The T-shirt is a wardrobe staple that started picking up popularity in the ‘60s. Back then, brands and bands used simple design to express ideas. These shirts became icons of the time. Today we’re more than used to seeing the T-shirt, but sometimes the designs can be a little ridiculous. Yes I’m talking “ironic” slogans and cluttered graphics. But luckily, one Fishers based brand, Vardagen, is redefining the T-shirt. The company’s designer Daniel Jewett creates wearable artwork that tastefully reflects the Vardagen brand and celebrates the T-shirt as an icon.
Vardagen isn’t just creating product; they strive to formulate a lifestyle. The word Vardagen itself means everyday. The merchandise is casual cool, a little nostalgic, and always tasteful. Most importantly, Vardagen is all about the Midwest. Although the designs don’t explicitly shout out the state of Indiana (except maybe their best-selling Bearded State design), they manage to deliver a message that represents Midwesterners.
Daniel Jewett is the genius behind the designs. He officially joined the team as the full time designer in 2009, but was always around the shop contributing work and ideas. He attended Anderson University as a design student and later fell into printing, which incorporated his love of illustrating in a more traditional medium. Although his work for Vardagen has an appealing aesthetic, his personal work tends to be more heavily illustrated. Daniel hopes to one day create concept art for movies and books, but he plans to always stay with Vardagen due to the freedom of expression and ability to grow that comes along with the brand.
Daniel’s designs have matured over the years with Vardagen. He went from his first design that featured an Oliver Twist-like illustration and a slogan about the brand, to the Bomber Shirt, which resembles something to promote the Air Force. While the former was well designed, the latter promotes the lifestyle with a hint of nostalgia in a subtle and wearable way.
It isn’t necessarily a certain design or a slogan to put on shirts; it’s a general lifestyle that I’m building.
“I treat Vardagen as a brand or an event and use that as a context for the designs I make,” says Daniel. “That can take on any number of contexts. It isn’t necessarily a certain design or a slogan to put on shirts; it’s a general lifestyle that I’m building.”
Daniel also strives to create an entire product, not just a design that he’ll later put on the shirt. He starts by hitting the paper, sketching within a T-shirt template. His designs have to be done in a way that remains conscious of the screen-printing method. The way colors overlap and blend needs to be taken into account, and the design is thought out in layers, not simply a flat image.
“You kind of have to twist your brain to think about negative shapes and how to create each color block in a way that you wouldn’t if you were just sketching and hand coloring something,” says Daniel.
The drawings themselves are a lot to think about, but where does he get his inspiration? It goes back to the lifestyle.
“I kind of create this ideal person in my head when I make a new design, and I design for them,” says Daniel.
This process may be simpler next year, when Vardagen hops on their new marketing plan, which, according to founder Jared Ingold, uses outstanding people in the community as inspiration. They’ll be expanding to new products and designs, which is already happening with their new skate shop and line of longboards. For the skating vault, Daniel pulled inspiration from ‘80s skate culture, but he says tomorrow it could be ‘90s rock culture. Whatever he does pulls from nostalgic counterculture, transforming into timeless designs.
While his exact inspiration is hard to pinpoint, the designs all have a clear cohesiveness. Even clients at Art Press, Vardagen’s sister custom screen-printing press, request designs reminiscent of the brand.
“We have people that come to us and say, ‘we want the Vardagen treatment’ without necessarily knowing what that means, but they’ve seen our store and they want to replicate that whole look and feel for what they’re doing,” says Daniel.
The Art Press helps Daniel expand his skills with projects outside the typical Vardagen designs. However, he can sometimes find it limiting due to micromanaging clients. But Vardagen lends a much more free flowing environment, with no chain of approval and direct collaboration with Jared. This freedom leads to some of Daniel’s favorite designs, like Shark!, Ohhhpossum, and Bluegrass Blue Tick.
“I think the Shark! shirt is a good representation of my attitude toward the brand,” says Daniel. “It’s got the nostalgic look to it but it’s not overdone. I like the Ohhhpossum design because it’s got an Americana look to it without being patriotic or white trash. It has kind of a cool garage print look that looks like it was done by amateurs in an exciting and interesting way. And I also just like opossums. And the Bluegrass Blue Tick design was experimental for me. It’s a lot more detailed and I did some play with color and the ink in that one. I hold colors in high regard and I try to use them in a tasteful and understated way.”
Daniel advises other apparel designers not to pay too much attention to other brands. If you keep the culture and people in mind instead of money, the designs will end up being more genuine. He encourages fellow designers to stray away from approaches with overdone illustrations and copping out via over branding and labels.
“Stay true to what you know people would wear around you,” says Daniel. “I personally think people should be more creative with what they present to the market so we can create more tasteful consumers that are discerning and recognize the appeal of good design.”