April 17, 2009

By Moustapha Camara

I interview Jud a.k.a El Presidente, creator of the t-shirt design competition site, Shirt Fight.

MC: To start off, the Shirt Fight brand is awesome! How did you think of the idea for Shirt Fight?

SF: Thanks, glad you like it! We started with a concept of having shirts battling it out 1-on-1, using one of those “hot or not” type models. Shirt Fight just seemed like a logical name for it! As we did more research though, it became pretty apparent that model wouldn’t work, so we went back to a more traditional voting format…but the name is here to stay. It’s definitely a brand we can have fun with, right now it’s just pictures of us with boxing gloves but there’s so much potential…when the weather warms up (we’re in Chicago, apparently the Land of the Eternal Frost) we have some pretty fun fight related ideas to incorporate into the site.

MC: From viewing the winning tees on ShirtFight, and other t-shirt design competition sites, what do you think are the elements of a winning t-shirt design?

SF: Well, speaking strictly about ShirtFight tees, I think all of the winners so far have been ones that take our theme and just explode it to another level. We’re not talking thinking outside the box…these artists have taken the box, folded it into an origami swan, set it on fire, and roasted marshmallows over the flame. Take our “Hidden & Subliminal Messages” Shirt Fight for example…Sassatattoo from Brazil won with his design “Rats live on no evil star”, and I mean just look at it, he took the theme and bent it to his will. Hidden words, hidden faces, flip the design upside down for more faces, turn out the lights and there’s MORE faces that glow in the dark…we’re awestruck when we see stuff like that. And to think we’ve only been open less than two months! We haven’t even BEGUN to see what kind of talent is lurking in the shadows, waiting to grab the championship belt!

In general though, I think a winning t-shirt design is one that shows the artist has mastered his/her art. They pick just the right colors (and realize that you don’t need a million colors to make an outstanding design). Every line, shadow, and shape is placed for a reason. You know it’s a winner when you first notice that the artwork is superb, and THEN you realize it’s on a t-shirt.

MC: In the about section of your site, you talk about making your own tees in college. Did you get anybody to call you after you created that Pimp Daddy t-shirt, with your number on it, back in college?

SF: Hahah yeah, I sure did. I had this shirt that said “(555) 432-1234. Ask for the Pimp Daddy” with my real phone number and I wore it probably half the time I went out partying. It’s a great way to get girls to call you, that’s for sure, I highly recommend it :)

MC: You also state that you were raised on comic books and so was I. What were your favorite comic book series’?

SF: I was a sucker for Groo the Wanderer, which was drawn by Sergio Aragones, the dude who did a lot of the work for Mad Magazine. Groo was like a completely inept Conan character who always tried to save the day but ended up accidentally burning down the town or something equally disastrous. Sergio’s attention to detail is astonishing. My favorite part was each comic had a hidden message…I would literally spend hours poring over each page trying to find it. One issue they did the secret message in binary code…the bastard!

MC: So, how is it running a business with your wife? What are the advantages and challenges of running a business with someone you’re so close too?

SF: It’s great, I would say we’re not your stereotypical husband and wife. We’re best friends (awwww) and it just feels right starting something as great as ShirtFight with her. Plus she covers a lot of stuff I’m terrible at, like the finances…I can’t balance a checkbook!

MC: Did your wife, Marieta, really beat Anna Kornikova in tennis?

SF: Hah, yeah she sure did. Marieta was maybe 15 or 16 at the time, was ranked #5 in Bulgaria, and went to the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy where Anna Kournikova was. The deal was Anna was like 11 or 12, so it wasn’t really much of a fair contest. Still pretty cool to have on your resume of life though, huh?

MC: The ShirtFight character is really cool. Do you plan on having an animation series with him, maybe for promoting ShirtFight?

SF: I drew him myself! That’s the extent of my artistic talent, unfortunately. An animation would be fun, one day I’d like to work him into a web game or maybe an iPhone app…but I’ll wait until the shirt gig takes off a bit more hehe.

MC: Where do you see Shirt Fight in the next 5 years? Are you looking to become “the next Threadless”?

SF: I have a huge amount of respect for Threadless, and we definitely want to be like them in the sense that everyone knows them as a company who really cares about the artists and are hell-bent on producing great shirts and having a good time doing it. At the same time I don’t think we want to become a giant company like them, so we’re trying to take a different direction by only offering 21 shirts on our site at any given point. One page of shirts, the champions, allow people to really get to know the artist and their talents, instead of having to wade through a sea of tees. At the end of the day it’s really about getting the artist the exposure and recognition they deserve. And if we happen to sell a few shirts along the way…hey, who am I to complain? :D