From Tumblr to Her NFT Project Valfrélandia, Cult-Favorite Artist Ilse Valfré Shares How She Evolved Her Online Brand

We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.

Original art and photo courtesy of Ilse Valfré, remix by Cole Mitchell

This week, we caught up with creator Ilse Valfré, the leading artist behind the Valfré brand. The Valfré brand has attracted a long-time cult-following for its unique collectibles, accessories, apparel, art prints, smoke shop, home goods, and stationery. The brand has attracted an audience of over 909,000 followers on Instagram, many of whom stuck around since Valfré’s beginnings on Tumblr.

Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, Valfré’s work is rooted in the “strong female energy” she encountered in childhood. She has since built a wildly recognizable art style showcasing unique female characters. Her art, often featuring vintage iconography and drawing style, pulls from the “Retro Futurism” movement—which depicts visions of the future matched with vintage aesthetics. Valfré initially grew in popularity for her drawings on Tumblr, prior to turning her art into a full-fledged collectibles business. 

Now, Valfré is venturing into Web3 with her NFT project titled Valfrélandia: a collection of 10,000 unique NFTs featuring Valfré’s hand drawn characters, currently costing roughly $315 in Ethereum digital currency each. NFT purchases include avatars of these characters, which double as a profile picture and community membership. 

NFT membership to Valfrélandia boasts eventual access to exclusive merchandise, giveaways, limited edition collectibles, store discounts, exclusive art shows, avatar animations, voting rights for future community initiatives, and more. The project, which launched its public mint last week, has attracted over 11,000 members to its Discord channel. 

Despite many fans loving the project, regarding it as a fun way to support their favorite artist, others took to Instagram to express their concerns over the environmental impact of NFTs and Web3’s reputation for exploitation and scams. 

In an interview with Passionfruit, Valfré responded to her fans’ skepticism to her new project. She also discussed the foundations of her art style, the evolution of her online career, why she decided to explore Web3 as an artist, why she enjoys Discord as a way to connect with fans, if she really thinks Web3 is the future of the internet, and more. 

How has your art style developed in recent years?

Of course my style is always changing, but I try to stay true to the initial vibe that my fans resonated with early on! I continue to pull influences from my childhood in Mexico and the strong female energy that started all of this in the first place, but my influences have definitely expanded. With the ever-growing online community, I am able to reach more and more of my fans and I try to include them in my work, really thinking about the audience and creating art that resonates with everyone.

What inspired the choice to primarily represent female characters in your artwork?

I started by drawing what I know. At the time, in the early days of Tumblr and Web2, there wasn’t a lot of female representation and I really wanted my work to resonate with women on the internet. In creating these free and complex female characters, I was able to explore parts of myself and parts of my fans that weren’t necessarily at the forefront of pop culture at the time, and it became my creative outlet!

What was your online store like when it first started out? How has it evolved?

It started on a platform called Bigcartel, it’s like an Etsy store. I started with very simple/DIYish products. Sticker packs (I used to cut myself, lol) limited edition prints, tote bags. This time of my life holds a very special place in my heart because I had no idea how to start and let alone manage a small business, I had to learn on the go, YouTube and Google were my teachers, I crossed the border by foot to San Diego to ship my orders twice a week (at the time I lived in my childhood home with my parents in Tijuana, Mexico) and little by little the list of customers started to grow.

What has the response been like to the announcement of Valfrélandia?

I’m really humbled by the positive response to this transition. When we were announcing the project, I was super aware that there is some pushback about NFTs and it might not be a smooth jump, but the Valfré community is so positive and so progressive. I’m honored they’re choosing to make the leap from Web2 to Web3 with me. 

How did you decide on the amount of Valfrélandia NFT memberships to sell (10,000), and how did you decide on their prices?

We wanted to make sure everyone in the community had the chance to get one. With the growing community in Discord and Instagram, we weren’t sure how many people were going to jump into Valfrélandia with us, so we wanted to produce a number on the higher end for PFP projects to give each collector a shot. In terms of the price, we wanted to keep it accessible while taking into account the added value of the community and the value of the art itself, with part of the proceeds being funneled directly back into the Valfré community 

Do you think that your virtual products—NFTs, avatars, animations—will be just as successful as your physical merchandise?

I hope so! The physical merchandise has grown and become more diverse as the years have gone on, only gaining momentum, and I’d love for the virtual products to be the same. We’re rolling out a little at a time to give the community time to adjust and get excited, and to give me time to keep creating new and exciting options!

What do you like about Discord as a place to connect with community members?

Discord reminds me of the early days of Web2 and Tumblr, when I was able to interact directly with my fans and collectors. Having that open and active channel is everything, and I’m excited that we get to convert that with added value in the world of Valfrélandia. 

What would you say to fans who are skeptical of NFT projects? 

I know some of you are more excited about NFTs than others and, to be honest, I get it!

During COVID, my family and I decided to relocate to a small jungle town in Mexico, which is the furthest place imaginable from the “metaverse conversation.” I was skeptical, but the more that NFTs came up in conversation, the more I learned and got excited about this new technology. I soon realized that artists and musicians were going to be able to use the blockchain to offer their original work directly to their fans in a way that allows them to build community and value together. 

Then I realized how uniquely positioned Valfré was to enter this space which currently lacks female artists. I’ve worked on this with my community in mind and I created Valfrélandia which represents 15 character types that you have gotten to know over the years. I’m really proud of how it turned out and I’ve done everything I can to make sure that this change really offers added value. I hope you’ll join me on this journey!

Do you think “Web3” is really the future of the internet?

Web3 is certainly the immediate future of the internet! The beauty of tech is that it’s always changing and evolving, and when opportunities like this present themselves, you have to take them and run with them! Who’s to say what will be next?!

Can you give us any sneak-peeks into what’s next for the Valfrélandia project? 

Oh man, there’s just so much coming!! 3D art, animations, avatars, brand collabs, metaverse fashion, virtual tattoos, free NFT airdrops, IRL art show, immersive experiences…and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. I feel very strongly that entry into Valfrélandia means more than just owning a cool NFT. We’re adding value in just about every avenue we can think of. I can’t wait for you all to see it.

Thank you, Valfré, for chatting with us!

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