You may have spotted Valerie Kiser’s recognizable Electric City clothing and home and lifestyle design collection at Lavish Body & Home in Scranton. With a line like that, many would assume she is a Scranton native. But Kiser actually grew up in Clarks Summit and planned to move away from Scranton before she met her husband, David Bosley. She studied fibers at Savannah College of Art and Design and now uses her knowledge of screen-printing as the principal designer of Valerie Kiser Design. She and her husband live in Scranton with their children, Axel, 5, and Liv, 2.
Meet Valerie Kiser…
Talk about your background in screen printing and 3-D fibers.
I went in as a painting and fashion major. I had never heard of fiber art or textile design. I was in the same building with the fibers people, and I’d see what they were doing in the dorm. I got really interested in it. I took an introduction to fibers course and I loved it. I immediately connected everything I ever loved to it. It was the perfect match for me, so I switched majors.
What about the fibers drew you in?
Texture and just anything that’s repetitive. Weaving, stitching, pattern design — they’re all intricate, repetitive things. Anything repetitive or intricate I love. Within the fibers department, there is surface design, which is screen-printing, so I learned how to screen-print with pigments that are acrylic-based on big screens, embroidery, sewing and embellishment. Anything the fashion department would use to create their garments, the fibers department would create. I love really good-quality material and how things feel. I love how relatable fibers are. Every single thing is so tactile, we touch so many things every day, and I love that appeal.
How have you adjusted to keep up with changing technology?
I love technology; it makes my job a lot easier. Instead of drawing things by hand, digitizing them, cleaning pixels, now I can just draw it and it’s automatically a digital file. When I’m creating something, sometimes I like the hand-drawn touch. Paintings have different sort of depths, and you can’t always get that digitally. There is a happy medium. Even though I love the digital pad, I still want it to feel like it’s handmade. If I’m creating something from the pad, I’ll print on something that is tactile.
How did Valerie Kiser Design get started?
When I went to school for fibers, I wanted to be a fine artist. When I graduated, I started screen-printing out of my house to make money. I did that for years but didn’t tell anyone, because I wanted to be a fine artist. I did that for about 10 years, without advertising. It spread by word of mouth. It ran itself, and I thought to myself, “I like this and it’s sustaining me. Maybe I should explore this more.” I found that I actually liked being a designer and producing things rather than just making fine art. I really like to work two- and three-dimensionally. I decided to start the company in 2010 full-time. It was a great transition because, up until then, I had worked for so many different companies that prepared me. Those years were very hard, but I’m grateful for them.
What is your brand motto?
To produce really great quality items for the home and apparel that last and can transition from season to season that are not a fast trend. I also believe that getting dressed in the morning and putting your house together should be easy. It shouldn’t be a stressful thing.
Why did you choose to make an entire collection based on the Electric City sign?
A friend of mine who is originally from the area moved away but was back in town right before she got married. She went to Lavish and saw a pillow with “Scranton” embroidered on it. I went back to get it for her, and they didn’t have it. It was First Friday, I was with my husband and some friends, telling them the story. We looked over, and the Electric City sign was right there. I thought, “Why don’t I just draw this. I screen-print for a living! I’ll just draw it and screen print it on a pillow.’ Once I got it on a pillow, I loved it and wanted it on a shirt. I wore the shirt on the plane to the wedding. A ton of people from Scranton were at the wedding and said they wanted one. My friend worked for Entercom and was in charge of the Scrantastic Spectacular. He asked me to put that design on shirts; we can put sponsors on the back, and you can have a booth there to sell the shirts. I did that seven years ago, and now it’s on everything. It’s cool because I’m not originally from Scranton, so I always felt like I wasn’t totally connected with the area. Now I feel like I do my part, and I love Scranton and feel good about it.
What message do you hope you can share through your designs?
Positivity. There are so many naysayers in our area, and it gets a bad rep, but when you surround yourself with people who are doing inspiring things and who are doing better things than you’re doing, it kind of pushes you to want to do that. Especially if you surround yourself with goodness, good things happen. If somebody gets very negative about Scranton, I try to shut that down.
What do you enjoy most about living in Northeast Pennsylvania?
There are so many great things. I think that when you can make a connection here, it’s easier, and it’s immediate. In a larger area, it might take longer to get through a system of people. Somehow everyone is related in some way. Everybody knows everybody. (David and I) have really great friendships here. There are people doing things in the community and inspire us to keep doing better. We have kids, so we want to invest in the community and make it better for them.
Have you had a moment or time in your life that helped shape you into the person you are today?
The most recent was this past December. I lost my sister. I think that has changed me forever. When somebody dies, you realize how final it is. When I can reflect back on that and what that means, you’re here one second and then you’re not. Even though my personality is still that I’m ambitious, I have a vision, I’m curious, and I want to learn and do things, it changed my perspective in a way that if there were things holding me back, they had to be addressed and dealt with then let go.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
My kids, they definitely shape me. Having kids allowed me to let go of some insecurities and things that had to be perfect. I was drawn to fibers in the first place because I liked doing intricate, repetitive things. I am very organized. I’m not like that anymore and realize there is only a level of perfection. They’ve taught me that doesn’t exist. In the moment is the best moment. Even when it’s challenging, there are still parts that are so rewarding.
Photos by Emma Black