As you can imagine, everyone here at Threadless HQ has a pretty big collection of Threadless tees. I’m still a newbie and I’ve already hoarded around 30. But few of us can compete with video game designer Loel Phelps and his “365 Days of Threadless” project, which has him wearing a Threadless tee every day for a year…with zero repeats.
We’ve been big fans of this Threadfan’s #365DaysofThreadless photos on Twitter and we gotta say, we like his style. We talked to Loel about his amazingly vast collection of tees, his work in video game design, and about how graphic tees have actually helped him break out of his introvert shell. Check out what he had to say!
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Tell me a little about yourself! What do you do for a living? For fun? Favorite video game?
Hi! My name is Loel, and I have a problem that involves a lot of Threadless. I am a Senior Designer for Maxis at EA. For someone who designs games for a living, I don’t spend nearly enough time playing them. My two favorite console games right now would be Bloodborne and Dark Souls 3, but I am definitely taking a break to play the single player campaign in the recently released Battlefield 1. On mobile I’m playing Reigns, a super tiny game about running a kingdom, and Plants vs Zombies Heroes, which has kind of revitalized my interest in that franchise. For fun I play board games with my friends, X-Wing Miniatures, Machi Koro, Cry Havoc, Time Stories, Codenames, 7 Wonders, and a whole bunch more, I could go on for a while. In fact my Threadless collection might be competing with my table top game collection at this point.
I also really enjoy drawing, painting (have failed miserably at #inktober this year) and writing, and while I don’t have a place to do it anymore since I moved to San Francisco, I really enjoy creating custom furniture in Sketchup and then trying to build it in real life.
We’ve been loving your 365 days of Threadless posts! How did this start?
I ran into a former coworker of mine about a 3 months ago who I hadn’t seen in a year or so and we talked about how much he had missed seeing what t-shirt I was wearing every day. Five years prior when I transferred to the SLC EA studio, he asked me to introduce myself and tell everyone a fun fact about me. Not one who easily talks in large group situations, I came up with “I have enough t-shirts that I could wear one every day for a year without repeating.” At the time this wasn’t actually true, in fact, I suspect I only had about 100 shirts at the time of this statement, but a stack of a hundred shirts sure looks like a year’s worth. So from that request, the #365DaysOfThreadless project was born.
I’ve been posting to Facebook and Twitter, and recently on Instagram. Threadless itself has helped fuel this collection over the years, from the old street team points from days past to your semi-annual $10 t-shirt sales, to $5 dollar Mystery Shirts, all have helped me build this collection.
I also won a Threadless contest back in 2011 after randomly being drawn from a pool of people who had rated over 300 designs on a specific day, with the reward being a very wonderful gift certificate. My collection kind of erupted into the unmanageable territory at that point.
How many Threadless tees do you have in total? How long ago did this collection start?
I joined the Threadless community back in 2006. A friend was wearing one of those very early designs, “Pandamonium” by Ross Zietz I think. I was fascinated by its mixture of unexpected humor, pun and overall great art. He told me all about Threadless and how it worked and I was completely fascinated. I was looking for a change in wardrobe trying to shuck the plain t-shirt and polo shirts. I started as a lurker, rating dozens of designs at a time, nit-picking whether I would buy it, why I hated something, why I loved something. I started noticing patterns, like I despised designs with text that explains the punchline and I was very harsh to copyrighted/trademarked characters appearing. It quickly became a routine. Any downtime I had I would rate designs until I reached the end of the queue, I’d go back to work until I had another break, and then I would repeat, emptying my rate queue again. I was fascinated by the crowdsourced nature of the process and the fact that any artist could just submit a design, I’ve even made two sad attempts at designs, both of which bombed immensely, but it was a great experience seeing what the community reacts to.
I finally made my first Threadless purchase at the end of February 2007. “You’ve Got Some Splaining To Do” by Andy Wihite and one other shirt titled “FrequenCity.” A few days later I bought five more shirts when a 10 dollar t-shirt sale hit. Seven t-shirts purchased within a week of each other, clearly I was hooked. By the end of that first year I had purchased 33 shirts and was well on my way towards this collection paying attention to when sales were happening and trying to make purchases that I could afford without breaking the bank. I currently own 262 Threadless t-shirts that I have been collecting for nearly a decade. I’ve purchased 297 products in total as of October 19th, 2016, with a little over 30 of those being gifts for other people. I have a couple duplicates, in some cases a hoodie and t-shirt, or phone case and t-shirt combo (there was an incident back in 2010 when the store put up mystery shirts for purchase at five dollars a piece.)
“Favorite tee” is a little tough…so what are your top 3 favorite tees?
This wasn’t a hard list to compile. “Technicolour Rex” is my all-time favorite shirt. As soon as it became available as a hoodie, I immediately purchased it. To this day it is the most commented on shirt that I own. I can guarantee at least 1 social interaction a day with a random stranger if I am wearing this shirt.
“Sushi” has a special place in my wardrobe, because I love sushi and because the design is just too adorable not to enjoy. The same is true for “Ramen’ses Return” (below). If a t-shirt has a dinosaur, sushi, or ramen on it then it’s an instant buy from me, assuming it doesn’t break my rules of t-shirt selection (limited to no text in the design (especially explanatory), uninteresting or copyrighted art, etc.)
How do you store all those tees?? I think I have 40 and I have trouble storing them!
Over the years I’ve adjusted my storage solution to match the collection. At first I would hang them in the closet like the precious fine art that they are. That was until the bar in the closet snapped from the weight. Next I had a three drawer IKEA dresser dedicated entirely to the collection. I sorted everything in this dresser by color and packed it in as densely as I could. When I outgrew that dresser I went into a neatly stacked and folded tower on top of the dresser inside of a closet. My current solution is much more manageable, if a bit sprawling. For shirts that I want to wear relatively soon, I put them in an IKEA Skubb. I have three of these, and each one of these units can hold about a month of designs. I overflow recently laundered shirts into under-the-bed storage in an IKEA MALM drawer, folded and color coated nicely until they are ready to come out again. I can get around 64 shirts in each of the four drawers under the bed.
Wow, you’ve got a system! I see you work at Maxis! What’s that like? What do you do there?
I’ve been working for Maxis for quite a few years now as a Senior Designer. While at Maxis I’ve worked on The Sims 3 Showtime, Supernatural, University Life and Into the Future. It’s been a blast. I’ve been making video games since 1999, and will have been at EA for 12 years in May. It’s been an enlightening experience working within such a large company. I learn something new every day, whether I want to or not. My favorite part working on video games has to be seeing the fans’ reactions to features and ideas that I am responsible for. We read so much of the feedback that the community posts on Reddit, or our own internal EA forums, both the good and bad, and appreciate every word you have for us, the developers. I’ve always embraced constructive criticism and believe it is the best way to improve as a creative person.
That sounds incredible! What’s been your favorite game to work on?
While I was working at EA Tiburon, in Maitland, Florida I had the privilege to work on a small little title called Henry Hatsworth in for the Nintendo DS (above). The team had seven core members and we all had to wear a lot of hats. I was one of the two level designers, and I also painted all of the tilesets for those levels based off the amazing concept art done by our art director. It was a tight nit group of artists and engineers developing on a new platform for the first time in a genre we had never developed for, and I think it turned out fantastic.
This little gem of a game has you play as Henry Hatsworth, a thoroughly old British chap who must find all of the pieces to a dapper magical suit in order to close the link between his world and the puzzle world. On the top screen the player controls Hatsworth in a side-scrolling adventure. On the bottom screen the player controls a match-3 puzzle. There’s an opera singing pirate boss, a wheel-chair bound old captain and his nurse boss, and when you are powered up enough you can stop for tea-time and jump into a steam-punk inspired mech suit to stomp through enemies while heavy-metal music plays in the background.
That’s a lot of words to say I loved working on this tiny project. It’s amazing what a small group of 7 people can build and to see fans take to the character and world and mechanics/gameplay we built is heartwarming and worth all of the extra hours we spent creating it.
If you don’t mind me asking, you’ve mentioned that these tees help you break out of your introvert shell, which really spoke to me as a fellow introvert. How has this helped?
There are two things I’ve done in the last decade to try to put myself in a situation that would force social interaction with strangers. The first was Threadless, the second was to buy a smart car in 2008 (which is decidedly not smart in any way that sounds smart). Both of these things put me in situations daily where a random person, usually a stranger, will make a comment or ask a question directly at me. This puts me in both a stressful and uncomfortable position where an expectation of response has been set. So I get the opportunity to talk about this ridiculous little car and these amazing pieces of art that I wear on my torso. I get comments on my shirts
daily, and I get to have a brief engagement out of my comfort zone, or at best a
meaningful conversation about commercial art and the profession of making and selling art for mass market consumption in the form of t-shirts and video games and other for-profit endeavors, versus doing art as strictly an expression without compensation.
I do these things to help me have human engagement every day and to help me think more quickly on my feet. I love being an introvert and I’m definitely not trying to fix it, but it has been great to understand that thing that previously caused me significant anxiety has been reduced to a minor annoyance, and sometimes I’m surprised by a truly energizing or uplifting conversation.
I would definitely encourage anyone who deals with social anxiety to find little outlets that will help them work on decreasing it, over a long period of time. For me, wearing art I love and that is sometimes funny, sometimes scary, and sometimes wild and thought provoking, has helped. So maybe it will help you too?
I love Threadless and the Threadless community and have really enjoyed engaging with everyone who has liked my project #365DaysOfThreadless on social media! Thanks for reaching out and being so supportive! Here’s to another couple hundred days of Threadless and I’ll see you all around!