By Mandy McGee
I have finally caught up with Vicki of Museum of Robots in between conventions to chat. Museum of Robots designs and manufactures retro-futuristic housewares, home and personal accessories. The center of their design philosophy is that they are fans first: they go to sci-fi conventions and fine art museums, vintage car shows and sci-fi movies, science exhibits and toy shows.
(Richard and Vicki; photo by Frank Pryor Photography)
Mandy: Who are the humans behind Museum of Robots?
Museum of Robots: We’re Vicki Küng and Richard Küng. Richard has been collecting robots for 25 years; Vicki is a lifelong science fiction fan who got her first robot at age 6. We are designers by training and profession, and the line is what happened when we decided to create things we’d like in our own home.
Mandy: Why did you start the site?
Museum of Robots: We started the company 5 years ago. We’re both designers and we wanted to move from design consulting to developing our own line of products. We began selling at large wholesale shows, and immediately had a great response from museum and design stores, so that really inspired us to keep going. We found that it was important to get the products in front of the actual consumer, so we started selling at conventions. It was exactly the right move.
And to clarify - there is not a real Museum of Robots. Someday, we hope. We’ve started with the gift store and we’ll bootstrap a museum you can visit from there.
Mandy: Do you design the items in your store or do you out source?
Museum of Robots: Our work is original design, and we work with manufacturers to produce the products. We use a range of manufacturing methods, from traditional to digital, from sand-cast to 3D printing. When possible, we manufacture in the USA; when we utilize foreign manufacturing, it is with producers of high-quality goods who understand our creative and company vision, working responsibly with materials and processes. We also license art from artists we like, and use that on some of the products we make.
Mandy: Why did you choose the style of steampunk/vintage?
Museum of Robots: We don’t really think of the line as steampunk, or even vintage. Retro-future seems to sum it up better - it gives us a range of design influences to work with, although we do sort of fall into a something-punk arena: atom punk, steampunk, diesel punk, cyber-punk. But our influences come from everywhere. We love toy robots and mid-century modern chairs, and urban vinyl, and Italian design. Add a love of technology, sci-fi books and movies, vintage cars, modern design, Googie architecture and Disneyland, and the resulting mash up is Museum of Robots.
Mandy: What is your most popular item?
Museum of Robots: The Rocket Salt & Pepper continues to be our strongest seller, although the rocket and raygun jewelry are catching up. We find the most popular items are rockets, rayguns, and robots. We’re apparently good at things that start with R.
Mandy: How well do you do selling at conventions vs the web site?
Museum of Robots: Conventions and the web site are two different selling venues, although some customers do both. At the conventions, it gives us a chance to see how people respond to the products, and our designs and products are constantly improved by what we hear from people. Not everything goes online - there are new products and limited production items that are show-only. Online is more of the core line, and we are so fortunate in our customers - they are from across the US, and work at some of the most amazing and innovative technology and science companies.
Mandy: Do you enjoy conventions?
Museum of Robots: Love, love love conventions. We started out on the fan side of the aisle, and I truly can’t think of anything more fun than days spent at a con, marinating in convention culture. As exhibitors, we think it’s our job to be a part of convention fun, so we really focus on having a nice booth and product offering. It is hard to miss a good panel, and we are generally too tired to take in much of the evening activities, but these are small things compared to how much fun the conventions are.
Mandy: What is your favourite convention?
Museum of Robots: That’s like trying to pick a favorite robot! Our favorite shows are the ones with a good vibe - happy attendees, nice people, and management that understands why we are there. Not every convention gets it. The ones that do are the happiest places on earth.
(Me and Vicki at Emerald City Comic Con last March)
Mandy: Do you have any plans to expand the site to a physical store?
Museum of Robots: We’d love to experiment with a pop-up or two as way to dip our toe into a retail presence. No immediate plans for a physical store, but yes, we’d love to have one when the time is right.
Mandy: Are you going to get more merch on the site this year?
Museum of Robots: We’ve got new items that we introduced at San Diego Comic-Con this year, and we are busy getting those on the site. We really listen to comments from people at the cons we attend and use that information to tweak and improve the entire product line. The result is what goes on the web site.
Mandy: Do you take commissions?
Museum of Robots: We’ve done a number of custom projects and are always interested in collaborations. We created a special exhibit t-shirt for the Shelburne Museum’s Steampunk show last year, and a custom product for the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Mandy: If you had a superpower what would it be?
Museum of Robots: There is a rumor that my superpower is weaponized sarcasm, but I think something involving flying would be more useful. Although with all the lifting and toting of things we do going to conventions, I think that the ability to pack up all our stuff and smallerize it so that it fits in a pocket would be the holy grail of superpowers for the convention circuit. I always wish we could just pop things back into a virtual inventory like we used to do when Museum of Robots was in Second Life. Then fly home without a plane.
Mandy: Do you have any hidden talents?
Museum of Robots: I make great orange marmalade, and it won a blue ribbon at the county fair one year. I think it was the single malt scotch in the mix that tipped the balance in my favor.
Mandy: Do you have any plans to do anything else creative besides museum of robots like a different kind of design or a different creative area all together?
Museum of Robots: We are both designers by training, so we use those skills - graphics, 3D, exhibit design, fashion design, digital design - on all aspects of Museum of Robots. We have individual projects and clients in addition to Museum of Robots, so we keep our skills and design brains current.
Interviewed and Written by Morgue Anne
Delightfully Deviant is the loving clothing creation of a Seattle-area couple. I had the opportunity to meet Pandora and do a fashion shoot with her, and was blown away by the quality of her work as well as the impeccable Victorian-Gothic style.
Morgue Anne for Extollere. How did you get into clothing design?
Delightfully Deviant: High School. I used to put Jolly Rancher suckers into my hair and made dollars into hair fans and drilled holes in quarters and hung them in my hair. I liked things that were odd and slightly off. Things that would make people stop and say, “What is that person doing”. I made a whole outfit out of safety pins once in 11th grade and was sent home. I would cut intricate designs into my shirts and skirts. I couldn’t be too creative because I was kinda closeted (christian) as a child.
MA: What did you want to be when you were younger?
DD:I wanted to be a botanist because I like plants. I don’t like dirt. It has poop and worms in it and I hate worms…but mostly the poop. I wanted to be a teacher, but hated kids. My first major was English. I graduated high school as highest in English but couldn’t pass English in college. So I moved on. Then I went for mortician because I meet a guy in the OC Goth meetup. He was a Mormon and Goth. He had a hearse and I loved it. I kinda fell in love with hearse before I “became” Goth.
MA: How do you feel being a Military wife has impacted your seamstress career? DD: Being a military wife has enabled me to work at home without having to get a nine to five. I was able to also network with other wives to get photography, accounting and other things. Out here on the navy base island we all stand together to get things done.
MA: What project are you most proud of?
DD: I am most proud of an outfit ordered for new years by North County Portraits. They were doing a photo shoot in a dungeon. I stressed and stayed away for three days in a row and mailed it out overnight. It made it on time and its now my profile photo. I loved his work, the model and tell everyone about him.
Photo by North Country Portraits
MA: Tell me a little about your goals. Why did you set 200 in first year, etc?
DD: In 2008 I bought my website, actually my husband Ricky bought it for me. I came home crying after getting kicked out of a bellydance troupe because the person who ran it said I wasn’t dedicated enough. The main lady had taught me how to make dread falls so when I came home crying my husband said why don’t I just make my own company. Ricky came up with the name of the company and its history from there. I started making clothing for friends and random Goths in San Diego in 2008 but it really got kicked off here in Oak Harbor when I worked at the casino. When I left the casino I didn’t want to go job-hunting anymore so I started my esty site. My first sale was on March 5, 2011. After looking at how many sales everyone else had made I figured with a no name or a un-known name on the market I figured 200 was a reachable goal, in some degree.
MA: Is this your full time job? Are you able to support yourself with Delightfully Deviant yet?
DD: I tried to get a second job in the beginning because we went from being “Dinks” (Double Income No Kids) to one income to support us both. My husband told me not to. He wanted me to sit down and sew and get the website and business off the ground so he could get out of the navy. Without the support of my husband I would have been unable to get this done.
MA: What style do you identify the most with? Goth, punk, cyberpunk, steampunk, etc. DD: Personally I wear Neo Victorian Goth but the styles that I work with and the styles that my creations touch is Victorian, Goth, rockabilly, steam punk, pretty much every alternative life form.
Photo by James Waechter
MA: Where do you draw your inspiration for new clothes from?
DD: Mostly my designs just “come to me”. I am most influenced by the work of Laura Jones at Retroscope fashions and have in the past year become a HUGE fan of her work. I was in Seattle and I had heard about this shop on Queen Ann. I picked up a book I had heard about and started reading it. It was full of patterns and ideas from the 1800 and that’s what started me in the direction of historical reproductions but I am still a long way from being able to reproduce one exactly. Most of the time when I want to make something I draw a picture of what I want and my husband makes it come alive on paper. I give him the inches and sizing and he makes the pattern.
MA: What is your “Signature Item”? What sells the most?
DD: Cyber Goth headbands and mask are my signature item. I have the best price and quality and I have become the go to person for this, especially in Italy. 75% of my cybermasks and headbands have gone to Italy.
Photo by Marie Winton
You can find Delightfully Deviant’s work at http://www.etsy.com/shop/delightfullydeviant.