[CHICAGO] There’s a synergistic swirl of entrepreneurial energy and creative vision behind Transit Tees founder Tim Gillengerten’s kind and quiet façade.
Over the years he’s demonstrated a gift for spying opportunity and the drive to act upon it. Tim can see design potential in the ordinary objects around him and craft something hip and interesting from that. But it doesn’t stop there—he pursues the steps needed to bring those hip and interesting projects successfully to market.
Shop Transit Tees sustainably made greeting cards and vintage wall posters from Local Universe!
Tim’s creative vision and entrepreneurial drive came into play again when he learned of a retail space at the then-dark and scary edge of Wicker Park ten years ago. Today, gentrification has moved through and beyond his bright and airy studio and store, and Transit Tees resides in the heart of a busy corridor of restaurants and boutiques.
The vibe is shaped by the young people who staff the store and craft the product line. They have their pulse on what’s cool now, and Tim has created an environment where their feedback can quickly shape Transit Tee’s offerings. It constantly flows into that energy and creative vision quietly swirling behind Tim’s kind eyes.
Local Universe donates a portion of our proceeds from sales of Transit Tees items to the Thresholds CTA Project, engaging populations experiencing homelessness in need of services on public transportation in Chicago.
We got to experience Transit Tees firsthand and meet Tim and some of his team. Read on to meet him yourself!
Much of your career was spent in production and design for ad agencies. How did Transit Tees come about?
Around 1998 I began to search for a creative venture. I had a collection of “Inspected By” labels from traveling the globe. At the same time, I took an adult learning class on silk screening. I composed the “Inspected” labels into a pattern and printed them onto a T-shirt. The associate director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago saw the shirt and purchased it for the gift shop. That was the beginning of Transit Tees.
When and why did Transit Tees begin to design for the retail market?
The MCA store was an exciting launching pad for creative possibilities. One day while waiting on the 'L' platform, I realized that the CTA signs were a form of contemporary art. I redesigned the sign for that stop into an iconic shape, added the neighborhood that the stop was in and started printing shirts with Chicago’s most popular stops. The Chicago Transit Authority was open to a meeting to discuss our apparel designs, and after three years of meetings and negotiations, we began launching a transit-themed line of apparel and accessories and became an official vendor for the CTA.
How did you come across the maps that became your posters?
We seek out auctions and archives to collect original prints and then carefully restore them for reproduction.
Who gets to stick on all those stars for your Chicago Flag Greeting Cards?
Originally I sewed and stuck on all of the embroidered stars for our cards. Now we have a full store staff that helps out in assembling our products.
Do you ever still do any screen printing?
We screen print all of our apparel and most of our gift items by hand. We've recently retired our four-color press and upgraded to a six- and an eight-color press. Once in a while I get to jump on the press and help out with screen printing.
What do you most love about the business?
Our unbound creative process is very rewarding.
What’s ahead for Transit Tees?
We are looking to expand to an additional location; ultimately, we would love to have hubs in other cities.
What makes your business and your team special?
We're very fortunate to have more than a dozen staff members who all contribute to the creative process. From our creative director to the kids in high school, we receive amazing insight, perspective and feedback on the designs and products we develop.
Where did you grow up, and what part of Chicago do you call home these days?
I grew up in Michigan and now live in Bucktown. I’ve been in Chicago since I was 19.
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What do you most love about Chicago?
Chicago is a prosperous city. There is unlimited opportunity for anyone to do anything they can dream of here.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Ride my bicycle and take the puppy out to our neighborhood park.