WOMAN-LED ARTS: TRANSFORMING THE WORLD WITH BRETTE SIMS
This world is full of magic makers and visionaries, voices which are loud and proud and unable to be silenced. I have had the honor to interview one such powerful artistic force. Brette Sims is a feminist artist and founder of STUK Designs, an art organization and nonprofit brand dedicated to empowering self-love education for girls and women in underserved communities internationally. Her educational background and passion are seen in every vibrant brush stoke and in her advocacy work with girls everywhere from Watts, Los Angeles to Kumasi, Ghana. Based out of California, Sims recently returned from helping transform the art program at Kumasi’s Diamond Academy, where she provided essential resources from shoes to pencils and coloring books to local schoolchildren. As Brette likes to say, “Self-love propels girls into women of purpose” – a motto she inspiringly embodies.
Your art is so powerful! Where do you draw inspiration from?
I draw inspiration from the women I have met, feminists of the world, the beauty and color of nature.
How did you create STUK Designs?
Well, it started in college while at LMU [Loyola Marymount University, California] as a part of my senior thesis project. I would make hand-printed shirts with empowering words on them and sell them on campus. I began thinking, how can we get empowering messages out to more people? I am a feminist at my core and I wanted to create a way for women to empower themselves, a place where they could come together and talk and teach each other about self-love. I had had not-so-great experiences in my own personal life and I felt there had to be some way to combat this feeling. So [a group of us] began printing shirts with [self-love] messages and images and shared them.
Where did the name STUK come from?
(Laughs) We were throwing around names for the group and for the better part of all the name searching we were stuck. Literally. Then we looked at the word “stuck” itself and used that, but changed it around to STUK, which stands for Strong, Talented, United, & Knowledgeable. We now provide a loving community and online platform where growing girls are supported by strong women. We also host community events and art shows inspired by the “each one teach one” philosophy… Through art we aim to inspire girls and women to live without fear and, with inner love, to maintain lasting success.
You just got back from Ghana! What was the purpose of your trip?
I went to Ghana through an amazing opportunity to work with a children’s school there called the Diamond Academy and help their art program. The people were very welcoming and I felt in love with the patterns and tribal aesthetic, which I drew a lot of inspiration from for my own work.
What was the most amazing thing about being there?
It was such a whirlwind experience; it taught me so much about my own life and humbled me in the most gracious way. It made me think about all the things I take for granted back home. There were power outages every week, usually from 7pm till daylight. It was such a regular thing . There were no cell phones and no cameras (laughs) and definitely no wifi. Some of the little girls had no shoes or school supplies. If the parents can’t afford shoes or lunch money, they can’t [attend school]. It was such a huge lesson of gratitude.
The community in Kumasi has a great need. Many girls [there] live in one-room shack-style homes with many siblings and families that often have little to no money. Traveling to Ghana, [STUK provided] girls’ shoes and custom #STUKGIRL coloring books. The girls went crazy when we gave them their own books, pencils and crayons because they had never had their own supplies before… They finished the coloring books we gave them in a day!
What are your visions for your future and STUK Designs?
I want to be invited to travel through my art and company to work with more girls in Africa. To trust the process of this crazy thing called life. (Laughs) I create vision boards to help me stay diligent about goals and how I can manifest them. One vision I’ll share is that I wish to get more funding to open up a larger-scale venue to have people (girls and women especially) to come and find joy and create art for themselves. I recently got approved to start an after-school program here in L.A. with undeveloped schools and its neighbors at the Resolute Academy, which is a charter school in Watts. I am thrilled! It’s once a week with middle school girls. Teaching young girls self-love is so important and I know they will carry that power and love through their adolescence and into their careers and relationships.
Do vision boards really work for you?
Oh, yes! The vision board has helped me learn to trust the process of life and the journey. It’s not always easy, but it keeps me grounded. I encourage the girls in my program as well as friends to use this tool of manifesting as well as journaling and being mindful of their thoughts.
Do you do commissioned work?
Yes! I love working with women who come to me for pieces; from logos and flyers to personal [creations]. It’s important to me that all women are represented and to see how uplifted they are when they get their own personalized work.
What do you do to relax with your busy life?
I love to relax with friends and family. They are a huge part of keeping me sane and I can be myself around them. I also love yoga and hiking. I’m a huge dog lover! I love food, but sushi is my absolute favorite. It’s important to me to have down time, as I think everyone should; we focus so much on grinding and working that we neglect taking care of ourselves.