Hannah Manocchio gets shit done. For the past three years, she’s been running her own print and design company, Snakes + Acey’s, in her home town of Cleveland, Ohio. Clad in coveralls and a name tag reading “Big Kev”, Hannah designs and prints everything by hand to customize apparel, accessories, and fine art prints. Customers walking into the storefront will see her making the merchandise that lines the shelves, a feature that she felt was crucial for her business. This not only allows the local community to see how the items are created, but to meet the person creating them.
We chat with Hannah about how her Italian guilt fuels her incredible work ethic, what it’s like to be a woman in a male-dominated field, and why supporting small businesses in your community matters.
Can you tell us a little bit of background information about yourself – where you’re from, how many cats you have, when you discovered your love for Jeff Goldblum, how you started printmaking, etc.?
I am a Cleveland native: born, raised, and moved over 12 times all around the Cleveland area. I’ve lived everywhere from quiet suburban streets to across from drug houses watching crackheads try to break in. Now I am at my current residence in Historic Little Italy, where I’ve lived the longest (5 years).
I live with my two rescue cats, Biggie St. Clair (who I rescued out of a wall in the print shop I teach at) and Sargeant, a little boy whose mug puts Grumpy Cat to shame. As for Jeff Goldblum: covered in dirt and reclining shirtless in a truck.
As for printmaking, it was a beautiful relationship that happened out of desperation and then immediate obsession. I went to undergrad hoping to major in Art History and Painting (as I went through a rigorous art program all through high school and was taught traditional oil painting by nuns). I walked into the art department and was told that we were not allowed to use oil paints, just acrylic – it was a “fire hazard”. I was set to take a printmaking beginner’s course and after day one, it was love at first print, and I changed my concentration for my degree. I’ve been printing ever since.
How did Snakes + Acey’s come to be?
Snakes + Acey’s is almost its own entity that formed itself. I was making some small sellable work (postcards, coasters, apparel, etc.) and teaching at Zygote Press when a local store inquired about selling some of my things. I cannot use a computer, and technology is the bane of my existence. Coincidentally, I was teaching a one-on-one with a graphic design artist (Anthony Zart) who wanted to learn how to screen print his own work. We had met a few times prior over the last few years and learned quickly that we shared a very similar style, collaborated well, he was a beautiful illustrator, and we both ran on inexplicable rage and Italian guilt. You know you found a good collaboration partner when on the first night of working together, he asks what kind of meat your grandmother puts in her meatballs, and it’s a totally normal question. After that, I asked if he wanted to work on a shirt design with me and that turned into three shirts, which turned into a line of apparel, merchandise, and then a full-blown business.
Where did you find those amazing coveralls and what is the story behind Big Kev?
The coveralls were probably one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received. My life motto is: “if I can’t wear sweatpants, I don’t want to go.” The coveralls were perfect for my love of comfort, and the fact that doing messy manual labor all day needs full coverage. If you see me at any point during fall or winter, I am in my coveralls.
Big Kev started as a joke about if I failed in art that “Big Kev” would be my rap name, as I am obsessed with 90’s Hip Hop. Then it transformed into my nickname and this whole other entity. I teach a lot of after-school kids’ programs and I hated being called Ms. Hannah. After every first class, (clad in my coveralls) the kids would just start calling me Kev or Big Kev, it just “fit” far more than anything else. Secondly, Snakes + Acey’s is derived from the movie Home Alone, whose main character is also named Kevin.
Why was it important to you as a business owner to do everything yourself the good, old-fashioned way?
I’ve always had to work hard for everything. I’ve always been someone who needs to see and feel the work to know I deserve it. I was raised in an old school Italian traditional family, I watched both my parents struggle and close their own small businesses. Even a small a kid, I didn’t trust anyone to do anything “right”, so I just did everything.
It’s the Italian guilt I think: if it doesn’t hurt, and if it isn’t hard – it’s not worth as much.
What is the most challenging thing about owning your own business? Anything that’s been particularly challenging as a twenty-something female business owner?
This is a list that could go on for pages. For me, I don’t mind all the work, the 12-hour days, and not having any days off. Those things are understood as a norm when you run a business. What is hardest for me is what you have to sacrifice. You don’t get to see family and friends very often, you lose friends and relationships because they can’t handle your hours and don’t understand why you can’t just “take a day off”. I have my dream job, but I also have the weight of knowing that when and if anything goes wrong, it’s on me. I have to deal with it and fix it; there is no blame game.
What has also been quite difficult is not only being a 27-year-old small business owner, but being a female in my field. Print is primarily a male-driven community – it was a huge reason I went into it. I was lucky enough to have found a female-run print shop after graduation where I was completely immersed in this supportive, badass, feminist print shop that just wanted everyone to succeed.
However, it is not always smiles and squeegees. We’ve had clients refuse to talk to me because I am a female printer, ignored completely, we’ve gotten passed up on jobs for male printers, I’ve been harassed and cat called at our own shows, been threatened at my own shop. I am a feminist. I am a very independent, strong, female who was not raised to cry. I was raised to fight back, to take every struggle and use it as fuel – to try to be the best at what I do, be better than the people doubting me – and to be a sliver of hope for the next little girl who falls in love with print.
How has starting a business in your home town helped connect you to the community?
I am lucky enough to live in historic Little Italy, a small neighborhood with a very tight-knit community. I am even luckier that we found a shop on the same street in the same Little Italy neighborhood. This has given the company an opportunity to work directly with the community, the schools, the other small businesses, and the diverse community of students and doctors that surround the neighborhood. It’s a wonderful feeling when I am working in the shop and one of the local business owners walks in and we immediately can sit down and talk about commission and custom work, chat about the community, and let them experience and see where and how their products will be crafted.
I additionally teach inner city after-school programs with kids 14-20 years old, which has been a wonderful and challenging experience. I think that when they learn that I am young, female, and not from a wealthy background, that I started the business with nothing – they believe in themselves more, things don’t seem as impossible. Giving back to the communities that have shaped me growing up has been a humbling experience.
You (obviously) advocate for supporting local business. What can people do to support the small businesses in their community besides buying the product or service?
Learn the stories behind the small businesses you buy from – where is your money going, why they do what they do, how the products are made. Share the products and pieces with friends and family, inspiring them to go out and buy local, shop small etc. Don’t just shop at the “popular” small businesses. Honestly, a lot of those popular companies aren’t small anymore – some have 6 locations and don’t even do the work anymore. Go off the beaten path, find the hole in the wall, explore your community and find the new place that no one has heard of.
Being a small business owner generally requires you to eat sleep and breathe the business. How do you stay balanced when it comes to work and life?
I wish I could give you an inspiring answer that provides an equation for a beautiful balance, but I can’t. The truth is, there is no balance. I work constantly, when I am not working at the shop, I am working from home or delivering stock, packing, vending, etc. Sadly, people have just realized if they want to see and hang out with me, to just show up at the shop with a bottle of wine. I am pretty introverted, never wanted to get married, and never wanted kids – my balance only involves myself, my family, and a few close relationships. The company is still less than 5 years old, so hopefully in the next year or so – I could give you a better answer.
How do you stay inspired in the work?
With any artist there is always a natural drive to create. That drive often gets clouded and overshadowed by the day-to-day work and hustle. By the stress and lack of motivation. By life. Then I hear stories and meet women in the art world who are using their talents to help advocate and bring change to the community and that makes me push harder.
However, I think the most inspiration comes from these small, seemingly insignificant moments. There will be someone who walks into my tent while I’m vending and get excited about new stuff they saw me post, and comment that they were chatting with me last summer in the shop and how they have been spreading the word about the company and how much they love what they bought. Or another instance, a man saw the Weapon of Choice: Heart shirt we made and almost was in tears. He began to tell me how he was a veteran and in his unit, they would always be given a pep talk that “your heart is your most powerful weapon.” He said he had lost some of his best friends in those years and he felt like the shirt was made for him, as a small memorial he could wear for those men he lost, whose hearts were their strongest and most important weapon. That – is what keeps me going.
You miss life when you are glued to your phone. People are so worried about getting the right photo, that they actually miss the true beauty in whatever it is they are looking at. Life is not meant to be seen on a screen, it’s meant to be experienced.
The obsession with technology and staying relevant on social media is something that I have a huge issue with. I hate technology, I don’t know how to use a computer, I suck at posting on social media – which I know I have to do for the business. It’s something I constantly remind people I am with to do – put your phone down and look up. I am an extremely observant person, and every old sign, every rusted metal fence, every stray cat hiding in the bushes catches my attention. You miss life when you are glued to your phone. People are so worried about getting the right photo, that they actually miss the true beauty in whatever it is they are looking at. Life is not meant to be seen on a screen, it’s meant to be experienced. This generation has this sense of entitlement that what they want to show you, you should want to see. Very early on I learned the most important two lessons of my life: you are not special and there is no such thing as a personal problem. No one cares what you ate for lunch and there are always people dealing with the same problems and more people dealing with worse. People need to learn how to be authentic again: live in the present as the person you actually are, not the person you’ve created on social media. People need to start looking up again.
Why is working your ass off for yourself better than working half-assed for someone else?
My worst nightmare is working in a cubicle from 9-5. I worked in the service industry for 10 years dealing with an extremely difficult clientele who said whatever was on their mind. It killed me inside to have to bite my tongue and just smile because, “the customer is always right.” That was a huge fire under my ass to get out and work for myself. Be able to defend myself and say my peace.
I’ve always had an insane work ethic, and hustled harder than most people my age. Half-assed wasn’t in my vocabulary. I knew my voice was loud, my opinions were strong, and I would never be able to settle for a “job”. I wanted my dream. My dream didn’t include working for someone else in a place I wasn’t happy walking in the door every day.
I knew my voice was loud, my opinions were strong, and I would never be able to settle for a “job”. I wanted my dream.
There is a sense of worth and happiness when you put in the hard work because you are putting in a part of yourself. You don’t get that same feeling when you’re working for someone else. You are working for your dream, not your paycheck.
Three words to describe Snakes + Acey’s to someone who’s never been inside the shop:
Eclectic. 90s. Hands-on.
Who is the one person you want to walk into your shop and buy a t-shirt for you to know that you’ve finally made it and all of your wildest dreams have come true?
I know I will probably change my mind on this but I think it has already kind of happened. Last fall, at a design conference we were speaking at, I was able to meet my favorite drummer from one of my favorite bands (Sky White from Foxy Shazam). The band had since broken up but he was so impressed with the printing and work that we actually ending up printing his line of apparel for his new company (Wendigo Tea Co.). It was one of those surreal moments where I have been listening to this man’s music while I print for years, and then I was printing for him while listening to him.
What’s next on the horizon for Snakes + Acey’s?
On top of the constant and “normal” work: vending, stocking stores, commission jobs etc. I am going to be in a gallery show in November that will feature some of my prints. I am currently working on a new line of apparel and art series dealing with feminism, catcalling, female empowerment, and harassment. I think it’s really important for people, especially women, who have a platform to use it to help promote and advocate for issues they feel strongly about. Art, especially print, has historically been used in protests and alongside activists and I want to keep that going.
How do you define success?
Success has ever been a monetary thing for me, it was never to be the biggest or most popular print shop. Success is unlocking the shop door every morning and walking into a place that was built from nothing. A place that is truly mine. It is connecting with people through the work but also creating and making for myself. It is the realization that I am actively living my dream.
All photos provided by Hannah Man0cchio.