This Pittsburgh company is Kickstarting better T-shirts for women (and men, too)

Blank’s goals: Comfortable, well-fitting size-inclusive shirts, made in the U.S.

Courtesy of Blank
Rossilynne Culgan

Updated: 4:40 p.m. Aug. 18
As of this afternoon, the Kickstarter campaign is fully funded with $49,024.

Ever order a T-shirt online, excited to find something with a great design, only to tear open the box, try it on and realize it doesn’t fit quite right?

With a new initiative called Blank, Pittsburgh-based Cotton Bureau wants to fix that.

“As a woman who has struggled to find something that fits well, I’m hoping that what we can do is really come up with a shirt that fits more women,” Michelle Sharp, head of marketing at Cotton Bureau and lead for Blank, said. “My goal in all of this was really to create something that was comfortable and well-fitting that a woman of any age, any size, any shape could put on and not really have to think about it before she walks out the door. And I think with Blank we’ll be one step closer to achieving that.”

A collective, “Amen,” from all the ladies.

But it’s not just for women. The company tweaked the men’s shirt, as well, all in the name of better fit.

A fast-moving Kickstarter launched this morning and had raised $37,000 by 5 p.m. to make the vision a reality. With a funding goal of $48,000, the company will be able to cover the costs to manufacture the re-designed shirts. As a reward, Kickstarter backers can choose shirts.

Cotton Bureau, based in Larimer, has for the past four years offered designers and illustrators a digital space to bring their designs to market. Graphic designers submit their creations to Cotton Bureau for consideration, and the company picks about 10 percent of them to make it to market. Then, shoppers can buy the T-shirts online during a two-week window, Cotton Bureau knows exactly how many to print, and the designers make a profit.

Designs are broken into categories, including Pittsburgh, feminism, coffee, coding and pizza.

“We help them turn their ideas of designs into real products, and we help them sell the T-shirts on our online platform,” Sharp said. “The core of the business was really founded on working with independent designers.”

The shop uses a variety of wholesalers to supply blank T-shirts, and the sizing options for women’s blank T-shirts are “really bad” — often women’s sizes are sold as junior’s sizes, she said. There were no other companies providing the fits they wanted, Sharp said.

“These shirts we were putting these really amazing designs on were not fitting most of our customers who are women,” she said.

So Cotton Bureau decided to fix the problem themselves.

Courtesy of Blank

Seeking to build a “size inclusive” clothing line with nice fabrics in an array of colors, they’re starting with a crew neck T-shirt. The fabric is milled, knit, dyed and sewn in Los Angeles.

“The fits that we want and the fabrics that we want and the colors that we want and ethically manufactured and made in the U.S. … it doesn’t really exist,” she said.

They started the process by asking everybody in the Cotton Bureau office to bring in their favorite T-shirt, where the team determined what aspects they liked, then worked with a pattern designer to make patterns from XS to 5X. The final test was sharing the designs with 350 testers who wore the shirts and suggested additional tweaks to make the fits just right.

After the Kickstarter campaign ends, Cotton Bureau will make and deliver the funders’ Blank t-shirts, then eventually sell Blank shirts online and make the Blank shirts available for designers, too.