Despite having a sense of style that’s old fashioned (in the best possible way), Anja Verdugo does not shy away from using modern technology to express herself creatively. She can be found several different places online under the name Clever Nettle, including her Etsy store, where she sells her unique vintage finds, and her blog that chronicles her daily musings, with plenty of style inspiration to boot.
How did you dress in high school?
It was definitely a mixed bag! I was always a thrift store shopper, but for the first couple years in high school I tried to dress like any “normal” teenager in the mid-90s — lots of stretchy black flared pants and tank tops, haha. Later on I got really into novelty tights, like stripes and other prints. You couldn’t buy them anywhere in my hometown and internet shopping wasn’t what it is today, so I’d buy a new pair of expensive tights whenever I’d find myself in Vancouver, which seemed like the coolest place ever. I was just starting to get into vintage and I remember when shopping in the kid’s section at Value Village for funny 80s tee-shirts was still sort of a secret!
Can you remember when you became so interested in clothing? What kind of role does it play in your life?
I was one of those little girls who valued her box of dress-up clothing more than anything else in the world. I actually still have two vintage pieces from it, a little fur collar and a gold brocade purse. I’ve always been into clothing and dressing up, but right now it’s on my mind more than ever. Thanks to my etsy shop I get to spend almost all of my work time shopping for vintage, putting together outfits and looking for fashion inspiration online, so it definitely plays a huge role in my life! Portland is a really casual city though, so I never feel pressured to dress up or to put together a perfect outfit — it’s able to happen a bit more naturally… or at least it feels that way.
You’re very active on the internet — aside from your vintage store, you run a style blog and sell some illustrations. Do you find that all these mediums — writing, styling, drawing, curating — tend to influence or have an impact on each other?
Sometimes I feel dumb for not concentrating on only one thing and trying to perfect a skill, but I’ve always been this way — I love to do lots of different things. My blog and shop are pretty closely connected so it’s not hard to do both, but things like drawing and playing music (I haven’t touched my cello in months; I feel so guilty) can be a bit harder to make time for. I do have a new illustration idea that I am ready to work on that has a vintage clothing connection, I just have to make myself sit down and start it!
Lots of your photos are taken outside, in fields or gardens; how does nature influence your style?
I’m very inspired by the seasons, especially spring and fall. Portland has a fairly mild climate so there’s almost always something in bloom and I love that so much. Plants are very interesting to me in many ways — they look incredible, they can do all sorts of crazy things (I love using hippie remedies and right now my husband is making St. John’s Wort tincture from plants in our yard), the colours and aromas they produce are amazing… when a new season rolls around I am very influenced by the colours that I see in nature.
I love the paper cut-outs you pose in front of; can you tell me a bit about those?
For the first year that I was selling on etsy I struggled with finding the perfect photo spot. I took most of my photos outside and the light was always changing — it was so frustrating! Eventually I decided to work on an indoor setup and bought a light kit on eBay, which I set up in my basement. I wanted a background that was simple but still interesting, and since I am a big nerd for the forest I decided to make a little forest scene. I drew rough sketches on cardstock and cut it out with an x-acto knife and then tacked it up to the wall. I included little mushrooms because I love going mushroom hunting in the woods, and a squirrel because they are probably my favourite animal. We have a bunch living in a tree next to our house; they are so cute.
You are so put together every day; be honest, do you ever have days where you wear jeans and tee-shirts?
I tend to change my clothes a lot during the day since I have to run so many different errands, and I like to feel totally right for each situation. In the morning I might put on a dress and go thrifting, but then I’ll change into some jeans to ride my bike to the post office, then back into a skirt or something when I get home. I probably wear jeans and a tee-shirt almost every day at some point!
Portland seems to be such a creative hub right now. How long have you lived there? Do you find it inspiring?
My husband Dalas and I moved here three and a half years ago, and we hope to live here for a really long time. It has pretty much every single thing that I love — amazing food, lots of nature and green spaces, good thrifting, cute houses everywhere… it’s definitely inspiring! A large percentage of my friends who live here are able to support themselves through their art/craft alone (although most run their shops online like me), and there are so many cool small businesses to support… it really is a creative person’s dream come true. I’m not saying that it will work out for everyone, but living expenses are fairly low and I feel like it’s the sort of place that will reward you for treating it well. I lived in NYC for a few months and it felt like a constant battle, always fighting so hard for minimal rewards. A lot of Portlanders really care about the city, and I like that we’re all in it together, keeping it a fun and mellow place to live.
Anja’s top ten favourite places to shop in Portland
1. House of Vintage on Hawthorne has a ton of vendors selling all kinds of vintage goods. So fun to wander around in there!
2. Stars Antique Malls are similar, with lots of vendors and treasures galore. They are in a big antique district so there are lots of neat shops around there.
3. The Palmer Wirfs antique expo happens three times a year and it is amazing! I look forward to each one so much. I found one of my favorite 30s dresses there for only $19.
4. Madison Street is a beautifully curated antique shop that has stacks of old letters everywhere, little old shoes, Odd Fellows sashes, and more.
5. Flutter, a one-stop shop for everything lovely and fancy!
6. The farmers’ markets, not because of clothing but for all the amazing fresh local foods!
7. Really Good Stuff on Hawthorne, especially for their drawers of old photos.
8. Estate sales, especially the kind where the people lived in the house for decades and decades.
9. Okay, this isn’t exactly shopping but it’s my favourite place to eat a nice dinner — The Farm Cafe. I like to describe it as fancy comfort food with a seasonal/local twist. Always so delicious.
10. Another food spot, Screen Door — the most incredible Southern breakfasts ever.
Interview by Anna Fitz