Unicorn Crafts creator delights in ‘art that makes people happy’

Feeling a little drab? Having a gloomy summer?

It’s easy to inject a splash of color into your life with the cheery, upbeat, adorable designs of Unicorn Crafts, the vibrantly-hued creation of artist and jewelry maker Faheema Chaudhury. 

Faheema was working as an artist and photographer in Berkeley, California, when her mother’s illness prompted her to move to Los Angeles. She describes it as a “sad story with a happy turn.” Loss and grief propelled Faheema to remain in L.A., make a return to painting, and try her hand at creating jewelry, embracing her childhood love of animation, cartoons, and drawing.

After opening an Etsy shop and making a foray into craft shows, Unicorn Crafts was born and Faheema devoted herself to the creation of original apparel, cards, prints, stationary, pouches, totes, buttons, enamel pins, earrings, and accessories that make people smile and feel “giddy.”

Her Disney-inspired designs are so Disney-esque, you’d think they were official. It’s no wonder, considering Faheema’s passion for Disneyland and Disneybounding, which she documents on her irresistibly colorful Instagram, @hellofaheema

Other inspirations for Unicorn Crafts merchandise include Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, cute animals, mermaids and, of course, unicorns. Faheema also designed a collection of officially licensed Bettie Page pins and jewelry and has paid tribute to Tejano music legend Selena. 

She also uses her art as a platform to talk about feminism and representation for women of color and will soon unveil a series of collaborations with other female artists. Read on for an interview that’s sure to (literally) brighten your day!

You’re an illustrator and jewelry maker — and “lead unicorn” — who sells your adorable products at www.unicorncraftsart.com. What initially prompted you to start this cute and colorful small business?

I always tell people that it’s a sad story with a happy turn so stick with me. I was working at an art studio on the UC Berkeley campus, teaching Black and White Photography and running the Photo Studio when my mum’s cancer came back. I took a leave of absence to go back to LA and take care of her. She passed away in 2010 and I left my job to stay in LA.

My grief needed an escape and I turned to art to help with that. I started painting again and wanted to learn something new — so I tried my hand at jewelry making. I did some research and found Shrinky Dinks! After some experimenting I opened an Etsy shop and a few months later did my first public craft show. I found success selling my wearable goods and thought that was a sign to take a chance and see how far I could go.

Were you into art and drawing as a child?

Yes! I looooooved watching cartoons and thought I would grow up and be an animator. I had sketchbooks (that were really just legal pads) filled with drawings of my favorite Disney and Looney Tunes characters. My class projects were always the most artistic and, in high school, I took as many art classes as I could fit into my schedule.

Unicorn Crafts features apparel, cards, prints, stationary, pouches, totes, buttons, enamel pins, earrings, and other jewelry. All of them feature your original illustrations. What’s your art background? Do you have any formal training or are you self-taught? 

When I was younger I would study photos and cartoons and redraw the stills. In college, I took more than just drawing classes — ceramics, sculpture, computer animation, photography and painting. I learned the basics and the rest was up to me to practice and improve.

You’ve said you love color and “playful designs” and that’s definitely reflected in your creations. What is it about this particular aesthetic that appeals to you?

It’s just a happy experience when you see something adorable and colorful. You instantly smile and get giddy. I prefer to make art that makes people happy rather than any other emotion.

This aesthetic is also apparent in your personal style, which is very colorful and vintage. When did you first become interested in fashion and how did your personal style evolve?

I grew up watching classic television from the ‘50s and ‘60s and classic movies from the Golden Age of Hollywood. All of that fashion that I saw on the screen definitely made an impact on me. I didn’t start exploring my style until high school really. I was into the pinup scene (as much as a 16-year-old with a strict curfew could be, I suppose) and Bettie Page and Gwen Stefani were my fashion goddesses.

When I moved away for college, my vintage/pinup interest took a backseat because wearing cute dresses and red lips was not easy to pull off in the Bay Area with its colder climate. I did a semester abroad in Paris and my style evolved once again but this time a little more subdued and Parisian with a slightly colorful spin. It wasn’t until I was back in LA for good that I found my current rainbow-loving, glittery aesthetic.

Where do you find inspiration for your designs?

My inspiration comes from things that I like personally. I won’t make a design just for the sake of it being popular and making profit from it. I have to be into the subject matter or I can’t wholeheartedly engage with a customer about it.

Tell me a little about the process of creating an item for Unicorn Crafts. What sort of techniques, equipment, and materials do you use?

Everything usually starts off as a sketch (physical or digital). I work mostly in Illustrator so everything is vector based. Once in a while I will do something in Photoshop but that’s usually for the stationery items. Once the design is finalized, I think about packaging.

Each item, minus the earrings, gets its own unique card back with a design that’s related to that particular item. It’s an extra step, but I think packaging makes or breaks a design and I take it extremely seriously. I’ve bought plenty of things that I didn’t need because I really enjoyed the packaging so that should show you how you can be persuaded to make a purchase just on how something is presented.

Some of your Disney-related designs almost out-Disney Disney, in my opinion. They’re just so cute. You seem to be really in touch with the Disney style. When and how did your love of Disney begin?

Oh my gosh, that’s so kind of you! I have always loved Disney films and shows from a very young age like most of my generation. I watched The Little Mermaid on VHS tape so many times, along with all the other classics, that I’m sure it’s just instilled in me at this point. We didn’t go to Disneyland that often as children but when we did, it was the most magical experience! I still love going to this day and every time is like the first time.

You spend a lot of time at Disneyland in Anaheim and you document these adventures on Instagram, @hellofaheema. What are some of your favorite attractions, foods, characters, and experiences from the parks?

Yes, Disneyland is my most happy place. I love the history of the parks! Cotton candy is an absolute must for me. If I don’t get it, I turn into a pouty 5-year-old. I love meeting the classic characters but Daisy is the most fabulous! She is so fierce and sassy and makes meeting her enjoyable every time. Last year, I met a few of the princesses for the first time ever and I was fangirling so hard. Luckily, my friend caught all the giddiness on my video.

You do some Disneybounding, too. How did you get started with that? Where do you get your bounding ideas?

I started Disneybounding just a few years ago. I found out about it through some of the accounts I follow on Instagram and loved the idea of dressing up as a character without actually being in a costume. Thinking about it now, I’ve mostly picked characters that have purple in their outfits: Megara from Hercules, Rapunzel from Tangled, Daisy Duck. Purple is my favorite color, so this was already in my closet and I naturally gravitated towards it.

My latest one was Flounder for the screening of The Little Mermaid at the Hollywood Bowl. I figured everyone would be doing Ariel or Ursula so I went the sidekick route and challenged myself to wear colors I don’t normally. I may have gone a little overboard (pun intended, hehe) with the last minute additions of hand-cut felt bubbles.

Any advice about putting together a good Disneybound?

Keep it fun and don’t do it for anyone but yourself. There is no right or wrong way to Disneybound, so feel free to interpret a character’s outfit however makes you comfortable.

You’re also part of a little group that does these themed color days at Disneyland, where you wear coordinated outfits in one particular color, like mint green or purple. Tell me more about that. 

I love doing #ColorfulDisneyDay! It’s something that my friends and I came up with when we were headed to the parks when “Purple Potion” was the craze. We thought it would be fun to dress in head-to-toe purple and eat all the purple treats at the parks. Little did we know that we were a few days late for all the purple treats but we still had a blast and decided that whenever we three girls go to the parks, it will be in particular color. Our next look will be in yellow!

I love your recent Aladdin-inspired designs at Unicorn Crafts. I understand Jasmine was something of a role model for you when you were younger?

Oh my gosh, yes! Jasmine was my everything growing up! I’m South Asian, specifically from Bangladesh, so needless to say, in the ‘90s I did not see many female, South Asian role models on television or in film.

Though Jasmine is from a made-up land, she is brown like me and follows the same religion that I grew up on, Islam. This was the first time I had ever related to a character (though at the time I may not have understood why I liked her so much). Not only that, but she was so sure of what she wanted and really what she didn’t want. Jasmine is outspoken and strong and those are the qualities that I admire in her.

I also love your Mint Julep enamel pin. I feel like Dole Whip has been well represented in fashion, but the Mint Julep hasn’t really had its due so far.

Let me preface this by saying I love the previous version of the Mint Julep at Disneyland but last year they changed the recipe and now it tastes like lemonade. I’m still bitter about this, as you can tell. The design is an homage to the original, delicious Mint Julep.

Before we finish talking about Disney, I saw that you have actually been to Club 33. Please spill all the tea about that!!!!

Ahhhh! I still cannot believe that happened! It was such a longshot dream of mine to go and I’m so lucky to have been able to actually get inside.

It’s glorious. I mean it. Better than you can ever imagine. Everything is beautiful and full of history and so detailed. I was lucky that my friend who took me knew all the history of the club, so she told us all the little anecdotes about the architecture, art and design.

There is a little piano in the main room where you enter into the club that has been played by many celebrities including Elton John. You better believe that I hit a few keys so I could be that much closer to Elton John.

There’s an exclusive shop that only members and their guest have access to and my husband and I did a little damage that day buying some Club 33 ears, a vintage Donald plush, a pin and some coins. Oh I also got an art print of the lounge done by one of my favorite artists, Josh Agle, or as he’s better known, Shag.

Court of Angels is one of my favorite places in all of Disneyland. This is a small courtyard in New Orleans Square near Pirates and the Mint Julep Café. So when they closed it off to guests and had it exclusively for Club 33 members, I was heartbroken. So I’m glad I was able to visit that area again even if it was just for that one day.

Unicorn Crafts items have also been inspired by Star Wars, Studio Ghibli, cute animals, mermaids and, of course, unicorns. What are some of your favorite fandoms, aside from Disney?

I still pretty much love the fandoms I grew up with — CareBears and Hello Kitty are probably the biggest ones I can think of. I love, love, love Studio Ghibli and went to the Ghibli Museum on my trip to Japan last October. It was truly awe-inspiring and magical.

You’re a Ravenclaw. How does your love of Harry Potter manifest itself in your life?

I’m pretty much always watching a Harry Potter film. I love it so much, my husband bought me the entire box set of all the films. Who doesn’t want to be a witch or wizard and cast spells? When Universal Studios opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I was so excited to go and experience the magic! I put on a Ravenclaw uniform, bought an interactive wand, and did all kinds of magic though the park! I also tried the best thing ever — butterbeer!

I really want to create a Harry Potter collection but it’s so close to my heart that I want to make sure that all the designs are perfect. I’ll get to it at some point soon I hope.

You’ve created pins and other items inspired by Selena. Why did you decide to pay tribute to her?

You sometimes find someone’s music that just makes your whole life and for me that’s Selena! I knew of her crossover music growing up but didn’t know much about the person until the film came out in 1997 with Jennifer Lopez. I love that movie and watch it any time it’s on. The movie exposed me to Selena’s Tejano music, which I instantly fell in love with and still listen to on a regular basis.

You’ve also done an official collaboration with Bettie Page. How did that come about?

When Bettie Page’s estate approached me about doing a collaboration, I couldn’t believe it. Here was this pinup superwoman that I idolized and now I get the chance to create art attributed to her! A dream come true.

A representative of her estate found my IG page and then saw me at a trade show in Las Vegas the next week. She said that she loved my art and wanted to make pins and other pieces of jewelry using my artwork and it would be a licensed collaboration.

From there it was some paperwork and then I got to design the collection. They were so easy to work with and let me do whatever I wanted. I think they knew that I loved her so much that all my work was coming from a genuine place, so they weren’t worried with what I was going to create.

Was one of your designs featured on the TV series The Middle? I want to hear about that!    

It was! There isn’t really much to this story because I didn’t even know until a friend of mine who watches the show let me know about it. When costume people for shows and films buy things, they rarely tell you directly what it’s going to be used for. It’s always a pleasant surprise when you see your creations pop up out in the wild.

On Instagram, you’ve talked about feminism and women’s rights. You created a “Feminist Unicorn” pin that I love. Why does this cause matter to you?

It’s incredibly important to be vocal about what you’re passionate about and for me it’s the equality of women and WOC (Women of Color) representation. It’s a basic human right to be treated the same as our male counterpart but for some reason not everyone shares this train of thought. It’s not about taking rights away from men but being treated equally in all aspects of life.

You’ve also been unafraid to call out the lack of diversity you’ve seen in certain events and fandoms. Why is representation important to you?

This goes back to not seeing anyone that looks like me or a lot of other WOC in certain areas of our communities, such as at press events for brands where they invite “influencers” to attend or as lead characters in books, film and television. With social media being as visual as it is, I can’t stress how important it is to visibly see everyone represented.

Excluding a certain ethnicity or gender (purposeful or unintentionally) does so much damage to an individual. Luckily, we can speak with our monetary decisions these days and directly let a brand know when they don’t include all of us, we won’t give them our support, and this will hurt them where it matters most.

One of your aims with your designs is to help people feel like their “authentic selves” and not worry about what people think of them. In what ways do you keep this in mind when you’re creating your products?

Designing for me is always how I stay grounded. I try out new products and designs constantly. Sometimes it works out great and sometimes it’s a total flop. Running your own business is all about taking risks and doing things that are scary. If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

What are your future goals, hopes, and dreams for Unicorn Crafts?

I’ve really enjoyed collaborating with other artists. I do everything solo for Unicorn Crafts so once in a while it’s nice to have someone else to bounce ideas off of and to work together, even if it’s through emails. I’ve started a project called Unicorn Crafts: Artist Showcase, where I collaborate with female artists and we come up with a limited edition pin design. I’ve got about five artists lined up as of right now and cannot wait to start releasing these designs every month.

I really hope that Unicorn Crafts still does what I set out to do almost 10 years ago, which is to create fun and playful designs that make you happy.

 

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