An Interview with Small Business Owner Arianna Feldman of Subverse Industries

A Peek into the World of a High-End Festival Wear Business

As those of us who own or work at small businesses know, it takes a lot more than passion and a dream to run a business. We love hearing stories from businesses who are using Onyx and had the pleasure of catching up with Arianna Feldman, co-founder, and designer of Subverse Industries — a high-end festival fashion company that makes all their wares by hand using U.S. materials and American-made equipment from their workshop in Santa Cruz.

Arianna and her co-founder and partner Trevor Tarin dream up and produce festival-friendly hats, holster bags, and belts out of their Santa Cruz workshop, in addition to operating their business.


What is Subverse and how did it start?

Subverse came into being in May of 2013. Trevor and I had both recently quit our jobs. Fed up with working for other people doing things that didn’t satisfy our needs for community and creativity, we decided to start our own business. After all, how hard could it be? Fueled by our shared love for the Burning Man, maker, and kink communities, we started tinkering around with lasers and leather. Trevor and I wanted to create beautiful handcrafted leather hats, festival belts, and accessories for these communities without sacrificing functionality. We also believed strongly in utilizing emerging technologies to make manufacturing in the United States viable.


What didn’t you expect from starting your own business?

Just how much time we spend doing everything except what we ostensibly do for a living. You’d think that designing and making our wares would occupy the bulk of our time. Nope! Emails need to be answered, taxes need to be allotted by county, sales trips need to be planned.


What’s a typical day like at Subverse, if there is such a thing as a “typical day”?

We have two types of typical days if you can call them that. When we’re in Santa Cruz, our assistant, Haley, opens up the workshop first thing in the morning and gets started on production. Over coffee, Trevor and I will discuss what needs to get done on that particular day. Maybe we spend some time responding to customer inquiries, filling out applications for future shows, or packing orders to ship, maybe we jump right into working on production with Haley.

When we’re on the road, it’s an entirely different story. The day starts when we peel ourselves off the camp mattress we only collapsed onto a few short hours before. Rearranging last night’s glitter into something approximating fresh-faced festival fashion, we head to our booth. Throughout the day, a parade of colorful figures will pass through to purchase our wares. We visit with friends, some of whom we met on the road and only see once a year when we roll into town. At a certain point in the night, we arrive at the Weird Hour. Intoxication has taken over and we typically take this as our cue to close up shop and join in on the shenanigans.


What has been the most challenging thing about running your company?

Out of all the challenges we’ve faced, the hardest part has been running a company that adheres to our ethics. There’s a lot of pressure to cut costs, maximize profits, and take the easiest route. However, this is frequently at direct odds with our desire to create a company based on the principles of ethical manufacturing, sustainability, and non-oppressive self-expression.


If you could give one piece of advice to others thinking about starting their own business, what would it be?

Don’t start a business, especially a craft business, just because you like it. Do it because you’ve got a really, really good idea AND you’re damn good at it.


Sound advice! Before Onyx, how did you communicate and coordinate?

Our workshop is in the garage. The office is upstairs, in what used to be our living room. Trevor and I would literally scream up the hallway to get each other’s attention. It scared the neighbors and didn’t always work, which led to lots of running up and down the stairs. Great for cardio, but not very efficient.


How has Onyx helped?

Since starting to use Onyx, there has been a marked decrease in screaming. We had discussed setting up some sort of intercom system, but a stationary communication point wasn’t a good fit for our workflow. Trevor, Haley and I wear many hats (haha) in this company, so we’re always running from station to station, or dashing out for an errand. With Onyx, we can stay in touch without having to figure out where anyone’s gone off to.


How do you use Onyx?

Prior to using it, I had suspected that it would be useful for day-to-day activities in the shop. What I didn’t expect was that Trevor and I would end up using it so much on the road. The festivals and fairs we vend at are often huge, sprawling affairs. There’s nothing worse than trekking across swelteringly hot fields crowded with people only to realize that you missed a text requesting you pick up snacks for the now-starving member of your team that was left manning the booth. Now at shows, we use Onyx for quick status updates and coordination.


Curious how Orion can help you and your team communicate more quickly and easily? Visit Orion Pro to learn more and sign up for a free consultation.