An online resource for innovative entrepreneurs that host their businesses in vehicles and pop-up shops. Interested in following suit? Peruse our selection of original interviews and curated content for tips and insights. Visit our company site for more information! UpendED.co
As a mobile vendor, you have many options for experimentation. If you’re not at the point of showcasing out of a vehicle or doing a pop-up in one of the major fairs around the country, look no further than your own backyard to beta test an idea.
BBQ Films, the cinema social club in New York City, is an excellent example of a pop-up that plays by its own rules, gradually expanding as audiences grow. Outstanding in the Field is another case of a pop-up that grew out of the experience of a smaller concept. It has since grown from a pop-up of sorts to a hybrid pop-up and mobile vehicle venture, traveling the country and setting up events along the way via a big red and white bus that was sourced from Sell-A-Bus.
If you want to go big, you have to start somewhere. The best thing about mobile entrepreneurship is that, not only is it scalable, the concepts are typically malleable enough to replicate across different venues for an array of audiences.
UpendED interview series: Caroline Ballhorn of Tin Can Studio
“People responding to Tin Can Studio has never been an issue. People love trailers. People are so drawn to them. Even if they don’t understand what you’re doing in it, they’re happy to be there. That’s been a real amazing part of the project.”
In a fortuitous state of affairs, I discovered the existence of Tin Can Studio by way of a random post in my Twitter feed. Following the link to an article from The Scout, I first saw the shiny silver 1971 Streamline Prince trailer that was in the process of hosting the second go-round of an underground food series called Eat Together.
Hot on the trailer…er…trail, I contacted co-founder Caroline Ballhorn, an artist and Vancouver resident, to quizzically ask her about the beautiful vehicle, and how it operates. Tin Can Studio is an enigma. It is neither an eat-in food truck, nor a pirate radio station, nor an artist’s studio, nor a concert venue. It can be any one of those things at any given time, a malleable community center with a hitch.
Tin Can Studio can be followed right here on Tumblr. I highly suggest perusing their Flickr for beautiful shots of events that they’ve hosted thus far. If you’re in the Vancouver area and desire to host an event in a mobile space, you’re in luck. Tin Can Studio may be available to rent in the near future.
Being in art school at the time, I noticed a disconnect between the art I was doing in school, which was largely conceptual, and my life outside of school which was meeting all these amazing, artsy people that were not formally trained.
Tin Can Studio came out of a desire to create a hub for people to connect and share their secret artistic lives. I got the idea for the project proceeding my final year in school.
I decided to do Tin Can Studio as my senior project, but I knew that I couldn’t do it all by myself. My studio mate suggested that I talk to a design student at the school for assistance. I reached out to my friend Brodie Kitchen, who I’d only met briefly beforehand. I was like, “Hey you! You’re in design, right?” I then told him my idea, that I wanted to make a mobile space that’s both a project space and also a community hub. I also wanted the project to be something that I could continue after I graduated from art school.
Brody received a Millennium Scholarship a year or two before which had grant money associated with the scholarship for a community-based art project. He was like, “I’ll do a quick write-up, we’ll secure the grant money, and then we’ll buy a trailer.” I was like, okay. Here we go.
It became our full-time thing. In October 2009, we found the perfect Airstream trailer on Craigslist. Brodie was in industrial design and had trained as an electrician, so he was really qualified to do the stuff that I couldn’t do.
We were dealing with the physicality of renovating a trailer in the school’s parking lot while being full-time students and having jobs. During that time, we got to experience the program from different angles. We held music events in the beat-up shell of the trailer that we were renovating. We wanted it to be an active space while we were building it, and it became that for students and teachers. We had some teachers come out and sit there and tell us about what Emily Carr was like 15 years ago, that they had a mobile print mobile and how sad it was that things like that weren’t happening anymore.
We graduated in spring 2010, having completed the build out on a shoestring budget using sourced materials and volunteers. For our grad show in May, we hosted 10 days of programming, sometimes two shows a day, including the shadow puppetry act “Mind of a Snail.”
How do you monetize the project now?
It hasn’t been profitable, but we’re at a breakeven moment. Right now we’re sitting on a little bit of money that we’ve saved from different events, including fundraisers. We’re talking a small amount. I have maybe $500 that we’re sort of like, “We could spend this on upgrading the electrical system, we could spend this on promotions, or we could take ourselves out for dinner!” Drawing on the resources of friends, we haven’t had to go too much into the hole, but I feel like I’ve been on this precipice for the past year or so where I feel like either I need to invest a semi-significant amount of money in Tin Can Studio to get to a point where it would be easy to run.
What logistical challenges have you faced?
Right now, it’s difficult to move it around because we don’t have a dedicated vehicle, which means you can’t park it on the street unless you pay for a parking spot or figure something else out. Luckily it’s not been too bad. It was parked in front of my house, for example, and my neighborhood happens to be a creative hub. It’s been able to operate there and have a decoy vehicle not even attached to it be parked in the front of it to avoid ticketing. The tickets that we have received we’ve managed to pay through crowdsourcing.
How has Tin Can Studio evolved since its inception?
Brodie’s stepped away from the project. He’s more involved now with other projects that he’s doing. It’s now run by me and Jenny Lee Craig. She’s more of an administrator and an event planner.
I learned a lot of lessons last year running Tin Can Studio. Last year, we did a pirate radio station thing. We’ve been doing a lot of other elaborate, short projects with different artists that take a lot of planning, which are mostly just labors of love. I’ve come to the conclusion that that’s not really sustainable. It doesn’t make sense for me to be involved in 10 elaborate projects that aren’t even my personal vision. To me, it’s about figuring out what the balance of being involved in those projects is and then stepping away. I’d also like to allow the trailer to be rented out as long as I’m comfortable with what the content of the project is.
Our first project this summer was a repeat of the Eat Together events that we did last summer. Last summer, I was way more involved — I was a food runner, I was helping with prep. I was helping out how in the way that you would help out a friend. This time, I was hands off with it and it was really successful. They artist/chefs from Eat Together were also able to pay us a portion of the profits from the dinners.
Do you have the change the build out for every event, or is it just a matter of redecorating?
It’s redecorating and sometimes adding or changing furniture. We had to build some tables for the Eat Together dinner party. The challenging part is securing a vehicle, trying to borrow one or figure something out without having to pay money, because renting one gets really expensive very quickly. You can do things for awhile without permits and without a business number.This is something we were unsure about the whole way, if this is actually a business. I think, coming out of art school context, we both wanted this to be an artist run center. But even an artist’s center has a business model.
Do you see this as a for-profit business, or do you just want to break even? Do you envision this project becoming more expansive?
I would like it to, and I think I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m not afraid of that idea. I’ve never been afraid of having a business, but for some reason, this project has felt wrong for it to be driven by profit. Do I want it to make money? Of course. The question for me is if I want this to be my full-time gig. I’m not really sure because I do a lot of other things. Up until recently, I had a pretty heavy full-time job which I think also contributed to my burnout on the project. I’d be doing art with people with mental health problems and addictions, and then I’d come home and run this other project.
How do you figure out a budget with outside people who want to run projects in Tin Can Studio so that you’re adequately compensated?
We haven’t been. It’s been mostly people that we know who come to us and we work together. In a really DIY way, we figure out how the event is going to happen, and how to do it in a way in which we’re not going to lose money.
What is the mobile scene like in Vancouver?
With the proximity to Portland and the influence of Portland, I think there’s more of an interest. Vancouver is a really weird place when you start getting into by-laws and into stuff that deals with legislation. It’s one of the most legislated places I’ve ever encountered. You need a permit to go to a park and set up a tent for your family to have a picnic.
Just recently they’ve allowed food trucks to exist. It’s basically a lottery system. It’s like, “We’re going to license 10 food trucks!” and then a bunch of people apply. I think it’s just burgeoning in the stronghold of the city on what’s permissible. I think the pressure is put on by the incredible cost of real estate. In terms of a “scene,” there’s a handful of food trucks. People like them, but they struggle, I know. I think because Vancouver is so rainy, when it rains people go home. There isn’t too much of a street culture.
How does the seasonality of your location are affect your business?
When it’s raining, it’s hard to even engage with people because everybody’s feeling it. The winters are very cold. In the winter, using Tin Can Studio as an open space works sort of, but you really need to have someone in there directing the activity, otherwise people aren’t just going to go in. I did some experiments with just having a sign out that said “Come in, use the space” and observing from a distance to see if people would go in. People are too polite here and don’t want to barge in and step on toes. I’m thinking that, in the wintertime, we should offer it as an artists’ residency in conjunction with another space that has bathroom facilities and things of that nature.
UpendED interview series: Debbie Rasmussen of Fly Away Zine Mobile
“It’s intended to be the first piece of a bigger caravan where there will be many mobile vehicles traveling around the country doing things that are related to free education, free skill shares, and free shows.”
Debbie Rasmussen started out as the associate publisher of Bitch magazine in 2003, and enjoyed a tenure as publisher from 2005-2008. After ending her stint at Bitch, she became the trucker she always wanted to be. The Fly Away Zine Mobile is less of a business and more of a mobile project that connects communities around the nation with ad hoc literacy workshops centered around ‘zine curation and librarianship. Last summer, the first tour of the Zine Mobile (Orderly Disorder: Zinester Librarians in Circulation Tour) took it to nine cities with four participants, including Rasmussen. The Zine Mobile was recently featured in Flavorwire’s round-up of incredibly unique bookmobiles from around the world. Read on to discover more about the founding of the Zine Mobile project, why Rasmussen chose life on the road over office life, and how the Zine Mobile project continues to operate without turning a profit. Follow the Zine Mobile’s Tumblr for future updates.
What do you do as your day job?
I don’t really have a day job, I guess. I’m trying to build this project. I’m very intentionally going in an unprofessional direction. I really don’t even know what to say. I guess I consider myself an organizer, a writer, an editor, an activist, and a music player. I feel like all those things are kind of equal. And with the Zine Mobile, I guess I’m a librarian, a driver, and a curator.
How and when did you come up with the concept for the Fly Away Zine Mobile?
My last day job was working at Bitch magazine where I was the publisher. I loved it. In many ways I felt like it was my dream job, but in some ways it wasn’t. I was missing the days of smaller projects, of self-publishing, and zines. We were going though a lot of questions, like any media organization, of how much to focus to put online, how much to put in print, and all of that. I feel like we were putting more efforts into online stuff which I thought was very important, but I also didn’t feel as excited about online as I did print when I thought about it.
Another piece of it for me is, when I was little, I wanted to be a trucker for awhile. My dad was into CB radios, fixing them and selling them. We always had CBs in our cars and around the house. My sister and I would often talk with truckers over the CB, so trucker culture has always felt familiar to me. When I got older, we also had a motor home. The nomadic culture was something that was always appealing to me and in my blood so to speak. The Zine Mobile project kind of came about as a intersection of those two things, trying to step back from this bigger magazine into the smaller world of self-publishing and also really wanting to be moving, seeing places. Not wanting to be in an office job anymore was a big part of it, too.
When was the project launched?
It was about a year ago. I though of it when I was at Bitch. I don’t know if it even says so on the website, but the Zine Mobile actually was intended to be the first part of a bigger project. I don’t mean to be evasive on your questions, but some part of the stuff, we’re still figuring out what it’s going to look like. But it’s intended to be the first piece of a bigger caravan where there would be many mobile things kind of traveling around the country doing things that are related to free education, free skill shares, and free shows. The idea is to revitalize community, bringing things back into our neighborhoods and doing things ourselves rather than going to the chain store down the street.
How did you choose the type of van that would become the Zine Mobile?
It’s a 1997 Chevy Astro van. I got it when I was in Minnesota last year which is where I grew up. I looked at many vans. My dad used to be the one who helped me select my cars because he’s way more mechanically inclined than I am. He died a few years ago, so this was one of my first ventures all by myself. One of the biggest pieces of advice that he gave me that I would also pass onto other people is to shop around. I looked on Craigslist for weeks and called on many, looked at many. The one that I ended up getting that I really like, I didn’t end up getting right away. I keep looking until I felt like I had done enough research.
I’m just starting the process of looking for a new vehicle — the Astro has been so reliable and is comfortable and easy to drive, so I was dragging my feet a bit. But it’s time — we’re maxed out in both space and volume. So looking for something larger, wheelchair accessible, and diesel or already converted to run on veggie oil.
What did you end up spending for the van?
I think it was about $4,700. The one funny thing I learned about looking for a van is, at least where I was looking, there are two kinds of vans — a party van and then the souped up family van. Early on, for me anyway, I wanted something that had a little more gadgetry. The Zine Mobile in the Astro van I got has track lighting and many different light switches that ended up being really helpful.
Did you have the interior custom retrofitted?
Not really. I live on the road, so this is going to be my home eventually. So for me, I was jokingly calling it the Zine Mobile on Training Wheels. I intentionally got something that I felt like I would need to do very few modifications. The van that I have has little cabinets inside so I can put little tiny zines in there. I did quite a few temporary modifications, but I didn’t have to do much in terms of the structure or overhauling it. That’s something that I think I would like to do later, but I don’t want to do that right now.
Did you have a business plan or some kind of template you were using for the venture?
Not really. Part of the work we’re trying to do is challenging capitalism, but obviously we’re all kind of participating in it. All of those things are so deeply complicated for us that a lot of our work ends up being really meta almost. When we get to the nuts and bolts of it, I’m like okay, we do need a certain amount of money to get going. I basically just asked people — friends and family — and said I would love to raise this much money to get the vehicle to start and get going.
How much money did you raise before you went out on the road?
I think I raised between $6,000 and $7,000. For the inaugural tour, I’d hoped to have enough money to cover the cost of the vehicle and gas, and I did. Gas will change when the next Zine Mobile is running on veggie oil, and people are always generous with food when we’re on the road because they understand what we’re trying to do.
Were you paid from this project at all?
I’m a volunteer. I don’t pay myself for any of it.
In that case, what do you do for money when you’re on the road?
Since leaving the world of full-time day job three years ago, I’ve worked as a caretaker/gardener at a feminist land project, a facilitator/advocate for a publishing non-profit in crisis, an animal house-sitter, a land/home/library/estate organizer, archivist, and caretaker, as a house painter and laborer, and as a barista at a coffee shop I worked at during grad school in Madison. I take on side projects or odd jobs when it makes sense, and when I’m in the right place at the right time. Sometimes the right place doesn’t matter, because it’s work that could be done from anywhere.
Who was out on the road with you? What was the structure of the tour starting off?
The Zine Mobile technically launched in Minneapolis where I was and where I bought the van, but it didn’t actually get out on the road until I drove down to New Orleans and met three other librarians.They were all there for the American Library Association Conference. They all flew in — John Stevens flew in from Australia, Celia Perez flew in from Chicago, and Jenna Freedman flew in from New York. I drove down from Minneapolis and we all met in New Orleans and then we went on a nine-stop tour over the course of the next three weeks. That was the inaugural adventure of the Zine Mobile.
You said you want to get a fleet going. What’s your ideal as to how that’s going to be structured?
In a practical way, what I’m hoping it would look almost like a train car…not a train car, but some combination of cars or maybe bikes or some kind of peddle-powered caravan of people and each piece in the caravan would offer something different. The Zine Mobile is the library and reading and writing area. I’m hoping to evolve it into a pen pal station, too, to help revitalize letter writing correspondence and offer alternatives to electronic communication. Then there would be a trailer or a truck that would have a healthy food offering and another one for movement or dance, and maybe another one about music. That would be a categorical system. It might be like a traveling carnival but more oriented towards ideals of cooperation and sharing and giving things freely but with a central tenant of fun and play. That’s the idea.
How many vehicles do you want to get?
I feel open. I think it would cool to get a core group of people who want to permanently live on the road. My own experience is that a lot of people are really excited about this project and want to come temporarily, which is also awesome. So having this core group of people — maybe five or ten vehicles — and other people plugging in if they want to along the way. Kind of wandering around the country, following weather patterns, and trying to be south for the winter and all that.
How do you see this model as being profitable, or do you?
No. [We’re] trying to bring ideas into focus other than profits. Things like cooperation and offering these things for free, trusting that people will donate what they can, if they can, or someone else along the way will cover it. That’s definitely been my experience with the Zine Mobile aspect so far. Sometimes I’ll stop and people will offer money for gas, and at other places they don’t, but in the end it all works out. For me, this isn’t about making a profit. It’s just sort of about living really simply in the world and trying to be an example that we would all benefit from if we were living a little more simply.
Do you see mobile businesses gaining traction? Do you see it as a thing that will gain popularity in the coming years?
I do. I think there’s this general trend, and I’m glad for it, of downsizing and simplifying and I certainly think one of the positive aspects of technology is making it much easier to be mobile. I have no statistics about home ownership and things like that, but it certainly seems like people are sizing down, if not sizing down to the point of being mobile. But I do think once we downsize and simplify, it makes it easier to be mobile, as long as you consider that choice.
I think as far as being permanently mobile, it’s been a really interesting experience for me this past year just seeing challenges present themselves, like this expectation that you have to have a home somewhere, you have to be in one place. From car registration to doing taxes, whatever, it’s like the system is set up against the idea of mobility.
How does the Zine Mobile operate? When the Zine Mobile goes to a city, what happens?
It depends. It’s a pretty flexible and open-ended project. A lot of times I will go and do open library hours at public parks or community centers or the parking lot of a public library. I often set up a little zine making station with a typewriter and paper supplies and writing utensils and all of that. When I was in Oakland, I was part of a zine show, and just pulled up outside of a café and kind of did the same thing. When we went on tour, we did a lot of zine readings in libraries and community centers and different kinds of places. I guess for the events, the common thread tends to be writing and reading and general literacy.
Did people actually go inside the Zine Mobile to participate in any of the classes?
Yeah. Because it’s an Astro van, it’s obviously very little. But the way that it’s set up is intended to be like a little mobile library and also a reading room. I’ve done special events where I’ve gone to someone’s house if they’ve requested it, where they’ve got, like, a poetry group. It’s an experience. You’re sitting in this little van surrounded by these really amazing zines, these little handmade magazines.
Did you have issues with any regulations regarding vending? You’re not really a vendor because you’re not selling anything, but did you run into any problems regardless?
No, not yet. I guess the biggest thing for me is that since I live mobily also, the Zine Mobile is technically my home. I have to be somewhat aware of where I am if I am going to sleep in it overnight. But that’s something very different from mobile businesses, I’m sure.
Where do you stay when you’re on the road?
A third of my time I spend with friends and family, a third of my time I spend in the Zine Mobile, and a third of my time I spend doing house sits and animal sits along the way.
How else did you get the word out there about the Fly Away Zine Mobile tour? Did you utilize social media in addition to the blog?
We used Facebook quite a bit on tour. I got off Facebook about six months ago myself. I had the Zine Mobile page up for awhile and then I ended up taking it down. I used Twitter for a bit and I didn’t like that either. I tried to update the blog. If you’ve seen it, you know I was terrible at it. I used Tumblr, too. I feel simultaneously curious about these new types of media because my own background is in media. I feel a certain kind of expectation or responsibility to test them out. I do see how people find them useful. I myself am looking to spend so much less time on the computer that I just can’t get myself to spend a lot of time [doing updates]. For better or worse, the Zine Mobile often does end up being a product of word of mouth which is kind of nice because I appreciate keeping it kind of small and contained at least for now.
When will the next incarnation of Zine Mobile go out on the road?
I am talking to people now about summer plans that would start in June.
Do you have an idea of how long you’d like to stay out on the road when it goes out this time?
I think it’ll be another four months again. I think it’s interesting what happened this past summer. I got on the road and went to Oakland and ended up taking on this library archiving project that ended up consuming all of my time. I joked that the Zine Mobile went into hibernation, which it kind of did even though I was still doing some special events. That might be a general pattern where it’s a little more dormant in the winter and a little more out there in the summer.
What practical advice can you give to people who are launching a mobile business, either for-profit or non-profit?
The idea of using magnetic letters on the outside of the vehicle was so helpful to me. It’s sounds pretty basic, but it didn’t occur to me until late in the process.
I really loved it, and it’s a great way to not do anything permanent until you’re ready. That’s something I would have appreciated knowing.
Where do you get big magnetic letters?
My friend got be these big sheets of magnetic paper that I just cut out letters on. Totally low-budget, do-it-yourself. I think she just got it from an office supply store. She got a bunch of sheets for me for like $5.
I came across this magazine randomly at McNally Jackson bookstore a couple of days ago. In the pages of the Winter 2012 issue are several accounts of mobile entrepreneurs and forms of innovative entrepreneurship found around the world. Read about fleets of lake-based shikara craftsmen in Kashmir, India and underground fuel smugglers disguised as roadside vendors in Cambodia. Follow @mkshftmag on Twitter for more on rural innovation and small-scale entrepreneurship. Make Shift magazine.
“I knew in the city food trucks were how a lot of people were making money and I was like, I can do the same thing, but with jewelry and fabrics and oils and other things.”
Some experiences in mobile entrepreneurship are more eclectic than others. Such is the case with Nicki D’Agnostino, aka Sister Moon, a 29-year-old hairstylist from Grafton Lakes, a rural town outside of Albany, NY. Last year, inspired by the popularity and mobility of food trucks, she and her business partner turned a 1975 Shasta caravan into a traveling, Arabian Nights-inspired clothing store. Here’s the story of how the Gypsy caravan store came to be, why it’s currently up for sale, and why her ride on a wave of SunshineAndMoonbeams was way more exciting than your average venture. You can follow Sister Moon on Twitter.
When was the project started?
It was last summer. We were going to a lot of festivals and we wanted a way to be able to travel, have an amazing summer, and see all the music we wanted to see for free. We needed a way to make money to do that. So, we figured we’d take the caravan on the road.
When did you get the idea for the caravan? I thought it was so beautiful how you retrofitted the interior.
Thank you!You know, I just had this vision of it being a vintage trailer of sorts. I grew up on the road with my parents and we had a cool conversion van that was always towing something along. I had this idea that whatever it was, it needed to be towed. At first it started out that we were going to get a VW bus. We looked at so many different kinds of vehicles, with an engine and pulled — we looked at everything. I found this 1975 Shasta camper and I just fell in love with it.
Let me get a little background. Did you have a store before?
No, I was a hairstylist for many years, and I traveled and did fashion shows. I also studied color and I painted for a long time. It was just sort of the next phase of what I could create. I collaborated with another woman, Sister Sunshine, and the idea came about between the two of us.
What was the name of the caravan store?
The store didn’t really have a name. We called it The Sisters of the Light. It was just supposed to be an essence, a movement, not a store.
What was the path of the tour?
It was unknown initially. And, like I said, we knew when we started that we wanted it to be a journey. What happens on a journey is that you just flow with it. So we were seeing where it was taking us rather than us planning anything. Our first outing was the Furthur Festival in Saratoga Springs. We got a really amazing group of talented artists together and piled in my van and drove the caravan up to Saratoga and camped out for the day. So many people wandered to our space. We’d just set up and it didn’t look like a store. As soon as they came into the caravan, they saw gems glistening from the windows and beautiful Brazilian bathing suits and paintings from local artists. It’s really cool inside and you kind of just want to hang. So you sit and talk with people and they want to look at your wares and talk about them, and you eventually, hopefully, make a sale because you gotta make some money.
From idea to first outing, what was the timeline on the launch of the store?
It happened really quickly. I came back from Mexico in February. We went to Coachella in April. From May to June, we did complete renovations on the Shasta and that took us about a month. We were on the road right after that.
How long were you on the road?
We did a whole summer, up until October.
Did you adhere to any sort of business model?
It really wasn’t legitimate at all. I don’t want to try and say that I did things by the book. The whole concept of the way we ran our store is illegal in New York. You can’t actually sell anything out of an RV trailer and call that a business. It’s completely illegal. Fortunately, our initial idea wasn’t ‘let’s have a store on wheels!’ It was more like more like, let’s do something to generate a positivity and beautiful love and magic and do what we like doing all at the same time.
How did you get the stuff to sell?
Sister Sunshine is an amazing bikini bathing suit designer. She’s worked in New York City for many years. She and I met, and we just started collaborating, making jewelry, and book and crystal hunting. She made all of the bathing suits that we sold. She’s also a collector of beautiful things from all over the world. I’ve collected vintage for many years, so I had already had everything that I needed to sell stashed up and she did as well.
From what you said earlier, I was thinking that you had wares from a collection of local artists.
We had local artists paint on the inside of the caravan and another guy who’s a metal artist made all of the hanging racks and our dressing room.
You had a dressing room in there, too?
Yeah, it was cool. He made a circular metal piece that we attached to the ceiling and put these beautiful draperies around it. It was kind of like a shower circle ring.
That’s amazing. What is his name? I’m curious about his work.
Tell me more about the elaborate décor inside the caravan.
We are obsessed with gypsies of sort.Moroccan gypsies, Indian, you name it. We spent a lot of energy just researching those places and the fabrics and the colors. Sophie (Sister Sunshine), just from being in the city and running all over collecting beautiful swatches, had so much fabric and we needed to put it to good use. It became our ceiling, which was the main attraction of the whole caravan.
The year before, I had worked really hard at my business as a stylist. I did everything under the sun. Photo shoots, fashion shows, private work at a salon, you name it. I did everything and I just saved a bunch of money. All of a sudden I had this money that I wasn’t really doing much with it, and then the idea for the caravan came about. So I had earned just enough money to purchase the trailer and then do the renovations on it.
Do you mind talking about the purchase cost of the trailer and the renovations and retrofitting costs?
I really didn’t keep track of that. I probably spent about $1,000 because we already had our material for the inside. We already had all of our wares. Really, it was just sort of transforming…creating a sort of smoke and mirrors of what we wanted to be a gypsy caravan.There is no lighting. It’s completely skin and bones with the most amazing veneer. I reinforced it the inner shell of the caravan. The thing was rotted to hell. It’s a 1975 model.
Did you get the Shasta off of Craigslist?
I’d been typing in the type of trailer that I wanted for a long time and I was looking all over the place. Finally it brought me to this guy on Craigslist and that lived about an hour and a half away in Amsterdam. I show up there and he comes out and shakes my left hand — he’s got one arm — and basically this was his carton trailer. It had just been sitting there forever. But the outside of it — the paint, the old-school striping— just everything about it was exactly what I needed. I didn’t care what the inside looked like. I knew I could change that.
Are you saying that all of your expenses amounted to $1,000 or that the caravan was $1,000?
I’m not really discussing how much right now just because I’m trying to sell it. But I can tell you that my initial investment on that 1975 Shasta camper was not even half of what I invested. I was pretty smart about it. There was no other was I could get one within my means.
I guess what I’m interested in are the retrofitting costs (i.e. the metal work).
That did cost a bit of money, but because we’re old friends, we help each other out.
I think it’s more about him (Matt Hart) being about to generate his love and his respect for what we were doing. He cared about the cause very much.
For someone who wanted to launch a venture similar to yours, what would you say to them with respect to money?
Get your friends together that are talented and collaborate some energy that’s amazing in this world. It can’t always be about a money factor. I can’t borrow money, I have no credit, I live off the land. I don’t pay taxes. It’s that sort of thing.
In general, what would you suggest that someone budget for a project like this?
I would say, budget what you feel is credible to your lifestyle. You have to be respectful of money. You can’t count money that you don’t have. You have to be a smart person, but at the same time still be passionate, and it’ll come to you. You many not have it initially, but someone will see the passion of what you want to do and the universe will grant that to you if it’s meant to be and then you accept its gift.
How many festivals did you make it to with the caravan?
Last year, I think we did seven to ten venues. For all of October, we were at Saratoga Apple Farm for the entire month. It was amazing. People come from all over came through. They come from the city and they brought their families, so it was our most lucrative spot financially. On weekends, we made more money there than we did anywhere else. We definitely got a lot of chicks to buy our bikinis at the festivals. That was huge. We went with things that we knew people would like. We also did face painting and tarot cards. There was a lot that was involved.
All inside the caravan?
Would you take the caravan back out on the road?
I kind of see it as a stationary at this point, having people come to me. I’ve taken it a lot around the Albany area where I live, where I know a lot of people. I still see people being able to come to it. I recently moved up right next to the peace pagoda in Grafton Lake, so there’s a lot of people that come from all over the place to visit the peace pagoda. So I’m hoping, if I don’t sell it, it’ll be a part of this other bit of land.
Why do you want people to come to you now instead of taking it out on the road?
It’s money. I can’t afford the gas.I have a 1982 conversion van. It’s a dual gas tank vehicle. I’m not generating enough income to do that kind of traveling again. We sold off everything, all of our collections. What we had is gone. So, at this point, I don’t have any way of generating that gas money to move it around.
Have you have any legal vending troubles (fines, police, etc.)?
We never took it into Brooklyn, although we had many invites from a few artists that wanted us to come down with it. But we never took them up on it because, honestly, I couldn’t see driving that thing down the Westside Highway. I would be really scared for it. It would be out of its element in a way. But when you’re in more of a rural outskirt, outside the city area…we never ran into any trouble. We never even thought about it, actually.