This article was published on September 6, 2011

Design Like Whoa wants to define the startup look for entrepreneurs

Design Like Whoa wants to define the startup look for entrepreneurs
Chikodi Chima
Story by

Chikodi Chima

Chikodi is the West Coast editor of The Next Web, a multimedia producer and entrepreneur who travels the world in search of innovative foods Chikodi is the West Coast editor of The Next Web, a multimedia producer and entrepreneur who travels the world in search of innovative foods and spicy tech. Asked to choose a favorite, he would answer "both." Chikodi loves apps, does Twitter, Linkedin and has a thing for Tumblr.

The startup t-shirt is badge of honor in Silicon Valley. A cool company logo, on a well-designed t-shirt signals that you and your team have arrived.

When you see someone walking in shirt from Zynga, Yammer, Hipmunk, Evernote and the like, you know two things: 1. That’s a gnarly shirt 2. If you worked there, you’d have one too. There’s also a good thread of startup t-shirts here on Quora, if you want to see more. (Thanks, Peter)

There’s another practical concern which is alleviated by the startup t-shirt; personal hygiene. An unassailable fact about startup life is the long hours that it takes to push new code, hunt down bugs and get your product ready for the wider world. This often means neglecting personal appearance to make sure that you’re giving it all for your team. The startup shirt proves that you’re not a wild-eyed, disheveled mess, you’re actually a genius who can crank out for code three days with no sleep.

Design Like Whoa is a San Francisco apparel maker that has set out to define the look of the tech entrepreneur with its custom t-shirts and gear. Founder Gemma Aguiar who is also the creator of Startup Apparel, another shirt company, told me a little bit about what she’s up to with her new project.

The Next Web: Where did the idea for Design Like Whoa come from?

I created my first clothing line FabricatedLA a little over a year ago while I was living in Los Angeles. I used a service in LA to digitally print graphics on tanks and shirts. I loved the technology, so I decided to move to the Bay Area (where I am originally from), purchase a printer, and start a custom printing service.

Who are some designers you admire?

I love casual-wear, and fun, vintage-inspired shirts. A few of my favorite brands are Local Celebrity, Wildfox Couture, and Rebel Yell.

Why do startups need specialized, custom t-shirts?

Startup shirts are a large part of the startup culture, and they’re becoming the new trend in t-shirts. People love sporting the shirt of their favorite company, especially if it has a great design. Since people wear their startup shirts so often, custom shirts are an excellent way to promote a brand.

What are some of the emerging trends in startup apparel?

A lot of companies are starting to get quite innovative with their swag. They are coming up with really fun, unique designs. If you take a look at the example page ) on the site, you can see some of the great swag we’ve printed.

Is there anything special to keep in mind when a startup outfits its employees?

There are so many t-shirt styles, colors, and fabric blends out there so your company doesn’t have to choose dull, boxy-fitted tees. Choose shirts you want to wear a lot, because as a startup employee, you will probably visit a lot of events, attend a lot of conferences, and wear your shirt more than anything else in your wardrobe.

Also, don’t be afraid to come up with a unique t-shirt design. Often those are the most memorable, and great icebreakers.

Where did the name Design Like Whoa come from?

After I decided to start a printing service, I needed a company name. I literally started writing down everything off the top of my head. I narrowed down a few names and asked a group of friends which they liked best. Design Like Whoa
was the winner, hands down.

Who are some startups you’d like to outfit?

I would love to make shirts for Instagram,, and Spotify. I love photo filters, so I use Instagram religiously. I Instagram just about every picture I take. I also love music-related startups. and Spotify are two of my newer obsessions, so making shirts for them would be awesome as well.

The video above comes from the photoshoot Design Like Whoa and our friends at put on recently.

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