“My day is good – and slimy,” Karen Robinowitz chirped over the phone after slipping out of the Sloomoo Institute for a quick chat about her latest venture. As we talked, cab horns blared in the background, peppering our conversation with the flavour of New York City life.
On October 25, 2019, the Sloomoo Institute threw open its doors to welcome in NYC denizens looking for a fun and fluid foray into the fantastical world of slime. Along with business partners and friends Sara Schiller and Toni Ko, Robinowitz created the pop-up installation to bring joy to visitors through a hands-on, tactile experience.
With its all-ages appeal and distinct artistic sensibility, Sloomoo’s intentions transcend pure commerce, making it much more than another overpriced, Instagrammable gimmick museum. In fact, Sloomoo was first synthesized from some surprising ingredients: deep tragedy, a personal passion for art, a friend’s young daughter, and vats and vats of Elmer’s glue.
A collector and a board member of the Brooklyn and Bronx Museums, Robinowitz has always loved art. “Art has always been my greatest inspiration for everything that I do and think about – it really triggers my imagination,” she clipped, slightly breathless from the pace of her walk, sounding every bit the stereotypical fast-talking New York businesswoman.
Over the course of an impressive twenty-year career in the fashion, marketing and social media space, Robinowitz co-founded Digital Brand Architects, the first social media influencer management agency, contributed to fashion behemoths like Elle, Marie Claire, Glamor and WWD, authored three books, and even found time for some TV stints. In her LinkedIn photo, she even looks like a poncho-clad Carrie Bradshaw.
But several years ago, just as her career seemed to be peaking, tragedy struck in Robinowitz’s personal life. She found herself flailing in a sinkhole of loss, grief and mourning. “During that time, I lost all my passion for what I had been doing in my career,” she said. She took a year to “just let myself fall apart and not really function because I was in such sadness.”
When an old-time friend from her journalist days, Melissa, came over one day with her daughter, Robinowitz might have expected a temporary distraction from the darkness. But what walked into her home was something far greater – a slimy balm that would mend her heart.
Expecting to play peacefully in her corner while the adults talked, Melissa’s daughter had toted along the hot new toy on every Gen Z kid’s mind, as well as the ingredients to make it. A near antithesis to the rainbow array of iGadgets that we use to soothe our children and win some free time, slime seems quaint, charming and old school. Maybe that’s why it’s become a viral sensation.
Slime’s family tree has its roots in silly putty, the gooey, viscous, half-solid, half-liquid staple of the 1940s. But this isn’t your grandma’s slime. Today’s slime has fully embraced drop culture; Robinowitz likened a haute slimer’s restock to a Supreme drop.
“I was really curious about it because I knew there was a huge cultural phenomenon. I knew there was a huge viral sensation online, and I had to just touch and play with what today’s slime was, considering I remember it as a child; it was my favorite thing to play with,” Robinowitz recalls. “The minute I started playing with her [Melissa’s daughter and her slime], I was enthralled with what it looked like, what it felt like, and how different it was from the slime I grew up with. Four hours later, it dawned on me that during this time, my sadness was not in my mind. I was really in the moment, and I had my first smile again. And I said, where do I get more?”
Nothing had made her feel this way for a long time, she remembers – apart from art. From the beginning, Robinowitz recognised slime’s artistic potential. There is a sense of craft, she said, to the way that the best slimers make their product, an artistry akin to sculpting. So it was only natural to blend the two when it came time to spread her love of slime to the public.
When another friend, fellow Brooklyn Museum board member Sara Schiller, hit a rough patch in her own life, Robinowitz was already on her way over with a bucket of slime for a DIY therapy session. “This may sound crazy, but the best thing I can do for you is to come over with some slime,” she remembers telling her. They began playing with slime together each weekend.
By an infallible law of our universe, when two savvy strategists spend hours of unstructured time together, new ventures are born. In this case, the star was Sloomoo. The two had already been scheming and dreaming of an art pop-up of their own, but, as Robinowitz told me, “Why would we do this around art when we could do it around slime?” And so, using art as their shared touchstone, the two set out on a valiant mission: “to show the world that slime is art.”
Just one year later, Sloomoo Institute threw open its doors. The name stems from a social media behavior that went viral: replacing the vowels in your name with “oo” to create your “slime name.” By that logic, slime = sloomoo, and that, my friends, is how big brands are born. “This is a lifestyle. We can make this into something more. This could be a hotel chain, every form of play and getting into your inner child,” Robinowitz mused.
Slime is both a symbol of, and an antidote to, our current cultural moment. “Slime is a fabric of culture,” Robinowitz professed. We’re living in non-binary times, she noted, and slime is non-binary goo: it’s not liquid, and it’s not solid. In this way, it parallels gender fluidity, racial fluidity, and even religious fluidity.
“Nobody wants to be put in a box, and nobody wants to have labels on them, because it’s what’s inside that matters, and the way people want to present themselves to the world. And slime is the exact same thing; while the world is having an important conversation, slime is an emblem of that,” she said.
At the same time, slime has the power to pull us out of personal and collective darkness and into the moment. In that way, it’s not so different from yoga, meditation, or *insert trendy wellness therapy du jour*. Playing with slime is a two-hand job that engages four of your five senses – and if you taste it, which we don’t recommend, all five. It’s highly unadvisable (and virtually impossible) to hold your phone while playing with slime, so in this way, it unglues us from our screens and drops us into the present.
Playing with slime is also extremely satisfying, a level of pleasure that can only be compared to mushing around a stress ball while watching Tame Impala’s Feels Like We Only Go Backwards music video, lightly stoned, and listening to ASMR (also featured in Sloomoo, incidentally).
Personal anecdote: I work at an elementary school and once, in the middle of wrangling a group of nine- to eleven-year-olds into formation to teach them how to dance a can-can line, I confiscated a massive wad of slime. I wound up playing with it myself and, ladies and gentlemen, it works. My jaw unclenched. My breathing returned, in between my desperate cries for silence and cooperation, to something nearing normal. “Ms. Katya,” one cheeky fifth-grader quipped, “you seem stressed. Slime is really good for that.”
In designing the Sloomoo Institute, Robinowitz and Schiller pulled freely from artistic inspirations. They worked with three artists to create original works for the space: Jillian Mayer contributed sculptures similar to her renowned Slumpies, sculptural furniture designed to support our limp bodies as we peruse the digisphere, while Paul Outlaw and Jen Catron created a glow-in-the-dark installation, a space where the character Sloomoo is rumored to live.
There are mannequins hanging upside-down from the ceiling, à la Bruce Nauman and Anthony Gormley, and a neon sign, “a little nod to Tracey Emin.” Then there’s the slime wall, inspired by Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room (“Who wouldn’t want to obliterate a wall with slime? I can’t imagine anyone who wouldn’t want to do that!”). As the piece came together, it started looking like a Jay DeFeo meets Jackson Pollock, with a hint of Urs Fischer candle, Robinowitz said.
Word about Sloomoo has spread far and wide, largely thanks to Robinowitz’s social media chops. The Sloomoo Institute has 65K plus Instagram followers (very similar to Robinowitz’s followership), and the feed includes Alessandra Ambrosio and the Suarez sisters sliming it up. Riding this wave of publicity, Sloomoo is set to pack its bags before the summer and head to the West Coast. They’re also in talks with “five or six countries,” and collaborations with artists and brands loom large on the horizon.
When asked to leave our readers with a nugget of career and life wisdom, Robinowitz replied: “Follow your passions; don’t listen to any negativity.” She’s never let any skeptics stop her from doing her, and she highly suggests you follow suit. It helps, of course, to have canny instincts. When she launched Digital Brand Architects, for example, Robinowitz remembers everyone calling her crazy, saying that no one would ever pay social media influencers – she laughed all the way to the bank. It was her ability to stay fluid, resist mental rigidity, to flow with the times, that gave Robinowitz her edge. In the realm of personal life, she leaves us with this:
“I was on the brink of not wanting to live because of what I had gone through, and this shows that you can re-create your life and find joy. My heart will never be the same, and my soul has a dent in it, but I have found a way to live with that and create again, and give back joy to other people and a cause I believe in. If I had given up, this never would have happened. I didn’t think I could get through what I went through, and I say that without an ounce of lightness or exaggeration – I did not think I would survive what I went through. I tell that story so that other people know they can survive, too.”
One big, slimy amen to that.
text by Katya Lopatko
photography by Peter Koloff