What's Woosah? It's the sound of a meditative breath, time spent in nature, and a local artist duo's creative art and clothing line that's selling all over the country. Zinta Aistars gets the women behind Woosah Outfitters to take a load off their hiking boots and sit down for a chat at Harmony Brewing, where their artwork is on display.
Inhale. Exhale. Be present. And there, you have just reached a place of Woosah.
Wander into the world of Woosah Outfitters
, the world of Erica Lang, 22, and Brooke Ruble, 25. Lang and Ruble are seniors at Kendall College of Art and Design, but the couple has not put off their career dreams until graduation. Their nature-based clothing line and artwork is available online and at Harmony Brewing Company
at 1551 Lake Drive SE in Grand Rapids, where the two have painted a large mural on the outside of the building, but have many of their paintings and woodcuts on exhibit inside, with a woodcut as part of the restaurant’s menu.
Woosah art and clothing also appears in pop-up shops (popping up for a day or two before they move again) wherever you can find them throughout greater Grand Rapids, and the demand for their clothing especially has taken off like gangbusters since the two hung out the “open for business” sign in January 2013.
“We became an LLC the December before,” Lang notes with pride the moment of filing limited liability papers, the stamp of being serious about doing business.
Lang is majoring in printmaking and drawing, and Ruble’s major is in industrial design. The two met in class at Kendall. With both being full-time students, both working other jobs, whether their art or elsewhere, time management has always been a challenge.
“So we began to collaborate on art as a way of relaxing,” says Lang. “I’d do something, then pass it along to Brooke, and then she’d pass it back.”
“Our styles differ a bit,” says Ruble. “But we both have the same end in mind.”
Woosah Outfitters offers short- and long-sleeved T-shirts, tank tops, hats with their designs screen-printed on the fabric. A winter line is planned with more long-sleeved tops and sweats. A line of shirts and hats are Michigan-based, too, created around the theme of the Michigan “mitten.” Patches and stickers are available with the Woosah logo: a sloped and craggy mountain with five tall pines on its left slope. Along with clothing, Lang and Ruble co-create artwork, paintings and etchings and woodcuts.
In large part, the connection the two young artists found was their love of nature.
“Woosah is the pronunciation of meditative breaths to reduce anxiety, anger or frustration,” says Lang. “Both of us go to nature when we need to relax. We use the word Woosah as a verb. You know, let’s Woosah!”
Ruble laughs and nods. They are both wearing hiking boots, as if in constant readiness to take off for the woods. Both have family members who own cabins in northern Michigan, so the women travel north, when opportunity allows, to “Woosah.”
“That’s how people got interested in what we are doing,” says Ruble. “We’d post something on our Facebook page
like ‘making art tonight!’ and people would ask questions. We would post photographs, and the growth was just organic from there.”
“It’s been a whirlwind, how quickly it’s caught on, but we wouldn’t want to do it any other way,” says Lang. “Feels good, all in our own hands, no debt, and at this point retailers are coming to us. It’s all been word-of-mouth; we’ve got no advertising budget.”
Lang grew up on the east side of Michigan, born and raised in the small town of Milford, and started her studies in two other colleges before finding her way to Kendall. Ruble, too, jumped from one college to a second prior to Kendall. She grew up in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
“I studied industrial design at first, but the print room kept calling to me,” Lang smiles. “I was always more into fashion, so it’s fun to see how Brooke interprets my art when I hand it over to her.”
The first painting the two passed back and forth was a triptych of a large black whale. Back and forth, forth and back, and the two realized they had what was the original logo of Woosah Outfitters. That painting still hangs on the wall of their apartment and art studio, but was eventually replaced by the craggy mountain with pines logo.
“Now we sketch out ideas, pass a canvas back and forth, and keep refining it,” adds Ruble. “Our idea of art is how it brings society together. Community is our power - -“
“- - and maybe someday we will have a storefront somewhere,” continues Lang. “But right now, it’s all about being in the moment. That’s what Woosah means. We try not to plan too far ahead.” She laughs and the two glance at each other. “We don’t have a business plan as yet, although we realize after we graduate in May, we will need one. Right now we’re just keeping it simple, keeping it grassroots.”
“At least one of us has a steady thing going on,” Ruble points to herself. “I have another job, but we do try to stay in the moment. It’s a struggle sometimes. This is a stage for us to explore.”
“The busy never ends,” Lang nods. “We have to make it a point to STOP. That’s when we go out into the woods. That’s when we hike.”
“Nature is the one constant,” Ruble agrees. “It’s our inspiration. The colors, the lines. We get frustrated at how society forces people into this kind of mentality of stressful jobs and lifestyles that you don’t love. Woosah is our way of embracing a different kind of life.”
“I worked that kind of job last summer,” Lang says. “Forty hours a week of doing something I don’t love. Once we graduate, we are working Woosah full time, and we’ll see where it takes us. Wherever it takes us!”
Woosah art was on exhibit in Grand Rapids’ annual ArtPrize, and the two have also participated with their art in Founder’s Fest, Central District Cyclery, and other local gatherings of artists. Local is how they roll, they say, although online sales have often gone national and even international.
“We had someone recently ask us: Are you the Woosah girls?” Lang grins and wraps an arm around Ruble’s shoulders. “That’s great! That’s Woosah.”
For questions, comments, and inquiries, email Erica Lang and Brooke Ruble at WoosahArt@gmail.com
or visit their website at www.woosahoutfitters.com
Zinta Aistars is creative director for Z Word, LLC, and editor of the literary magazine, The Smoking Poet. She lives on a farm in Hopkins.
Photography by Adam Bird