Rising above the surplus of twee screen printed tees offered at your local indie boutique, are three companies using high-grade fabrics and apparel design techniques, along with fresh aesthetic sensibilities, to create T-shirts that transcend the mundane.

Golden Goods USA reconceptualizes the standard conference/corporate giveaway tee—the boxy, made-in-china polo or crew sporting a requisite left-chest logo—and instead casts it as a flattering and contemporary piece of clothing. “We strive to create and replicate naturally aged and worn-in garments to achieve a very high comfort factor,” says Jeffrey Levine, the company’s cofounder and chief designer.

Levine, with many years in high-end fashion design and retailing, sources quality domestic cotton fabrics and water-based dyes, manages the design and creation of the garments, and personally tweaks his clients’ corporate logos to make them more graphically compelling. “We have a hand in everything,” he says. Soft, fitted, and featuring Golden Goods’ uniquely lived-in look, the tees are likely candidates for a top spot in the T-shirt drawer.

Producing corporate tees that look good enough to throw on for a night on the town sounds like an impossible feat, but Levine and Golden Goods cofounder Jeff Scult have spun straw into gold; four years after their launch, the two have contracts with a host of top international brands, and even designed the garments for Virgin America’s in-air crew. Due to popular demand, the team is working on a plan to retail some of their “best of” designs to the general public.

Jeff Scult says Golden Goods owes its popularity to a business model that capitalizes on the “better fits, fabrics, and print techniques seen in contemporary retail fashion” at shops like Bloomingdale’s. The founders see Golden Goods as much a branding company as an apparel business. The wearable and fashion-conscious quality of their product serves as a powerful corporate statement.


If the wearing of a T-shirt can influence product buy-in, Brooklyn-based Out of Print Clothing should be credited as a marketing consultant for literary classics. The company’s T-shirts, which serve as canvases for vintage book jacket designs, have been endorsed by numerous Hollywood celebrities and media venues, and are sold at book and clothing stores worldwide. But it’s a love of the books themselves that directs Out of Print’s operations at every level; OOP hosts an online book club and an absorbing literary blog, and donates a book to a schoolchild through the Books for Africa organization for each product sold. Cofounder Todd Lawton says, “Everything we sell or do online is intended to get people engaged in conversations about great books. We try to make being bookish a fashion statement and cool.”

In this age of electronic tablets and e-readers, Out of Print’s hand-designed and book-based wares exude an air of both exoticism and nostalgia. The shirts themselves are slim-fitting, made of soft-distressed cotton blends and each printed design is specifically tailored—the company’s website includes individual sizing advice for each garment profile. Printed on contemporary colors and cuts, ranging from the mod minimalism of A Clockwork Orange to the feathery explosion of a Pride and Prejudice cover, the shirts are smart, stylish evocations of literature’s most thrilling endeavors.

Out of Print recently teamed up with Jeff Tweedy, frontman of Wilco and avid reader, to produce a tee for one of Tweedy’s favorite books, Don Quixote. Purchases of the Wilco tee and CD package from Out of Print’s website benefit 826 National, the children’s literacy charity founded by author Dave Eggers. Lawton and his business partner Jeffrey LeBlanc plan similar collaborations in the future, and it’s clear that their love of literature fuels their business and philanthropic endeavors. “We’re always open to collaborations…with each new collaboration we can help new literacy and writing based organizations.”


San Francisco’s Free Gold Watch arose from a love of the printing process itself. After a stint as an entry-level employee at a screen print store, founder Matthew Henri was so infatuated with the tools and processes of the trade that he continued the work in his garage even after the print shop folded. His designs sold well on the local circuit, and within a year Henri, along with his wife and business partner, Marti Leann Brass, founded Free Gold Watch.

California natives, Henri and Brass vowed from the outset to source all materials in state, their fabrics—super soft featherweights—come from California manufacturers, and the garments are produced at Bluesky Manufacture and Sewing, an SF sewing outlet patronized by Levi’s before it moved operations overseas.

Henri’s designs, visual odes to B/W and CMYK, reference the remnants of the analogue image industry. He mourns the downfall of film, “this object that you can feel in your hand, you can process yourself, you know it will last forever.” One of FGW’s designs features proportionally accurate filmstrips in a subtle banded pattern (Henri is quick to confirm that the design comes in 8 mm and 16 mm options.)  Process is key: “We experiment and let the press dictate how [our designs] are going to come out… It’s more fun over there,” says Henri, gesturing toward his cavernous print shop, “when we really use the press as an artistic tool rather than just trying to match a computer file.”

This off the cuff approach belies the fact that FGW’s print shop services California music retailing giant Amoeba Records, and fills out the shwag bags of a host of Bay Area based startups. Housed in the former livery of a historic SF firehouse, FWG’s decor is half museum of antique image technology and half Silver Spoons set, replete with old cameras, four-color animation cels, pinball machines, skateboards, and musical instruments. It serves as a photo studio and event space, but the massive print shop, looming in full view and attended by a team of busy artisans, ensures there’s no mistake: FGW is all about the screen print.

Text by Megan Bates