if you’re interested:


I think it is interesting how similar concerns are popping up in such different endeavors and how they play themselves out in similar fashions…that is all…for now!

Written By Andrew Wagner on June 3rd, 2008 @ 4:17 pm

Thanks Betsy and Andrew. Andrew, interesting connection on Tyler Hays. Re: AEM and her book, personally I recommend the Murketing Q&A:

Written By Rob Walker on June 3rd, 2008 @ 7:39 pm

Ha! Good point. I’ll take a look right now…Looking forward to reading your book and congratulations! Hope to catch one of your readings in New York next week…

Written By Andrew Wagner on June 4th, 2008 @ 8:52 am

Me again…Rob is absolutely correct, his interview with AEM referenced above is way better than the article I referenced. Definitely check it out…

It also leads into some really interesting discussion concerning craft and “art” in the comments section that relate back to this discussion nicely. That of course led me to think about an article we just did in our magazine (American Craft) by the art critic from the New Republic, Jed Perl. Again, I think it is worth taking a look it (sorry for the self-promotion!):


He brings up some really interesting points as he asseses the Jeff Koons/Damien Hirst (sp?)/Murakami phenomenon:

“The artisanal urge—the fundamental human desire to make something with one’s own hands—has never been so endangered as it is right now. Quite frankly, this is a situation that sends a chill down my spine. Consider the work of Jeff Koons, one of the most widely discussed and highly praised artists of the last 20 years. His Hanging Heart, [figure 1] an oversized version of a shiny magenta bauble suspended from a golden ribbon, obviously manufactured to the artist’s specs, recently sold at auction for $23.6 million. So far as I am concerned, Hanging Heart is a piece of generic mall trash…This is an assembly line thingamajig, customized for some hedge-fund manager who doesn’t know what to do with all his disposable income. And Koons is not alone. Damien Hirst, Mike Kelley and Takashi Murakami are among the other art stars whose exhibitions are packed with works that have been designed by the artist whose name is on the marquee, but have by and large not been executed by the artist himself. The Murakami show last fall at Los Angeles’s Museum of Contemporary Art, with its ready-for-the-web cartoon characters and poster-bright flowers, was a case in point. The exhibition [now at Brooklyn Museum of Art through July 13]included a boutique full of Murakami’s Louis Vuitton handbags [figure 2], just in case anybody had missed the point that product-development has trumped the magic of making things. “Look, no hands” might be the newest slogan in the museums and galleries where contemporary art is exhibited”

We’ve all seen this critique before but what I find so interesting is this:

“The enormous appeal of the work of Koons and Murakami and Hirst has everything to do with its mass-produced look. That industrial chill is reassuring to an art audience that knows the chain stores and the suburban malls far better than the galleries and the museums. The artisanal image can provoke anxiety, because its uniqueness demands a unique response. When Hirst [figure 5] exhibits a medicine cabinet complete with bottles and pills designed to resemble the ones that you buy in the drugstore, whatever message he is offering about our medicated society is greased by a jokey familiarity. When Koons exhibits a stainless steel replica of one of the animals made of balloons to delight young kids, he’s offering a work of art that is as generic as a set of dishes from Crate & Barrel. Like Koons’s stainless steel animal, each Crate & Barrel dinner plate is factory perfect. And such a dinner plate can be a lot more reassuring than the plates made by a potter on a wheel, each with its variations that force us to react, to judge. The need to judge can provoke anxiety. Thus the attraction of the Hirst medicine cabinet or the Koons animal, which might be said to be prejudged. The industrial look becomes a seal of approval.”

Anyhow, read the whole piece if you get a chance…really all gets back to why “making” anything is still important and why “making” your own self-image is still crucial though increasingly difficult…

Written By Andrew Wagner on June 4th, 2008 @ 9:44 am
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