UnderRepped: Excavating Underground Heroes, Turning Them into T-Shirts

The Smoking Jacket: So what’s this T-shirt business you’re trying to get off the ground?

Paul Leonard: I created a project called UnderRepped that’s all about paying homage to the great people who’ve done great things for society but are largely unknown. For example, Adolph Rickenbacker invented the electric guitar in the early 1900s. Everyone loves music and knows about the electric guitar but few really know the face behind it.

You’re a med student. Where are you studying? Where are you at with your studies?

PL: I’m a third year medical student at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia, PA. I’m currently working in the hospital doing rotations, meaning I’m done (thankfully) with all the classroom learning and spending my days on different services. Currently I’m on psychiatry which is quite a wild experience but very worthwhile. I’m about to start OB/GYN so I’ll be practicing catching babies by day and managing my Kickstarter campaign and hopefully budding T-shirt business by night. Quite the life.

TSJ: So like are you needing a back up career for when being a doctor doesn’t pay the bills? What made you want to start this up?

PL: I’m really happy to say that this isn’t a project that was built as a motive to make money. It came up completely out of the blue and just has been sitting in the back of my head for some time just waiting for me to build up the courage to test it with the world. Going into the massive world of T-shirts is intimidating, now throw on the fact that you’re busy with med school and well… you get the point. BUT, I wanted to take a chance and see what happens because I loved it so much and every time I brought it up with friends they responded the same way. So, I built up the courage and said, why not.


TSJ: Did being a med student make you excited about the person who’d discovered the stethoscope (something you mention on your Kickstarter site)?

PL: Being a med student definitely was the inspiration behind choosing Laennec as one of our first designs, but wasn’t the fire behind starting the project altogether. However, I DO believe that my interest in science/medicine casually led me to this idea. Throughout my education, I’ve studied so many individuals who’ve done incredible things for society but are hidden in textbooks, required high school classes, and get their three seconds of glory during some teacher’s brief explanation for where the laws that govern the world came from.

TSJ: Who’s doing the illustrations?

PL: Since I’m a med student, I don’t have the skills to create our illustrations and so I found a graphic designer who was able to make my idea for what I wanted them to look like and make them a reality. Since all our individuals have been deceased for some time, we use the public domain to gather old photos and work from those. But it was my idea to have all the designs to carry a similar feel with them and have that ‘bust’ feel that was bold and in your face almost. Like you walk into a party with them and people want to ask you who that person is on your shirt and you can tell their story then.

TSJ: Where are you getting the actual shirts from?

PL: I’m really happy to say that all our shirts from our Kickstarter project will be made locally in Camden, NJ, [by the people over at] camdenprintworks.net. I met with some cool guys there who print shirts all day and most importantly they make their shirts in the style I was searching for — discharge ink. Discharge ink takes the dye out of shirts and makes them extra soft. I was after the kind of shirt you’d wear with nice jeans out on a Saturday night with your buddies at the bar.

TSJ: How are you printing the images? One at a time?

PL: They make all their shirts by hand there and as you can see in the video, I can be part of their productions and work with how the shirts will look.

TSJ: It’s kind of a giant subject, the idea of representing history’s underrepresented. How do you think you’re going to find these people? How are you dealing with the fact that it’s a white man’s history we learn — are your T-shirts going to show minorities? Women?

PL: This project definitely has a massive idea behind it, representing history’s underrepresented. It’s big and you got to start somewhere, which I personally think has been the toughest part of this project. Who is the first few people you choose who will essentially embody your idea. And that took quite some time.

I wanted to choose people I didn’t see already being printed on shirts or was the first person that came to your mind if I said, art, film, music, or whatever. And from our Kickstarter project as well as through friends/family who’ve stayed close to the project I keep getting more and more suggestions for new people. So I’m pumped to add others to our line and let people with more specific interests get to represent their role models or people they’ve admired.

I’m searching for — and you can find those women and individuals who played a part in society’s great inventions/movements/ideas and it’s part of our job to give them some light. That’s the cool part of this project. We can find those stories and pull them out for society to see. It’s tough too though since lots of our audience won’t have heard of all our individuals. I believe though that every shirt has its own audience that it speaks too and will get its recognition that way. And for the nerd who secretly wants to learn a little bit, they might get a shirt of someone they didn’t know but learned what they did and now want to help represent them and teach someone else.

In fact, we just added Nikola Tesla to our line today since we got lots of suggestions from our backers and he was our most popular selection. We listened and now am really really happy to add him to the list. I think that this concept has incredible potential and I want to explore that. I know that medical school is demanding but it’s tough to be passionate about an idea and just let it go and always have that question in your mind of, “I wonder what that could have been.”

I’m learning everyday about the T-shirt business, Kickstarter, how to manage a growing potential business, and it’s been so much fun. If it was seen as work this project would’ve crumbled by now… but it hasn’t. And I’m listening to that and pushing forward through long nights to see what it can become. I’m really excited to see who else might share my idea and want to help make our project not only a reality but give life to UnderRepped after Kickstarter.

Check out the UnderRepped KickStarter project HERE