amie cunningham is a wood carver, designer for thief & bandit and artist living and working in halifax, nova scotia, canada. she makes clothing and accessories for women, kids and home goods. everything is made by hand from the screen printed fabric to her custom made dream catchers. you may recongize the brand, as we are big fans of t&b in our household. here is a look into her day as a maker…
A MAKER SERIES / 03
how did you get into apparel making?
Almost by accident really, I was invited to be in a ‘t shirt’ art show, and I just drew a design with a sharpie on a plain t shirt. The response was great so from there I taught myself how to screen print and started screen printing my designs on t shirts. The biggest silk screen I made was the ‘Southwest’ design which I printed on fabric yardage and made really simple scarves. The cut and sewn part came a little later when my first son, Wolfgang was born. I wanted some cool pants for him and knew I had to make them from the over-sized prints.
you recently moved back to canada, why?
To be honest it was the issue of health insurance. When I became pregnant with my second son I realized I wasn’t covered for maternity and instead of going into a huge amount of debt my husband and I decided that moving to Canada would be the right decision. We moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia and my parents are close by. My husband is an artist so he is free to work on his sculpture while I focus on the business. We also have the help of my mom who watches Dutch and Wolfgang for a few hours in the afternoon so we can hustle in our studio.
has business changed since the move?
It’s amazing how much it’s changed. I was so scared to uproot the business here to Canada. I thought that people would be hesitant to order from me since I’m based in Canada and at least 90% of my business comes from the US and overseas. Luckily, that is not the case and the business has grown and is flourishing here. Also, I have probably the most amazing assistant/seamstress. She is a costume design graduate and she is just incredible in so many ways. The quality of our garments are so great and I’m really proud of our work. Another thing is when we bought our house we were able to install an attached workshop to build our dream printing table. Before we left Richmond, VA we befriended a wallpaper printer who showed us his printing technique and we built a table custom to fit our fabric and screens. This makes printing yardage easy but we can still make custom color ways to suit our customers needs.
how would you describe your line?
Thief&Bandit is a culmination of all my passions as an artist, maker and designer. I’ve always loved fashion. I’ve practiced painting, sculpture and illustration and am honestly just obsessed with making things. Thief&Bandit is a collection of hand printed/hand made jewelry, apparel and home goods where the focus is on the print but I see it as so much more. It’s a way for me to share my art with people from around the world, and to empower people by wearing or displaying pieces that are truly thoughtful, unique and handmade.
what does a typical day look like for you?
We get up with the boys (or they get us up!) and chaos ensues. We have breakfast, play, get dressed and get Wolfgang ready for preschool. Throughout the week, Johnston and I take turns taking Wolf to school and often one of us drives downtown to our small sewing studio to drop off fabric and/or pick up garments from Carly. One of us takes Leroy (our shepherd mutt) for a morning walk or bike ride often with Dutch. Around noon my mom comes over to help with Dutch and then I can focus on designing or making jewelry in my studio. Johnston works in his studio during the day or helps with the printing. We have dinner and play with the boys and get them ready for bed. Usually from 9PM to midnight I work on emails or designing. We have very full days.
what was the inspiration behind your boys names?
Back in Richmond, Johnston and I were working at a friend’s restaurant and became friends with a Wolfgang. He is really such a stand up guy, so nice and has just a special outlook on life. I remember telling my friend that if I ever had a boy I would name him after Wolfgang because I would want my son to be just like him. Also, I guess it should be said that Johnston and I were in Germany for two months in 2009 for an artist residency and Wolfgang was conceived there. Wolfgang’s middle name is Vergil who is my husband’s sweet uncle. It’s a strong name and it just really fits him. Dutch’s full name is Dutch Loyal Sebastian. The name Dutch is taken from our very first dog, a mutt we found on the street in Richmond back in 200 He was the most beautiful animal, so gentle and sweet. When we found him he was begging for food outside a cafe and had crazy road rash and was underfed. I had to have him so we took him to the nearest vet and had him checked out. He was so happy to be ours and we drove him to Canada the next day. Sadly he past away only a few years later. He was the most special animal and we wanted his spirit to live on through our son. Loyal is my uncle’s name and Sebastian is the name of our favorite French DJ.
tell us about your background before thief & bandit?
I grew up all over Canada and went to art school in university and received a BFA in fine art. I moved to NYC in 2002 to study painting and sculpture at Parsons School of Design. After I got my MFA at Parsons I focused on sculpture and moved back to Canada to live at my parents rustic cottage for a year or so. Johnston and I got married in 2007 in Canada and moved to Richmond, VA where I continued to make art. With the encouragement of my husband and friends Thief&Bandit started shortly after.
what is your favorite product you create and why?
That’s really difficult to pinpoint, it always seems to change. I really enjoy making dream catchers. I love the process of finding the wood for the frame and choosing the stones, etc. I really love experimenting with new colors on new fabrics, it feels like painting which in many ways I miss. We actually just started printing on canvas paper for unique wall art which I’m really excited about. I would say my ultimate favorite thing to make is the kiddo leggings because I just love getting them on the chubby legs of baby Dutch.
what do you do outside of making?
I recently took up running again which has been a part of my life since I was ten years old. It’s in my head that I need to start training seriously for a marathon as it’s been one of my goals in life. I love film and love going to see movies with my husband. Spending time with my kids is probably the number one thing I do outside making, going swimming and taking them to the park, the simple things are really the most important to me.
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photos by thief&bandit for bleubird.
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