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Harry: A New Vaishnava T-Shirt Design Collective

By: for Creation on Feb. 19, 2011
Photo Credits:
One of Harry`s deisgns
An ultra-sharp London-based design collective take on the task of revamping the Vaishnava t-shirt market.

Hare Krishnas are famous for getting noticed and making a statement. So why shouldn't our t-shirts do the same? Madhu spoke to Gopal Lila das, the project manager of Harry, a brand new team of t-shirt designers with ambitions to set new standards in Vaishnava contemporary clothing.

What's behind the label name Harry? No doubt a cheeky reference to something?

We wanted a name that could be associated with Krishna consciousness, but nothing too obvious. It needed to be unique and accessible to the demographic of devotees we would be pitching our products to. It is, of course, a play on 'Hari'. We think it's a little quirky but interesting at the same time.

How long has the project been in the pipeline, and what has been the biggest challenge to making it happen?

The initial idea for designing t-shirts had been there for a year or so. We grew a little tired of seeing the same uninspired designs, "I lost my heart in Vrindavana", etc. We really wanted to create something that devotees could wear that wouldn't look out of place either in the temple or the high street.

Our biggest challenge has been marketing and selling the shirts. None of the team have any significant experience in these areas, so we've been learning as we go along. Commercially, ISKCON is interesting, as there are a rather limited and narrow range of products devotees seem to buy.

From browsing your site and checking out the t-shirt designs, the first impression is that a trained designer is at work! Is the enterprise the idea of the senior designer on the team or have her talents been channeled by other creative masterminds?

The project is a collective effort. Vanisha is our main designer. She is academically trained in graphic design and works full time in the industry. Raj helps with all aspects of the project and pays particular attention to the finances (as he's an accountant). I oversee all aspects of the project, making sure things are moving forward and marketing our products.

We all work on the designs, sketching ideas, researching, and so forth. Once everything is finalised, Vanisha does the final artwork and prepares it for sending the to the printers.

You've chosen to launch a label directed purely towards the Vaishnava community, and one with a very specific visual style. How has your decision to adopt a particular visual position been informed?

We initially sketched out many designs using various styles. We decided for our first shirts we would use the Swiss style as it is so different to what we usually see on Vaishnava publications and clothing. With bold typography, generous amounts of whitespace, and selected use of imagery, we are big fans of the Swiss style! We also felt this would create an impression on people, and hopefully help us get noticed!

I'm guessing you've gone with screen-printing as a method, as your designs are one colour, and why not - the results are stunning! Any plans to experiment with other techniques?

T-shirt printing was a new area of design for all of us. Screen printing seems to be the industry standard. The results are good and we were happy with how the prints came out. For the next line of t-shirts, the designs use more than one colour, so we will be looking into other forms of printing to get the best results possible.

With the first version of your website looking so strong and the t-shirt designs presenting a very refreshing twist on spiritual truths, I sense that this is just the beginning. Do you have any plans for Harry that you're able to share at this stage? How soon can we expect to see more designs?

We have many more designs that we're working on. We are really excited about them, and think the devotee community will like them. The first line of t-shirts are a limited run of 50 each. This is something we have decided on for all our t-shirts. It adds an element of exclusivity to them. Once they are sold out, they won't be printed again. It also means we have to always be thinking of the next set of designs, as we want to be continuously releasing new lines. We hope to release the next line of designs by late Spring.

Other than t-shirts, we are keen to develop other products. We really feel there is a need in the Vaishnava community for a range of professionally designed and made lifestyle products. We hope to release some of these by the end of 2011.

What advice would you like to give to independent Vaishnava creatives that would like to convert their ideas into a business?

For us, it was important that we didn't treat Harry purely as a business. We made sure that there was an element to the project which gave something back to the Vaishnava community. For instance, the photographs for our photoshoot were taken by a member of the Manor youth community; allowing him to use his skills in a real-world setting. In fact, we've tried to work with the Manor youth community at most stages in the development of the project, and we want to increase such collaboration.

We also identified early on what the principles of Harry would be. As Vaishnavas, we feel it important to align the principles with which we live our daily lives by to any projects or businesses we may be involved with.

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