Robot Luv has six Palmer shoe designs featured in stores across Japan. See the ads in Cutie, Girls Biker, Kera, Nadesico, Seda, Soup, and Zipper.
"Bucking the Downtrend: Trendy designer sells online, overseas."
LINCOLN - When Carrie Masters talks about her company, Robot Luv, she uses words such as "lucky" and "serendipitous." Japanese consumers can't get enough of Carrie Masters' designs. The Lincoln artist displays her favorite drawing, her Boston terrier. But a visitor to her cramped studio-office here can quickly see that labor and talent also are in play. Formerly a contract designer for a T-shirt company, Masters, who also is a photographer, started Robot Luv with an eye toward growth and retaining a proprietary interest in her creations.
Today her quirky illustrations of robots holding hands and of Boston terriers can be found on lamps, clothing, sneakers and snowboards. The items are sold online, in Beverly Hills specialty shops and overseas.
Her studio is a riot of color. Stencils hang on one wall, and colorful magnets dot the side of a file cabinet. A rack of bright clothing stands against a wall brightened with a mural of rainbows and robots. A plastic rain barrel painted with robots and rainbows, part of a Lincoln public art project, will be displayed at the Mill in downtown Lincoln and then at Pioneers Park Nature Center through April 18.
At the artist's feet a Boston terrier named Cosmo lounges on a cushion, gnawing enthusiastically at a rawhide chew. "He only gets rawhide here," Masters explains. "So it's a treat."
Japanese magazines are piled on a nearby chair. Japan's Life Gear, which manufactures sneakers bearing Masters' designs, sent the periodicals to her, marking with yellow sticky notes the pages where the sneakers are touted.
Before the sneakers, though, came T-shirts that Masters designed for a Los Angeles company called Chaser. Stores such as Nordstrom and Forever 21 carried them, and Miley Cyrus wore one for a segment on TV's "Access Hollywood" about the making of her "Start All Over" video. "But the thing with Chaser was, I was selling designs, and then they'd be tied up under contract with Chaser," Masters says. "I wanted to do my own thing, have my own brand."
The namesake for her brand, the robots-in-love concept, grew out of a photo project Masters did with a set of vintage robot toys. "I was literally playing with these robots. I was taking pictures of them in scenes, and I was having them kiss or hold hands." The photos eventually morphed into more colorful drawings.
Masters started Robot Luv in 2006, but things really started to happen in early 2007 after tote bags she designed as Christmas gifts for family members were noticed by a woman at a New York City restaurant.
The woman, whose family was in the clothing industry, invited Masters to display the totes at the family's booth at an apparel and trade show in Las Vegas. But when Masters arrived, she discovered the woman hadn't cleared the invitation with her parents. Masters found herself without a booth to display her wares.
Fortunately, her friends from Chaser also were at the show. Their booth included some of Masters' T-shirt designs, and she put out some of her tote bags as well. "This guy walks by, this Japanese woman with him, and they just looked at my totes, and they said, 'This would be great for the Japan market.'" Carrie Masters' "Robots for Obama" shirts are sold in Chicago. "This guy" turned out to be Alexander Mecl of 3Cor, a Los Angeles-based management and promotion agency.
Mecl remembers seeing Masters' designs. "I found her to be an extremely talented artist," Mecl recalls. "I found it pretty unique, and the fact that it was based on vintage toys made it even more unique." He pitched Masters' designs to various lines, including X-Gamer Shaun Palmer's, which is how she ended up on Palmer's Halo snowboards. A company called Lamp in a Box carries her lampshade designs.
"It's all serendipitous stuff that's happened so far. It was like, bam, bam!" Masters hadn't designed shoes before. But she created the designs, Mecl took them to Japan and Life Gear committed to a 6,000-unit manufacturing run. The company recently contracted with her for a fall-winter line as well. So far the shoes are available only in Japan. But Mecl thinks it's only a matter of time before U.S. stores carry them. International exposure makes domestic success more likely, he says. "I'm excited about hopefully getting into the U.S. market," Masters says, "but if I don't, I'm not going to worry about it too much. I'm really excited about what's going on in Japan."
After such a promising beginning, Masters is trying to keep everything in perspective. Currently a one-woman operation, she hopes to take on unpaid high school or college interns, who might develop into paid employees. Robot Luv has yet to turn a profit, but with initial sales covering trademark fees and other expenses, Masters is optimistic about the upcoming quarter. "I'm just hoping for the best in this economy. "Japan is in a bit better shape than we are here, economically speaking, so I am hopeful that next quarter I will see a profit." She also hopes to expand her reach - landing her designs on other products. "I see products all the time that I think my designs would look great on," she says.
Meanwhile, she still works as a photographer. Freelance jobs for Nebraska Wesleyan University financed Robot Luv's Web site. She takes senior photos and family pictures and, she adds, "I love pet photography." Cosmo and his more jittery Boston terrier girlfriend, Ellie, are Masters' current companions. But another Boston is immortalized on various items around her studio. "That's my Audrey," Masters says, referring to the image of a small dog in a red collar on the hemline of a summery red dress. "I unfortunately lost her last April, but she's in my art all over the place."
It must have been a close call when Masters named her company Robot Luv instead of Boston Terrier Luv.
UNL grad works to bring "Robot Luv" to U.S.
Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves; Carrie Masters has hers on her shoes. And her shirts, totes and patches. Masters - designer, manager and owner of boutique Robot Luv - puts a lot of herself into her designs. It's paying off, too: Her recent venture in shoe design has found success in Japan - 6,000 pairs worth. Robot Luv introduced six shoe designs in collaboration with Palmer for Life Gear in 2008. The shoes were shipped to Japan in December, and 6,000 pairs were sold by the end of the first quarter. In fact, they were sold out. To Masters, the success was a "pleasant surprise" and an unexpected one. "Honestly, I'm still in shock.
At one time or another, I wanted to have a clothing line," Masters said. "I had no idea I had this in me." At 37, the blonde University of Nebraska-Lincoln graduate spends most of her time in her studio on the second floor of the Parrish Building at 1410 O St. "I never would have seen myself designing shoes," Masters said while holding a pink shoe with a small Boston terrier on the heel. "A lot of my life is on these shoes." The small Boston terrier on the shoe is in honor of her own terrier Audrey. Audrey was almost 12 when she died last April, Masters said.
Robot Luv was born in 2007 after Masters photographed toy robots in her husband's collection. "I was trying to portray robots in love," she said. "I was playing around that they could love and have feelings." Her husband, Jim Stevens, started his robot collection more than 15 years ago. "I'd be at thrift stores looking for clothing all the time, and I'd look for vintage robots too," Stevens said. "They were all over our house." When vintage robots became a hot item, Stevens sold most of his collection, but he still has about 50 of them. "I love robots," he said. "I don't know if that's why she picked the name. It's something off the top of her head - something that she thought was cute." Stevens is proud of Masters' shoe success. "It's pretty unbelievable," he said. "I know I was there when she put the design on template, but we haven't seen anyone with them on their feet except for pictures." Masters may visit Japan in the fall to promote the shoe. Stevens said he hopes she'll be able to see people wearing them or see them in stores. At the moment, Masters' designs are only available in Japan. But she's trying to bring the shoes stateside. In order to do so, a retailer needs to carry them. Convincing a retailer to take on a design isn't easy, Masters said. "You have to have a lot of tenacity," she said. "You have to keep trying." Promoting and managing is tough, she said, especially while designing.
A busy woman, she also teaches pilates and takes photos for her photography business. She needs help with her Web site, press releases and maintaining a Web presence, she said. "Managing is really hard. And doing those press releases sucks," she added with a laugh. "I do need help ... Right now I'm looking for interns. "At this point in time I can't pay, but as soon as I can they can get in on some groundbreaking stuff." Masters is already preparing for next season's shoe line. Palmer for Life Gear has Robot Luv signed on for another season. "When I'm not here, I'm at home doing listings. It's 24/7 work and kind of an obsession. "You have to work on it - it's your whole life."
"About the Artist: Carrie Masters, 'Robot Luv: Water Conservation is Automatic'"
Carrie Masters was born in Nebraska and grew up in rural Palmyra amidst the natural beauty of the Plains. Her interest in photography began in high school, where she developed her own black and white photos. After high school she had the opportunity to live in Malaysia for a year and she continued to photograph that exotic location. Upon her return Carrie attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where she earned a B.S. in Human Resources.
Later her husband, Jim Stevens, and she owned The Ozone, which Carrie operated for a number of years. She continued her photography and has now branched out into digital photography and digital manipulation (drawing).
Robot Luv became her trademark in 2007, beginning from a love of vintage toys and collectibles. It now graces a variety of creations where Carrie blends photography with digital manipulation and painting. Robot Luv brand of products is spreading quicker than oil in a robot's knees. So far in just one year's time Robot Luv has completed two collaborations with Palmer Snowboards; a snowboard in stores now, and a line of street wear shoes to be released in stores this year in Japan. Robot Luv one-of-a-kind wearable art clothing is currently being sold in over fourteen stores nationwide, not to mention a shirt worn by pop's Disney Princess, Hannah Montana (Miley Cyrus). Carrie does her retail and marketing business from her studio in the Parrish Building, 14th and O St.
My recycling robots are demonstrating water conservation in action. The barrel illustrates how easy it is to live 'green' by collecting rain water in your barrel to recycle on your flowers and in your garden. Rusty has created a lovely environment for himself and his friend, Rain. It is also an animal friendly place for Boston Terrier, Audrey, and her friends the birds. Rusty and Rain are spreading Robot Luv to a community that cares about nurturing living things and not wasting our natural resources.
The Board Room / Palmer Halo"There's a robot drama going on here, " says Nebraska-based mixed media artist Carrie Masters, who painted the broken-heart-and-robot scene on this board. "This yellow robot was betrayed." Masters was on hand in the Palmer booth painting boards live on Tuesday.
Woman creates designs for the luv of art
Her path to becoming a designer began when she started working at the Ozone, the now-defunct longtime downtown vintage store. Eventually, Masters married Ozone owner Jim Stevens and became a co-owner of the shop. And Masters, who had planned to go to college to study art until her father vetoed the idea, began to use the shop as a creative outlet. She, Stevens and a friend, fellow designer Adam White, began designing and screen-printing new and vintage T-shirts that they sold at the shop. Masters still occasionally encounters Lincolnites with "Ozone Tigers" or "Ozone Dynamos" emblazoned across their chests.
"I loved clothes and thrifting from the get-go," Masters said. Then she took up photography and started exhibiting her work at Gallery 9. She noticed that framed photographs didn't seem to sell as well as paintings. So she started printing her photographs on canvas. They sold better.
Then she started printing her photographs on T-shirts, sometimes incorporating text or other design elements, too. She was wearing one such T-shirt one day when a stylish woman stopped in The Ozone and bought tons of vintage T-shirts. As Masters rung her up, she asked the woman if she was a vintage dealer. The woman, who was passing through Lincoln on her way to the Buckle headquarters in Kearney, actually worked for a design company. She asked Masters about the shirt she had on, and soon, Masters was working for them. She did that for a few years and then, two years ago, struck out on her own with Robot Luv.
She's designed a line of snowboards for the brand Palmer and lamps for the company Lamp-in-Box. Her next project is a line of sneakers, which in January will be available in 555 stores in Japan and on Masters' Web site. Masters' work still often features her photographs. But much of her work - including the lamps and the shoes - is built around bright, playful drawings of friendly looking robots and dogs and balloons. For that reason, she said, the brand is popular with kids. But she believes the appeal is wider. "It's great for little kids," Masters said. "It's also great for dogs. It's also great for adults." Indeed, some of Masters' most devoted fans found her through another of her projects: modifying vintage clothing, often adding her bright, signature patches.
Though Masters does most of her business outside of Nebraska, she's remained active in the local art scene, too. She's conducted several stenciling workshops, in which she's invited the public to show up at her studio with a T-shirt, which she then decorated with stenciled designs of her artwork. She also made Robots for Obama stenciled T-shirts before the election. And just before Thanksgiving, she shot several portraits of dogs for Christmas cards.
"All of it's part of the plan of getting Robot Luv into the underground consciousness," she said. And while she's sometimes overwhelmed by the number of projects she has lined up, she said she feels lucky that she's making a living by doing art and working with so many different media. "There are exciting things happening every day," she said.