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BuyOlympia for shirts

Hometown web site keeps it local and profitable for artists

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In July 1999 some were worrying about Y2K and the end of days, but Pat Castaldo and Aaron Tuller, two young veterans of the Northwest music scene, were hatching a plan to create a Web site to sell artwork by their friends in bands. Not the music, the visual artwork and the cool clothing designs. opened for business with the release of local artist Nikki McClure’s 2000 calendar, and before long BuyOlympia had amassed a roster of more than 50 artists including local musicians Sherry Frazier (Two Ton Boa), Tae Won Yu (Kicking Giant), Rachel Carnes (The Need) & Rebecca Pearcy. BuyOlympia sells some of their products on consignment but in many cases they will sign an artist to a production deal, which resembles an indie record contract. The artist creates the work. BuyOlympia produces it. After expenses they split profits, and many local artists are making a living at it.

One artist who has been a fixture with BuyOlympia since its first years is Sarah Utter, formerly of the Kill Rock Stars band The Bangs. In 2002 Utter submitted three designs that had been rejected by another Olympia T-shirt enterprise. One of these designs was for a T-shirt with the words Reading Is Sexy above an image of a precocious bespectacled comic girl. This T-shirt would go on to be Utter’s biggest seller and one of BuyOlympia’s mega-hits when it appeared on TV.

“None of us knew how that came about,” says Utter. “I was living in LA at the time and I got an e-mail from a friend on the east coast saying they saw my T-shirt on ‘The Gilmore Girls.’ I was able to watch the West Coast broadcast, and my shirt was onscreen for probably no more than 45 seconds.”

It didn’t occur to Utter that this would lead to more sales, but almost immediately the orders started pouring in, and before long her career as a T-shirt designer was taking off. Utter has created several other products for BuyOlympia. Besides the T-shirts she has created bags, buttons, wallets and a fanzine called Guitar Basics for people who want to learn how to play. Sarah says that most of her BuyOlympia projects take her about half a day at Kinko’s to create but her BuyOlympia royalties support her more demanding painting projects all year round. Utter regularly displays her work at Arts Walk, and samples of her paintings will be featured in a 2009 calendar, which BuyOlympia will be releasing.

“I’d say that more than half the credit for the success of my T-shirt designs goes to BuyOlympia. Pat and Aaron work really hard. They keep their prices low so that people can afford their products, and they pay a generous royalty.”

Stories like Utter’s warm the hearts of Castaldo and Tuller. As Castoldo puts it, “The idea that we’ve been able to create something that lets people support themselves solely through their art is really rewarding.”


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