Maybe there’s something magically inspiring about the River Clyde, or is it simply the cider served in Glaswegian pubs. Any way, Glasgow is buzzing with young up-and-coming artists creating incredible things, either on stage or on fabric, with words or with paint. Every month or so we’ll chat with a Glasgow-based artist to see what they’re up to. Today: Ruth Leiser, creator the independent online shop GRLCLB, “My ethos is that if you can get up and put on a T-shirt then caring about stuff shouldn’t be that hard.”
I met up with Ruth Leiser, aka Roobs, creator of GRLCLB, an independent online shop that is “a badass place for badass people”, selling custom witty feminist T-shirts featuring designs such as ‘the catholic guilt tee’ and ‘the luxury tax tee’ complete with embroidered tampon. I talk to her about the unknown abyss of post-university life and taking bold leaps to do what you want and love.
I sat nervously in the Fraser building waiting for Ruth; not the most inspiring of locations but it was kindly chosen by her so I could run down from the library between crammed revision sessions. On first sight, Ruth looks fresh out of the art school, so I was surprised when she revealed she did a degree in psychology at the University of Glasgow. “I hated psychology, it was so competitive and it came to point where I felt like I was doing it out of stubbornness. I had loved doing art at school but was forced to choose between music and art when it came to choosing subjects. Then after doing four years of science at uni, I had an epiphany a week before one of my exams and wondered ‘why am I doing this?’”. It’s a thought that’s all too familiar for most of us and realising what we’ve been working towards might not be what we wanted can be terrifying.
After telling me that she worked in a gift shop in the years following graduation, I asked what it was that prompted Ruth to start her own business. “I had been working there for a few years and one time after a night out, mum asked me how it was going and I suddenly realised that it was making me miserable.”
Did you start GRLCLB before or after you left your job? “Well I started making T-shirts just for fun in November but by February I had so many orders I couldn’t keep up with them. I was making more money than I ever did in the gift shop so I decided to up and leave. After five and a half years of working for them and being friends with the manager, on hearing that I was leaving he completely blew me off and didn’t speak to me for my last month of notice. It was so frustrating after I had been a good employee for such a long time.”
So how did it all start, did you just pick up a needle and thread one day? “Well originally the first T-shirt I sewed was the XX tee (featuring a pair of embroidered breasts complete with nips). Then after having a bad experience with a guy who was simply a dickhead I made the ‘too sassy for you’ tee just for personal satisfaction. After posting a photo on Instagram, people started to show interest and it just kind of snowballed from there.”
A lot of what Ruth stands for and believes in manifests itself in her artwork, and whilst there is a funny side to it, she fiercely believes that if people are given a platform they should use it to the best of their ability. I asked if she felt that GRLCLB was something that she needed to do for herself to get her voice heard. “Well I’ve always used social media to express my opinions but my absolute pet hate is when people with massive platforms, that they could do so much with, only promote themselves.” On the GRLCLB website Ruth talks at length about the importance of standing up and getting angry about stuff, “I think that people think it takes a lot of effort to care about something. My ethos is that if you can get up and put on a T-shirt then caring about stuff shouldn’t be that hard.”
If you were to change anything in terms of your degree to prepare you for what you do now, what would it be? “Well to be honest, even though I didn’t like my degree, what I’m doing now came from an organic place. Even though I regretted it at the time, I’m glad I didn’t do art and design because I feel like I might not be doing what I am right now. I did feel that uni was killing me creatively but everything kind of worked itself out and started to click once I graduated. If I hadn’t gone through all that, I might not have ended up here doing something I love and am passionate about so.”
And finally, I asked if Ruth had any advice for students leaving uni or thinking about the future who don’t know where to take it next (aka most of us). “I would say that what you really shouldn’t do is feel any pressure to step into a career immediately after university. I think that can be really restrictive and dangerous and you could wake up 20 years down the line wondering what you did with all that time. I think it’s really important to commit to trying the things you actually enjoy, even if it’s just as a hobby.”
“Having said that, you want to come out of your degree feeling like you’ve done the best you can; uni is so hard on you, if you come to the end and you think it hasn’t taken its toll on you even a little bit then maybe you haven’t put enough in. The main thing is you just need to be patient with yourself, it’s so easy to be hard on yourself for not knowing what you want to do.”
Roobs made the big leap of stepping out into the world by herself and doing exactly what she wanted to do, something most of us are probably very jealous of, but she does prove that it’s not impossible and university is not the be all and end to our existence.
[Aoife Maguire – @aoifeymaguire]
Cover photo by Steward Bryden