Pushing the Fashion Envelope with Wild World of AK
East Providence's own Allison Kirwan creates provocative celebrity-themed artwork printed on clothing and accessories.
It all started in a figure drawing class at Newport’s Salve Regina University when Allison Kirwan sketched an illustration that would kick off her buzzing clothing business, Wild World of Ak. Her first whimsical drawing was of rapper Biggie Smalls, aka the Notorious B.I.G., clad in a gold crown, sunglasses, a colorful shirt and a mermaid tail in blue, green and black scales. Then she started drawing other celebrity sketches, including the rapper, Tupac. She liked the Biggie mermaid drawing so much (so did her classmates and professor) that she made a six-foot canvas painting of it for her class’s final project.
After graduating college in 2014 with a studio arts degree, Kirwan was not sure what to do next. She opened an Etsy shop and printed the Biggie and Tupac mermaids on a run of T-shirts and phone cases. Shortly after, her imaginative products were selling out. Kirwan now makes more than ninety mermaid designs of rappers and celebrities, and loves talking to repeat customers about what to make next. “People always ask if there is a deeper meaning to the mermaids, and it’s like the Blades of Glory quote: ‘No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative. It gets the people going!’ ”
Her clothing line has expanded to include jewelry and home accessories as well as sweatshirts, sweatpants, onesies and slippers with bold cutouts of celebrity faces such as Cardi B, Kanye West, Tom Brady and Kris Jenner. “I hope my pieces provide some sort of reaction,” Kirwan says. “I am a big fan of novelties in general so that is a theme tied into all my work.”
All Wild World of Ak designs are made by hand in Kirwan’s basement studio in East Providence. The popular mermaid series starts with a marker drawing, which gets scanned onto vinyl then cut and heat-pressed onto the items, while her trending face cutouts (the Guy Fieri slippers are a bestseller) start with images off the web, reworked in Photoshop, printed on vinyl, and cut and heat-pressed onto the fabric in a playful way. “It’s a tedious process, but it makes it easy to create a custom product in any size, design or color,” she says.
Kirwan’s wearable pieces of art can be found at local craft fairs, fashion shows, flea markets and boutiques as well as on her website and Etsy shop. “I enjoy making clothing, but want to branch out into art shows and installations,” she says. “It would be really cool to make a big ol’ mural or sculpture somewhere.” shopworldofak.com; etsy.com/shop/wildworldofak