We had the good fortune of connecting with Elicia Castaldi and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Elicia, what was your thought process behind starting your own business?
I never set out to be an entrepreneur when I graduated from RISD. I’ve always done my best work, and I’ve been lucky that opportunities came my way. I rose to whatever challenges were put in front of me, I worked wildly to meet deadlines, but never looked too far ahead. When I did, it seemed futile and felt like wasted energy. In my years as an author/illustrator, I found that things change on a dime, things stall, projects die. I’ve learned that you can’t wrap your heart up in a specific outcome, or else you’ll live in misery. You have to embrace the uncertainty of it all. My creative process speaks to this, I’m a collage artist who doesn’t use glue, but rather Photoshop. I’m constantly moving shapes and textures around, being open to what emerges, never committing to a layout until the very end. A metaphor for sure.

I didn’t plan for this to become a burgeoning brand, I knew the product line I wanted to create, I had a vivid vision of it. I did the work, and felt whatever happened after that was up to fate. For over a year, I feverishly illustrated and designed the nearly 100 products, mostly greeting cards, that I launched my brand with in December 2018. Named “Girl w/ Knife”, it’s a bold reference to myself and the X-Acto blade I use to create my work, a name that embodied my spirit, which is feminine, yet strong. A place where all my illustrations and snarky sentiments that run through my brain could converge. Perhaps it was naivety, or denial, but thinking about the business side of things felt like too far a leap. However, it didn’t take long to see how things would unfold. In February of 2019, I debuted at the National Stationery Show in New York City, and in the first hour my booth flooded with customers and didn’t let up for the duration — I was off to the races. Girl w/ Knife was officially “a thing”.

In the early days, Girl w/ Knife was headquartered out of my Los Angeles loft. I was a one-woman show, folding and cello bagging cards as each order came through. I hustled back and forth to my storage unit down the block, replenishing inventory to my micro-stockroom. I was at the helm of my Shopify account. I maintained all my socials. I created all my marketing materials. I rushed to the Post Office each day with 5pm always looming. At nighttime I tried to focus on painting new designs. It was exhausting, but it was an absolute thrill. I’ll never forget when my husband turned to me and said, “someday you’ll be managing a whole staff of employees” and I was whiplashed with the reality of where things were headed. I never really thought about what life would be like if Girl w/ Knife began to scale.

Similarly, my first concept home called Knife/House Palm Springs, came to fruition very organically. In 2018, just as I was creating my initial product launch, we had purchased and began renovating a 5 bedroom house in Palm Springs. It was intended to be a secondary residence, a hideaway where we could spend weekends relaxing by the pool, and bring our cat along with us! The plan was to occasionally rent it out as a vacation rental, too. When I started to mood board it, I decided to base the interior design around my branding, this way it would serve as a marketing tool when people came to stay at our vacation rental. But, just as the house was fully renovated, the pandemic hit. As with most Angelenos, we beelined for the desert. We moved into Knife/House to ride things out…never realizing that the pandemic would persist from weeks to years. During that span, when retail was largely forced online, and trade shows were cancelled, my business began booming. I hired my first 3 employees in rapid succession by 2021. Knife/House served as Girl w/ Knife headquarters, an immersive live/work lifestyle, where I was running on fumes and inventory was literally piled everywhere around the house. Needless to say that the pandemic was a blur! Fast forward to now, with a fierce female staff of five, I’ve completely relocated Girl w/ Knife headquarters to a 5000 sq ft warehouse/office in Palm Springs.

In retrospect, the no-plan plan served me well. Even if I had concocted a detailed business plan, I doubt anything would have gone accordingly. I’m not sure I recommend barreling your way through entrepreneurship like a wrecking ball in high heels, but here I am, and Girl w/ Knife is thriving like never before. I have well over 200 products in the paper, gift and home decor categories, with more in the works, and I’m currently designing my third and largest Knife/House concept home, located in Bel Air. Whether in LA or the desert, I wake up each day with a fearless passion to live out my dreams. I’m happy to say I’ve fully grown into my boss babe title.

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
My artistic style has evolved so much in my lifetime. My older brother Joseph and I were both always into art from the time we were young. He was my very first influence. He was an incredible graffiti artist who sadly passed away in a car accident at 17. I carry his memory in everything I do, especially when I’m hand-lettering. Another mentor of mine is an illustrator and family friend named Kim DeMarco. In high school, struck by her art I began dabbling in cut paper and collage. Her work informed some of my sensibilities around shape and dimension. Kim illustrated these iconic ads for Barneys New York, which ignited my love affair with that store, their branding and typography. As an Illustration major at RISD, one of the first supplies they give you is gouache paint, which I instantly adored. Later it was Photoshop. After graduating, I moved to NYC. Starting out in my career as a children’s book illustrator, I was still honing my style, which was mostly based in collage. My portfolio landed me a book series by a prestigious author Jennifer L. Holm, in which I created photorealistic collage illustrations depicting a middle schooler’s life. I became a master of Photoshop through that project, which opened up my art in exciting ways. After venturing further into digital illustration over the years though, it left me feeling unfulfilled. I received an inner message that I needed to paint again. Just paint for the sake of painting. Spend less time clicking a mouse, and recapture the tactile joy and spontaneity of paint. I revisited my love of gouache, now mixing it with acrylic and cut paper, and assembling all of the scanned elements in Photoshop to create my finished pieces. It became the perfect mixture of mediums for me — it’s very labor-intensive, but that’s part of the journey. It isn’t work when you’re doing what you love. Through the rebirth of my art, Girl w/ Knife emerged, carrying with it pieces of my life told through words and pictures. It’s a dream to be able to interpret my designs into different paper and decor pieces such as journals, candles, art prints and throw pillows. This year I will be expanding further into the luxury gift space. With each category comes an education. I’m forever learning and driven by inspiration.

The most important factor in the success of my brand was staying true to my vision. This means being extremely involved in all aspects of the business, and saying “no” a lot. For instance, being approached by a big box discount store is an exciting opportunity, but they just aren’t right for my brand. I get intriguing emails from new tech startups, overseas manufacturers and all sorts of precarious “exclusive offers”, dripping with praise. I know when to say “yes”, and it’s not very often.

I am definitely a control freak when it comes to Girl w/ Knife. Like every founder will say, it’s my baby. I do it all, from product design, to creating all the marketing materials, to art directing product images and social media content. My products are 100% manufactured in the USA, mostly in Los Angeles. I oversee all of my manufacturing, from paper goods to candles to home decor pieces, you name it. Staying true to my vision means that I’m always looking at my products asking myself, if I saw this in a store, would I have to have it? I’m always striving to make things with the utmost quality, that truly set my heart on fire. With that being said, the greeting card industry can be very cookie cutter, as we’ve all become accustomed to the Hallmark calendar. There’s pressure to make cards for every obscure holiday, but most don’t inspire me. Again, it’s the art of saying “no” that has kept me on my path. The artistic voice of my line is definitely something all its own. Being an artist means tuning out all the noise and connecting deeply with your expression. Girl w/ Knife is not for everyone, it’s only for the fierce at heart. It’s a love letter to all the badass femme fatales out there, and to all my obsessions, like high heels and rosé — a love letter that occasionally says f*ck.

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I’ve come to know Dallas very well because I travel there for trade shows twice a year. It should come as no surprise that my two favorite restaurants are very pink, and the third is called “Knife”. Paradiso is number one, and second is XOXO Dining Room. Both are picturesque for the IG grid, and have amazing food and cocktails. Knife is in The Highland, a hotel where I sometimes stay — it’s decadent. If I have a free afternoon, I love to go to Highland Park Village for lunch and shopping. My favorite boutique is called Market, and it’s simply heaven. Besides fashion houses like Dior, some personal faves in the village are Lele Sadoughi, LoveShackFancy and Reformation. Lunch at Honor Bar never disappoints. While in Dallas, I always make my way to Deep Ellum for an early dinner and some shopping. Some of my favorite spots on Main St are Archer Paper Goods and Proper Wax, both of which carry Girl w/ Knife. Also there’s a fantastic plant and lifestyle shop called Jade & Clover. My guilty pleasure after a long day of trade shows is the queso at Vidorra. Harlowe MXM has a great lobster roll, and the best bartenders in town. The Bishop Arts District is my go-to for a night out. After dining in the prettiness of Paradiso, I love mosy to all the cute boutiques and bars. It’s the perfect little destination, especially during warm weather. No trip to Texas is complete without a pilgrimage to Bucee’s. My entire team is obsessed with their Beaver Nuggets. They’re a must! We have a lot of Bucee’s merch at the Girl w/ Knife office from our many visits.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
The author Steven Pressfield got me out of a creative rut a bunch of years ago. I highly recommend his book called The War of Art. It was my dream to be an author/illustrator, so it was with mixed emotions that I chose to pivot away from children’s books after my fourth book was published. I had a sneaking sense there was something bigger out there for me, something I could run wild with. Before creating the brand Girl w/ Knife I found myself in a place where I was stuck and unmotivated. The War of Art, which is an entertaining and relatable book on the creative human condition, shifted my perspective. It made me realize that the feelings I was experiencing are just part of the creative journey, I was not unique. It compelled me to not take things so seriously and just have fun making art again. Girl w/ Knife was born out of that freedom. I highly recommend any book by Steven Pressfield.

Website: https://girlwithknife.com/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/girlwknife/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/girlwknife/

Other: https://www.knifehousepalmsprings.com/ https://knifehousedesign.com/

Image Credits
Christina Gandolfo

Nominate Someone: ShoutoutDFW is built on recommendations and shoutouts from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.