Written by: Catalina Zhao
If an activity that combines multiple interests while bringing in some profit exists, then junior Lisa Zhang has found it. She creates custom designs, which she then makes into T-shirts and sells online.
Zhang has always enjoyed wearing T-shirts that go beyond the aesthetics. “I like wearing T-shirts that have something that is unique and is something I really care about,” she said. This interest helped her develop the idea to start making her own special T-shirts while listening to the radio program “Cabin Pressure” this past summer. “I thought it would be fun if I made a T-shirt for [“Cabin Pressure”] because it’s really obscure and hipster,” Zhang said. “I wanted to make the T-shirt as something special to me, something only I know. And if someone happened to understand the “Cabin Pressure” design on my T-shirt, then it would be a common interest we could talk about.”
Much like her Cabin Pressure-inspired design, many of Zhang’s creations are based off of her interests, especially movies, television shows and video games. One of her more well-known designes is based off of the hit television show “Sherlock.” These interests have made her designs popular and well-received. “Her designs are appealing to her target audience, and they’re all very clean and well thought out,” Zhang’s friend and collaborator Annie Zhang wrote in an email. Zhang’s dad, Tong Zhang, agrees. “Good design ought to be artistic and creative,” he wrote in an email. “Lisa’s designs show both perspectives.”
Having never taken a graphic design class, Zhang relies on traditional art, especially sketching, to draw her designs. She sends her possible sketches to Annie, who digitizes them. Zhang has collaborated with Annie Zhang on many of her designs, and the two work well together. “The best part about working with Lisa is the fact that we communicate well,” Annie Zhnag wrote. “There’s nothing difficult about working with her. The most rewarding part is that we can spend time together doing something both fun and creative.”
When Zhang finally has her design laid out digitally, she uses the website Redbubble to sell T-shirts. On Redbubble, Zhang uploads most of her designs, which anyone can view. Customers can then place an order to purchase the design on any designated product. “People personalize their item with my design on it,” Zhang said. “There are tons of websites that do the same thing, but I really like Redbubble because it makes the process simple. All I do is put up my design, say what type of product I’m selling and set my price.”
Zhang has sold three T-shirts through Redbubble and seven through another website called Spreadshirts. For each shirt, she receives a profit of about $4. “Redbubble sets the default profit for the seller to 20 percent, so the customer on average is paying $24.50,” she said.
Zhang’s most popular design is based off of “Sherlock.” “It’s a play off of the WWII propaganda posters that say ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ with ‘Sherlock’ elements added,” Zhang said. “I always see a lot of ‘Sherlock’ fan-made stuff, so I thought I could show my support by making this T-shirt.” She also wanted to design the T-shirt to connect with other fans. “One person can read my shirt and not really understand it, but other people who are ‘Sherlock’ fans will know exactly what it is,” she said. “They can connect with me in that way too.” Her current project is also related to “Sherlock.” According to Zhang, this design has been in progress since February and is the most in-depth one she has made.
“What I like most about this design is that I’m collaborating more with Annie,” she said. “Once every two to three weeks, we set a date and chat about what type of colors we want, line thickness, and other elements.” Annie Zhang has an optimistic outlook on this design. “It’s detailed, it’s witty, and it’s got a lovely look to it,” she said. I can only hope that other people will like it as well.”
Although designing T-shirts both is fun and profitable, it is far from easy. “The most challenging part, at least with image based T-shirts, is trying to make everything come together,” Zhang said. “There are so many different elements, such as line thickness, colors, textures and size. You run into things you couldn’t have expected.”
Through this hobby, Zhang has realized how a T-shirt design can be a medium to connect with other people with similar interests. “Before, it never really occurred to me just how often people will look down at your shirt and read what’s on it, and it became a lot clearer to me as I designed more and more that people do actually pay attention to what you have to say,” she said. “It’s a great way to meet new people who share similar interests, even if it is just to say ‘I like your shirt.’”
For some of her designs currently in progress, Zhang has already received positive comments and messages of interests from people on Redbubble. Zhang finds the support and positive reviews on her designs rewarding and humbling. “For me, it’s nice seeing that there are other people out there who like what I’m doing,” she said.