GTPulse: Traverse City T-Shirt Company Makes Limited Edition Fun
Beau Warren is a self-proclaimed nerd and lover of video games, beer, and t-shirts.
“My favorite t-shirt was Big Johnson. This was before your time I’m sure, but it was really inappropriate t-shirts filled with innuendo. There were big cartoon-y scenes so it almost looked like it was childish, but it wasn’t. There’s a joke there. I just lived for wearing those. Everybody else in my class would just crack up.”
The shirts combined some of Beau’s favorite things… attention, humor and t-shirts.
“They expressed my personality at the time, and I kinda was a troublemaker and a little bit of a class clown.”
His classmates looked to him for colorful, culturally cool t-shirts that could be made specifically for them. He started trading plain cotton shirts decorated with puffy paint in exchange for lunch money.
“They’d bring a few bucks and I’d do a ying-yang or a killer whale. It was always stuff like that, those were kind of big back in my day in junior high.”
Popular, yes, but a far cry from the types of designs he prints on shirts now. Tee See Tee is a Traverse City-based t-shirt company that makes shirts that speak to Michiganders. Beau grew up in Traverse City but moved around to a handful of large cities before coming home. He had started two previous t-shirt companies before moving home.
“Tee See Tee was the third time around and the biggest difference was I asked my wife to join me in running the business because I could design t-shirts, I could do all that but I could not run a business. I didn’t have the mindset for it. I’m too right-brained.”
His tendency towards being more right-brained is what has helped him succeed with Tee See Tee. Beau and his wife had been living in Chicago before moving back home to Traverse City, and when he came back he noticed that many of the Michigan-based apparel companies didn’t have clothing items that he felt a connection with.
“I came back here and I was very full of Michigan pride but I hated the stuff that was out there. I thought it was very boring, I didn’t feel it spoke to me.”
Beau noted that he wasn’t someone who necessarily identified with an outdoor or sporty lifestyle synonymous with Northern Michigan culture.
“There was nothing for my type of person. There was nothing for a Michigander that plays video games and drinks beer. So I took it on myself to start designing.”
He started with five t-shirt designs, and to his surprise, the geekier ones with a superhero theme sold better than the outdoorsy-style designs he made to look like other Michigan brands. With that kind of validation behind his quirky ideas, Beau has only let his designs get more unique and off the wall.
Lord of Michigan was a design he had been chewing on for a few years before getting it on a t-shirt. Beau thought that people might not get the reference to Lord of the Rings, or they might just not be interested. The design depicts Michigan in an old-world kind of map, describing the Mackinac Bridge as the ‘Bridge of Realms’ and the Upper Peninsula as ‘Upper Earth.’
“It’s our best selling design. Now I don’t hesitate, I will do any crazy idea. It’s almost like, the crazier the concept is, the more they feed off of it.”
Although the bulk of Tee See Tee’s designs are Michigan-based, Beau will sporadically make limited-edition designs that are specific to his hometown of Traverse City.
“We have done, and we’re probably gonna do this again, these things called Pasties. We take logos from local companies that don’t exist anymore. The first one was Skateworld, it was such a memorable place and I decided, wouldn’t it be great to have a t-shirt designed with their logo that looked just like the old staff shirts?”
He also paid homage to Arnie’s Funland, a waterpark from Traverse City’s past, with throwback tees.
The most recent Tee See Tee made for locals is a design featuring Hammer and Nails, the famous Traverse City Turkeys. The shirt is a sketch of the pair with the printed words, Traverse City Where Turkeys Rule.
These well-loved local relic t-shirts are only available for limited release. Beau purposely makes one batch and then is done with them. His next limited-edition releases will feature four St. Patricks Day designs for the upcoming celebration, but his next big project is a partner company called T-Shirt Robot, a business that shares space with Tee See Tee but is dedicated to screen printing for people in need of event, staff, team, or any other kind of branded shirts.
Keep your eyes peeled for new limited edition designs, and grab a turkey tee before they’re gone. If you miss them, don’t worry, Beau has no shortage of ideas for something off the wall he can put on a shirt.