ArtCar Shirt and How It Was Born

ArtCar Shirt
The artcar shirt in its unique Hawaiian style, was no easy path to completion. This funky vintage camp-style shirt captured the day at the Axelrad Beer Garden.

ArtCar Shirt, Hawaiian style, was my creative response to one of the most exciting events I ever experienced. The first time I saw an art car parade was like the first time I saw Saturday Night Live. Had the inmates taken over the asylum? It took days to wipe the smile off my face.

My first involvement in the creation of an art car was in 2000 when the company I worked for sponsored the parade and I got to be the lead car. From that day on, I was hooked. Fifteen parades later, my quest for an artcar shirt as outlandish as the cars on parade culminated in a unique vision: “Somebody ought to make a Hawaiian shirt with Art Cars instead of flowers.” Who woulda thunk it would be me?


ArtCar shirt
While working for Pennzoil, I had the honor of riding in the lead car at the art car parade.

Stepping into Unfamiliar Territory to Create the ArtCar Shirt

I had always thought I’d make a good fashion designer, but where does a person start? I assembled a group of art car images from the Orange Show website as a test and ran my idea by one of the art car parade staffers. She said the board of directors had been looking for something besides tee shirts to sell; a higher ticket item. They might be interested if the price is right, she said. She got me in touch with a board member who had experience with his own line of shirts.

That was when I got the bad news that printing the fabric was a deal killer. No way. At the time, it was just one of those industries that didn’t exist for the small-time product maker — at least not in the US. I have since learned of other ways to go about getting fabric made. But at the time the board member referred me to a resource in Bali, of all places, and said good luck. I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach, but I emailed the manufacturer anyway. When I got a response, the unit price was outside the comfort zone of the Orange Show. My Hawaiin shirt version with art cars seemed to be dead in the water.

ArtCar Shirt
ArtCar Shirt is not resting in the shade. It is out if the public after an arduous journey.

A Fabric Source in the Far East for the ArtCar Shirt

Fast forward to several months later when I heard about a website in China that offered just about anything you could imagine. I found a shirtmaker in Hong Kong and emailed them with the idea. In her best English, my rep, Kaylee, said they could give me a reasonable price if the quantity was high enough. I was elated and my Orange Show contact said the price of $500 sounded “a lot better.” She would have to run it by the board, but of course, that might take some time.

In the meantime, I ordered a sample of the fabric for the artcar shirt. I was ecstatic at the possibility, and couldn’t wait. Plus, I wanted to make sure the quality would be good, given that the communication with Kaylee wasn’t. I knew how much easier it would be to sell a sample than a drawing. It took three samples and a lost shirt to get it almost right. The little details were crazy. For example, I had to send them a photo of a camp collar. And a straight bottom. And finally, even a vintage Hawaiian shirt belonging to my best friend. The fit was just right for a retro size M. I begged him to let me borrow it and promised he’d get it back. But even with $200 insurance, I never saw it again.

The Plight of the Vintage Hawaiian Shirt Model for the ArtCar Shirt

Artcar shirt
Finally, we meet the specs for the ArtCar Shirt.

Kaylee finally admitted they had taken my friend’s retro Hawaiian shirt apart to copy its construction. It seemed to me they were acting like they had never made a shirt before. You should have seen their size chart with its measurements that were way off. I turned to a math whiz friend to come up with a size chart I could use as my own. All the while, I was pestering my contact at the Orange Show for an answer, while trying not to be too pushy. Finally, an answer came. It wasn’t good. She said they had too much on their plates to pull the trigger on anything but dire necessities. Again, I am crushed.

I am also obsessed. With so much time and money in this project, I am convinced it is my destiny. This is one of those “imperial dreams” Benny Golson mentions in a New York Times article. The famous jazz musician’s quote comes from an interview about his role in the movie, “The Terminal.” That inspired me. I would do a Kickstarter campaign just like my son had done for his swimming hole idea.

Never Give Up on Your Passion even if it is an ArtCar Shirt

My 40 years in the advertising business had taught me a lot, and I knew the first big hurdle would be getting permission to use images on the artcar shirt. My contact at the Orange Show knew all those artists and photographers but was way too busy to help. Tracking down all those people would be a nightmare. There had to be another way. I would shoot my own photos at the next parade. Relying on my skills and advertising contacts, I lined up a professional photographer and a pile of releases for the car artists to sign, giving me the legal rights to use the photos any way I needed. I would wear the sample shirt to sell them on the idea while the photographer got professional quality shots.

ArtCar shirt
Proud to be wearing the new ArtCar shirt is its creator Bill Large, the man who refused to give up on a dream.

By the time the 2016 Houston Art Car Parade rolled, I had great images and forty-odd artists sold on the artcar shirts. All ordered at least one shirt. Some offered me cash on the spot. One called it “a dream come true.” I told them the cost would be fifty bucks. Most would have been happy to pay more. It took several emails per day with my new best friend Kaylee to get the details of the shirt right. It didn’t help that she was on the other side of the world so our work schedules were opposite each other.

Finally, Despite All Odds, the ArtCar Shirt is Born

Long story long, Kaylee came through. She still owes me money for that shirt she destroyed, but it was worth it to get all the details exactly as ordered. It was a long slog, but passion paid off. Proudly I present the world’s first and only artcar shirt, Hawaiian-style. Put one on and prepare to party.

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