Clinton Van Gemert spends his day hunched over a sewing machine, sliding sweatshirt after sweatshirt under the needle, carefully attaching the face of celebrities to the side of the hood.
The Pittsburgh native has invented a new approach to outwear: He decorates the sides of sweatshirt hoods with the faces of celebrities so that when the hood is pulled up, the quirky cut-out emerges in such a way that it looks like its the wearer's face.
He calls them "Head Hoods" and has decorated them with the cloth faces of Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Michael Jackson to name a few.
"They make you do a double-take when you see someone wearing one," Van Gemert said. "They still fool me sometimes."
Today he's working with Audrey Hepburn. Behind him are several dozen stacks of stencil-like silk screens lined up in a bookcase.
To make prints, he coats a screen in emulsion --- a photosensitive substance that creates a stencil of an image on the screen.
Some of the emulsion hardens, preventing the ink from passing through in those areas, while areas where the emulsion remains soft are eventually washed out of the screen so the ink can pass through to produce the print.
He sells them for $50 online and in his Brooklyn-based store called Head Chop. The little underground store is hard to spot at first, but inside, it's filled to the brim with funky outwear, mellow music, and the staff duo made up of Clinton and his wife Martha Ellen.
While Clinton spends most of his time bent over a sewing machine, Martha Ellen is on her feet, smiling and chatting cheerily with a pair of scissors in her hand. She's a hair stylist who specializes in curly hair, conversation, and do-it-yourself interior design.
Her customers sit under vintage hair dressers and when they pay, Martha uses a real, vintage cash register. She brags about finding most of the furniture discarded on the street in their Williamsburg locale.
The shop is a treasure chest full of the things that the two love: vintage and rustic aesthetic, doing work they love and making music -- the back of the shop is a home made "jam" station where their instruments rest.
But Head Chop is also more than a store. For Clinton and his wife Martha Ellen, the ability to own their own small business is a dream come true.
"We always dreamed of when we weren't work for 'the man,'" Martha Ellen said, recalling the days when they both worked in the West Village, but not for themselves. That day didn't come easy, especially for Clinton who knew nothing about running a business.
Now, Martha Ellen handles her hair salon and the finance for both businesses. Clinton says he's learning, but he's more focused with screening, often staying up late at night to sew, fill orders, and package orders.
He addresses all of his packages by hand to give them a look of authenticity, calling handwriting "a lost art."
Everyone in his family has always worked under a boss, so he lacks an entrepreneurial background. "I didn't have the support and the backing," he said. "My family would ask me if I was sure I really wanted to do this. It's not like anything similar to Head Hoods has been done before."
The unique nature of Clinton's product also makes it hard to build a clientele. As a remedy, he used silkscreen to print posters and hang them around the city.
"I would make these test-prints of faces before putting them onto sweatshirts," he said. Instead of throwing the test-prints out, he hung them around town. "People began to recognize the style of face I would print." The brand also spread through word of mouth and a post in the fashion blog The David Report.
Shortly afterwards, Head Hoods appeared inside the magazines tucked into the pockets of airplane seats. Since then, he's received orders from several foreign countries, including Germany, South America, and Saudi Arabia.
The Van Gemerts' creativity hard work appear to be paying off: they both doubled their profit since last year. They're hoping to move closer to the shop and eliminate the daily 30 minute commute. But for now, Clinton says he's content "to continue doing what I'm doing and experimenting with new products."