Attention of a more dubious nature has focused on Fruit Stickers in recent years, with fashion heavyweights like Virgil Abloh and his Off-White brand appearing to have co-opted Kelly’s treasured stickers for their own capsule collection. Fruit Stickers hasn’t escaped the seemingly run-of-the-mill High Street counterfeiting treatment either, with Australian brand Gorman Clothing running some suspiciously similar sticker prints on a recent campaign.
With the wave of good vibes behind the Fruit Stickers brand hitting peak levels, buoyed by a neverendingly rich collection and perfect execution, we couldn’t resist but talk to Kelly about the journey from sticker enthusiast to sticker authority.
First things first… why fruit stickers?
There wasn’t much thought or intention behind starting the collection, for years I’d just stick them inside pages in notebooks without overthinking it. It wasn’t until just a few years ago that it turned into from being just a thing I did, into an active collection. I’ve always been drawn to the design of everyday things— packaging, signage, that kind of thing. Fruit stickers were always just intriguing to me on a really basic level.
As objects, they have no intrinsic value per-se, and in a way that’s one of the nice things about collecting something so everyday. As collections go, the barriers to entry are pretty low. Anyone can build their own fruit sticker collection pretty easily. Unlike those collectors who amass things that they know will increase in value with a long term view of financial gain, I collect fruit stickers purely because I’m into how they look. But like anything, once you own it and curate it, it gains a lot of personal value and worth.
Where do you find the best fruit stickers?
There is always a bit of a buzz around finding a fruit sticker I’ve never come across before. I’m lucky enough to live in London right next to one of the capitals best greengrocers in Newington Green, and have a studio right by a daily, vibrant produce market at Ridley Road in Dalston— both great resources for new stickers. I also love hitting the local greengrocers and markets across the world on my travels scanning for new stickers. Some of the best ones come from Europe— particularly France and Spain. I’ve had some submissions from Asia and they are incredible, but I’ve never managed to take the trip personally.
You must have personal favourites…
The plain and boring fruit stickers far outweigh the fun and adventurous ones. This means that when they’re good, they’re really good.
I think there is some skill involved in how the designers manage to make something so eye-catching on such a tiny footprint. My personal favourites change all the time— essentially, I’m drawn to anything with characters, interesting type, or some form of novelty involved. These are always the most popular on the account too— generally anything with a high number of likes involves some kind of fun phrase (Ripe for Tonight) or a anthropomorphised piece of fruit or veg.
Though, I think my ultimate favourites are the Dole ‘Bananimals’ sticker range. The campaign ran for three straight years in the late 1980’s in the USA, distributing over 100 million stickers throughout its lifespan. They are on the edge of cute and oddly sexual. You can’t get away from the fact that using banana shapes for any body part, whether human or animal is undeniably phallic.
Alongside the sticker campaign, you could also collect soft, plush versions of the much loved creatures— which are arguably much more on the cute side. You could get hold of the Bananimals from a mail-in offer from Dole and Post Bran Flakes. You just had to send in 2 banana stickers and pay for them, plus a small postage fee.
You’ve built a bit of a cult following for yourself on Instagram, why do you think people are so damn intrigued by Fruit Stickers?
Whilst I was unsure if my collection would have any significance to anyone else, as a designer I could clearly see its graphic appeal. In early 2015 I began curating and sharing my personal collection of stickers one at a time on the Instagram account. By centralising them on plain backgrounds, they were de-contextualised outside of their usual, expected environment of the fruit bowl or market stall. I presented people with the opportunity to focus on them as pieces of design — rather than functional, branding tools to separate one identical banana from another. I hoped that people had the same questions as me- who designs these things, when, where and why? Questions that I still (mostly) don’t have the answer too.
It’s still a pretty modest following by instagram standards, but it’s a really interesting group. Some of the most common words found in the bios of the followers are ‘designer’, ‘graphic design’ ‘illustrator’ and ‘artist’. Many respected and influential artists and designers follow along for the ride too. Including, but not limited to: Wolfgang Tillmans, Baron von Fancy, Henry Holland, Andy Rementer, Wade Jeffree, Kate Moross and Mr. Bingo.
I guess what it boils down to is that these are all the types of people who, generally speaking, notice the small details in life. When it comes to fruit stickers, their familiarity can make them easily overlooked, but to me and to the community around the account, they are little masterpieces of design hidden in plain sight and my collection is a celebration of that.
How did you approach the process of preparing a t-shirt design from your collection?
Since the very early days of running the account, people have asked me about making t-shirts. They’re fun, colourful and compositionally, they are interesting when they’re against one another. What’s nice about them is they all have their own graphic language, and having a sticker from 1967 placed against one from 1983 makes an interesting statement visually. I’m lucky enough to not only have my own collection from the 1990’s onwards, but I’ve also inherited collections spanning back to the early 1960’s, giving me a huge resource to pull inspiration from.
In my initial t-shirt designs I tried to stick to the expected, squared off curation on the feed, but the combination of colours and designs is just way more interesting, and wearable when they are a bit more sporadic. In the end, pushing the design to look as unmethodical as possible just worked.
There was also some design by committee going on. Whenever I’ve told people about the shirts, or shared the initial designs on Instagram, people would throw their two-pence in. As I wanted to make a make a t-shirt that was super wearable, this input naturally worked its way into the final designs.
What’s next for Fruit Stickers?
According to some sources there are over 60,000 fruit stickers in the world, so I guess I’ll just keep going until I’ve found all of the good ones. Aside from that, I’m planning on working with some amazing illustrators and designers that I know to design their own fruit stickers to share on the feed— I’ve done a couple before with the guys I share my studio with and they went down really well. I’d like to think that it in future that it’ll be a platform that creates as well as curates.