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Monday, Jan. 25, 2010

Threyda: T-Shirts as Art

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Spurred on by economic conditions, technological advancements and social media, the T-shirt is as omnipresent as ever. After coming into its own in the late ’60s, the one-time undergarment is now a wardrobe staple—and this fashion trend shows no signs of fading. For Peter Westermann, who founded Threyda Art and Apparel in Waukesha last year, it also serves as a canvas for genuine artists whose work merits attention.

Why start a T-shirt company?

I worked as a graphic designer but wanted to start something that could grow beyond myself and involve other artists. I felt the design quality of T-shirts was slipping and thought I could raise the bar by seeking artists who would never put anything on a T-shirt through social networking. I recruited a gallery painter from Brazil by convincing him that we would maintain his integrity and preserve his image. We do limited runs and each shirt is hand numbered.

How did his artwork translate?

Pretty close to the original. It was good timing because the technology in the industry is finally catching up with today’s style of artwork. It was a huge blessing to find a printing company in Wisconsin that is able to do justice to intricate and vibrant artwork. They have these enormous presses that can print over the entire shirt and fade proof inks with excellent color opacity and graphic detail.

Who is your target audience?

We have a team page that sponsors alternative sports, like wakeskating and snowboarding. Our style of art resonates with the spirit of individualism and kinetic energy, which is a large part of their persona.

Are any retailers jumping on board?

There is a shop in downtown San Diego and boutique in Orlando, but so far we haven’t had much support locally. It’s strange that buyers on the coast are looking to Wisconsin for inspiration, yet local retailers are not recognizing it. Although we have had online success with local college students from UWM and Marquette, Midwest retailers remain loyal to big brands and are uncomfortable with trying something new.

Do you have any particular design influences?

I’m drawn to Middle Eastern calligraphy. You can’t read it, but I love the Al Jazeera logo.

What is your design motto?

No skulls, no wings, no oversized corporate logos. Let the artwork speak for itself. People enjoy wearing a great shirt without being a walking billboard. The two types of T-shirt companies out there are commercial brands like Affliction and the indie labels emerging through social Web sites. We’re trying to combine the two.