If you live in Chicago, you’ve probably seen at least one hipster sporting the distinctive “Loop Stripe” T-shirt, which features seven color-coded el train lines running down the front. This design, along with many other transit-inspired creations, is the brainchild of Tim Gillengerten (’93), who owns Transit Tees, Inc., a graphic arts company whose product lines center around transportation themes.
Inspiration struck Gillengerten in 2000 while he commuted via the Blue Line to his corporate job downtown. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) serves as an essential utility, he thought, but the instructional signs could be considered contemporary art as well. Gillengerten began selling his products online, at street fests, and to dozens of neighborhood shops until opening his own store at 1371 N. Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park in November. A major reason he decided to open the store was that the CTA agreed to allow Transit Tees to be an official manufacturer of “CTA-inspired” merchandise, a process Gillengerten says took “five years and five lawyers” between the two sides to complete the agreement.
Gillengerten came to Columbia in 1989 to study film. Although he was a straight-A student, he found himself enamored with a computer graphics class, which put him on another path altogether. He immersed himself in the graphic design industry and hasn’t looked back. Before starting Transit Tees, Gillengerten designed for clients including Kraft, the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Wicker Park Fest. “It’s an amazing industry,” he says. “It never feels like work.”
The Michigan-raised Gillengerten says he makes a point to hire interns and staffers from Columbia because he knows their hearts are always in their work. In fact, he says, about half of his 11-person staff are Columbia alumni, including a seamstress and art director.“I have a soft spot in my heart for anyone who goes there,” Gillengerten says. “I know if you’re at Columbia you have a passion for the industry you’re there for. I know you’re going to be someone that’s there for a purpose.”
For more information, go to transittees.com.
—Tim Shaunnessey (’13)