Westkill is a Brooklyn-based company that makes screen-printed products: the result of two cousins influenced by nature to create products with a focus on original design.
Hello Joe and Justin, introduce yourselves. Where are you originally from? Where did you learn your craft and how did you get started?
Joe: I'm born and raised in Brooklyn. Growing up in the city my family always used to escape to the Catskills on weekends, so I was always drawn to nature. It was the New York City museums that really shaped my interest in art. I got my start in the business working at a professional screen printing shop, printing shirt after shirt. After a couple of years of this, I decided it was time to start something of my own. That's when Justin and I decided to open a print shop together.
Justin: I was born in NY and raised in CT. Art has been a part of my life since my grandfather taught me to paint when I was 5. I didn't take art seriously until high school. After many classes and a BFA in college at the University of Wisconsin, I landed in Italy with a full time job working as an art restorer in Florence. I grew tired of restoration after about a year and returned to NY. I worked as an artist for a decorative art company called Artgroove NYC, and on the side painted in a shared artist studio in the Lower East Side. In 2011, after Joe graduated, we decided to open a business together, merging our creative talents. We invested in some screen printing equipment and painfully taught ourselves the craft.
Where do you live and work now, and how does this environment influence your creative process?
We both live in Brooklyn. Being in a place like Brooklyn has allowed our business to grow quicker than a business would outside of the city. We are able to find all of the vendors and supplies that we could possibly need all within a 1 mile radius. With so many creative businesses in such a condensed area it inevitably leads to cross pollination of ideas.
Explain the story behind the name: how and why you chose it.
The name Westkill comes from the town in the Catskills where the first pieces were born. Justin and I are cousins, and during a family trip upstate he was given a crosscut piece of maple wood by my father. When he got home, he painted on it and really liked the aesthetic of the wood vs. paint. We felt the name not only pays homage to this first piece but the word itself reflects the natural world in and of itself.
What’s your least favorite part of running a small business?
My least favorite part of running a small business is definitely production related. We produce all of the clocks and pieces ourselves in house, but as we grow we are looking to branch out into different product lines. It's very difficult to find a manufacturer that is local and get an affordable price on production. Everyone knows discounts come with quantity, but being forced to produce many of something or spend a lot of money on experimental products stifles creation.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself about starting your brand and business?
Justin: If I could go back in time I'd tell my past self to go back to business school and learn the fundamentals of running a business, specifically a retail business. I would also have told my past self to forget trying to print commercial jobs to raise capital and focus on art prints and more shows. I would have a defined timeline, a defined budget, and a more well rounded business plan.