By Conrad Benner, @StreetsDept
Hello Tog Tees Readers!
I can not express enough how excited I am to work with Tog Tees on my new Streets Dept line. Creating a little line of t-shirts has been something I've wanted to do for some time, and when Tog Tees approached me, explaining that they were a Philly-based company looking to create photography and photographer-themed tees, I jumped at the chance.
The process of creating the two Streets Dept tees was really fun, and really introspective. It started with a three hour brainstorming with the folks at TogTees, and many coffees.
After spending about the first hour just talking about who I am and what I've done over the now five years since starting StreetsDept.com, my photoblog about Philly street art, graffiti, and urban exploration, the first tee idea came fairly quickly.
That first idea was a flat layout of many of the items I tend to have on me at any given moment, including at that initial brainstorming; my gear, if you will. The answer was right in front of us!
Items, also, that we thought might be germane to other Philly photographers: a DSLR and smartphone, duh; SEPTA tokens and a bike lock to get around, I've never owned a car, this is all I know; my five-panel hat and a backpack, because also duh; a Philly pretzel, my go-to snack when I'm running around the city; coffee to keep me going (so much coffee!) and a spray can in the middle, something to identify the primary subject of my photography - because it's really hard to have a wheat-paste roller look like anything but a household painting kit.
The first tee is done*, how easy is this?! But wait...
(*And by "done" I am not reflecting at all the many, many, many more hours the designers would spend painstakingly making the design absolutely perfect. What I mean by "done" is that my big part in the creative process, aside from replying "Perfect!," or "I think the pretzel needs more salt", is over.)
The second tee took a little more time, but ultimately came to mind because of the work I did two years ago when I petitioned SEPTA and won. In early 2014, I created an online petition asking SEPTA, Philly's public transit agency, to run the Broad Street Line Subway and Market-Frankford El 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
These two train lines are the main arteries of Philly's public transit system, yet since the early 1990s they would stop running at midnight (until 5am the following day) and be replaced with much less frequent bus services. As someone who used the El to get to and from work and everywhere else, this bugged me. A lot. Especially since nearly every job I ever had always ended after midnight, or required me to stay after midnight often.
Quickly after creating the petition, which I cleverly called the #SEPTA247 Petition (yay hashtags!), it received over 3,000 signatures and almost immediately got the attention of Philly press. The press took the question to SEPTA, who admitted that returning the El and Subway to 24 hour service on the weekends (Friday and Saturday nights, when service is at its peak) had been something they had wanted to test. Basically, they said it was on their long list of possible improvement to maybe one-day implement as ridership increased as it has been for years. (Yay millennials like me who don't own cars!)
The petition gave them the nudge, and perhaps the confidence, that this was one of the items to check off their list, and they did! 24-hour service on the weekends was tested twice in 2014, both times to massive success with ridership increasing 50-150% over the late-night bus alternative. And today, 24-hour weekend El and Subway service is permanent! OMG we can actually change the world around us! OMG it's our world to change! OMG do t-shirts count?!
Suffice it to say, my experience leading the #SEPTA247 petition changed my outlook on civic engagement and vastly changed the course of my professional career. From this experience, after working in digital marketing for spirits brands (in addition to running Streets Dept) for four years, I moved into working for more non-profits and civically-minded projects. Projects like Next Stop: Democracy, which hired artists (including many street artists!) to create signage for polling locations around Philly with the goal of increasing voter turnout and enthusiasm, and more recently this year, Civic Commons PHL, a one-of-a-kind effort of collaboration between civic spaces in Philadelphia with the goal of better serving all of our citizens. The trolley was really the best way to sum this all up, trust me.
The trolley also happens to resemble the Route 15 Trolley, which runs through Fishtown, where I was born and raised and currently live. OMG I'm a townie!
So, as you consider buying one of these tees, I hope this post helps to give you more insight into why we made them the way they are. And, frankly, if you've read this far you know you're not leaving this website without purchasing at least one, or two (they make great gifts, you know!) so I thank you in advance for your purchase.
Seriously though, thank you! :) <3