Inside Feminist Designer Ilse Valfre’s Home Studio

The designer and illustrator spoke to the Observer about her studio, social media and the importance of empowering young women

Ilse Valfre's brand all started with a Tumblr page. She spoke with the Observer about all things Valfre.
Courtesy Ilse Valfre
Her illustrations first gained popularity on her blog.
Valfre in her studio.
Courtesy Ilse Valfre
Valfre's merchandise is all inspired by her own original artwork.
Courtesy Ilse Valfre
Her collection of Activist tees donates 20 percent of profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
Valfre's phone cases are some of her most recognizable products.

Ilse Valfre’s career as a designer and illustrator all began with a Tumblr page. Valfre started using the platform for her blog in 2011, as a side project to share her artwork in her spare time, when she wasn’t teaching at a Montessori preschool in San Diego. Eventually, Valfre left her position at the school to focus solely on her artwork.

Valfre, who was born in Mexico, moved back in with her parents in Tijuana, and started working on her blog full time and creating artwork every day. Her blog steadily accumulated a growing fanbase, and by 2013, she moved back to Los Angeles permanently. That’s when she finally launched her brand, aptly named Valfre. She’s come a long way since her Tumblr days—Valfre’s Instagram account has amassed 680,000 followers.

Valfre describes her brand as “indie feminist,” and focuses on using her work to help encourage and empower young females. She offers a collection of “Activist Tees” with text like “Resisting Bitch Face” emblazoned on the front, with 20 percent of the purchase going to Planned Parenthood, as well as tees where 20 percent of the proceeds go to the ACLU, printed with words and phrases like “Immigrant” and “We Gave You Guacamole.”

Her brand, which includes apparel, accessories and prints, all bearing her empowering messages, is based in Los Angeles. Much of her creative process begins in her home studio. In fact, the work space in her current residence, where she lives with her husband and two children, was a major factor for the designer when she decided to move in.

Valfre spoke with the Observer about her work studio and designs, the future role of social media for her brand and the importance of empowering young women. 

Why is an at-home studio so important to you? 

I’ve always liked working from home, as it’s the place where I feel the most comfortable. We’ve been in this house for the last two years and the studio room was a reason that we took the house. 

Tell us about your decorating process.   

The studio room is surrounded with big windows and it gets a lot of natural light. It’s a nice place to draw because it’s elevated above the trees in our backyard and it feels like I’ve escaped to a treehouse. I’ve got a small drafting table where I do most of my drawing, but there’s also a really comfortable daybed in the room. 

What’s the story behind the art adorning the walls? 

The studio has a lot of family photos and art from other artists that I look up to. I find it more inspiring than creating a room that is dedicated to myself. My favorite piece in the studio would be the old photo of my parents. 

How does Valfre inspire your decor? 

I, like everyone else these days, really like mid-century modern, kitschy decor. I find it to be timeless, and you’ll find this both in my studio and in a lot of my artwork.  

Why did you decide to launch the brand? 

I always wanted to do something related to fashion and illustration, so when I started my blog it naturally grew into what the brand has become today. 

What’s coming up next for Valfre? 

We’ve got a collaboration with Nylon that’s launching this week, and we’re planning for some big releases for fall and winter.

How does the Los Angeles landscape influence your work? 

Growing up in Mexico, my siblings and I were obsessed with films made in Hollywood. Los Angeles is a city filled with creatives and dreamers and that’s why I find it so easy to get inspired here. 

Is social media vital to the success of your brand? 

We use social media to give our followers a look into the Valfre world. With the growing popularity of Instagram stories we think the current state of social media is allowing our followers to really get a behind the scenes look at the brand and feel as if they are with us each day. 

What advice do you have for young female entrepreneurs looking to create their own Valfre?  

Dream big, work hard, be persistent and stay focused, because nobody else will do it for you. 

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