(Guest post by Chicago Design Muesum)
At the Chicago Design Museum (ChiDM), we’re always talking about what it means to foster design culture. As we’ve grown over the past several years from a grassroots pop-up gallery to a full-fledged non profit institution with a growing permanent collection, that conversation has always come back to one conclusion: that culture is inseparable from community.
The cultural experiences that we facilitate through our exhibitions, programming, public projects, and gallery space are stronger and more vibrant when we collaborate with our community of makers, thinkers, and all-around curious people. And to make that community stronger and more vibrant itself, we look to those that we admire.
Threadless’ community of artists is already greatly inspiring to us. One of our rallying cries—“Unite, Inform, Inspire”—also applies perfectly to what they do. With our own Artist Shop, we are proudly a part of the Threadless community. Threadless and ChiDM are both based in Chicago, and both inspire designers, artists, and practitioners to explore their craft while also bringing design to the broader public through new kinds of cultural experiences.
We love the idea of the Artist Shop because it echoes the ability for creative exploration. As a small museum, we don’t have the ability to quickly produce products or manage a warehouse (not to mention fulfill orders in bulk). But Threadless takes care of all of the day-to-day logistics, and that gives us the flexibility to focus on researching and creating new designs and publishing high-quality products within minutes, rather than weeks or months. And, since everything is print-on-demand, it reduces waste. We think that the Triblend shirts are so comfortable that we use them exclusively for our men’s and women’s product lines.
Another aspect that we find fascinating is that the Artist Shop platform is a move away from Threadless’ primary model of using competition to dictate production, and instead relies on artists to market their own shops and designs. Most professional design organizations are fundamentally against design competitions and spec work, so we see this as a natural shift towards allowing the marketplace to judge and support individual work.
Finally, having an Artist Shop gives us an unprecedented opportunity not just to commission new work from people we admire, but to explore ways to unearth design artifacts in order to bring their old stories and histories to new audiences. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the work of notable designers both throughout history and today.
For example, a booklet from a 1933 Chicago World’s Fair exhibition on Jean Baptiste Point du Sable—Chicago’s first permanent resident who was pivotal to our area’s commercial and cultural development—features custom letterforms designed by Charles Dawson that inspired ChiDM’s Executive Director, Tanner Woodford, to develop a complete typeface as seen in “Chicago” by Charles Dawson:
“Read Red” by John Massey reproduces a playful image that the Chicago designer created in 1978 for a poster for the American Library Association to encourage readership and library patronage:
And a little closer to today, Yun Jee Nam, our former intern and a student at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, created two different designs exclusively for Threadless that are a playful exploration of ChiDM’s brand identity:
We continue to look to our archives, to our city, and to our community for more such incredible stories buried within artifacts of all kinds, and we can’t wait to translate these into new products available in our Artist Shop to bring them to the world.