You may claim not to judge a book by its cover, but Todd Lawton and Jeff LeBlanc are betting otherwise. Their new venture, Out of Print, blends the unique artwork of classic books into seriously stylish tees. Each shirt is made to feel as comfortable as the worn pages of a well-read book – and with every sale of one of the duo’s shirts, a book is donated to a community in need. We caught up with the book-loving entrepreneurs to learn more about their “Books on Shirts. Shirts on a Mission.”
You guys met in second grade. What brought you together as friends?
TODD: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about why we’re friends.
JEFF: I don’t think we want to go there.
TODD: Jeff moved away in middle school, but we ended up staying in touch. [We reconnected] in New York and found out we still had a lot in common outside the world of toys – like books.
How did you come to start Out of Print?
TODD: There’s a big unknown of what exactly the experience of reading is going to be. We thought about the things we found important to the reading experience, and what always excited us is cover art, that bridge between the author and reader. Before you even see the words, that image draws you in. So, the shirts and the company Out of Print were really to get people to join the discussion about what books mean to them. The shirts are a way to make a statement. It’s also a great vehicle to help people who don’t have access to books.
How did you get involved with Books for Africa?
JEFF: Initially, we wanted to find an organization that promoted literacy and the gift of reading. Looking at the U.S, we felt there were organizations in place that were well-funded, government-supported, and pretty well run. [Books for Africa] was doing great work in an area that had a very big unmet need. Their goal is to end the book famine in Africa. They had the distribution set up, and we thought it would be a great way to help send books, as well as raise awareness to their cause. They send almost two million books a year, and it’s our goal to become a big part of that in the future.
Where do your ideas start — with a book or a concept for a shirt?
TODD: There are a lot of different factors – what is the book and are people going to care about it? Is it a favorite? Is it a classic? There’s also the art and what it’s going to look like on a shirt. If you look at our line, we’ve tried to make it look like [the designs] aren’t boxed in by a typical rectangle. They really blend into the garment. Moving forward, we have a lot of great ideas and want to continue reaching out to people who have different interests and different favorites.
Do either of you own a Kindle or an iPad? What’s your opinion of e-book readers?
JEFF: I’m a technophile. I have both a Kindle and I just ordered an iPad. I don’t want anyone to think that we’re Luddites and not in favor of new technology. I like that they enable people to read more and talk about stories. For me, the big negative is that you do lose a certain part of the reading experience. Certainly, we think books will always be around, but for us, that’s a big part of the struggle and why we’re so excited about what we’re doing. We’re helping to preserve a big part of that reading experience.
Todd: I’m still in the paper world. I like books – I like the way they feel, smell, and look on the shelf. One of the things I’m a bit worried about with e-readers is how [paper] books are shared, and how you can build a community around a book. Are you going to give your $800 iPad to someone to read a book that’s on it?
What are you reading now?
JEFF: I just finished Of Mice and Men and Brave New World.
TODD: A shirt that I haven’t been able to wear yet because I haven’t yet finished the book: The Master and Margarita. I’m really into it, I’m just about 100 pages from the end. One of these days I’m just going to have to take a sick day so I can finish it. Don’t tell HR.
So you don’t wear the shirt unless you’ve read the book?
TODD: I have that policy right now. It’s really motivating me to get to some of these great stories.
Can you tell us what’s ahead for Out of Print?
TODD: We don’t want to ruin any surprises, but we are planning on some new and different things in the future. Right now, we have a great starting point and place to build from, but we don’t want to get too specific.
JEFF: Stay tuned…
Have an idea for a book cover you’d like to sport? Send Todd and Jeff your suggestions!