The stuff you're made of

Kerry Roper’s Ingredients T-shirt lists by weight the atoms we’re all made of. Set in Helvetica, it was simple for the experienced typographer to design.

Illustrator Kerry Roper was invited to design his first T-shirt in 2006. “I got a call from Nike asking if I’d like to design something for Air Jordan celebrating 30 years of Michael Jordan. They chose mine to represent the UK.”

He was presented with a set of iconic images of Michael Jordan and allowed to manipulate, presenting the sportswear giant with a series of ideas, including one that recreated a silhouette of the court legend in-flight out of Air Jordan shoes.

A year ago, Roper was also commissioned to design a T-shirt for Topshop. He delivered a skull-flavoured design called Dead Souls.

right: Nike approached Kerry Roper to create eye-catching designs to commemorate the Air Jordan. The company allowed Roper to manipulate a series of images of sports superstar Michael Jordan. The T-shirt design wasn’t accepted by Nike, though.

“Skulls seem to come in and go out,” Roper explains. “About a year ago, they were big. I presented Topshop with seven designs and that was one they chose. They wanted something with a bit more edge to it. The Dead Souls, that came from the title of a Joy Division song. When I was trying to title the work, that’s what I was listening to at the time.”

He adds: “It’s great for my portfolio: to do a T-shirt for both Nike and Topshop is probably what I’d always dreamed of, even though I’d never designed T-shirts before that.”

Currently causing a stir, however, is his Ingredients T-shirt, available on Mysoti. A simple listing of the elemental composition of the living human body, it has captured the imagination of bloggers including tech gurus, as well as the Discovery Channel.

“That was an idea I’d had for a while,” Roper explains. “I was going to do a T-shirt about a) what had you consumed on that day or b) the ingredients of say, a shampoo, with a thing saying beauty is: sodium laurel sulphate ... and you’d see a list of the ingredients. I was thinking about it and then it sort of clicked one day. Sometimes T-shirts have an outward facing message. This was sort of turning that around, almost turning the message inward.”

His advice for budding T-shirt designers is simple. Commissions and setting up your own label may not be as lucrative as you think. Or, to put it in ‘Kerryspeak’: “Don’t give up the day job.”

Made in Maidstone

Designer John Vingoe set up clothing brand Rapscallion earlier this year. For the most part, he sells his T-shirts online, but also has a deal to sell shirts at a local skatewear shop, Popnow.

His growing lineup of designs includes Always Scheming Never Dreaming (above).

“I really like tattoo art, in particular old-school tattoo art,” he explains. As such, he hand drew the featured script font to bring his garment-mounted mantra to vibrant life.

“I had to come up with an idea saying you can’t just sit back and keep imagining what might come up. You want to be the person who’s doing something,” he says.