An assortment of HelloFootface creations. Photos by Jason Ruiz
Above the narrow and dimly lit confines of the craft-cocktail slinging Stache Bar, there is a creative force that prefers its bottles more empty than full. In their hands, bourbon bottles become cactus planters. Forty-ounce malt liquor containers still create a buzz, but as coffee carafes, not brown-bagged inebriations.
The up-cycling venture of HelloFootface, which started as a late night joke between fellow crafters Lo Kribell and Shelby Batalla, now takes the former homes of whiskey, vodka and other variations of grandpa’s cough medicine and extends their lives by “foot crafting” them into household décor, jewelry and kitchen ware.
“We were so used to people saying ‘Oh, you’re handcrafting something’ so we just tried to flip it and make It funny and memorable,” said the 31-year-old Batalla.
Batalla and Kribell, the 26-year-old co-owner, took two different but equally winding paths to becoming neighbors, friends and now crafting partners. Kribell was raised in North Long Beach but life as an Army wife relocated her to Washington, Germany and Texas before finally ending up back home. Batalla, who works for a local architecture firm in Long Beach, grew up in El Paso and has hopped from Seattle, Boston and Brooklyn before ending up across the hall from Kribell in the units above the 4th St. bar.
The project that often finds them cutting, polishing and sometimes breaking glass in the hallway, balconies and kitchens of their apartment complex started with a mutual admiration for the beauty of bottles that they think is often overlooked by consumers. After striking a deal with the owner of Stache Bar and other local watering holes that provides them with several dozen bottles a week, the two have been able to stockpile an inventory of soon to be “foot crafted” pieces of art.
“There are endless possibilities,” Batalla said. “And with every bottle comes the question, ‘What can we do with this one?”
Getting into the glass crafting sector was something that required a lot of start up costs and a lot of self-teaching. Although both Kribell and Batalla have been crafters for a long time, they had never worked with glass. YouTube helped a lot in learning the ins and outs of cutting and sanding bottles to make them presentable and safe. So far, the majority of the revenue generated from their works have gone back into purchasing the latest technology to help improve their art.
“We had to buy an expensive drill,“ Batalla said. “We had to buy a sander. We had to buy diamond-padded everything. It’s cool that we can turn all this stuff into something else but it does demand a little start up.”
The investment into their company hasn’t affected their efforts to try and keep things affordable for their customers. The brown Lagunitas beer bottle top plugs Kribell wears in her ears are competitively priced with other vendors. Their “Cheers to Your Ears” line of plugs, made completely out of used beer bottle necks, retail for $20 while custom glass plugs from other shops could cost upward of $150. Their pour-over coffee carafe made from old Miller High Life bottles provides an electricity-free and cheap way to make your cup of joe.
“It’s clean, you’re not heating up plastic which some studies say can put toxic additives into your drink,” Batalla said. “It’s all glass and makes a really strong cup of coffee and it’s only $10.”
The two have been relentless in their search for innovative ways to repurpose their glass treasure trove. Using a wool sweater from a thrift store and an emptied-out bottle, they created a self-watering planter which utilizes strips of the sweater as a wick. They’ve also fashioned tiki torches out of Larceny Bourbon bottles, complete with a mini terra cotta pot snuffers.
They jokingly referenced a children’s line that they’ve started, using Martinelli’s apple juice bottles to make soap dispensers and night lights made out of shooters. They’re also exploring the idea of using bottles with different-sized mouths to expand their ear accessory line and not be limited to the standard width of a beer bottle. The hope is to segue into new markets, especially with jewelry which they feel could catch on at tattoo and piercing conventions.
“A lot of these are happy accidents,” Batalla said about their efforts to expand their line of products.
Lately, they’ve started to branch out into commissioned projects, designing custom lighting for area bars, starting with the Stache Bar. The two will replace the existing track lighting with bottle fixtures that will fit over the bulbs. The design, which might allow for interchangeable bottles, could provide the Stache with the ability to decorate based on time of year or daily promotions. The two women are hopeful that once finished, their work at the Stache will open up other opportunities for the creativity to be displayed in the city.
“We want to be the Paul Hogue when it comes to custom bottle lighting,” Kribell said, citing the local artist who’s custom recycled pieces hang in nearly every dive bar in the city. “How he has a piece in pretty much every bar, we want to do that.”
Although Hellofootface’s origins were online, using the craft-centric website Etsy.com to market and sell their goods, Batalla and Kribell now rely heavily on their ability to be mobile and do the majority of their business in person. The company is a regular presence at community events like Top Sekoms' Bloody Sunday events and the recent Wilmore 9 Film, Music and Art Festival earlier this month. Although she feels that having an online presence does lend a sense of legitimacy to the company, the in-person approach is something that Kribell feels is more efficient than Etsy, which yielded over 15,000 results for a recycled bottle art search.
“Etsy is so big now and there’s so much competition that we don’t really know if people have a chance to really see our product,” Kribell said.
Competition is one thing that has kept the two unsure if a the added expense of a storefront is something that needs to be incorporated into the HelloFootface business model or if relying on word of mouth and friends--whom they attribute much of their success to and say they couldn’t exist without--is the right way to go. They do both agree that crafting is something that they’ll continue to do because it’s their love and having it blossom into a full-time job would be a bonus.
“Isn’t that what everyone dreams about?” Kribell asked. “You can work with your friends. You can be creative. You can make interesting things and make a living. That would be awesome.”
HelloFootface items are available for purchase at Top Sekoms and other local retailers. For more information or to see current HelloFootface products, visit their Etsy store.
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