Sometimes a T-shirt is just a T-shirt.
Other times, it is a cultural icon: Take the yellow smiley face, for instance. Or “Vote for Pedro.” And of course, the “I (Heart) NY” graphic (which you may or may not know was designed by Savannah’s own Bobby Zarem.)
It is this stylish ubiquity that is the aspiration of local T-shirt company 13 Bricks. Composed of a cadre of bright-eyed, 20-something creatives, the fledgling enterprise is aiming for Savannah’s collective psyche with eye-catching images and a philosophy of social awareness. Sounds like a lofty goal for a T-shirt, but a reasonable one in a society where clothing is a vital form of personal expression.
“The shirts are just the surface layer. It’s the medium we’ve chosen to get our message out,” explains Executive Director Vann-Ellison Seales.
That message is one of tolerance, environmental sustainability, valuing local resources and other hallmarks of a growing underground movement for cultural change. In the face of increasing corporate control and unchecked consumption, buying and wearing a 13 Bricks T-shirt can be an act of civil defiance.
“Our generation will either remain apathetic or we’re going to be the ones who create a point of change,” muses Seales, a recent graduate of SCAD’s sound design program and a fixture on the local spoken word circuit.
His business partner, 13 Bricks Creative Director and artist Emily Quintero, explores these themes in her work and emphasizes that change begins close to home.
“We’re trying to actualize people to take ownership of their community,” says Quintero, who can often be found picking up litter in her neighborhood and encouraging others to do the same.
The first round of 13 Bricks silkscreens featured her Boxing Panda, a symbol of how even the most peaceful creatures can be pushed to anger, as well as the intriguing “Loose Lips Sink Ships” design, signifying how speaking one’s truth can subvert the dominant paradigm. Also available is the image of kaleidoscopic octopus wrapped around a city, though it’s unclear whether the cephalopod is fighting or falling.
“It represents the relationship between nature versus tech, and how we need to find a balance,” explains Quintero.
Printed on organic cotton and silkscreened locally by Celebritees, the shirts have been embraced by area artists, musicians and rabble-rousers. They range from $20-$22 and can currently be found at Elev8d clothing store on Broughton and Red Light Tobacco, though 13 Bricks is readying to elongate its reach.
A new T-shirt series is in the works, with a Kickstarter campaign to follow. Though all its principles have day jobs (Seales is a photojournalist at WJCL, Quintero serves up ice cream as a shift leader at Leopold’s), they are committed to their venture.
“Marketing this is really out of the box,” says merchandising administrator Jared Jackson, who works as line chef at Circa 1875. “We’re building a brand based on the pool of artists of this city.”
Part of the 13 Bricks mission is to gather like-minded folks into the fold and facilitate a kind of creative guild where Savannah artists can showcase their work. While a cotton crewneck isn’t necessarily a traditional medium for fine art, reproducing paintings on a T-shirt allows for more exposure. “What separates us from other apparel companies is that artists can use this to make their voices loud and expand their presence,” adds Jackson.
This month the company is introducing six more artists, including Zlatko Mitev, Alfredo Martinez, Lauren Schwind, Cara Dzuricky, Melanie Lavris, Max Tipson and Kimberly Van Dam. Their work will be featured on future T-shirt series and can be viewed starting July 30 at the Desotorow Gallery in Starland.
The group has collaborated on a “mini-pyramid” and mural for a dynamic opening event called “The Capstone,” planned for Friday, Aug. 2. In conjunction for the First Friday Art March, the party will also host the conscious-raising electro-pop of Electric Grandma.
“The pyramid and the mural are our crowning achievements. It’s been an amazing collaboration,” says Seales.
While 13 Bricks wants to make art accessible, Quintero is quick to stress that the 13 Bricks community isn’t just for visual artists.
“We want musicians, people with organizational skills, computer people,” she enjoins.
“We want to inspire people to raise their consciousness and pursue their own passion, whatever that may be.”
This drive to bring people together for a common good is reflected in the company’s moniker: Seales, Quintero and Jackson see their art and ideals as ways to help to lay the foundation of a better, kinder society.
“It’s more than just T-shirts. We are rebuilding a broken system,” philosophizes Seales.
“We are creating a renaissance.”
13 Bricks Premiere
When: 6-9 p.m. Friday, Aug. 2
Where: Desotorow Gallery, 2427 De Soto Ave.