Exclusive Interview: Dutch Southern (DutchSouthern.com)

Chase Whale

by: Chase Whale
April 19th, 2010

Dutch Southern

File Dutch Southern under the "awesome" category.  For the past two years, Dutch and his crew have been covering the backs of many fanboys and fangirls alike with their brilliant t-shirts (as I'm typing this, I'm wearing the "Shermer, IL" shirt).  I first heard about DutchSouthern.com when my pal Peter Sciretta (/film) wrote  an article about the "It's On The Inside That Counts" design.  A few months later my sweet mother purchased that shirt for me and I've been a fan ever since.  Thanks mom!

I reached out to Dutch to thank him for what he does (things like that are always nice to hear), and he immediately responded.  Since then, we've been emailing back and forth, talking about film festivals and pretty much anything/everything movie related.  Last week it dawned on me that I've never read any interviews about Dutch or his company.  By reading the title of this article and being as smart as you are, then you know I asked Dutch for an interview.  He happily agreed and the interview can be read after the break.  After you fill up on Dutch Southern knowledge, go pick up a shirt or two from his site - I promise it will make you the coolest person in the room.  

To start off, talk about how Dutch Southern got started.

Me and my buddy JP wanted to print some tees for family and friends. When we looked into it, we soon discovered that the more you printed, the price (per tee) got cheaper. So we had the bright idea to print way more than we needed, figuring we could sell the rest online, and the venture would pay for itself. At first it didn't. We had hundreds of tees that no one seemed to want. Months later, we went to Fantastic Fest with some friends. One of them happened to be wearing a "Hope For A Better Tomorrow" tee. Someone saw him, blogged about it, posted a link, and by the time I flew back I was already sold out and starting re-prints. Since then, I've been printing enough to pay for the next design, and so on and so on, like that goddam LION KING song, "Circle of Shirts."

Each shirt is designed by a different artist. With that, does the artist come to you about an idea, or do you pitch the idea to them?

I've never had an artist come to me with an idea. But I've had them come to me wanting a gig. And I've hired all but one. I am still looking for the right design to work on with that last guy, assuming if I do I'll get to go to heaven when I die. But most of the time, I find the artists and contact them with a concept. If they agree to do it, then I usually put together a description list, things I want to see, where I want to see them, along with video and/or jpgs for references. And then they change it for the better. They may add characters, take some out -- they usually always alter the composition so it looks better -- things I'm unable to do because I don't have that talent. They do all the heavy lifting, making the concept wearable and arty-farty. The only design I didn't come up with is "Fantastic Forefathers" by Dean Fraser. I really like it, but will probably never do another non-original. I like to think of myself as the Woody Allen of the t-shirt world; I write my own shit and occasionally break the fourth wall.

It’s pretty clear that there is a lot of research put into each shirt. How long does it normally take to get a shirt from idea to print? And how difficult is it to make sure all the designs are accurate before going into the pressing process?

The ideas are the easy part. The hard part is trying to be objective enough to figure out what people might want to buy/wear. That's important since I pretty much have to sell-out one design to make another. This doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Once I get the idea, then I map it out. Then, I go through a notebook I've put together filled with designers I dig. I contact the one whose style seems to fit the idea the best, and ask if they're interested. If they are, they give me a quote, and I give them half up front. Since most of them don't charge a lot, I don't bog them down with deadlines. I've had some artists take 2 weeks and I've had others take 6 months. They finish, we tweak, and I paypal them the other half. Then, I send the design along with the tags to Mammoth Printshop (the best printers in the world). They make the screens, then the tees, ship 'em back. JP updates our page. Then, really awesome sites like yours blog about them. Some people buy them and other people trash them in the talkbacks. As far as accuracy goes, I do my best, making for damn sure Snake Plissken's eyepatch is over his left eye and not his right. In all honesty, most of the artists I work with are fellow film geeks and just as anal as me. I just double-check.

There are a few shirts dedicated to one film. What about that film made you want to dedicate an entire design to it?

TRUE ROMANCE is in my all-time top ten. So I wanted to rep it. Regarding STAR TREK, I saw it at an early screening and was blown away. It accomplished so much in such a short amount of time, re-introducing established characters in a way that somehow managed to update them, making them new without tarnishing any of the films or shows that came before. It reminded me of the first time I watched PHANTOM MENACE and REVENGE OF THE SITH and how differently I felt after seeing those. Anyway, I wanted to cover my naked body with those contrasting feelings: STAR WARS prequels vs. STAR TREK's. Gimetzco did a great job with that one. As did Kemble with the TRUE ROMANCE tribute.

When you have the design ready to go, how do you decide on what's the best color of shirt to print the design on?

This is the part I hate. I don't know which colors sell and which don't. And since I'm not an artist, I try to leave it up to the designer. However, I do want variety so I sometimes tell them to stay away from certain colors I've already used. I have heard there are "rules" to shirt-picking. One is to never print on heather gray. Apparently, people hate heather gray. It's the ginger kid of the t-shirt world. I, on the other hand, don't -- so I have a HEATHERS tribute coming that will, of course, be on heather gray. We will see if it sells. As far as other colors go, I try to stay away from white because I'm a bleeder. But whatever the color, I always print on American Apparel. They make the best shirts and they're famously sweatshop free. But they're also the most expensive and the dude that runs the company is more than kind of creepy. So, it's kind of a wash: good quality vs. icky feeling.

Two of your shirts are Quentin Tarantino themed - what is your favorite Tarantino film?

TRUE ROMANCE. I know he he didn't direct it. I know Tony Scott changed the ending as well as the structure. And I know nearly all of the tunes are very unTarantino-like (they suck). But as far as I'm concerned, it's still a Tarantino film at its core. And it's my fave. As far as Tarantino's writer/director filmography -- JACKIE BROWN and INGLORIOUS BASTERDS are my two favorites, although I've seen KILL BILL VOL. 1 the most.

You also have a shirt dedicated to John Carpenter. Do you have plans on releasing any other director themed shirts?

I would love to do a De Palma design. But I don't know if anyone else would wear it. Of course an Argento or Bava tee would be cool. Maybe a whole Giallo themed shirt, but I'm afraid only me and two other basement dwellers would buy it. I would also like to do a Truffaut one, tracking the growth of Antoine Doinel in the style of Shel Silverstein. Maybe focus on him and Christine, and call it "The Giving Girl".

What are some designs you having coming at us in the future?

I have this one called "Cowboys & Indians" which is comprised of hand-drawn portraits of Spaghetti Western and Bollywood stars pre-1980. As I've already mentioned, I have a HEATHERS tribute coming. I also have a tribute to '80s action stars and '80s cartoons.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you’d like for our readers to know?

Yes, the ten greatest albums released in '67 and '96:

1. Songs Of Leonard Cohen - Leonard Cohen
2. Something Else By The Kinks - The Kinks
3. The Velvet Underground & Nico - The Velvet Underground
4. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - The Beatles
5. Just For You - Neil Diamond
6. Between The Buttons - The Rolling Stones
7. Bee Gees' 1st - The Bee Gees
8. Happy Together - The Turtles
9. Winds Of Change - Eric Burdon and the Animals
10. Walk Away Renée/Pretty Ballerina - The Left Banke

1. If You're Feeling Sinister - Belle & Sebastian
2. Pinkerton - Weezer
3. Being There - Wilco
4. Murder Ballads - Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
5. This Is A Long Drive For Someone With Nothing To Think About - Modest Mouse
6. What Would The Community Think - Cat Power
7. The Natural Bridge - Silver Jews
8. The Doctor Came At Dawn - Smog
9. The It Girl - Sleeper
10. Trainspotting Soundtrack - various peeps...

Can we be best friends forever?

I thought we already were.

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