Em: What I first want to know is how you got started tattooing in Austria?
Trudy: Yes, so I started tattooing in Austria. I was always in art, I was a graphic artist before. I went to college for graphic and communication design where I studied art history. During this I felt as though I needed to do something with my hands and be more creative because art history is a very conservative industry. It’s nice to have the knowledge and I love art, but I felt I needed to do something more creative. So then I came across tattoos and tattooing, not as I want to become a tattoo artist but more in terms of wanting to work with a new art medium, and felt as though skin and a moving body would be interesting to work with. I applied for an apprenticeship at a shop, they weren't looking for someone but I showed up with my drawings and I said this is what I do, this is what I love, and I would love to learn the craft. And I got a job offer as an apprentice, and I started tattooing.
E: How long have you been tattooing for?
T: Around 10 years.
E: So you’ve been here for six years?
T: Yes, so after Austria, three years of full-time tattooing. I felt like I couldn’t learn anything anymore and I wanted to learn from the best in the industry. So I traveled around the world and tried to learn from different artists. And then I moved to New York.
E: Where else did you travel around the world?
T: US mostly, I crossed the country twice, bought a car. I went to South America, Central America. I tattooed in Fiji, Australia, everywhere to learn from people.
E: And you decided New York was the best?
T: I got a job offer at Bang Bang. They recruited me and asked me to move here. It’s been almost six years.
E: So you love them?
E: Tell me a little bit about the shop.
T: The nice thing is that we have artists from all over the world. We are very close to each other, it's like a family, you know? It's such an interesting place to be in, where it's constant growth together. It's not really a competition, it's more like what can we do for each other to become better? Not that we’re intentionally forcing growth, but it naturally happens. It's a platform where you meet the most amazing people, clients, and artists. And I mean, we're in New York, we all know the energy in New York and how interesting it is to be here. And the talent that you meet. People come here for a reason.
E: They do. How did you get started with this bottle company?
T: Growing up in Austria, it's a very sustainable country in comparison to the United States. When I moved here, we’re all aware of the [US] plastic consumption. It's such a big, big problem in the entire world, specifically in the US, and I've traveled everywhere. I've seen places where there's a lack of education, there's a lack of waste management, and nothing compares to the US. Growing up in Austria I always had a water bottle with me. We have very clean water in Austria, and it is something I was used to. I moved here and still had my water bottle with me and I was shook. We were hiking and people used plastic bottles. I was like, “I need to change something.” And with my position as an artist, I feel like I'm responsible for using my influence for positive change, especially environmental change. I wanted to educate people on plastic consumption and want to do something good and give back. This is why I have like those three pillars of the water bottle. It's not necessarily just the plastic consumption, it's also delivering clean drinking water to people in need, supporting reforestation projects, and reducing your carbon footprint. It’s really my influence I have as an artist,
E: And being able to push that to people.
T: Correct, to make changes. So this is why I didn't just use a bottle and sell it, I put art on it to draw attention to the problem we have. This is why I mixed natural elements with plastic. The freebird bottles are birds flying around plastic bags. The forest bottle has plastic bottles poking into the sky instead of fog or clouds. Using my influence as an artist is my main motivator to create change. That's the motivation I have with everything I do.
E: Creating change. Was it easy to partner with the tree company? And then the clean water group?
T: With the nonprofit it was very hard to find the right one to work with. First of all, when people hear nonprofit it has a negative association, like, “oh, the money never goes where it should be.” I did a lot of research. But the two companies I work closely with are like family, I know the team, I know exactly where the money goes. They inform me about different projects. It was easy to make a decision once I met them, the challenge was that they were hard to find. Every year I go to Kenya and the purpose of this pop-up is to build another water well. I’ll have more information soon on the project we’re going to support.
E: Will it be summer or fall?
T: June. Middle of June, we’re going for 10 days.
E: And then what part of the proceeds of the bottles go to each project?
T: It’s split between the two. Sig, the manufacturing is a swiss brand, is by far the most sustainable, reusable water bottle company in the world. Sig is very big in Europe. In the US you have Swell, Klean Kanteen, Yeti, and all these. Most of their parts are manufactured in China, so just to get the material to the US leaves a carbon footprint. And what type of energy they use, their morals, how they treat their employees. I made the decision to work with a Swiss brand, as they are the most sustainable.
E: Do they make their bottles in Switzerland?
T: They do, everything is made in Switzerland.
E: Is it aluminum?
T: It’s high quality aluminum. The new bottles will be made out of 100% recycled aluminum, are lightweight, and last forever.
E: It’s the most recyclable material on the planet.
T: And the company uses water energy. The plant is run by water.
E: What is the number 30 about?
T: It takes 30 days to adjust a habit, right? Whatever you do, if you want to stop eating sugar, a cup of coffee, workout, to adjust a habit or create a habit in a positive way, it takes 30 days to be consistent. So what I wanted to do, and this is why we have that social media challenge of 30 days, is to encourage people to not use single use plastic bottles for 30 days. You’ll see how convenient it is to use a reusable water bottle. People in the US find it convenient to spend money on a plastic bottle, drink it, throw it out, buy another one. It's just the habit people have. If you have a reusable water bottle you save money, it’s convenient, and it’s yours. In the US, we work with a company called ‘Find Tap.’ Find Tap is an app where you see water refill stations, for example, every Wholefoods has it. There's so many on the street, at the airport, certain restaurants, SweetGreen has it in their stores. The app has all this information. The challenge is to not use single-use plastic for 30 days, and we’ve given people the tools to do this challenge successfully.
E: Have you seen any interesting stories that people have posted with the hashtag? Or is it in the process of gaining traction?
T: We had a lot of celebrities, yoga people, and influencers using it in the beginning when I launched the project. People reposted and used it. But then I had to stop the project because I had to move warehouses, our website was not working, and it was placed on hold for a year. March 1st of this year we relaunched the project.
E: So this is the relaunch of the project?
T: It started very slow with the pandemic. Manufacturing was a disaster, distribution was impossible. I think it's better to have people already using it and people have heard about the challenge, know about it, seen it, potentially done it. Now it's all about marketing. People with a big influence used it and promoted it, but the algorithm wasn’t involving other people. We learn with everything we do, and I’m excited to try again.
E: We define a Now or Never moment as something that you had to do spontaneously or something that you had been waiting or hesitating to do, which you then decide that it’s a Now or Never moment and will change your life for the better. Specifically, what was a Now or Never moment when working as a tattoo artist?
T: You know, I feel like my entire life are Now or Never moments, to be very honest. I don't have one answer, because everything I do to this day, it was never planned. It was never my dream to become a tattoo artist, to move to New York, or want to be an environmentalist. I feel like I have a natural-born gift of being an artist. It was not “I want to become an artist,” it just happened by nature. So I figured out where I want to go. I think that my Now or Never moments come when I'm stuck. Not necessarily stuck, but when I feel like my skills and knowledge need to grow before I get bored.
Sehwan: When your learning curve expires?
E: Exactly. It's like when you've gotten to a point where you feel like you can do more, but not where you're at.
T: Correct. You set your goals on the best version of yourself. Once you reach that, it’s not like, “Oh, I'm done. What's next? What's next?” It's almost like climbing a ladder. It's not that I have to prove anything to anyone. So tattooing, I felt like I learned everything. And I was like, okay, well, what can I do to learn more and to gain more knowledge to become better? I'll travel around the world and learn from the best. I'll do it. Those are Now or Never moments. Then I came and crashed in New York. I tried to go with the flow. I came to New York, I got the job offer. And I was like, “Okay, I hope this works out. I'm gonna do it.” And with the bottle project, I had that vision. I want to do something and have influence. So I'm not really hesitating when I have those moments. It's not that the decisions are easy for me. I mean right now I'm actually listening to a podcast on how to make great emotional decisions. It’s not easy to make decisions, I struggle sometimes when making decisions. But those things, those Now or Never moments that you want to call it, in the moment there’s no decision to make.
E: Intrinsically you know.
T: It’s almost like it’s a part of the climb.
S: When is your birth month?
S: August. Is that Gemini or what?
E & T: Virgo.
S: Yeah, she sounds just like me. [laughs] My learning curve expires really quick.
E: So you feel motivated in the sense of going to the next project?
S: When you’re feeling stuck, and you look for other opportunities, motivations, inspirations.
T: In English, it’s not that I’m ‘searching’ for, ‘look’ is maybe the right word. I’m just trying to go through life with open eyes, and an open heart. If you do this, opportunities come. Or you create opportunities. Not necessarily waiting for someone to knock on my door, I'm the house and I’ll open doors for others. I don’t think there’s one Now or Never moment, my life is a Now or Never moment.
E: Well it’s good because you’re open. Like you said, it's not that you're searching, but you're open to what comes to you. And what will lead you to the right path.
T: It’s a learning process. I had a conversation with one person, who asked the question of what's your purpose? Some people are depressed and think about what am I doing on this planet? Yes we have these days where we wake up and are like, “What am I doing here?” Like, what is my purpose? I feel like I figure it out on my way. There’s not one goal I have to force, it’s just a process.
S: Can we talk more about your Now or Never moments when it comes to #BottleNo30?
T: I had a Now or Never moment, before creating the bottle. I was with a friend of mine, one of my best friends Max, who works in the shop. We went to Vegas because he's from there and went on a hike. It's beautiful out there. I had my Sig water bottle with me, #BottleNo30 didn’t exist back then. So when you hike in Vegas, Nevada, they have water stations. So it's not where you refill your water bottle, it’s more where people leave their plastic water bottles when there is water left. They build a wood house where people leave their bottles in case you get stuck in the desert, emergency situations. They have signs where it says it could save someone’s life. That was so interesting for me to see because in Austria it would have never been a question because you have the river where you can drink out of, or you have the little fountains where you can drink out of so I just never realized that I barely used plastic bottles. I never did, because I was educated by my parents, my grandparents that this is waste. If you create waste, you have to make sure it's recycled properly or you actually try to avoid creating waste because then you don't even have to think about recycling. So with all that plastic that we have, yes there’s waste management, yes, I use recycled stuff, I use biodegradable stuff, but if I do not even create waste, then I don't even have to find a solution to get rid of it. With the water bottles, there is no waste. Zero.
Anyway, we hiked and I saw those bottles. I have my reusable water bottle with me and here are all the plastic bottles. It is crazy to think that in the US so many people are not educated on plastic consumption. This was the Now or Never moment on why I created a water bottle. People try to invent things. And whatever, sit down and try to create something. But look at what's in front of you. Will you use it? I'm known for having a little water bottle with me all the time. I’m always thirsty. Always. I always have a water bottle. I held that water, saw the plastic water bottles over there, and I thought it was obvious. There's nothing that I have to think about very hard on what I could do. This is obvious. I’m putting art on a water bottle and selling it.
Collaboration was the main motivator, I wanted to give back. I don’t want to make money with that project. I had to find a company that would support me in not making a profit off it. That’s obviously not possible because they need money for manufacturing. So I had to create my own project. Had to invest money to make money for nonprofits.
S: So you'd been carrying this Sig bottle.
T: Since I was a little child.
S: Then you got inspired by these little moments, and the moment in Vegas was the final push.
T: That was the Now or Never moment that made me create #BottleNo30
S: And then you looked for nonprofit organizations.
T: I looked for a manufacturing company first. During the process, I came up with the idea of working with nonprofits. I don’t want to create a carbon footprint by manufacturing a bottle. What can I do to reduce a carbon footprint? Plant trees to reset your carbon foot. And then I thought of water, trees, so fortunate that we can drink tap water. Other people in the world don’t have clean water access and die due to water related diseases. So what can I do? I can work and deliver clean drinking water to people in need. There was not one moment, every moment leads to something else. Right now I’m working on a new company, it’s called Zerofy. It will eventually be for companies to offset or compensate for their carbon emissions. It's not for small businesses, only for big businesses. The bottle project led me to my next project and then a NFT project introduced me to new technology. I’m using my art, NFT project, bottle project, all to create that new company.
When you flip a pyramid upside down and you have your life, all the things you did, you narrow it down. It’s becoming less and less, not less opportunities or things that I do, but the point of the pyramid is that at the end there is a purpose. Why am I here, and I will slowly figure it out.
S: How long have you been working with the nonprofit that we're gonna be doing a fundraiser with?
T: Two to three years? Our project was on hold, but I still worked with them and did fundraising events. We will have the Head of Communications with us at the event. Water is Life started small and the founder is named Ken, who is an amazing person and is about to retire. He built orphanages his entire life, all over the world, where two to three hundred kids are in and supported until they are old enough to leave. Then he started Water is Life and came up with a simple system to filter dirty water with a drinking straw, went to communities and provided them with that system. After that, the company got bigger and now they’re building water wells. I went to Kenya for the first time two years ago in November. We went to the slums where they are supported with the water wells and you see the changes. A little village of three thousand people were not able to shower because their water was so dirty, not able to cook or wash their clothes. Something as simple as water can save lives. Sanitation, drinking, cooking. Everything is related to something so simple.
E: Everything revolves around water.
T: We take it for granted. We go into the bathroom, kitchen, turn on the water and heat it up. We work with locals, which is very important. They do not like, send a white man to Kenya to ease his guilt. The purpose is to work with locals and to help people. It’s very important for them to support themselves. I would rather work with small nonprofits because I know where their hearts are at, and I can see the work that they do.
Funnily enough, back in 2019 I met with different water bottle companies at Now or Never, when I was interviewing to see who would be the right fit.
S: That’s crazy!
E: And they were not great?
T: I just didn’t like their sustainability goals. It’s not really about sustainability for them.
E: Thank you so much for the conversation! Excited to see where this project takes you, and excited for the charity event.
T: Of course! And it’s World Water Day, on March 22nd, a week after the charity event.
Visit #BottleNo30 on their website, purchase a bottle, and learn more about their mission.