Story by Rebekah Swank

Photos courtesy of Nick Vaaler


French Toast: a popular breakfast item and now, a popular clothing brand among KU students. The man behind the online clothing and accessory shop is Nick Vaaler, a fourth year architecture student from St. Louis. He’s been a creative his entire life, but when his parents refused to let him attend art school, he decided to use that creativity to make buildings. Art was always his first love, so when he was a freshman at the University, he turned his graphic artwork into fashion. Vaaler has sold his curiously endearing paintings and screen-printed garments online for four years. Lawrence townies, St. Louis homies, and even artsy fashionistas abroad wear his brand proudly. Style on the Hill sat down with him to see what makes him and French Toast tick.

Style on the Hill: Tell me about French Toast and your shop.

Nick Vaaler: French Toast is my monicher that I go by on the internet, and it’s turned into kind of a brand. It’s hard to call it a brand sometimes. Basically, it stemmed from artwork. Freshman year of college, I was painting a lot and posting stuff. That was when I really started posting what I was doing. I started drawing on my own clothes and shoes. People started asking for things. I needed a name, and it just happened to be my Instagram name, so that’s what I went by. 

SOTH: Why French Toast?

NV: That stems from early high school, when I first had Instagram. Me and my friends would go get brunch every weekend. French toast was my go-to brunch food, so I made that my Instagram name. By the time I had a brand, it was too late to change it because people had already started calling me “French Toast Nick,” so I felt like I couldn’t change it. It’s kind of a nice, silly name too, so it doesn’t feel too serious.

SOTH: Where do you get your inspiration for French Toast?

NV: My artwork is all inspired by my own experiences and thoughts. I draw characters and they’re always supposed to represent me in certain ways. I think a lot of my inspiration comes from buildings and people interacting with other people that I see. So, a lot of what I paint is a character in an environment. I think the environment is really important in what the character is actually doing in that space.

I think I get a lot inspiration from music. I like a lot of old music from the 60’s, and partially the clothing they would wear. Their album covers are always really graphical. I like a lot of jazz records. There was an era where the jazz record industry was producing probably the best graphics of all time. Those kind of things definitely influence me, and I’m always listening to music or watching an old TV show when I’m painting. 

I really like Boston for it’s Brutalist architecture.I went there about two and a half years ago, and that inspired a whole body of work. Most of the public doesn’t understand it, which is interesting to me because it’s my favorite architecture now. Just the name alone, Brutalism, gives it a bad connotation, but it’s not talking about actually being brutal. It’s just the forms being really heavy and solid, and typically made out of concrete. If you look at the work that I produced, especially the year right after I went there, it’s pretty clear that I was inspired by that.

SOTH: What has been the best part of selling your artwork and accessories?

NV: I’m my own boss, and luckily enough, people have wanted what I want to make. I don’t have to cater to people. If they don’t want it, they aren’t going to buy it. The best part is just being my own boss and seeing people walking around wearing my clothes. Some of it is shipped overseas and all around the country. It’s really satisfying to know that my stuff is existing somewhere other than my house.

SOTH: Tell me about your creation process.

NV: For paintings, I do sketches that are really really small, probably a centimeter and half by a centimeter and a half. Little tiny squares. I do hundreds of those, and those are just compositional studies. Those may or may not turn into a painting. All my paintings are very graphically based, so the composition of the piece is probably the most important thing. Having all of those sketches is my way of translating looking at, say a window that is in a room and how that plays with the size of the walls, or where a person is sitting in relation to that. It’s a process of sketching and going through a picking which ones are interesting, and which ones tell a story. I think the clothing is influenced by the sketches more so than the paintings themselves. Recently I did a few prints that were direct paintings, but typically I think my sketches are more powerful as prints because there’s no frilliness to them. There’s no color, it’s just black and white, really graphical images that are almost made for screen printing. I think the sketching process is the basis for the paintings and the final prints.

SOTH: How long does it take you to make a print, a t-shirt, a tote?

NV: The screen printing process takes a good while. I’ll make a screen, and that’ll take about three days. I’ll do a series of test prints and determine if I need to remake the screen or not. Once I make the screen and the test prints, it probably takes a week’s time of pretty solid work to print one set. For example, I’ll print all the purple shirts at one time. It’s hard to tell piece-by-piece because I do so many at a time.

SOTH: Do you do anything else? It sounds like this is really time consuming.

NV: This is what I enjoy doing, this is what I like the most. I do some other things, I shop a lot. I really like vintage clothing and vintage furniture. I go to concerts. I don’t drink or anything, I don’t go to parties, so I think that saves a lot of time and money.

SOTH: How would you describe the French Toast style?

NV: I think just soft colors, typically, but pretty vibrant graphics. I’ve never thought about that before.

SOTH: Does French Toast as a brand influence your personal style?

NV: I think it used to influence it a lot more. I used to try to do the whole self-promoting thing and wear my own clothes all the time. I still use my own tote bag every day. I think I’ve tried to incorporate my things more subtly now, instead of being like “Oh I’m wearing an entire outfit that I made.” It’s influenced me a good amount, but I’ve also gotten a lot more into more tailored things and old clothing that I can’t produce. I think what I wear, what I desire to wear influences what I make. Trying to figure out how I can make what I enjoy making instead of just t-shirts or something.

SOTH: What do you see for the future of French Toast?

NV: I’m hoping it can continue to sustain itself, because I’ve used it as a way to continue creating things. My French Toast shop online will basically fund a big art show, where there’s no way I’d be able to frame all my art if I didn’t do something like that. 

SOTH: What do you get most excited about when you’re in the midst of creating?

NV: The end product is my favorite part. I think that’s why I create so much, just having those end products. It’s really nice to feel like you finished something. Especially in architecture, we do so many projects that take years and years to ever be completed, so having something I can complete almost on a daily basis. I like to schedule things like that where I have something done to make me feel good about what I’m doing.




John Maus

John Maus’ 2017 album Screen Memories left fans wanting more and Addendum is the answer to that request. While the tracks are more out there, we still get Maus’ obscure lyrics sung by his signature baritone vocals paired with catchy bass lines and percussion. -Karsan Turner


Black Panther The Album

Kendrick Lamar, Various Artists

A daring and diverse sound to accompany an equally groundbreaking film. Its hardcore. It’s a banger. It’s still going strong now since coming out in February. -Georgia Hickam


Chris Price

Dalmatian contains excellently written material that balances 10cc’s oftentimes tongue-in-cheek pop with refined, intimate pop ballads. “Breakfast Cruise,” “The Dream Is Over (But We’re Just Waking Up),” and “Discount Love” illustrate Price’s improved instrumental creativity since the release of Stop Talking. Price continues to exhibit a tremendous talent for composing and constructing memorable pop. -Logan Gossett


Everything is Love

The Carters

Beyoncé and Jay-Z really make you think while also focusing on their ever so clear message that yes, they are still married, and stronger than ever. In this well rounded album the duo takes over the colonial world—the Louvre is their palace, the Mona Lisa their bitch—and they prove that their legacy will remain for generations. Never have I felt so empowered and humbled before listening to this album. -Emma Creighton


Let’s Go Wild!

Kurt Baker Combo

Riffy as heaven and hell, Let’s Go Wild! features an even garage-yer sound than In Orbit and more consistency as well. The guitars here implode with energy on each track, with the exception of “Yesterday Today” — a surprisingly pretty pastiche of the less guitar-laden power pop. -Logan Gossett


Now Only

Mount Eerie

On this follow-up to the devastating and deeply personal A Crow Looked At Me, Phil Elverum reveals more about how he is processing the death of his wife, taking a wider lens and looking back on their life together and his future without her. I’ve only listened to each of these albums once because of how emotional and impactful they are, but I can’t recommend them enough. -Justin Hermstedt



Aminé keeps it casual and breezy on this mini album/mixtape/whatever you want to call it. His charisma shines through as he completes this victory lap reflecting on his breakout year. From roasting Fashion Nova to shouting out Bjork, he shows us why he’s “the best in the groupchat.” -Justin Hermstedt



J Balvin

This album was a testament to the true American melting pot identity. J Balvin’s Spanish lyrics set to reggaeton beats are so recognizable that when “Mi Gente” comes on even the white kids in Lawrence can say, “Oh yeah I’ve heard this.” -Emma Creighton



The Voidz

The best Strokes related music released since Julian Casablancas’ 2014 album Tyranny. This time, Virtue brings a variety of pop, punk, synth-heavy and relaxing tracks making it a great album for any mood you’re in (especially if you’re a fan of the Strokes). -Karsan Turner


6 Patriotic Ways to Celebrate America’s Most Overlooked Holiday: Armistice Day


By Caleb Hundelt (hardtack words by Olivia Favreau)

This November 11th marks the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, so we’ve come up with some fun ways that will allow you and your party guests to truly immerse yourselves in the horrific nature of The Great War!

  1. Bake some inedible hardtack!

In this time of remembrance and festivities, why not try out the BelVita of World War I? Requiring only three ingredients and boasting jaw-breaking properties, hardtack is the perfect recipe for your Armistice Day table. With its hints of salt and chalk, your guests will experience the cold horrors of limited rations during trench warfare right in your living room.


  • Flour
  • Salt
  • Water
  • Desperation


2. Hold a gas-mask masquerade!

Tell your friends to show up to your Armistice Day party wearing their most crude WW1-era gas masks. Whip up some mustard gas to put in your Febreze wall plug-ins and try to identify each other while you suffer from the extreme mutagenic and carcinogenic effects that you think you’re protecting yourselves from!


3. Give yourself trench foot!

This takes some preparation. Fill up a large bin of water in advance and just make it as septic and unsanitary as possible. When the crowd arrives, have them put their feet – shoes and all – into that nice, lukewarm bacteria bath. Make sure your doctor friend isn’t present for this one. He’ll only be a party-pooper and try to stop you from experiencing necrosis!

4. Have a propaganda poster contest!

This one really gives a chance for your artsy and psychologically manipulative pals to shine. Whoever can create the most culturally inaccurate, semi-racist propaganda poster wins the rest of the hardtack!

5. Play “Clue” – World War 1 style!

Bored with the regular old Clue? In this exciting take on the classic board game, you try to pinpoint not just the culprit of one murder, but also the cause of nearly 40 million civilian casualties. Was it imperialism, nationalism, militarism or a complex combination of these factors and many others? Who knows, but it’s probably easiest if you just blame Germany and ignore everything else!

6. Read All Quiet on the Western Front bedtime stories!

As the night closes in and your friends head home with post-traumatic stress disorder, don’t forget to include the children in the festivities as well. Whip out your favorite passage from All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and allow your child to sleep with the graphic descriptions of wartime violence. With luck, not only will they fall asleep with horrendous nightmares, but they will also lose their innocence and be forced to reconsider their outlook on the world.


Happy Armistice Day!


4 Tips for Reinvigorating Your Closet on a Budget


By Miranda Dorsey

When it comes to clothing, I have often been told that I have expensive taste. And I’ll be honest, this has gotten me in trouble in the past.  However, if you follow these tips, you’ll find that you have more money to spend and more clothing in your closet.

  1. Shop “New” Items… And Then Wait.

Even though I’m a huge fan of shopping the “new” section of every store, or spending hours sorting through all of the different categories that every clothing website has to offer, I know that this is one of the worst ways to find deals.  Because why would a company put something new to their store on sale if they don’t know how popular the item will be yet? Instead, I’ve started to shop for new items, just as I always would, and then wait for them to go on sale. My Google Chrome account contains an entire folder for clothing items I’m waiting to go on sale. It sounds like something obvious, but it’s been a game changer for me.  

2. Check out the Clearance or Sale Section.

On top of waiting for my favorite items to go on sale, make sure you always check out the sale/clearance section of any website. I’ve noticed that they don’t always list sale/clearance items in the regular sections of the site, so it’s important that you check both sections just in case.  This way, you’re saving money while still finding adorable items to add to your wardrobe.

3. Don’t Fall for Gimmicks Designed to Get You to Buy.

I’ll be the first person to admit that I’m a sucker for sales. Whenever I get an email from a company proclaiming that this is it – the biggest event to ever happen – I can’t help myself. It’s not easy, but developing self-control is key when it comes to saving money on clothing from higher end brands. Another common gimmick is the “Only ‘x’ Items Left!” line. This line has been my enemy for quite some time, because who wants to miss out?  I sure don’t. And of course, if I don’t order the limited availability item right now, right this second, someone is going to come along and do it for me. But this is exactly what they want you to think. Don’t give in to this gimmick just because it seems like an item is going fast. Instead, monitor the item to see how fast it’s actually selling. In most cases, an item that is not for sale with just a few left will be safe to wait to purchase.  

4. If an Item Sells Out, Poshmark is Your Best Friend.

One of my favorite websites of all time is Poshmark. The premise is simple enough. You list the old clothing that you don’t want anymore, and someone finds it and buys it. It’s eBay exclusively for clothes. However, unlike thrifting, it’s easier to search and tailor the website to exactly what you’re looking to buy. I’ve found so many amazing designer pieces in new or like-new condition listed for much less than the sticker price. For example, I bought one of my favorite Gal Meets Glam dresses for about 70% off the original listing price. You can even save searches in your browser and go back later to check for more products that have been newly listed, which is something I do for some of my favorite brands.

What Me Too Founder Tarana Burke Taught Me About Healing


Me Too founder Tarana Burke speaking at the KU Memorial Union. Photo by Nicole Mitchell

By Nicole Mitchell

On October 23, 2018, I had the great privilege of seeing Me Too creator and activist Tarana Burke give a presentation at KU.

Burke was funny, relatable and, most of all, heartbreaking. That was the mixture of emotions that I felt while listening to everything she had to say, as she recalled her history of activism and how the Me Too movement began.

After graduating from Auburn University, Burke worked as a counselor for middle school girls. She recalled a tragic moment when a young girl described her story of experiencing sexual assault. Burke stopped the girl in the middle of her story and sent her to another counselor. After that, the young girl stopped coming to camp and Burke never saw her again.

Years later, after the many ups and downs of working with middle school girls and hearing all of their experiences with sexual assault at such a young age, Burke came up with the idea to start a new organization: Me Too.

Hearing Tarana Burke talk was more than learning the history of Me Too. It was learning how to listen to and care for others; learning how to feel joy, and it was learning how to heal.

Burke helped me realize that healing from a traumatic event is difficult and it isn’t pretty. Healing can be anything from waking up early and doing yoga to crying myself to sleep because that’s all I can do. One thing that helps Burke go through difficult experiences is to keep a “Joy Journal,” which is exactly what it sounds like. You write down all the things that make you happy, whether it be something small or something large, and it will help you realize that the pain doesn’t last forever.

If you are going through the healing process right now, know that you are not alone, and that you will be okay. I hear you and I believe you.

National sexual assault hotline: 1-800-656-4673

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