VLY GRL Redefined

Say Valley girl and the image it conjures up is either Julie Richman from Valley Girl, Cher Horowitz from Clueless or Elle Woods from Legally Blonde—upper-class, airheaded, ditzy, credit card wielding and totally, like, into shopping.  As if!  It’s such an outdated 80’s stereotype that have us Valley girls, rolling our eyes, and muttering, “Whatever…” under our breaths.  It’s because of this stigma that a valley girl, currently living in San Francisco, decided to push against this image and show the world that there is more to valley girls than their onscreen counterparts.

Meet 818 local–born and raised in Reseda–Alisa Damaso:  graphic designer, illustrator, singer, writer, mixed media artist, and zine maker.  This talented young woman is also the creator of VLY GRL, her own brand of clothing and enamel pins, representing the San Fernando Valley and redefining the valley girl image.  It’s her homage to her home, and the vehicle in which she sheds light on the real valley girls—women who come from diverse walks of life, authentic, complex, and multi-layered.

Meet the (818) brings you an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview with Alisa, as she talks about her inspiration for creating VLY GRL, and future aspirations for the project.     

What inspired you to create VLY GRL?
I was in the middle of a career transition. In 2015, I quit my communications job to study graphic and web design, and I needed to build my portfolio and showcase my illustration skills to get a design job. I wanted to create work that represented me and my style while honoring something that’s super important to me, and it’s easily the Valley. I’m obsessed with enamel pins and realized there wasn’t enough 818 representation in the pin game, so I began to make them myself.
Years of living away from the San Fernando Valley and traveling internationally made me realize that no matter where I go, there’s a universal idea of what people think Valley Girls are, and it’s completely wrong. The 80s really embedded negative stereotypes about us into the public, and unlike other cultural groups, it seems socially acceptable to make fun of that archetype and make ignorant assumptions about women from the San Fernando Valley: That we’re vapid, materialistic bimbos.

VLY GRL became a vehicle to turn those stereotypes around and represent the San Fernando Valley on my own terms, while honoring SFV ideas and symbols in a fun way. The Valley is honest. It doesn’t try to hide its flaws or pretend to be someplace else. In turn, Valley Girls are down-to-earth. We’re hardworking hustlers who make shit happen. We’re gritty, scrappy, and ride-or-die for our communities. But we also know how to have fun! These are the girls I grew up with and the women I know today.

The idea is to put out accurate, authentic portrayals of modern-day Valley Girls and drown out the insulting, outdated ones of airheaded, shallow mallrats with credit cards. Everyone deserves to be seen as a unique individual. Valley Girls come in all colors, all body types, all professions and income levels. We are spread out across the socioeconomic system, touch every point on the sexuality spectrum, are immigrants, children of immigrants, natives, locals, born-and-raised, expats, and transplants. We’re multifaceted and complex and in-between. Our voices matter, and no one is going to tell our stories better than we will. VLY GRL exists to take back and redefine the term. You can’t tell all that from a few fun products, but that’s the goal I’m working toward, especially with the VLY GRL Zine series.

Name one thing that you miss most about the San Fernando Valley.
The affordability of everything, man. Stuff is expensive in the Bay Area, and it’s not always proportionate to quality. Also, I miss SoCal Mexican food, thrifting without breaking the bank, and legit hot sauce that’s actually spicy (SF be weak with it).

What do you miss the least about the valley?
Triple-digit weather.

As a valley girl yourself, what challenges did you face with said stereotype?
I don’t take it personally, but it is a bit triggering when people use the term “Valley Girl” negatively. It’s similar to when you’re dealing with any stereotype⁠ — it’s fucking exhausting trying to decide whether or not to seize a teachable moment or protect your energy and let it roll off you ⁠— because Google exists and people’s ignorance is not my damn responsibility.

As a kid I had a sassy-androgynous-dramatic-weirdo-artist vibe, so I was bullied by the cool kids. And trying to fit in was always met with rejection. So eventually I embraced my differences and made it a point to be unapologetically myself, which throughout my life led me to find my tribe of weirdos. I’m the complete opposite of what a Valley Girl or an Asian girl or a Filipino girl is “supposed” to be: I hate the mall, I’m not that great at math, and I don’t have the stomach or emotional strength for nursing. Folks need to stop having certain expectations of women; we don’t have to be just one way, and we don’t owe anyone anything.

That being said, challenging convention is a subject I’m super passionate about. As a woman of color and daughter of immigrants, I’m a strong believer of diverse representation in the media being extremely crucial to combating stereotypes and empowering marginalized communities. I didn’t grow up seeing positive, diverse representations of people who looked like me on TV and in the movies (if at all), and I definitely didn’t see my culture being portrayed. A lot of kids didn’t. That does a number on a child’s self-worth and what they think is possible for them. That’s why it’s imperative that we make our own shit.

Where do you see VLY GRL five years from now?

It would be dope to make more apparel and accessories, and do more collaborations with other brands and organizations, but right now I’m just taking it day by day. People are just getting to know the brand, and I’m finally settling into my design career.

It doesn’t sound very romantic, but VLY GRL is my side hustle. I work full time, commute, freelance, rehearse and play shows with my band, and have familial responsibilities. For real, not everyone can quit their day job and work for themselves; the revenue just isn’t there yet. All my production costs are from my own pocket. Everything I earn from this business goes right back into it. It’s literally my passion project.

Some people don’t realize all the mental, emotional, physical, and financial work that goes into all this. That’s why it’s frustrating when folks ask for free shit or post my work without crediting me. The internet is a great medium for artists to get their work out there, but it also makes us susceptible to copycats and thieves. All artists need to do their due diligence to protect their work, which is a whole other job in itself.

I love what I do, but damn… I put my blood, sweat and tears into VLY GRL. It’s a one-woman show with the occasional help of my ride-or-die homegirls, who I am so eternally grateful for. I don’t do it to make money. I do it because I love the Valley

Show your support and visit the VLY GRL website. You can also follow on Facebook and Instagram @vly_grrrl.

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