IT’S T-SHIRT TIME!
The first thing you notice when you walk into Patrick Lansdon’s posh Carpinteria loft is an impromptu t-shirt printing station and walls filled with working designs.
The sketches and mock-ups feature sandy beaches and mountain ranges, drawn just vaguely enough to pass for the Sierra Nevada or Colorado Rocky Mountains.
As Mr. Lansdon began his story, he paused for an Amtrak train to roar by. One of the few hazards of living just steps from Carpinteria State Beach.
Under the brand Tommy’s Designs, Mr. Lansdon has spent the last 30 years crafting novelty t-shirts and shipping them off to vacation hotspots like Hawaii, the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean.
Mr. Lansdon graduated from UCSB in 1977 with a degree in political science, but after graduation he decided to take up his true passion, art, full-time.
“I reached that point which I’m sure a lot of people do when I was about 27. I was getting married, thinking about a family and I kind of stopped and asked myself, ‘What do I wanna do for the rest of my life?’ I was working odds-and-ends jobs and I said I need to be able to do something for the rest of my life,” said Mr. Landson who recalled he narrowed his options down to art or music.
“I ended up having a lot more ideas for art than music.” grinned Mr. Lansdon.
He struggled to sell art independently for a couple years until he developed the idea to start printing limited edition t-shirts for extra cash.
“It’s really difficult to build up a reputation to make enough money. It could take years to sell a painting for a few thousand dollars. But I thought if I designed something and screen printed it, I could do something more affordable and hopefully make more money,” said Mr. Landson.
He approached the Serigraph Resortwear printing company, then based in Santa Barbara, for a job. When they refused, Mr. Lansdon offered to work for free for a week to learn the trade. The company hired Mr. Lansdon after two days on the job and eventually they agreed to put his designs on t-shirts and pay him a royalty fee.
“I did a couple designs at home and asked if they wanted to buy them. They said no, and I said, ‘how about you pay me a quarter a shirt if you sell them?’ Fortunately, those shirts sold really well, and I did more and pretty soon I was making more money from royalties than I was making from my job printing.”
Mr. Lansdon left Serigraph, spent four years at Shirts Inc., then decided to strike out on his own in 1989 with partners Andy McGinnis and Randy Schmitz.
They choose the name Tommy’s Designs in honor of Mr. Lansdon’s son Tommy.
Business started out so well that Tommy’s Designs quickly expanded into a warehouse in the Carpinteria business district, but things took a dark turn in the wake of the September 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.
“Our sales dropped about 70 percent overnight. Most of our business was in the Caribbean and Hawaii. Destinations people flew to…my company was losing $35,000 a month,” said Mr. Landson.
Due to budget constraints, Mr. Lansdon bought out his partner, closed the shop and hired his old employer, Serigraph, to print his shirts when they moved to Carpinteria.
Aside from a brief experiment with fine art t-shirts, sales have recovered, and Mr. Lansdon estimates he sells more than 400,000 t-shirts per year valued at around $4 million.
His artistic style is limited by global fashion and color palette trends and the need to make designs that can be adapted to fit multiple destinations.
“I’ll spend up to two months, gathering info looking online in stores looking through magazines until I find a set of colors and a couple graphic looks, I really like then I try to develop things that sell in other areas,” said Mr. Lansdon.
“We’re sort of the bastard child of the fashion industry. We’re basically just nice t-shirts and sweatshirts so we have to follow the fashion trends for color and even body style sometimes. And they change from one year to the next…trickle down fashion.”
Mr. Landson said that Tommy has launched a cannabis-inspired clothing line, Four Twenty Trading Co. His daughter Tracy is a photographer and her four-year-old-son Leo is also artistically inclined.
“I’m very fortunate,” said Mr. Lansdon as he described some of his most successful designs. About 25-years ago his “Fat Cat” t-shirt sold so well it funded for the down payment on his house and more recently a compass design shirt was a popular seller.
“This has allowed me to afford to live here, raise two kids. What’s better than living in Carp next to the beach in a loft?”