Shay Lhea is the owner and product designer of Oculto Steam Masks, which features a wide array of luxury, wearable disguises which she considers ‘Alter Egos’.
Her adventure began when she planned a trip to New Orleans for Mardis Gras and decided (on a whim) to make masks her herself and her best friend. Once she arrived, partygoers descended upon her like ants at a picnic, demanding where her masks where purchased and how they could buy them and it was then that she realized her mask shop was in her head and desperately needed to escape into reality!
Shay is a creative writer and an amateur historian so when she began constructing her masks, she decided instead of making inanimate ‘accessories’ she would create ‘personas’ that came with full character profiles which meant to breathe life into disguises that would otherwise be static props.
Wonderfully, her masks have not only inspired partygoers and societies to take part in ‘Discarding Themselves and Becoming Their Mask’ as her tagline rings, but have also become popular in the performance world. Burlesque, ballet and modern dancers, opera singers and local rock bands seeking to alter their stage personas have taken on her masks.
She has even provided custom-made masks for masked weddings and birthdays!
The Oculto style is unique, luxurious and raises the concept of wearable art to a new level by giving people the opportunity to check themselves at the door and try on someone else. Perhaps a darker self.
We caught up with Shay and asked her a few questions so you get to know her better:
What’s the story behind your company?
The story behind my company is quite simple really… on a whim I decided to make a couple of masks (which I had never done before) for a friend and I to wear to Mardis Gras. When we arrived we were constantly being approached by people who wanted to know where the shop we bought our masks from was which of course hadn’t been created because it was trapped in my mind! This kick-started my imagination and I followed the lead. When I got home I began creating Venetian-styled masks for a few years and couldn’t sell them to anyone because I didn’t understand anything about self-promotion. I was on the verge of bitterly throwing in my flag when I discovered Steampunk and thus my inspiration was reborn!
What inspires you?
I’m inspired by darkness. By the cold hard reality of our history and what will be our future. What propels others into a deep depression I draw my inspiration from. Am I the anti-christ? Hardly. Maybe more along the lines of Stephen King.
What is your favorite product to make?
I’m a mask designer so my favorite product would be masks, but I would say that my favorite material to use would be glass. Despite the fact that today plastic reigns supreme, there’s something romantic and charming about glass. It can be traced all the way back to Mesopotamia 3500BCE and it still exists today -it’s breakable, it gets grimy and despite it being an out-of-date hazard, we still use it. Perhaps because it reminds us of ourselves.
How would you describe your style in 3 words?
My style described in 3 words: Avant-Garde, Industrial, Heteromorphic
In your opinion, what’s the best part of being an entrepreneur?
In my opinion, the best part of being an entrepreneur is knowing that I did it all myself. That’s despite being a normal person with no business experience and just another artist who only wants to create, I proved to myself that I was capable of figuring out what I needed to do to become my own boss and then teach others how to do the same thing. It’s empowering and it can be done at any age.
If you were to start all over again, what would you do differently?
If I were to start all over again I would have put greater focus on who I was trying to get my audience to be and what exact niche I was hoping to fill. It’s what I’m doing now of course, but the realization that this was something extremely important only came after I had been making a completely different style of mask for two years!
Any advice for other crafters who are just starting?
To everyone out there who’s just starting: If your dream is to eventually live off of your work, make sure to make your creations unique enough that they can’t be easily duplicated and keep your eyes and ears open for which of your items people seem to like the most. Keep your online shop always stocked with the items people love as well as pieces you personally love. When I decided to open my own shop I quickly realized that variety within my creativity is important and so is what the public likes. They’re you’re audience so they mustn’t be ignored!
What’s next? Any plans for the future?
What’s next is to head to a few colossal Steampunk conventions/fairs, vend my wares and make the global Steam Community more familiar with what Oculto Steam Masks has to offer. I hope to get my work into Steam-inspired movies, Steampunk TV series and on the faces of some of the top Steampunk bands across Europe and North America.
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