Wednesday, November 14

Student turns pastime into her hand-printed T-shirt business


Fourth-year political science student Libby Burke began stamping her designs on T-shirts during the summer of 2017, and she now sells them at her online store, Ides. The company's website features designs like her "U Can Learn A lot" design, her most popular pattern and a nod to her education at UCLA. (Joe Akira/Daily Bruin)

Fourth-year political science student Libby Burke began stamping her designs on T-shirts during the summer of 2017, and she now sells them at her online store, Ides. The company's website features designs like her "U Can Learn A lot" design, her most popular pattern and a nod to her education at UCLA. (Joe Akira/Daily Bruin)


Libby Burke’s hand-printed T-shirt designs include stalks of broccoli and dogs in capes.

After doodling extensively in notebooks, the fourth-year political science student said she decided to transition into the more skill-oriented medium of T-shirt printing. Burke began stamping her own illustrations on T-shirts over the summer as a way to relax after coming home from her internship each day and started selling them under the company name Ides.

Burke said she tries to make her designs clever, using wordplay mixed with minimalist black-and-white designs. For example, one of her T-shirts features a cat using a telephone, a visualization of the term “catcalling.”

“I just think how we designate certain terms and what they actually visually mean are interesting,” Burke said.

Burke begins each design by drawing the pattern in her sketchbook. She then traces it onto repurposed styrofoam and indents the areas that will remain white with a charcoal pencil. Her designs include a soccer moms and aliens T-shirt, depicting SUVs and UFOs, and the “U Can Learn A lot” shirt, her most popular pattern and an homage to Burke’s time at UCLA.

Burke’s “U Can Learn A lot” T-shirt vertically spells out UCLA while horizontally filling in the phrase, like an acrostic poem. A black rectangle surrounds the design, which is stamped in the center of the shirt.

Jessica Chase, a fourth-year political science student, transitioned Burke’s art into marketable fashion by funding the venture and creating the website, which launched Feb. 18. They decided to sell the designs on their own website, instead of a platform like Etsy, in order to allow them to ensure the light-hearted and humorous prints would not be lost among other sellers’ items, Chase said.

“They’re all a little kind of self-aware, a little bit cheeky, and I think that’s what makes it resonate with people,” she said.

The Ides website also features pictures of the pair’s friends donning the shirts and a lookbook photographed by Megan Hullander, a second-year undeclared student.

The lookbook, a 22-page, magazine-style spread, shows off Burke’s T-shirts on student models. Hullander picked images from an extensive photo shoot process, which took place at Chase’s apartment complex. Some of the models also wore the same designs, showing how the hand-printing of each T-shirt can have different effects on the same patterns.

Hullander said she views Burke’s designs as an extension of Burke’s personality – they draw from her satirical sense of humor and her ability to make fun of herself. One print depicts a wasp, meant to be a visual portrayal of an inside joke she shares with her family: Burke’s family pursued artistic paths that defy the typical image of a White Anglo-Saxon family from New York, so Burke said she chose to use the image of a wasp to show her self-awareness after coming to Los Angeles.

Burke said she has always had cynical and weird ideas like her wasp pattern that she used when designing the shirts. And although Ides has just launched, Burke said she plans to release more designs that capture her sense of humor next quarter.

“I just want to be able to continue drawing, which is basically what it’s allowed me to do,” Burke said. “It forces me to take aside the time since it’s now a financial investment to draw and create and think differently.”

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