Mar 1 2009
INTERVIEW BY SARAH STEINBERG
SELF-PORTRAITS BY YOKOO
Yokoo is an accidental knitting wunderkind who resides in a magical place called Atlanta, where she chips away tirelessly and obsessively at creating weird and beautiful neckwear. She recently became internet-famous for her chunky, inspired wares and the cute self-portraits she uses to hock them to the masses. That’s right, she’s the nimble-fingered elf behind those massive chain-link scarves and mini-capes every girl you know has been fawning over. And she and her carpal tunnels thank each and every one of you.
In less than two years she’s been able to quit her lousy retail job and dedicate every waking hour to turning her high school hobby into the launching pad for a handmade empire. Now that she’s got everyone’s attention, with back orders piling up, she’s adding new pieces to her line. That’s kind of nuts since she does it all by herself. How will you handle it all, little Yokoo?
Vice: Hi Yokoo. What were you doing right when I called?
Yokoo: Working, just working. Constantly, constantly working. I never expected to be this busy. It’s all still pretty new to me. There are all these orders that come in and it’s like, I’m just one person! And I don’t have time to teach anybody because there are so many packages that have to go out.
But it’s an enviable position. I take it you’ve noticed that the economy has completely collapsed?
Yeah, so it’s not like I can hire anybody. Plus I wouldn’t want to teach anybody my secrets. Everybody’s always asking me and emailing me—
I mean, not secrets, but everyone is always wanting to know what yarn I use or how I make a particular chain or, you know, what the patterns are.
Maybe they should just practice. How many hours a day do you knit?
I’d say about eight or nine hours.
My hands! I wake up with cramps. I’m definitely not always going to be a knitter.
And somehow you still find the time to dress in an incredibly adorable fashion.
The funny thing is that the average person probably wouldn’t even see me as being stylish. They’d probably think I dress like a bum. If I was in New York or Connecticut I’d get a different reaction, but in Atlanta people don’t dress like me.
Oh, so you’re saying Atlanta is a cultural backwater and that you’re ashamed of it?
I don’t want to say anything bad about Atlanta because I live here! But there are no places to shop. They have the mall and that’s it. There’s not a lot of creativity to be had.
But that’s often a perfect environment to foster creativity. Are you a self-taught knitter?
Well, my mom taught me the basics. But you sort of teach yourself as you go along. When you have the basics down, that’s when you become creative and you become comfortable with, like, trying to do your own thing. I’m not an expert. I just like things to be perfect.
A little OCD, are we?
I’m not very obsessive-compulsive, but my pillows do need to be fluffed just the way I like them. Know what I mean? When I do something, I like to make it great. If I’m not good at something, if I didn’t make something well, then I’m not going to put it out.
Your photography also represents that. It’s all very thought-out and structured.
Everything that I do started with photography, with my love for movies and cinema.
The self-portraits that you take to show off your designs are almost more popular than the work itself. They’re awesome.
I don’t like it when people take my picture, but I don’t mind taking it myself. I have a very odd-shaped face, so I have to be framed in a certain way so my nose doesn’t look so big or my eyes won’t look too squinty.
Come on. You’re totally pretty.
I’m sensitive about other people taking my picture. I actually never wanted it to go in this direction, where I became the main model for everything.
I have no idea. I wish I knew. I mean, I’m very outgoing but I like to keep to myself. I was in New York City not too long ago and I was shopping at APC and this girl stopped me and asked, “Are you Yokoo?” I was flabbergasted. So nervous.
But getting recognized in public is a good indicator of success.
It’s just luck. I enjoy what I do and fortunately lately I’ve been able to leave my 9-to-5. I have all these opportunities to do what I love to do. And that’s fashion, photography, music—you know, everything.
It seems like it’s a bit more than luck. What about the fact that your stuff is cool and well made and there’s nothing else like it?
Well, the first thing I made was a gift. I was really, really into cowls—big cowls and scarves and chunky knitwear. I didn’t see many people using cowls, so I was like, “Wow, this is a great opportunity.” I devised a special little stitch that made it very stiff and thick.
Is gift-giving still a motivating factor in your designs?
Well, I really design for myself. I don’t wear my work all the time because I don’t like to stand out so much, but what I do create, like scarves and cowls and stuff like that, I make for myself. I enjoy my accessories.
I’m addicted to accessories.
I’m very big on accessories. But really I’m more into style than fashion.
What’s the difference?
I’m not a girly girl. I’m not the type of girl who wears fancy nail polish and has to know the latest gossip. I’m no fashion nerd.
Are the newer pieces in the photos you sent us representative of the next phase of your work? It doesn’t look like knitwear.
It’s sewing! My upcoming line will expand beyond knitwear with an intimate luxury scarf in faded plaids and Aztec prints.
That’s right in step with your style. Very organized, almost perfect.
But I’m not saying I’m perfect or anything like that. What I think is that you get older and, as an adult or sort of an adult, you realize what you like and what you don’t like. I like my music in one place, my photography in one place, my yarn organized in accordance to color, and my magazines stacked in a certain way. It’s all a part of what makes me enjoy my space.
And that’s not a teeny-tiny bit neat-freakish?
I’m not a crazy person. I just like what I like. There could be a couple sweaters on the couch, for example, but to have dust on the floor is just not appropriate.
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