Put your shirt on us

Lucy Spencer from Don't Feed the Bears Clothing
Lucy Spencer from Don't Feed the Bears Clothing
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IT was in August last year, while he was struggling for money that student Anthony Allen swiped some everyday items from his parents home, built a screen printer in his Broomhall front room and printed a handful of T-shirts to peddle to friends.

Eight months later, he has sold hundreds of those Tees across the globe.

He and partner Dean Milwain have had to invest in thousands of pounds worth of equipment to meet demand while, ironically, Anthony is struggling to find time for that Sheffield Hallam University design course he was attempting to fund.

“It’s been manic,” says the 24-year-old at his new Leadmill Road studio today. “It’s been...strange. Things just took off. We never even really pushed it.”

It is, it appears, a pattern repeating itself across the city.

Because as clothes retailers take stock at the end of the financial year, a phenomena is emerging: more people are buying clobber designed here than probably ever before.

Sheffield, it seems, is fast becoming a city of T-shirt makers.

Several ‘cottage labels’ set up over the last 18 months, such as Anthony’s Skull And Bones Boys Club, are thriving while stockists, like Kuji Shop in Ecclesall Road and The Old Sweet Shop, in Nether Edge Road, have recorded rising sales.

“The demand has definitely grown,” says Greg Thomas, creative manager at Kuji, specialists in independent fashion. “The motivation is two-fold.

“On one hand people like knowing their T-shirts are designed locally and sourced ethically - it’s similar to the whole Eat Local movement. But also more and more shoppers simply don’t want something everyone else has. There’s a real thirst for limited edition.”

Thomas Young knows about that thirst.

He and fiance Lucy Spencer set up their label Don’t Feed The Bears last summer. They print at their Club Garden Road home, and sell from their boutique in The Forum Shops centre in Devonshire Street.

“I use to have a French Connection T-shirt,” notes 32-year-old Thomas. “And I started to hate wearing it because I’d always see someone else in it. I don’t think I’m the only one who feels like that.”

From selling at fairs in their spare time, the pair - she a teacher, he a gas engineer - took the plunge, quit their jobs and threw themselves into making it work.

“It’s been a challenge because of the recession,” says Lucy, 29. “But we’re sure we can make it work.”

Similar thinking was behind Sam Gillick and Laurence Harborne’s label, Crow & Dunnage, after they stumbled on an unused screen printer at the APG Works art complex, in Sidney Street.

“The owner said we could use it free on the condition we gave him a cut of any profits,” says Sam, 22, of Bramall Lane. “It was a no-brainer.”

A no-brainer too for fashion-conscience buyers who have taken to the label. And a good deal, as it turned out, for that landlord.

“We sold about 600 Tees over Christmas alone,” says Sam, who works between studying for a product design degree at Sheffield Hallam University. “It doesn’t surprise me independent T-shirts are becoming more popular. There’s something special about wearing something you know there’s only a few of in the world.”

Sheffield T-Shirts: A brief Who’s Who

DON’T FEED THE BEARS

THE WHO? Set up by fiances Thomas Young and Lucy Spencer of Club Garden Road.

THE WHAT? The name comes from a trip around eastern Europe where road signs warn against feeding wolves or approaching bears. The style, however, is English eccentricity. Think bears wearing monocles and stags smoking pipes.

THE WHERE? They print in a home studio, and sell from their store in The Forum Shops centre, in Devonshire Street. Online at wwww.dontfeedthebears.co.uk

SKULL AND BONES BOYS CLUB

THE WHO? SABBC was founded by Hallam students Anthony Allen and Dean Milwain at the house they share in Broomspring Lane.

THE WHAT? From punk to hip-hop, music is the key influence. It’s not, whatever the name suggests, anything to do with freemasonry.

THE WHERE? They have a studio in Leadmill Road but Tees can be bought from Balance in Devonshire Street and in shops in Liverpool, London and Australia.

Online at www.skullandbonesboysclub.com

CROW & DUNNAGE

THE WHO? Hallam student Sam Gillick and illustrator Laurence Harborne, both of Bramall Lane, set-up C&D after being offered a free studio.

THE WHAT? Crow was Victorian slang for doctor; dunnage for cloth. As such, these doctors of cloth base their work on the grand-but-grimy styles of that era.

THE WHERE?

The studio is in APG Works, in Sidney Street, and they’re stocked at Kuji Shop, in Ecclesall Road.

Online at www.crowanddunnage.com