Alix Ross and Elijah Funk are hard guys to pin down, not that you can blame them. Their t-shirt brand Online Ceramics, has been steadily gathering awareness and momentum since they founded it together three years ago after first linking up in an Ohio art school. The name stems from their initial desire to be sculptors, but since its launch, OC has quickly developed a reputation for tees notorious for trippy, macabre imagery and text that stems from their shared Grateful Dead fandom, and unique dye jobs that give each shirt a fresh DIY feel.
Recently though, they've been gaining traction in a whole other lane as a merch arm for the ever-popular production company A24. Excitement for A24 films reached a fever pitch during Hereditary's promo run—and when t-shirts with lush, vibrant font and eye-popping stills from the movie dropped, it exploded. Since then, Alix and Elijah have made merch for Hereditary director Ari Aster's second feature film, Midsommar, a retroactive pop-up for The Witch, as well as the Robert Pattinson-Willem Dafoe headtrip The Lighthouse. As A24 develops an increasingly rabid fanbase off of quality consistency alone, Online Ceramics has enjoyed a parallel trajectory as their tees find placements in stores like Union and Dover Street Market—and when those trajectories intertwine, must-have merch for every stylish film-nerd is born.
After months of email-tag, Alix and Elijah finally have some free time to hop on the phone with Complex—from a parking lot in Virginia, no less, hours before they'll do another one of their lo-fi parking lot pop-ups. (In addition to turning what they'll tell me is a lifelong obsession with film into making official movie merch, they've also translated their Grateful Dead fandom into a gig touring with Dead & Company, designing and selling gear for them as well.) The duo are everything you'd expect the masterminds behind this brand to be: palpably passionate, genuinely living and breathing what they do to a point where at one instance, they trailed off mid-answer during our convo to admire a passerby's fit. Read their interview with Complex, where they detail their relationship with A24, what's in store for 2020, working with John Mayer and which films they wish they designed merch for.
So how did the relationship with A24 begin?
Alix: Well first and foremost we've been a fan of A24 for years, but two years ago when Hereditary dropped—they showed it at Sundance a few years ago and it like broke the internet. And a few friends of mine shot me the trailer and they were like, "Dude, this is like going to be like the dopest movie of the year." I watched the trailer and I immediately texted the trailer to Elijah and I was like, "Dude, we have to, have to, have to make movie merch for this movie."
We're huge fans of horror movie merch and like just movie merch in general. But I was just like, we have to do whatever we can in our power to like get ahold of A24 to do a t-shirt for this movie. And so we basically were DMing Ari Aster, we were DMing A24, just like cold DMing. I have a few friends that are like in the movie industry. So I put out all my feelers and I even got connected with someone at A24 but she wasn't necessarily the person we needed and that kind of fell through.
And then like a week before Hereditary came out, we had the graphics pretty much ready and we were just like, fuck it dude. Like let's just bootleg this. We're just going to draw up these shirts and like, we'll get a cease and desist letter and we'll stop making it. We just wanted to have the merch for ourselves. We still hadn't seen Hereditary but we just knew we had such a gut feeling about it.
Elijah: It was right in our vein of what we enjoy from a horror movie.
Alix: So we went ahead and we were like, okay, let's just drop it. But then the twist was we were hanging out with our friend Will Welch who is the editor-in-chief of GQ and we mentioned we really want to do this merch. And he was just like, "Damn, you guys should have told me a while ago like let me see if I can put you in contact with someone I know there." And then a few days later, the creative director emailed us and she had been aware of the brand and she was real stoked on us and she was just 100 percent down.
Basically we were about to start printing the shirts and then last second, it became official.
Elijah: We put the logos on it. They sent us some screenshots and we got to put their logo, so it was like really nice.
Alix: And since then, the relationship has just been like, they've given us opportunities to do other movies. The next one was Midsommar, which was Ari Aster. And we were super stoked to do that. And then The Lighthouse, which just came out and like we did Witch merch for a Dover [Street Market] pop-up. But yeah, they're the best people ever. And we are so honored and stoked that they're down to work with us.
When you guys started the brand, did you ever see yourself getting to a point of making movie merch?
Elijah: Absolutely not.
Alix: I 100 percent did.
Elijah: Not like official probably.
Alix: I mean in my mind, when we started making t-shirts, my favorite t-shirts are movie t-shirts. So I was like eventually, one of my personal goals is to make that an aspect of the brand.
Elijah: Alix has definitely been chasing it. He chased it the hardest for sure. But I didn't think that we would be like making official movie shirts. I didn't think we'd be half of where we are now.
Alix: Kind of like how you probably though saw that we were going to eventually be making official Dead stuff.
Elijah: For sure.
Alix: I saw that. I like knew I was like, oh we're going to be doing like we'll collaborate. Like I'm going to do everything in my power to like at least attempt to do movie merch. And so I did see it happening, maybe not on an official scale, but definitely like always was like, well it would be so sick to do movie merch.
I feel like having those twin goals is the foundation of a good partnership to begin with, right? Like Elijah has one trajectory goal to put you guys on and you have another, and they kind of converge.
Elijah: We really pretty much balance each other out pretty well.
Do you even want it to be referred to as "merch" or would you rather it be seen as a "collaboration?"
Alix: I mean I think it's a collaboration for sure. But I think also—that's a pretty cool hoodie. Sorry, someone just walked...this dude just walked by with a fire hoodie.
What's it look like?
Alix: It's just a classic Steely, but it looks like the cover of one of those volumes. It has like, hobo font.
Elijah: Oh yeah. I kind of like-
Alix: It was just kind of-
Elijah: Those Facebook t-shirts-
Alix: Kind of. It was pretty janky but like, perfect.
Elijah: Sorry, what was the question?
we're in talks about doing merch for things that aren't horror
I was asking if you guys ever get stuck on the idea of calling it merch or would you rather see it viewed as a collaboration—or does it not even matter?
Alix: It doesn't really matter. I think like I love the word merch. Yeah we make merch, and I think merch is cool as fuck.
Elijah: The whole genesis of our brand was making merch really. And honestly, Zoe from A24 sends us quotes she wants us to use, images that we take, and they send the vibe and we [pull] from the trailers. So at the end of the day, like we never want to make something for the movie that wouldn't be fitting. So we definitely carry their vibe and their energy into what we're doing. So I would call it a collaboration. Absolutely.
Alix: Definitely. 100 percent an equal collaboration. Like there's one way where it's, you get hit up by a band or an artist and they're like, "We like your style, we want you to do some shirts for us." You do the shirts, you get your paycheck, there's no credit involved and they just run the shirts and that's it.
Then the other way is, "We really fuck with what you're doing. We want to do an official thing where it says your name on the shirt and it says our name on the shirt and it's like bringing each other up." I mean, we have a special woven label that goes in with anything that's A24, so I see it as a partnership collaboration style. We both are committed to exposing each other.
And what's the process on each collab typically? Are you in talks with just A24? Or are you in direct contact with, say, Robert Eggers or Ari Aster about the themes of the film and talking out what the drop should look like?
Elijah: Generally, Zoe is like a middle person. She'll report back and forth and be like, we like this, Robert doesn't like this, let's maybe try this. And sometimes at the end of the day they're like, actually the original one is kind of the one that we liked. There's a line of communication open through all people. We're not sitting in a room with Ari Aster and making these t-shirts, but there's definitely lines of communication.
Alix: They're definitely involved, specifically Robert Eggers has been more vocal. I think Ari may not care as much about the merch. Not that he doesn't care. I just think he's kind of like down with what we're doing. And then Robert's also down but I think he just has such a specific vision for his vibe.
Elijah: He's a historian. The way he makes his movies are so particular to those eras that—so on the last Lighthouse shirt, on the corner at the bottom, that's the Lighthouse that's this like '60s kind of Art Nouveau font that we used. And at first they were like, "Ooh, we don't know if Robert's going to like this." And then they're like, well actually it flies.
Alix: Yeah, he's so particular even, so his films are just historically so accurate down to every last bit. They're perfect films in that sense. So yeah, he's particular about how the shirts are, but it's cool. We really like that. We like it when we make something and then someone has like a really sick suggestion and isn't just like, oh it's perfect. It does look cool when someone exposes a perspective that makes it even better.
A24 puts out a lot of movies every year. Are you guys only gravitating towards the more horror-ish releases? How do you decide which movies you want to collaborate on?
Elijah: I mean, there was one in particular that we actually passed on that was less horror, but I don't think that we're not particularly set on horror at all. Even though I would say that Alix and I generally enjoy horror movies a lot. It's not like the only movies we watch and it's not the only thing that we care about. So we're absolutely open to, I mean, pretty much anything as long as we feel like we enjoy it. We never want to pigeonhole ourselves in any way with this project. We always want to leave all channels wide open.
Alix: I mean right now, I'm not going to say anything, but we're definitely in talks about doing merch for things that aren't horror movies. So it started out with horror. I mean Midsommar, I don't even think is categorically a horror film, but Lighthouse isn't really a horror film either. They're twisted movies for sure and they are maybe horrific in some sense, but I don't think they would be technically considered a horror movie by like a film student. I would be stoked to do merch for all kinds of movies, all genres, really.
You mentioned that you guys were fans of A24 before working with them. What is it about them that you responded to?
Alix: I mean, I just have really always been a fan of independent films and I feel like A24 and a few other distribution and production companies have given real artists a chance to show their voice in a time when I feel like it's important. I think just giving artists an opportunity to distribute their work in a wider platform is really amazing. And A24 I think is kind of like one of the companies at the forefront of doing that for movies.
One thing that I really love about A24 is that it's become this thing where their fans aren't specifically only fans of the movies, they'll just see whatever has the A24 brand on it now. And it's interesting how that extended to the merch because The Lighthouse shirts dropped before most people actually saw the movie, but there was still excitement for them.
Elijah: Yeah, I noticed that for sure. I mean there's some bands that put out records that totally don't sound like their other records, but people love it. It's like you just trust that brand, you trust the decisions made by those people and A24 has a marker of quality across the board. So there's an understanding that it's probably at least going to be at the end of the day engaging, even if you don't like it. But I mean there's certain movies that aren't my favorites but I can definitely walk away talking about them.
What's your guys' favorite A24 piece that you've made thus far?
Alix: I think my favorite is the Lighthouse hoodie.
Elijah: I think my favorite is probably the Witch stuff. It kind of gave it a little bit more liberty and I feel like it looks a little bit more like Online Ceramics proper and I think that's kind of fun.
Alix: The A24 merch, it's the one [thing] that we make that I actually rep all the time. Like, I wear it. Like, I'm actually wearing a Lighthouse shirt right now because I'm so stoked on it. Even though we love what we're making and we're super stoked on all of it, there's just some kind of mental thing with wearing something I've made and I know Elijah feels this way too. But with the A24 thing, there's a separation involved that makes me feel proud to wear it or something.
Alix you mentioned that you had always had a vision for the brand heading towards movie merch. Are there any A24 movies or just any movies in general that you wish you could have had the chance to make merch for?
Elijah: I loved Eighth Grade. I loved that movie a lot. I have a hard time sometimes with movies, just making it through them. And I was the most engaged I've been in a movie in a long time actually.
Alix: We talked about doing mid90s merch and I wish we would've done mid90s actually. That would have been fucking sick. We had just started the relationship at that point. And it was on the table as an option, and I kind of wish we would have followed up on that, but that's okay.
[A24 is] a company that has real faith in art.
Jonah strikes me as a fan of you guys too.
Elijah: I'm pretty sure he's familiar.
Alix: I think he knows who we are.
Elijah: I'm still like super duper stoked that we got Hereditary. That's huge.
Alix: Good Time for sure. Good Time would have been fire.
There's still time for [Uncut] Gems. That could be amazing.
Alix: I know. We'll see what happens with that.
Switching gears, I loved your shirts with John Mayer this past summer as well. What was it like collaborating with him?
Alix: That was really cool. [Another A24] I've just thought of: The Bling Ring would've been fire.
Elijah: I mean it was funny, like when we first started working with him, he was kind of like, okay, let's make some distance after this. And then like I think we all liked working with each other so much and it's so fun that we just keep doing it. And that was really sudden, we were on tour with the Dead and he was just like, "Hey would you want to do the merch for my tour?" And it starts in like two weeks.
So it was pretty intense. But like the actual process of doing it was really fun. He's super engaged. Like probably the most engaged that any popular musician is with the direct line to merchandise. I would go as far as to say that that's definitely true. He is active in the design process. So I really respect that about him because he really cares about his overall vision. He works on set design, he works on his merchandise, he does all that shit.
Alix: He doesn't have a stylist.
Elijah: He doesn't have a stylist. He is out there, finding us on the internet, being like this shit's dope, let's run this. That's so rare in the music industry. Usually, Live Nation or someone just comes in and hires like bottom barrel designers. I've been that designer before that's just like picked out for a project and they're like, make it look like a metal tour. Like "big shirt" is his idea straight up.
The Big Shirt's amazing.
Elijah: That was his idea. Curfew Boys was his idea. The photo face thing was his idea. He has a really clear vision of where he wants things to go and how he wants them to look. And in that way, that was probably the deepest collaboration that we've had on merchandise. In comparison with A24.
Going back to A24, how do your clothes and merch reflect what they stand for?
Elijah: I think that there's definitely a similar thread in the way that A24 exists and Online Ceramics exists. I think that they put out movies that they want to put out, they believe what they want to do and they do it their way. We have consistently done exactly what we wanted and done it our way. And we both believe in doing it in a high-quality sense. It's not like I just want to do whatever I want. It's, let me chase what I would like to do and do it correctly. And that's exactly what they've done. And they put out really beautiful movies and we've done our best to put out really beautiful shirts and merchandise and objects.
And it's like a marker of like artistic quality that I think we, both parties, strive for. It's not just like let's just do this and make a quick buck. A24 will take a risk. We will take a risk, we'll put out a shirt for a movie that's not even out yet. We'll put out things that we believe in because we think it's cool. Not because we genuinely like this is going to sell a shitload of t-shirts.
Sometimes we are like, "this one is not going to sell" and we know it and that's okay because that's what we feel like doing and that's how you know someone's doing it because they have correct intentions.
Alix: I think with A24, they're a company that have real faith in art.
You guys are having a great year. What's it looking like for 2020?
Elijah: We're getting into it.
Alix: We have some cool things planned.
Elijah: Some really exciting fun things that I think carry on the tradition of what we've been doing but also expand upon it in really new and exciting ways.
And how are you absorbing everything? Is it getting overwhelming or is it still fun?
Elijah: Still fun.
Alix: Definitely fun.
Elijah: We hang out all day with our friends and make things that we love and we're barely at the end of our twenties. That's like the dream. It's definitely pretty intense sometimes and it's definitely a lot of work. But luckily we're all kind of like crazy and we all work pretty hard and we have a really good crew that manages to keep going.
Since you guys said you were big horror fans, what are some of your favorite all-time favorite horror movies?
Alix: Dude, shit, hold on. Elijah has to go first.
Elijah: I'm going to give you three or four: I like Carrie and I really like Rosemary's Baby. I Drink Your Blood and probably the original Halloween.
Alix: Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The OG. Suspiria [OG]. And Saw 2.
Have you guys ever thought about doing something like going back to say Texas Chainsaw and just making T-shirts for that even if there's no peg?
Alix: 100 percent, 100 fucking percent.
Elijah: If I could get the rights to Rosemary's Baby, like are you joking me dude? That's like-
Alix: Yeah, we would go hard. That might be some 2020 shit. We might try to reach out to see if we can get something like that happening.