Chit Chatting with Chew—Chew

“We’re kind of just doing whatever the hell we want”

“Anybody who knows us gets our stuff confused anyways.”

Alli Chew told us, referring to the work of her and her brother, Chris. The siblings are the minds behind Chew—Chew, a Connecticut multidisciplinary studio. It makes sense that Alli and Chris have similar styles. When we met up with the two, they accidentally wore the same outfits - butterfly patches all over their jeans, Chew—Chew orange tie-dye shirts, and chunky shoes. Chris agreed, “I think we have aligned sensibilities.”

Alli and Chris Chew of Chew—Chew would work in their dad’s Branford trophy shop through high school. They’d assemble 100 trophies in two hours, cutting and engraving the awards with a laser machine. This machine was what kicked off their first collaborative project.

“I remember I had a market coming up and I was just going to sell ceramics,” Alli said, referring to one of her many talents. “But he was like, ‘we should try to sell something together’. He came up with this earring idea and that’s how this all started.”

Without showing each other, they both drew a page of faces, came together to choose their favorites, and then designed them into acrylic earrings by laser cutting them with the trophy shop machine.

Why create earrings? Why jump into this medium? Why make earrings with wavy smiles and silly eyes? Because why not. Because it’d be cool. Because both of their brains working on a project creates magic.

This “just go for it” attitude is the force behind Chew—Chew. Alli and Chris now make pieces that range from mirrored laser-cut acrylic earrings to hand-tufted rugs, printed shirts to thrown mugs Alli sculpts and fires at a kiln she built in the back of the trophy shop. They don’t have a specified medium for their studio, instead learning and producing pieces in different disciplines. All of their pieces are still clearly Chew—Chew - polished, silly yet smart. They’re bright, almost cartoonish productions, living in a world only the two of them could create together.

They both studied graphic design at Lesley University in Massachusetts, thinking the marketable route would lead them to an accessible job - but they couldn’t stay in just one medium. Alli said she tried wheel-throwing, she “picked it up really fast and really loved it.”

“The school we went to doesn’t have a ceramics program,” Chris noted. “I took ceramics for a year - I had maybe two bowls at the end of the course, and the professor thought I was a perfectionist. Then when Alli got to Lesley and had the same professor, she made more ceramics than anyone had ever made there.”

Alli added, “I used their entire supply of clay. The professor gave me special access to the clay room so I could use it as much as I wanted.” She learned how to throw pieces, make bowls, and design the mugs Chew—Chew now sells.

Meanwhile at school, Chris dove into graphic design, designing merch for Palehound and posters for the Northampton Print and Book Fair. After graduating in 2015, he ended up moving to New Haven to work for the Yale Art Gallery as a graphic designer. When he stopped working there, he began to explore further experimental designs with his sister after she graduated in 2018.

Although they take on challenging mediums, their process for creating is informal. “We just come to each other and are like, ‘I really want to try this’ and the other person is like ‘yeah, alright.’” Alli said, her brother nodding. “It helps that we’re siblings, since we can tell each other when the other person’s idea sucks.”

Chew—Chew isn’t only a collection of internal projects, they also source out their imagination to external entities. The NYC organization “Welcome to Chinatown” supports Chinatown businesses in many different ways, one of which is making cool merch around a restaurant or store and selling it to support the business. Chew—Chew has been recently commissioned to create a special box for a CBD chili oil company, which will include custom sauce bowls and t-shirts. They also have produced apparel, posters, and other merch for bands.

We don’t know what to expect to see from Chew—Chew, which is a beautiful thing. What we do know is that their fantastic attention to detail and style will guide them on a fascinating path. You gotta check out Chew—Chew.