App State graduate embraces gender and identity through Etsy shop


Courtesy of Tony Sharp

A plant embroidery made by Tony Sharp. Sharp sells custom embroidery, digital art and stickers through their store Shop GayGarbage.

Lily Kincaid, Associate A&C Editor

What started as a quarantine hobby quickly turned into a small business opportunity for a recent App State grad. 

In March, Tony Sharp “put needle to hoop” for the first time to make their partner a birthday present.

Like many others, Sharp found themself unemployed due to the pandemic. Several people suggested that Sharp start selling their art, and Shop GayGarbage was born. 

“I never thought art would be something that I would do to make money, and now people want to pay me for things,” Sharp said. “That’s just mind-blowing to me.”

GayGarbage offers custom embroidery, digital art and stickers. Since Sharp created the shop in July, they have created and sold around 50 pieces, plus 15 commissions for digital art. Their Etsy shop has several staple designs, like a peach with the word “cheeky” embroidered below it, an embroidered white magnolia and a sticker that says, “Queer Haw.”

“It was immediately apparent that Tony had a gift and passion for embroidery,” Sharp’s partner Jules Goff said. “GayGarbage is a testament to the resilience and creativity of my partner, and I am so proud.”

Sharp intended for the name of the shop to highlight their queerness, leaving no room for people to be “curious” about it. To Sharp, it is a way to embrace their identity and recognize their journey of exploring gender.

Digital art made by Tony Sharp sold through their store Shop GayGarbage. Sharp created the store name to embrace their identity and highlight their queerness. (Courtesy of Tony Sharp)

“They offer a safe and welcoming space for queer customers,” said GayGarbage customer, Allison Holder. “The quality of the products is incredible, and anything and everything can be customized specifically for you.”

In rural towns, Sharp said it is very easy for queer individuals to feel isolated. Sharp finished their graduate degree at App State last spring and now lives in Vilas, North Carolina, with their partner. 

To them and many other members of the LGBTQ community, having a noticeable sense of community is a key part of self-discovery in the realm of gender identity and sexual orientation. 

Finding a community in Boone was important to Sharp’s exploration of gender, and from there, Sharp was able to join a community of queer artists in the area.

“I never knew before I moved to Boone that I wanted to be a mountain person, that I wanted to do art, that I was trans … so much came to light,” Sharp said.

In the future, Sharp wants to begin designing “Pride mushrooms” — mushrooms that are customized to reflect the colors of each Pride flag. These may include pink, blue and white mushrooms to represent the transgender community or yellow, white, purple and black mushrooms to represent the non-binary community. These designs will go on embroidered pieces or stickers.

Embroidery began as a way for Sharp to pass time and have something to do with their hands. Now, with the creation of GayGarbage, their art is much more than just an impassioned hobby to keep busy during quarantine. 

“I started embroidery because I wanted to give my partner a gift,” Sharp said. “Being gay, being in love, being able to express myself through art … I cherish it every single day.”