I’ve been following Valfre on Instagram for years, so it was really exciting to be able to speak with the illustrator behind adorable (and feminist) designs such as these:
Born in Mexico, Ilse Valfre has lived in the U.S for five years. She began drawing her cartoon girls back in 2010, when fashion blogs were at their peak of popularity. Interested in fashion, she wanted to participate in the trend but didn’t want to just take photos of herself in clothes, like everyone else. So instead, she decided to create a character that wears cool clothes.
Valfre.com also features a blog, Valfreland, the artist describes as a “glimpse into what Valfre girls like,” including upcoming events in L.A, new music and fashion. Young girls who may not purchase anything on the site still visit to see what’s going on.
Being 100% Mexican, Valfre has obvious concerns about the Trump administration. She’s grateful to be living in California, where there is a large Latinx population. Still, she hopes to use her subversive art as a form of peaceful protest.
Some controversial works of hers include her 100% Boy Tears smartphone cases and clothing featuring the slogan “Grow a Pair” with a picture of ovaries underneath. She’s had people telling her the Boy Tears phone case is sexist, though it was a bestseller on her site for three years. People have also called the “Grow a Pair” graphic transphobic, as not all women have ovaries. “My mom had me when she was 33 and she had to have her ovaries removed after,” Valfre says. “I don’t think of her as any less of a woman because of that.”
Valfre describes herself and her art as feminist and humorous. “I believe in humor, I don’t take myself too seriously,” she tells me.
Her work has many personal elements, too. For instance, the black cat character Bruno was inspired by her childhood cat. She was very close with her father, and the cat was a pet she rescued with him from the streets. When she moved to America, her father looked after the cat up until her dad’s death a couple years back.
Valfre also draws inspiration from things she’s always been curious about. She describes her dad as an avid reader with an open mind and her mom as a more conservative-minded Christian. These conflicting viewpoints followed her into her adult years and led her to create art featuring mythical creatures like mermaids and aliens, witchcraft and the occult, and marijuana. “Marijuana is just part of my life,” she tells me, adding that she’s not a stoner.
Because of the current political climate, Valfre recently launched an activist tee series, where 20% of the proceeds from the sale of these special-edition shirts go to causes like the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. She plans on adding more to the line soon, including ones where the proceeds go to pro-immigrant associations.
“Her work explores the poignant tension between vulnerability and confidence as she transports her audience into the hearts and minds of the characters that she creates,” the Valfre website reads. And speaking to Ilse definitely transported me to this psychedelic, radical world.
All Images via Valfre
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Rafaella is a graduate of The New School, where she majored in journalism and minored in gender studies. She's passionate about feminism, LGBTQ+ rights, combatting online harassment, and ending herpes stigma. Visit her website: ellagunz.com