A Portrait of an Artist as a Pro Bono Designer

19 Feb 2016 10:20 AM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)

The following is a guest post from one of the No Pity Originals designers. As they don't like the spotlight, we won't post the name.

When I moved to Portland 8 years ago, I moved here in my shitty car filled with what few possessions I had and $1,500. I had no job and no prospects. All I knew is that I wanted to live in an art city and get a fresh start. The first year in Portland was filled with living out of people's dens and garages. It wasn't all bad though—it afforded me the opportunity to explore the city, find inspiration and create (also play a shit ton of disc golf, GOAT unemployed activity).

During these first few months in Portland, I read a Willamette Week article about how the Timbers (the local USL soccer team) were playing Seattle Sounders (arch-rivals) and the cost was only $10. The price was right, so I hopped on my bike, a Portland hand-me-down heavy steel bike made entirely of found parts, and headed to PGE Park (former name).

*I'm going to stop here, because we all know what happens as soon as we step in the stadium for the first time, and continue on.

As a full-blown shiny-eyed Timbers noob, I started attending more games, hanging out at tailgates and signed up for SCUSA (a infamous and now defunct Timbers Army message board). During all that I found my first full-time job in Portland, illustrating email blasts for an engineering software company (yeah, it was about as unenjoyable as it sounds complicated). As crummy as the job was, it afforded me the opportunity to buy into Timbers season tickets for the next season. That winter my contract was not picked up and I began another stint of unemployment. It wasn't all bad though, I got to refocus on my artwork and live in an affordable place with a basement that I could spend long hours painting in during the long and cold winter.

By the time spring came I had found another job at a publication company working on their website and online publications (was so desperate for this job that I lied my way in and taught myself Java, CSS and other outdated web coding as I went, with only having a basic understanding of HTML before being hired). As an artist who purposely tested out of math my freshman year in college, writing code and working on websites was not for me, but I needed the job. This was also around the time that i finally procured a No Pity scarf.

*Little educational break here: The way No Pities were distributed in those days was a lot different. One would have to check SCUSA for days waiting for a nice lady by the name of Gisele to start a new thread on SCUSA with the latest order. There you would put down your name and sponsor a set of five scarves. Eventually you would go to the next Timbers army meetup and pick up your set of scarves months down the line. It was a lot of waiting. Either do that or find someone with a set of five scarves that had extras they were looking to sell.

That Timbers season was pretty magical. With a found confidence I would go to tailgates and events to make friends and learn more about this (still) newfound obsession. There I started to see a few people selling their own specialty Timbers Army scarves and shirts out of the back of their cars or shady-looking bags, raising money for tifo. Tifo at this time was single overhead banners, a line of two-stick banners placed across the field's dugouts, or the occasional actual two-sticks. This sparked a thought in my brain: "Dude, you're a designer and an artist, let's make some TA graphics." Through the next weeks I flooded SCUSA and people's inboxes with ideas. I wasn't even trying to figure out what to put them on (tifo, shirts or scarves), I was just brain-dumping on anyone who would look. I don't think I was insufferable, but I was definitely relentless. It should be said that no one really cared (only thing I ever made were some spoke tags for the Bike Brigade), but what did pop up was a handful of people on SCUSA trying to organize a website committee for the Timbers Army. Obviously I wasn't the best web developer, but I signed up regardless as a way to help out and get more involved.

What working on the web team did for me was defining. I finally saw behind the curtain. Saw how many hardworking and caring people were out there using whatever skills they possessed to keep the Timbers Army legacy protected and DIY (I would go as far to say DIY as FUCK). There was a committee that met with the Front Office to keep our section GA and make sure they could bang drums and raise banners. There were legit lawyers (fans working pro bono) working to trademark the TA logo and the phrase "No Pity." As a punk kid, this just made everything all the more sweet. This was before MLS was even whispered. It also allowed me some face time with a group of guys interested in organizing Timbers Army merchandise under one umbrella. And after about a year and a half of being relentless in helping make graphics and constantly putting my name out there to help with whatever I possibly could, I was brought in for the first ever "merch" meeting.

Through the next year, two nonprofits were formed: the 107ist and No Pity Originals. I'm going to speak to the latter as I was an intricate part of that whole process.

*The NPO name wasn't going to come around for another year or so, but our standards and practices were set in stone. Rule #1 and pretty much the only rule: No one gets paid!!!! This was bittersweet for me, because I was broke as fuck and like any designer, I wanted to get paid for my hard work. But also being my mother's son, I knew what good I could do for my community (I grew up watching my mom volunteer her time to no end, whether it was Meals on Wheels or reading to the elderly). We felt obligated by Gisele trusting us to sell No Pity scarves hand to hand that all the profits from our little merchandise operation would go straight towards tifo and community outreach, period.

Due to the limited startup capital, we were really only able to make two different shirts (the green and white TA ringer and the classic crest tee) and No Pity scarves. We had an old trailer donated to us that was painted like the Sunshine Flag; we hollowed it out and started selling from it on game days. Since the very start and to this day, I'm still amazed by how many No Pity scarves are sold, and because of them we had enough money to expand and make more shirts and more scarves. By the end of the year I had made a bunch of awesome TA punk rock shirts, been the primary designer on the "Little Beirut" scarf, and helped with the "Your Magic is Real" scarf. I was out of control making graphics for this little brand we started. So much so that it affected my shitty job and I was fired (there's also a little more to this that involved me skipping work to go to Vancouver, BC and kinda breaking the handle on the Cascadia Cup, but that's another story on someone else's blog).

This began one of the most trying times of my life (and remember I was living out of garages and dens when I first moved here with barely any cash in my pocket). Here I am getting a chance to work on a brand from the very inception, I can see all the amazing successes we're going to have in front of me, but I'm unemployed at probably one of the worst times in recent memory. I remember a particular low day where I called an old apparel company I used to work for asking if they'd be able to manufacture headwear for NPO and then riding my bike to apply for food stamps.

By the time the next season rolled around, we had started selling product online (warehoused in a deep NE garage with no heat) and we bought an old step van to sell out of. I had also began a new job delivering wine around Portland for a company based up in St. Johns. So my days consisted of riding my bike from SE Portland 8-10 miles to St. Johns, working a 10-hour day, then coming home and cranking out designs until I passed out. That season our merch operation got a name, No Pity Originals, and we opened up with a fleet of goods: hats, hoodies, tees, scarves, stickers and patches. With the name came more legitimacy, branding our products with tags and registered Timbers Army trademarks. We even started making seasonal lookbooks, which are just great to work on because they're super-spontaneous and just one day winging ideas with your friends hoping the pictures come out in focus. That was the last year of the USL Timbers and was pretty much our breakout year as far as a merch operation goes.

I'd like to say that since then everything has been peaches and cream, but not really. I got fired from the wine job for accidentally flushing a key down the toilet (I'm serious) and started another all-too-familiar stint of being unemployed. During this time and probably the entire time I was delivering wine, I was getting a lot of pressure from the close people in my life (parents, brother, girlfriend at the time) about what the fuck I was doing. Here I am, constantly unemployed or in a dead-end situation and basically working another job doing what I wanted for free. It was a lot of pressure, embarrassment, self reflection and it did look all too familiar. I'm sure my answers of "Hey, it's different this time, this Timbers Army stuff is going to be huge," stopped being believable. But it was different though, because before this I had a college portfolio of work full of a bunch of irrelevant projects that were probably never that good to begin with. Now, I had a ton of actually-made apparel with lookbooks! With my newfound free time we were really able to organize probably one of my favorite seasons of product and lookbooks.

Coming into the spring of that season I started getting staffing agencies calling me, saying they saw my updated portfolio and that there's some interest from some local apparel companies looking for designers. Since that time my life has changed a bit: I got a decent paying job, I live on my own in a normal apartment and pay all my bills on time!

It's not over though, this story keeps going for 4 years before we're at the present day (also I think I might be missing a season in there, don't drink kids!). Because No Pity Originals is a nonprofit, I've been able to keep volunteering despite my job situation! Why would I? Because I believe in the No Pity Originals ethos and my love of this community has never changed. It's the right thing to do. Since the days of just a handful of us struggling, now we have these super-talented kids that want to work with us. I get to return the favor and help them the way NPO helped me. It's a wonderful cycle to be a part of.

During which we've done seasons of awesome swag. We opened the Fanladen, which I got to help decorate. I spent a long weekend in a warehouse with an amazingly talented artist helping him put together the largest non-traced tifo display America has ever seen. Countless amounts of products designed, times figuring out how to make a better web store, arguments about whether to sell No Pity Scarves online, miles driven in the No Pity van. As tiring and frustrating as having a pro bono second job can be, there's always been a silver lining: seeing a playground built for children of all abilities, child-specific soccer pitches, high school programs getting to keep offering soccer programs to their students. It's something that I feel will always keep me grounded and humble. Every morning when I get dressed, I stare at a piece of that little trailer we used to sell out of when we could barely afford to sell anything more than a couple shirts and No Pity scarves.

This isn't just a bio piece that I'm writing. The whole reason it started was because we were looking for a story as a way of marketing ourselves (and like everything NPO does, we all pitched ideas and this was mine)...No Pity Originals is constantly being accused of being non-inclusive (elitist), bogarting all Portland soccer merchandise or just being a bunch of jerks. Maybe the latter is true but there is good reason why we only want to work with certain folks. None of it is because we're elitists. In fact, technically we are a business and businesses bring in the right people for the job and a lot of people don't make the cut. It's not personal, but we have prided ourselves since our inception in making the best designs we can. We receive so many submissions and we want to review them all and give feedback, but sometimes we just can't. I always kinda wondered if we we are some sort of outlier? Do people send other big brands unsolicited ideas and do they even look at them? Regardless, it means the world to know that people want to help and are willing to hit us up! Hearts are definitely in the right place! There is also a reason why we're protective over our intellectual property or harsh towards people selling Timbers Army related product for a personal profit. The 107ist is a nonprofit that benefits and depends on NPO product profits to help the community that we live in and our team plays in. Not only are there other and better ways to make yourself a living, but it also takes money away from our community. A community where we are trying to build handi-capable playgrounds, soccer fields located in low-income neighborhoods (and running soccer camps), after-school programs for kids that may not be able to afford a camp, or any other myriad of community projects the Timbers Army funds. It's why we wake up in the morning. It's why after an 8-hour day of staring at a computer making apparel, we head home, crack a beer and keep on making apparel or head downtown to help pack shipping. Or show up 4 hours before a match to work the NPO van to get you those No Pity scarves. It's being my mother's son and putting my community first!


  • 28 Sep 2016 1:45 PM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Jon Hance says:
    Friday, February 19, 2016 at 11:51 am

    Great article – and the perfect chance to say Thank You to you, and the countless other volunteers who have gotten us to the amazing place we are today.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 28 Sep 2016 1:46 PM | 107ist Admin (Administrator)
    Jodi says:
    Friday, February 19, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    Everyone on SCUSA probably thought they weren’t insufferable.

    We were all wrong. ;)

    Thank you for doing thankless things.vAnd thank you for sharing your story.
    Your work is appreciated by so many.
    Link  •  Reply

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