If these shirts could talk

BY KIRSTIN NORTHENSCOLD: FOR THE DAILY

Published March 4, 2004

“That’s our shirt!” exclaims Art & Design
senior Emily Sugihara when she sees someone wearing the design she
and her roommate, Art & Design senior Yu Wang, created.

Candace Mui
Photos courtesy of Emily Sugihara and Yu Wang

It started with just one shirt. Then it spread to small stores
in Ann Arbor. Now, a year later, their designs can be found as far
away as San Diego, and they’ve got a small, but thriving
clothing line named umshirts to prove it.

Last March, Sugihara had wanted to design a shirt to wear for
St. Patrick’s Day, so she took a white shirt and positioned
in green the word “Lucky” on the front. Wang suggested
positioning the word down the right side of the shirt, and
that’s what they decided on. They wore the shirts to class
and received many compliments on the simple design, and after
seeing how popular the shirts were, Sugihara and Wang realized that
designing clothing could be more than a hobby.

And so they formed umshirts. Their apartment became their
studio.

“We just came up with a really simple concept,” said
Sugihara of the basic design of the shirts. Although they now
design more than shirts, they started with tanks and T-shirts. The
tanks and T-shirts have various words positioned down the right
side, as did the original “Lucky” shirt they designed.
The costumer has the choice of which word they would like on their
shirt.

The theme of umshirts is simplicity; the design and the concepts
behind the design are minimalist yet very original. As Sugihara
said, “We began with a simple idea. Working off the solid
canvas: the white tank for girls, white shirt for boys, our shirts
conceptualized the idea of text as graphics.”

Sugihara describes their business as “a young company with
a simple product. Our innovative shirts and pants are fully
customizable. Custom is the new black.”

Their designs were sold first at Poshh…, in Ann Arbor,
then in stores in San Diego and New Orleans. So far all the stores
have been boutiques, where, according to Sugihara, they have done
very well. Their signature shirts and pants can also be found on
their website, umshirts.com. Their designs have been featured in
the magazine Revolver.

The only thing holding Sugihara and Wang back now is time.
“Running a business takes more time than you can
imagine,” said Sugihara. “We learned our limitations:
time and capital. Time was the big one. It’s enough to have
to keep up with existing orders, but there’s always the need
to constantly expand.”

Although fashion design now takes up much of Sugihara’s
time, design had not always been such a serious part of her life.
“I’ve always been interested in design,” she
said, “(But) I saw fashion design as an unrealistic career.
It wasn’t until fairly recently that I set aside my academic
pursuit of economics and political science and seriously embraced
design.”

Umshirts reflect Sugihara’s thoughts on fashion design in
that fashion is artistic in a very human way.

“The physical form of the human body is the center of all
good design,” said Sugihara. “All of the objects in our
world have been designed with our own shape and needs to be in the
forefront of our vision.”

“Fashion appeals to me most because it is the most literal
interpretation of design around the human form,” she
said.

Sugihara is now planning to take these ideas and make design
more than a hobby. “I found my true passion in umshirts and
(am) considering a career in design,” she said.

Throughout the past year, she has been taking numerous classes
at the Art School and has taken an interest in not only fashion
design, but also in industrial design.

“I have investigated various mediums, metals, wood,
plastic, fibers,” said Sugihara. “Although my work in
these materials was split between fashion and industrial design,
they allowed me to explore aspects of the human figure in different
ways.

“I am interested in taking traditional forms and
investigating them in new dimensions: the oversized collar, shoes
as spatulas, underwear as outerwear, raw edges, visible
seams,” she said.

Sugihara said she is inspired by the designs of fashion
designers Marc Jacobs, Yves Saint Laurent, Stella McCartney, Nigo
of A Bathing Ape, Charles and Ray Eames, Chanel and the architect
Rem Koolhaas. She plans to work at a design house after graduating
and then she eventually sees herself having her own fashion
line.

“In my own brief glimpse into the fashion world I found
the entrepreneurial aspect of the work exciting,” said
Sugihara. “I ultimately aspire to fuse my passion for design
and my business background into creating a multidisciplinary design
firm that blurs the lines between fashion, architecture and
industrial design, seeing design in its purest form —
ours.”