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Best graphic tees

| June 13, 2008 | Lifestyle Style & Beauty Story Style Best of the Bay Fashion Shopping

Forget about Facebook—graphic tees are the next major social-networking tool. “They’ve become a way for people with the same interests to connect,” explains blogger Karl Long ( They’re also a way for the city’s many indie clothing designers to support themselves until they hit it big. The following artists are the reason why all self-respecting style setters have as many tees as they do jeans.

Jake Ginsky is the Jon Stewart of T-shirt designers, and we love Headline Shirts for the same reason we love The Daily Show: Both of them amuse and inform. Witness this example from his Campaign 2008 series: One shirt depicts a caricature of Obama with the slogan “Hillary for President,” while another has the inverse image and slogan. “We reflect the attitude of the moment,” says Ginsky, a former Mother Jones reporter.

Poverty proved to be a faithful muse for designer Matthew Henri. After being fired from a screenprinting shop, he founded Free Gold Watch by printing out of his own garage. Henri exposes the hype in everything from Louis Vuitton logos and gangsters to celebrity culture, and one of his wittiest shirts was inspired by late-night infomercials: The front pocket was upside down to represent “the money you would be dropping if you buy into a pyramid scheme.”

Already gracing the likes of movie actresses, reality TV queens, and Paris Hilton herself, local T-shirt company Loyal Army is currently conquering the prepubescent market. The ├╝bersoft graphic tees, along with hoodies and a slew of accessories, depict sugar-addled, cartoonish versions of everyday images (think five grinning penguins bouncing atop individual icebergs while declaring, “Keep us cool!”).

If the class clowns at your high school had learned to silk-screen, the results would look something like the Homeroom tees produced by best friends Al Val and Gian Altomari, which feature clever jokes at the expense of hipsters, wannabes, and celebrities. One has an image of hip-hop heavyweight Suge Knight with a glow-in-the-dark message underneath: “Make it a Shuge Night!” Or look for Rozilla, a cross between Rosie O’Donnell and Godzilla.

Since Gen-X fanboy Faez Fathi entered fatherhood, children’s wear has never looked the same. The two lines he launched with his wife, Jen Bright-Fathi—Bunny & Bee for girls and Little Thieves for boys—are the toast of the playground for their anime-inflected robots, trains, and teddy bears, an aesthetic Faez honed working for Japanese streetwear companies and at the Academy of Art University as a design instructor.

Inspiration can come from anywhere—even the gutter, for husband-and-wife duo Eric and Danette Scheib. Eric once found a discarded embosser with the words “New Testament Church of God,” did a pencil rubbing of it, and developed his version of the Holy Trinity that consists of psychedelic rockers. According to Eric, Lemon Twist is a modern, “funky-fresh, and high as hell” take on the Bay Area’s counterculture ethos.

Crystal Sylver is a painter who specializes in female nudes, but “my shirts pay the bills,” she says. Her Funk Divine summer tees reveal her fine-art background with trompe l’oeil designs depicting scarab beetles and ancient Egyptian ornamentation.

Pump up your tee collection and support a noble cause. Be+Cause’s special-edition line, HERO 1, shows well-known activists such as Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali. A portion of the proceeds go to environmental and youth organizations.

Brandon Levey has taken the locavore move­ment from the salad bowl to our backs. Most of Naked Cotton’s materials are grown in the San Joaquin Valley and stitched at American Apparel in Los Angeles. The dyeing takes place in Novato (in a low-impact dyeing process), and the screenprinting is done in Livermore and San Francisco. We also love the company’s simple colors and trippy designs.


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