Board game merch is a massive part of our hobby. Customized dice, playmats, component upgrades and more. But somehow, nothing feels more exciting or luxurious than gaming inspired clothing! And now, Shirts and Merch Studio are creating unique hand drawn premium art t-shirts from their Etsy store! So let’s find out more about the folks behind the fashion! 

Welcome Matthew! Let’s get right in! You design board gaming inspired t-shirts, so where did your passion for board gaming begin?

As a child I spent a huge amount of time playing hero quest and monopoly with anyone who would play them with me. More recently a friend of mine said he was having a gaming weekend. I was intrigued to hear all about these new designer games so I bought Stone Age and Lords of Waterdeep and I was back in the hobby! This was about 6 years ago now.

Do you have a background in fashion or design?

Actually, my background isn’t in fashion or design, but I do have experienced people helping me. Good design is all around us and I just love being creative.  Jenny & Iain are professional designers who help to bring my ideas to life as well as their own designs and expertise. Just as (if not more) important is their feedback on why an idea will or won’t work in its current state and then coming up with twists and tweaks. Like me, they are full of brilliant ideas and I am very lucky to have them on board.

Why t-shirts?

After a game of Food Chain Magnate, my friend, Craig, commented that he would love a T-Shirt based on this game. The comment stuck and I realised that there are no board game specific T-Shirts out there. There are many meeple related T-Shirts on the market. But his comment got me thinking seriously about what could be achieved in this space. And everyone loves a cool T-shirt, right?!

What makes a good design?

Well first off it must be eye catching and convey what game it relates to – capturing the essence of the game or the experience at a glance. The webstore on Etsy is actually really handy for this as thumbnails prove that a design works. But visual impact isn’t limited to pictures – It could also be a fun board game related sentence. And I’m really excited about creating both.  There are so many brilliant phrases that can work. In fact, we have a lot of these in the pipeline for future designs.

As well as game specific iconography, you also feature famous artists in your latest meeple based range – are you a painter too?

I genuinely love art which was the inspiration. I have never even tried painting a miniature let alone a painting. And I recently visited the Van Gogh walking exhibition in Birmingham which was wonderful. This new range of meeple paintings have been well received which makes me happy that gamers like to own them and wear them. It’s hard to know what will be popular, for example no-one has ordered a Mona Lisa meeple T-Shirt which I thought would be the most popular one sold. You just never know with T-Shirts designs.

Wowza – a lot of thought goes into a design in advance! I know every t-shirt is also handmade – can you take us through the process of creating one of your designs?

Each T-Shirt is digitally hand drawn from scratch, so the design layout has to be a certain size and specific pixel quality. These are a few metrics we stick to so that we know every print of the T-Shirt is the best possible quality, helped always by the choice of fabric used.

If I use the Ark Nova T-Shirt as an example, I personally drew out the design onto a A4 piece of paper. I then tried about 10 different slogans.  Iain then created the same design digitally through Adobe Illustrator which gives us the flexibility to tweak until we are satisfied it meets the size/quality parameters.

Going back even further with this particular design, what makes Ark Nova Ark Nova, what is the essence of the game? It’s a card game, players mainly interact with the cards in this game touching the same symbol on the cards as we used in the T-Shirt. Hopefully it helps players feel connected to our designs as much as the game.

Are you inspired by your favourite games?

Definitely!  I literally wear a gaming T-Shirt every single day! But other people’s passion for their favourite games fuels me too. I want to bring a little bit of their hobby and happiness into their every day.

Ahhh well you have 100% achieved that for me – my Wingspan T-shirt makes me very happy (and is at risk of being stolen by my son constantly!)! Definitely an antidote to my day job!

Haha – you are in good company as Wingspan is my most popular design at the moment! We currently have a couple of different designs related to that game with more coming through shortly. We like to have as many colors as possible available in T-Shirt fabric hoping gamers will see a colour they love. 

Do you accept custom requests for t-shirts?

We have the ability to offer this, so there is a possibility. In fact only last week we received a comment asking if we could do a meeple based on the paintings of Mondrian which was a great idea and something we will be implementing. 

How does it feel when you see someone wearing your designs?

It makes me so happy to see other gamers enjoying gaming T-Shirts. It is a niche market, and we may only sell one T-Shirt of a particular design, but I know that the gamer who owns it loves it.

I note your products are 100% certified organic cotton. As a parent and a wife to eczema sufferers, I am always on the hunt for 100% organic cotton products. How important are the raw materials you use to your brand?

The raw materials we select for my designs are extremely important and go to the heart of what we do and what we represent.  After testing many samples of different base T-Shirt brands, the Stanley Stellar brand we use felt so far ahead in terms of cotton quality. Plus, it really enhanced the designs I was testing on it. As such, it made perfect sense to use them. Not only do they have sustainable 100% certified organic cotton which is vegan friendly, they also work with the Fair Wear Foundation to ensure the workers who make their products receive a fair wage and have decent working conditions. It’s wonderful to work with companies who have this at the forefront of their business.

I love that! We must never forget the wider ethical, environmental, and social impact of our consumer choices and it sounds like sustainability and principled production goes to the heart of what Shirts and Merch represents.

Are there plans to expand your range into other custom clothing and merchandise?

Definitely, I see huge potential for hoodies and other clothing. Alongside wearable merchandise I would love to sell my original art for display along with other items such as coffee cups and notepads. It will definitely be a lot of trial and error, but when it’s what you love, it never feels like work!

That sounds amazing! And Etsy is a popular online retail platform for creators which can accommodate a big range of products. What influenced your choice over setting up your own webstore?  

Fantastic question. I have considered my own website and a Shopify store too, both may be options in the future as we grow, but the main reasons for using Etsy initially is that they have an existing audience. As a retailer, it also has a good user interface for a smooth shopping experience. It also provides so many great metrics that can help small businesses like mine.

From small acorns…….(have I just Inspired an Everdell Tee? Haha). It sounds like you are in this for the long term which is fantastic. Where would you like to see Shirts and Merch in 1/5/10 years’ time?

In a year, still providing excellent designs to passionate gamers. In 5-10 years it would be great to supply our shirts to friendly local game stores and also to game publishers who are running kick starters or need T-Shirts for conventions.

Tell us something surprising about you.

I was ready to take my black belt in Lau Gar Kung Fu until the pandemic hit. Hopefully I can get back to that standard in the near future!

What kind of gamer are you?

My preference right now is for medium to heavy euro games, though honestly I love playing family weight games just as much and I’m still trying to get my 15 year old daughter into gaming as well. 

One last question just for fun. if you could play a board game with anybody (real or fictional), who would it be, what game would you play, and (perhaps most important of all!) what snacks would you choose? 😊

Haha. The snacks would most likely be flapjack bites of some sort. As for gaming it would be pretty amazing to say I have won a game of Brass Birmingham against Martin Wallace!

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me today, Matt. I love your designs and your vision. I’m wearing my Wingspan T-shirt every chance I get! Listening to your plans, I cannot wait to see your work on the walls and to be drinking coffee out of an AP travel cup wearing an Everdell inspired Hoodie!

If you would like to see more of Shirts and Merch Studios, check out their super Etsy Webstore here and on Instagram here