Prolific is an exclusive video series spotlighting unique queers around the world who are pioneers in what they do. These game changers are prolific, and these are their stories.
Former stripper and go-go boy Matthew Camp parted ways with his oiled-up past a few years back to launch Matthew Camp Designs, a line of products inspired by his experiences working in gay bars. Since then he’s turned out T-shirts, leather gear, and a line of provocatively named fragrances—all while building a rabid online following with an endless stream of sexy-as-hell selfies.
Check the video and read more excerpts from his interview with us below, where we learn more about his conservative upbringing, his move to New York, and his transition from dancer to designer.
INTO: So what originally drew you to stripping?
Matthew: Well, I had always fantasized about the social interaction that happens between a stripper and someone that is not a stripper. It’s a very interesting dynamic, and that’s what drew me into the profession – the interaction between the patron and the provider.
Can you tell us more about what that interaction is?
It’s making people smile, it’s making people feel good about themselves, showing them a little bit of attention, making people have a good time.
And how did you feel stripping?
It was fun. I felt comfortable with my body at the time because I was 20 and it was a very liberating experience. I am typically a very shy person, so that was a really interesting alter ego.
Tell us about your journey moving to New York.
When I moved to New York I didn’t have a lot of money; only a couple grand saved up. And it’s really expensive in New York, especially when you’re living in Alphabet City, so I had a bunch of jobs; I was a makeup artist, I went to Patricia Fields as a stylist, I was a stripper.
After all of those things sort of failed I started go-go dancing. Go-go dancing is a lot different than stripping. Stripping is sort ofthey want you to take customers to the back room and do stuff that’s borderline prostitution. It wasn’t the best environment to be in. Working at a club is really different. There’s more of a communal, celebratory sort of vibe rather than this predatory vibe that was happening in the strip clubs.
And how did you achieve your success as a go-go dancer?
I just became a really popular go-go dancer. I guess that’s because I don’t have a huge ego. I’m pretty nice to everybody as long as they’re nice to me, so I guess that’s what won them over. I think a lot of people had very rude personas when they were working; that’s what they thought they needed to do to make money. It’s the complete opposite. People want to feel engaged and to feel sort of legitimized by you talking to them or smiling at them or giving them a hugsomething like that. When I was go-go dancing, that’s how I made the most money, by sitting and talking to people or giving them a hug. They would be like “ohh” and throw a look at me. It’s nice.
It’s nice for the people you gave time to. Why do you think they were looking for compassion?
I think that because I was go-go dancing, people see you doing that and they think, “Oh, he’s an attractive guy. He’s prized body, prized aesthetic.” And then by giving them a little attention, they’re now getting some of that prize energy. I think what people respond to is the social interaction, the social demographic, the tribal-like reinforcement that they get from that sort of interaction. Does that make sense?
Do you still dance?
The last time was in Birmingham, actually, which was really fun, I really like going there. I feel like I’m a little old to be go-go dancing. I’m 33. Not that there’s anything wrong with go-go dancingjust for me, I feel like I need to move onto other stuff, some other artistic endeavors. Because go-go dancing is very fun and is very artistic and you get to express yourself in a myriad of ways, but I want people to recognize me for other attributes.
Clothing or more business ventures I would say.
Can you tell us about your business ventures?
I just started producing T-shirts. I’ve had a fragrance line for three or four years. I have a third fragrance coming out very soon. The first one was 8.5, which was very successful, I still sell a lot of it. I think that’s my number one product that I move for sure. The second one is Transgression, and I have done various other T-shirts, leather bracelets, cock rings and stuff like that. Which have all done very well, but they are expensive to produce, so I didn’t keep doing them.
What made you want to start making fragrances?
My friend Joe had a bunch of oils and I started playing with them. I made a fragrance that smelled really good so I started wearing it when I danced, and a bunch of other places, and people started asking for it and wanted to buy it. And I thought, “I’m not gonna make three bottles.” But then more people started asking me and I realized that I could make money from this, so that’s why.
Has it been an easy path?
No. In order to start a business, you have to make so many sacrifices. To make clothing, you have to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s like having a boyfriend. Instead of going out that night you’re staying at home and sewing stuff together and practicing patterns. Instead of going to meet friends for lunch you have to say, “Oh, I’m just gonna sew this together real quick.” Starting a web store and stuff, you have to do this and this, it’s a ton of work. It’s not unmanageable, it’s just tedious because there’s so much of it.
What are some of the other sacrifices that you’ve made?
Drugs, alcoholthat’s a joke. I think personal relationships are the main thing. I think I learned from pretty young that if people aren’t necessarily helping you get to where you wanna be, then maybe you don’t need to keep them around. That sounds messed up, but there are so many people out there that are supposed to be in your life that you don’t need to keep around; people that aren’t supposed to be there.
So then, who has helped you along the way?
Oh, I’ve had so many friends who have helped. My friend Blake Tysinger really helped me start 8.5 from the beginning and launching Matt Camp Designs, so did my friend Six Carter. They both had intricate help in setting up.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
I think that if I wasn’t doing fragrances or making clothes, I would probably be making something. I would probably be painting or welding or doing carpentry or fixing up old houses or something like that – farming.
What draws you to the process of making?
There are two things I think I’m obsessed with. One is the idea of entropy and saving energy and being as efficient as possible because I think life is short and you don’t have a lot of time. So who wants to waste an extra 30 minutes doing something that could only take you 10. Especially if it’s not the most amazing thing to be doing, you know? And the other thing I think about design that I find really exciting is just making the world prettier, cleaner, or better in general.
So what do you see the purpose of your clothing being?
Right now I find it more of a social purpose – filling a void of what’s not out there, I guess. I don’t know, I just like the perspective of counterculturalism.
What events in your life have influenced this social conscience?
All kinds of things. The world is in danger. Fukushima is crazy, that’s nuts. I can’t believe that no one is addressing that we are going to sanitize our earth. No one’s going to be able to live on it if we keep polluting it with radioactive isotopes. It’s nuts, it’s absolutely nuts.
Are you at odds with your conservative upbringing?
I’m not at odds with my conservative upbringing. I was fortunate to be raised in a religious cult. I think most religions are cults. Growing up in a really strict religious background had a very profound effect on the way that I understood reality for a short time. And then my parents decided not to be religious after I was like 15, and then all these suspicions I had about these stories not making sense and these theologies having these conflicting pointsI thought, alright now I feel legitimized that I questioned these things growing up.
So I think it was beneficial. Kind of like being gay, when you’re growing up you’re like, “Oh my god! I’m 12 years old and I’m fantasizing about sucking a dick! I’m not supposed to be thinking about this stuff!” Then it’s like, “That’s probably pretty normal. I’m sure there are lots of 12-year-olds that are thinking about sucking a dick.” Especially now with the Internet.
How did you parents feel about your successful go-go career?
My parents were actually really supportive, and so was my grandpa, who said, “I don’t care what you do as long as you’re supporting yourself,” which was pretty cool. My mom belly dances so she didn’t see that big of a difference. My dad never really said that much, but I’m sure he didn’t care. He’s not really particularly stuffy like that.
Are you still close with your family now?
I am yes. I’m going to go and visit them in May, I believe.
So what legacy do you want to leave behind?
I just want to make sure that I don’t leave anyone’s life that I’ve interacted with worse off, I wanna leave them better off. I think that’s my legacy.
If you could say anything to your younger self, what would that be?
Save your money! I think I would tell my younger self to stay true to who I am.
Have there been times when you haven’t stayed true to who you were?
Yes, I think a lot of times in relationships I compromised, whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship or a landlord. I think there’s always a compromise that has to happen and sometimes there’s too much compromise – like he’s a dick, he’s an asshole. But you’ve gotta watch out for yourself.