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Spreading the Woosah: one print at a time

Erica Lang, artist and founder of Woosah Apparel and Print Shop talks about the development of her art, business and new shop space on Division Avenue.

/by Gabi Brown

Relax, breathe, live in the moment and be at peace: that’s "woosah." With Woosah Apparel and Print shop, you can wear woosah, drink water out of it or hang it on your wall.

Erica Lang is the founder and artist of Woosah Apparel and Print shop, a unique business rooted in the artist’s connection with nature. The store space opened up this summer on South Division along the Avenue for the Arts.

The birth of her business all happened very organically, Lang says. Through studying Industrial Design she met her former business partner, Brooke Ruble. The two would paint together after class to get away from the stress of school and life.

“We painted this whale called the Woosah Whale,” Lang says. “That was kind of where it first started. We'd always tell each other just 'woosah.' The name woosah, when you say it out loud, it's supposed to be mediative – to help you relax and bring you a feeling of inner peace.”

After posting their art on Facebook a bit, people would ask if it was for sale. So, Lang and Ruble decided to start an Etsy shop. At that time, Lang was working at a screen printing shop in Byron Center. She says the owner allowed her to stay after hours and print for free when she wanted.

“That was key to starting my business,” she says. “It allowed me to have this whole online shop but not have the inventory that you see here today. From there it just took off."

After transferring from CMU to Kendall to study art, worried that printmaking wasn't a practical degree to get a job in, she began to pursue a degree in industrial design.

Lang found industrial design to be all very technical and she says that's great but not what she's into.

“One day I was just like, this is not my passion, if I'm going to study art, I'm going to do what I love, so I switched [back] to printmaking.”

At Kendall, Lang carved her first woodcut and fell in love with it.

“I don't know what it was,” she says. “There was something about the hands on physical process of printmaking and like all the capabilities. With printmaking there's so many processes.”

As she grazes her hand along the surface of the wood block in her hand, she mentions how much she loves the feeling of the grooves as raised areas that cutting into wood creates, and says the process becomes meditative.

“You can really just get lost in the lines and the physical aspect of it. I get really geeky over woodcuts.”

Lang says she's very inspired by nature and that name really resonated with her lifestyle. The act of making art by physically carving into wood only furthers Woosah’s connection to nature.

“It feels really rooted in that lifestyle of just being one with nature and connecting with nature all the time,”she says. “It’s cool to connect with it also through the physical aspect of my artwork.”

Her process depends on what she's working at the time, she says. For instance, if she's working on a more intricate project, she'll draw everything out first, then transfer the image to wood for guidelines, but other times she says she draws straight onto the wood and carves from there.

Lang has always connected with nature. She says her aunt and uncle have a cottage up north on Lake Michigan which she’s visited every year of her life. Year round, says Lang, nature is a vital aspect of her everyday life.

“...going hiking, going for a jog through the woods with my dad – we trail run a lot together, Mountain biking, everything that has to do with nature I've always really loved,” she says.

When Lang decided she wanted to open up a shop for her business, she created a Kickstarter campaign with the goal of raising $15,000. Lang reached that goal and surpassed it, raising $20,500 which covered the furniture and build out to get Woosah up and running.

After a grand opening just a couple months ago, Woosah has already added another feature to its offerings: Woosah Wednesdays. This weekly event includes an hour of free yoga each Wednesday in the storefront, hosted by Amanda Dorda. Those who attend class will receive 10 percent off items in the shop afterward.

Langs says before even starting the Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for her shop, the idea of holding yoga classes in the shop was already being discussed. So when Dorda emailed and asked if that was something she’d be interested in, Lang says excitedly “I was like, ah this is the universe - bringing us together.”

“It captures what woosah is all about – which is being in the moment, and being at peace with it and that's yoga in a nutshell,” she says. “It's donation based so if you don't have money don’t feel like you can’t come. Its about building a cool community.”

Community building is an element that connects many of the shops on the Avenue to one another. Lang says there were a few reasons why she chose a location along the Avenue for the Arts.

When she moved to Grand Rapids about four years ago, one of the first stores Lang went into was Sanctuary Folk Art. She says she was inspired by what the owner was doing and the fact that it was on Division.

“I remember saying ‘I'm going to have a shop on division someday,’” she says. “[The Avenue for the Arts] is definitely rooted in the community of makers, doers [and] creative people. I think you see things that you wouldn’t really see downtown which is more corporate and established. I feel like this area is new and exciting; it’s things that are very unique to this area. You wouldn’t see the same things somewhere else.”

Lang first got involved with the Avenue for the Arts while still a student at Kendall. She says she would show her work in gallery shows and events they would host.

“I got to know this area and really started to feel already like I was a part of this community even though I didn’t have a space yet,” she says.

The space that Lang is in now was previously a cigar shop. When she found out it would be empty in about a month, she says she went to check out the space.

“Right then and there I just knew this was my dream shop,” Lang says. “It’s just so beautiful. The windows in the front and back letting so much natural light through and the brick walls…”

Aside from online and in the store, Lang’s work can be seen at in the form of murals at Harmony Brewing Company and Harmony Hall; in a curated back room a Harmony Brewing where her work is always up for sale; at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport and at a shop in Holland.

As far a what’s next for Woosah, Lang says though she just opened up her shop, she already has thoughts of expanding and opening a second location. She says she loves Grand Rapids, but thinks a second location could do well in a space up north or possibly out of state.

She says she has also considered doing wholesale for other stores, but is apprehensive about it.

“I really like this being special and unique to the area,” Lang says, “you can’t find it everywhere, just here.”

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