Our rectangle magnets have been a favorite of retail shops for a long time and our friends at United State of Indiana are no different! They create merchandise all centered around their home state of Indiana, all of which are super design-forward and eye-catching. Busy Beaver has a strong tie to Indiana since many of us Beavers are either from there or have lived there, so we were all excited when we saw their order come through! I reached out to the founders, Graham (right) and Grant (left) to ask them more about their company and their design process! Take a look at my chat with them below:
ED: How did you two meet and what are your backgrounds?
Graham: We met pretty randomly around 2013. I had started United State of Indiana as a little online shirt company a few years earlier and was just running it out of my bedroom. Grant started helping set up booths to sell tees at events around Indianapolis and eventually started helping with the website and online orders too. It all grew really steadily as our friends and family helped share the website and spread the word about the products we were creating. After a few years it was busy enough to become both of our full-time jobs.
In 2017, we bought screen printing equipment and started printing all our tees and other apparel in-house. We also launched ourselves as a screen printing company, United State Print Co. That side of the business has grown a ton since then, and now we spend a lot of our time working with clients on custom printing jobs. If anyone out there needs a batch of custom tees, hit us up!
Grant: Graham's got a business major, but in reality, both of us have pretty much learned everything we needed to on-the-fly as the business has grown.
ED: What sparked you two to create your brand, United State of Indiana? Why did you want to start it?
Graham: In high school and the years after, both of us played in bands and were inspired by how people in the music scene are really vocal about taking pride in their city and state. Indiana hasn't always had the greatest reputation (often for good reason), so starting a clothing company that centered around celebrating the state actually felt kind of rebellious at the time.
The early days of the company were a lot of trial-and-error for figuring out exactly what aesthetic and messaging captures people's pride in Indiana. We started out by just designing things that we thought our friends would want to wear, but now we definitely understand that our audience goes beyond people who dress and think like us, so we're always trying to capture a style that is inclusive of all types of Hoosiers.
We now get to make official merch for some long-running Hoosier traditions like the Indy 500 and Indiana State Fair, so it's cool to be playing a little part in Indiana's story through our shirts.
Working with clients on custom screen printing has really brought new life to the business, too. That work lets us collaborate with other people doing cool stuff across the country, and we've been honored to help create merch for some really cool events, groups and artists. We're finding it can be just as creatively fulfilling to work on other people's ideas as it is to work on our own.
ED: What is good design in your eyes?
Graham: Anything that resonates with the audience. We certainly have our own specific rules about style, placement, dimensions or color that we think make something come out the best, but any of those rules can easily be broken in specific cases for a better finished product, so I don't think there's a hard-and-fast list of what makes a design work.
Neither of us have a real design background and don't really stay up on trends in the world of graphic design or apparel as much as some people might. We do pay a lot of attention to what normal people are interested in and what they feel comfortable wearing, and that's probably the best research we can do for learning what goes into a design that people find special.
ED: How long does it take for an idea to turn into a physical product? What does this process look like?
Graham: We now work with a couple really talented designers to create most of our more design-centric tees, so the process starts by floating them a basic idea (like "Tenderloin of Terror" or "Indy 500 but it's anime") and letting them see what basic ideas shape up naturally.
We always try to let those designers have the freedom to follow an idea in the direction it takes them, rather than the exact picture we've got in our head.
We can usually get a design from idea to print-ready art in a week or two. From there, it goes on the schedule to be printed at our print shop, and ends up either at our warehouse to ship for online orders or at our brick-and-mortar store.
ED: Do you have a favorite design of yours?
Graham: Our company logo (the USI Flag) was actually originally a logo I designed for a band I was in (and the whole company spun off from there), so that will always be the design I'm most connected to. I've had a handful of friends get it as a tattoo over the years, so it really is special and embodies a lot of my life over the past 13 years.
Grant: I like anything with an oversized print. We've been doing a lot of really large prints to compensate for our small print shop. ;)
ED: Who are some of your biggest creative inspirations?
Graham: Kurt Vonnegut, Shepard Fairey, the local hardcore bands I grew up watching around Fort Wayne Indiana, Misfits, Metallica, album cover artwork, video games. We know some really cool local business owners around Indianapolis and any time I run into them is always a boost of inspiration to keep working on new things.
Grant: Jeff Tweedy and his approach to art. Also, seeing interesting work from other print shops around the country such as the company formerly known as Night Owls in Houston.
ED: Which came first? The online store or the brick and mortar location?
Graham: The online store was first and we only sold stuff through that website and at pop-up events for the first 10 or 11 years. The store is a new addition for us, it just opened up in March of 2023. Having a physical location of our own has been a great way to connect with longtime online shoppers and also reach new folks in the area who may have never discovered us otherwise.
ED: Your products are incredibly specific and elicit a nostalgic response. When we saw your magnet order come through, many of us Midwesterners fell in love! What has been your favorite response to one of your products?
Graham: We do a line of tees that centers around Supporting and Protecting Public Education. Grant's wife is a teacher, so it's an especially important subject matter for us. Over the years, Indiana educators have rallied at the Statehouse to show support for or against specific legislation and whenever that happens, we always see a bunch of our tees in the crowds at the rallies. It is an awesome feeling to know that people choose to wear our products on such important occasions.
ED: Do you have any dream products you’d like to offer one day?
Graham: I do a little coding in my spare time and would like to make an Indiana-themed video game that could be played in our store someday.
Grant: I'd love to print with high-density inks that have a three-dimensional effect that actually pops off the shirt.
Thank you again, Graham and Grant, for taking the time to answer my questions and to tell me more about their awesome company! So if you or someone you know needs some Indiana-specific merchandise or needs some help with some custom-printed t-shirts, you know where to go!