SOC junior turns his hobbies into a clothing brand
Gabe Hultberg gets inspiration from his grandmother
Correction: The first version of this article misstated Ethel Hultberg's age. She is 88, not 90.
Correction: The above photo was taken by Josh Thornton, not Jonah Peterson.
Two summers ago, junior public relations major Gabe Hultberg visited his grandparents in southern France. During his visit, the idea of E.SKY studios was created with the help of his grandmother, Ethel Hultberg, an 88-year-old contemporary artist whose pen name is E. Sky.
“She showed me a pillow a friend of hers made out of one of her paintings, and it was really beautiful,” Brooklyn-native Hultberg said. “As soon as I saw [the] pillow, I could imagine thousands of other products using her artwork.”
During the rest of the visit, Hultberg made some sketches and talked about designs with his grandmother. They looked through her artwork and sculptures from which he could pull inspiration.
“I’ve printed some of her paintings onto fabric and used that fabric on some of the clothing that I’ve made,” Hultberg said. “She’s very involved in the process. I split the money I make from the clothes with her.”
While E.SKY is an unofficial organization, Hultberg views E.SKY as a “parent organization” that currently has two parts: E.SKY studios, his clothing line, and E.SKY events, the name of his concerts and showcases. E.SKY studios remains the main part of the brand.
“I have different visions for both, but they both fall under her name,” Hultberg said. “I wouldn’t have put her name on the events or the clothing if I didn’t think [both] would be something that she would stand for, something that she would support, something that she probably did in her own day.”
Hultberg grew up with his maternal grandparents in Brooklyn. His paternal grandparents, Ethel and her husband, lived in New York state, and, as children, Hultberg and his older sister visited them often. It was at their house where they were exposed to their first art experiences.
“They had a studio and a gallery that they built up there,” Hultberg said. “That’s where I got my first early experiences as like a 3-4-5-6-year-old with my older sister, just throwing paint on canvases they would prepare for us.”
Through E.SKY studios, Hultberg sells screen-printed hoodies and t-shirts with the words “E.SKY” and Ethel’s signature printed on them. Hultberg works with a woman named Carmen Dominguez in Maryland who prints the products in her backyard.
He also sells what he refers to as one-of-one items, or original products that he sews either from scratch, or manipulated items that he found or bought. An example of a one-of-one product is a race car jacket made from a sleeping bag.
Hultberg sells E.SKY studios merchandise through Instagram direct messages. He is looking to launch an official website at the end of the summer for placing and customizing orders.
“A lot of my inspiration comes from [my grandma’s] aesthetic,” Hultberg said. “It all stems from me being one of her biggest fans and thinking that the world needs to see her art.”
While fashion and the arts are a major part of Hultberg’s life, a clothing line wasn’t always his goal. Hultberg attended a performing arts high school as a technical theater major where he learned more about sewing.
“I was doing things like scenery, props, costumes, lighting and sound as part of the program,” Hultberg said. “Every freshman in the program had to go through costume design [during a] semester, so that’s where I got my first exposure to sewing.”
Living in Brooklyn also played a role in his thoughts on fashion.
“Having a nice outfit or caring about the way you look was essential. There were times when I was young, I used to be made fun of for things I’d wear,” Hultberg said. “Not that I have many of those insecurities now, but I definitely think those young moments shaped the way I view fashion and the way I think about appearance. I think putting on your clothes for the day is one of the biggest things you can do to express yourself.”
E.SKY also includes events, which Hultberg wants to call “E.SKY Showcases” once the name is more recognized. At his events, Hultberg sells his clothes and works the logo into the shows through flyers and promotional materials.
Hultberg’s most successful event was last September when he sold out Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe, which can hold over 200 people. The event included artists such as Jacob ZL, Kiki.D, Stephn, Quarters of Change and Anexis.
Hultberg explained that he was able to give a majority of the profits from the event back to the artists, “so they can use that money to further their art in whatever way they see fit.”
“The most important thing for me, especially when it comes to the events, is the fact that I bring people who wouldn’t normally be in the same place at the same time together,” Hultberg said. “It's all-inclusive. I just want to create an open environment where everyone feels welcomed.”
Decisions about the clothing brand are usually made by Hultberg and his grandmother, but when it comes to the events, many people play key roles in coordinating, working merchandise booths and emceeing. The team includes Ben Bijur, Yemane Charles, Abby Romm, Jonah Peterson and Clover Collective.
When asked about the future, Hultberg said he is ready to see where E.SKY can take him. If E.SKY becomes an official organization, the studios and events would be two subsidiaries. He might add other subsidiaries to the parent organization, such as a food portion or a record label.
“As of right now, the clothing and events thing is just a hobby of mine,” Hultberg said. “I am not thinking about Fashion Week. I don’t want to be on ‘Project Runway’ or anything like that. I just really like [my grandma’s] art, and I have some basic skills in sewing, and people seem to like some of the products that I make, so, for now, I am just going to keep the momentum going and see where it takes me.”