Cool Shirt Bro

If there’s anything that gives me hope for the future of Chico and the future of Earthlings, it’s finding new businesses sprouting with a social conscience. Design By Humans has only been based out of Chico for about a year, but they’re already gearing up to expand their operation on Humboldt Road. Selling one badass T-shirt at a time to regular humans, they’ve managed to build an enormous community of artists, fans, and a reputation for making commendable philanthropic efforts.

DSCF2049Owner and manager, Jeff Sierra, told me about what Design By Humans is up to. “We’re an artist-based community; artists and T-shirt lovers from around the globe. There are about 15,000 artists that we work with on a continual basis.” It’s all crowdsourced. Artists submit their designs and then challenge the public to go vote for their favorite artwork. Based on the amount of engagement, the voting, and the trends, they select a design to print on a T-shirt. After the design is printed and thrown up on the website for sale, the artist gets royalties based on the sale of that shirt. They’re empowering artists to tell their story through wearable art.

The shirts are manufactured in Los Angeles and in Chico. Everything is printed in the USA using eco-friendly inks, and they’re guaranteed to be 100% sweatshop and child-labor free. I have a strong appreciation for a business that builds this kind of accountability into their business model. I’m hoping that, as the consuming public becomes more demanding of transparency, and more morally aware of injustices – both human and environmental – that budding, local entrepreneurs will follow this example.DSCF2017

I asked Jeff what he thought about the entrepreneurship scene in Chico. “It’s not easy. I’m not gonna lie. But having key people to help build a company is pretty paramount.” DBH is all for innovation, networking, and building relationships. They often host themed contests that guide trends, while simultaneously engaging artists. They’re also frequently invited to form partnerships with other companies. One of the biggest partnerships they’ve worked on was with Warner Bros. and The Dark Knight Rises – big doings afoot at the local T-shirt shop.

I took a tour of their facilities out on Humboldt Road and it reminded me a lot of the Synthesis office. All the cool kids were working hard, but ready to play foosball on their lunch breaks. It was an open and collaborative setting, with models of the Millennium Falcon and other Star Wars paraphernalia dangling from the ceiling. Sierra told me that DBH is gearing up for an expansion and remodel that will give their facility a 2013 polish. There’s a great little park across the street, a café down the road, it’s close to downtown, and it’s got oodles of potential. It sounds to me like Humboldt Road is about to undergo a gentrification? “It would be really cool to make this into like a little tech hub,” said Sierra.

DSCF2016All T-shirts are shipped out of the Chico warehouse. The warehouse was stacked high with T-shirts sporting various designs. Sierra showed off some of his most popular designs including a crazy, zombie-looking guy with facial guts, exposed tendons, and oozy, bloody open wounds; a dinosaur, just being a badass dinosaur; as well as designs of asteroids, aliens, Dia de los Muertos/Grateful Dead mashup art, bears in bowler hats, and anything else you could imagine. It was like the shelves were overflowing their racks with creativity and vision. Again, a lot like being at the Synthesis on a Friday – but with less bears in bowler hats, I guess.

With companies like this contributing to our local and global economy and setting a good example for those Chico State Business majors, I think our boat might eventually start turning in the direction we’re steering it. Go to to learn more. You can even log-in to Facebook and start voting for your favorite designs. My favorite, so far? Dr. Hoot.

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