Arts and crafts. Community. Creativity. Whales.
These are the founding pillars of K-Pod Designs, a family owned and operated small business situated in Washington State’s scenic Friday Harbor. The founder, Kelley Balcomb-Bartok, grew up with killer whales in his backyard and has been working closely with them ever since. And though he’s the artist for K-Pod Designs, his original career had him working much closer to the water.
Kelley’s father, Ken Balcomb, was a prominent orca researcher, and founder of the Center for Whale Research. Kelley shared the senior Balcomb’s passion, serving in the early 90s as an advisor for the Free Willy movies. As captain of the Wildlife Unit for all three films, he worked closely with a group of wild orcas known as the Southern Resident killer whales, or alternatively, the J-Pod.
During his work on the second film, he came up with what would ultimately be the foundation of K-Pod Designs. At that time, Kelley created his signature Pod Squad design, which served as the official crew shirt for Walt Conti’s animatronics team. The shirts depict the “original” members of the J-Pod, circa 1994.
Working closely with his wife Carlene — a seamstress, costume designer, wedding cake designer, and former Wardrobe Mistress — Kelley soon decided that it was time to create a pod of his own. Today, he runs K-Pod Designs along with his wife and two children. He also continues to act as an advocate for whales both in San Juan and worldwide.
Here’s where BlueCotton comes in. We recently started working with the company, providing them with the resources and materials for the T-shirts they print and sell. A line of those shirts featuring the Pod Squad design is now altered to be prominently displayed in the Royal BC Museum Gift Shop in Victoria, British Columbia, as part of their upcoming exhibit Orcas: Our Shared Future.
The exhibit brings history, activism, Indigenous beliefs, and popular culture together under a single umbrella, teaching attendees about the social structure of orcas, how at-risk populations can be protected, and the damage caused by captivity. In addition to in-person attendance, the exhibit can also be experienced as a virtual guided tour.
The Pod Squad shirts will be sold in the museum gift shop for the duration of the exhibit. Don’t fret if you can’t make it out to BC for the occasion, though. You can purchase a Pod Squad shirt of your own on K-Pod’s website along with a range of other products, including mugs, stickers, bags, and masks.
By far, the best thing about what we do is the unique clients with which we work. We’re honored that K-Pod Designs chose us to print their shirts and look forward to continuing our relationship with them in the future.