World of T-Shirts

It is about one year since I launched Donkeyshines, and I thought I might reflect on the experience so far. While I have only really been selling tees for a year or so, I have been making them for many, collecting them for even longer, and drawing and illustrating for even longer than that. T-shirts for me are not billboards, but art. Well, then can be billboards, too, but billboards can also be art. By “billboards” I mean signs which tell something about the wearer in a literal way. Or something. My point is, for me, T-shirts have never been something you throw on before painting the living room so that you don’t get paint on your “good” clothes. For me, my t-shirts ARE my good clothes. They are a very clear and conscious form of self expression. What is neat is that you don’t have to make your own shirts in order to express yourself with one. Whatever idea you want to be expressed on a shirt, chances are it is already out there. Now, as a T-shirt designer, shouldn’t this be alarming for me? Shouldn’t I be worried about all the competition? It is said that the T-shirt market is very saturated. That may be true, but I like to think that there are enough torsos to go around. I can’t think of a single person I know who doesn’t own a t-shirt, and I know very few people who don’t own dozens and dozens of them.

The idea that everything has been done before is not new to artists. Coming up with original ideas is always daunting, and it gets harder and harder as culture evolves. When was the last time a movie was released that wasn’t a sequel to another movie, a remake of a movie, or an adaptation of a novel/tv show/video game/toy? Not that I feel any sympathy for lazy hollywood producers, because they aren’t even trying. Still, the point is, it’s not easy to come up with things that nobody else has previously thought of. Part of my process once I get inspiration is to google my initial idea before starting to develope it. If I see that hundreds of people already thought of it, then I let it go. If I see just one thing that is sorta like it, then I try to come up with a new take on the idea. If I don’t feel that my new take is different enough from the original, then I move on. Its always a little disappointing when this happens. However as an artist, I can look at this as a positive thing. Sure, maybe I won’t be the one getting the glory for this idea, but it’s still a good idea and I can be happy that it’s out there for the world to consume.

Recently, I was thinking about Intelligent Design, specifically that I wanted to come up with a t-shirt making fun of it. I thought of some ideas, then checked google. Right away, I found this crocoduck shirt, then later found these sites: Teach the Controversy and Ban T-Shirts. Sure, I can still do an ID or creationism shirt if I want, but these guys have done it so well that I don’t really feel the need to at the moment. I am just glad that if someone wants to mock ID by wearing a t-shirt, they have the means to do it. Am I worried that people will by these shirts instead of the ones I make? Not really. I would get pretty bored if every shirt I saw on the street was one of mine. Of course I could stand to see a few more of mine out there, but I like other shirts, too.

I guess what this long-winded post is all about is this one refreshing thing I learned about independent t-shirt companies. We are artists for the most part. We want to see good art, and we would actually prefer to see our fellow designers succeed than to fail. We help each other where ever possible, in news groups such as the T-Shirt Forum, or through social media like Twitter and Facebook. Just today,  Ban T-Shirts tweeted about Donkeyshines, which was extremely flattering. Can you imagine McDonalds doing that for Burger King? I am not so foolish as to think that there isn’t some level of actual competition to this business. However, with niche markets and specific demographics, there is more room for cooperation and cross-promotion. Most people I’ve met don’t feel the need to act like sharks, and in an economy that is especially difficult for retailers, I find this encouraging. Over the next year, I am hoping to see Donkeyshines grow if for no other reason than that I love t-shirts and I want to keep making them. I can only hope that some day I can be as helpful to other new designers as some people have been to me. If I happen to get rich selling t-shirts, that’s fine, too.

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One Response to “World of T-Shirts”

  1. Duncan says:

    Thanks for the mention! It’s good to help each other out. The big companies can afford to spend thousands on advertising – the little guys like us need to help each other to spread the word, that’s why “social marketing”, such as Twitter, etc is a Godsend cos it allows us to find each other real quick and keep in touch on an informal basis, and to cross-promote.
    An interesting and thoughtful article.

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