When I first discovered Out of Print Clothing, I immediately spent a couple of hours gleefully exhausting the site. As a lifelong lover of books and book cover art, this company feels made for me and all like-minded bookworms. Each t-shirt, book bag, phone case, greeting card, set of coasters, accessory pouch and piece of jewelry is lovingly designed with a properly licensed image from a cherished book. The mission of Out Of Print is simple, straightforward and entirely admirable:
Out of Print celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art.
We work closely with artists, authors and publishers to license the content that ends up in our collections. Each product is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.
In addition to spreading the joy of reading through our tees and accessories, we acknowledge that many parts of the world don’t have access to books at all. We are working to change that. For each product sold, one book is donated to a community in need through our partner Books For Africa.
How we read is changing as we move further into the digital age. It’s unclear what the role of the book cover will be in this new era, but we feel it’s more important than ever to reflect on our own individual experiences with great literary art before it’s forever changed.
You should spend an hour or two looking through their ample catalogue of products, nearly all of which I'd love to own, but allow me to take a few moments to point out some of my favorite items from the site. Even narrowing it down to as many images as I included below was difficult, as I love every book and every product featured on the site.
Stay tuned below for some questions with the owner, Todd Lawton!
These are matches! Each title was once a banned book.
I reached out to Todd Lawton, the owner and founder of Out of Print alongside his partner Jeff LeBlanc, to find out a little more about this company that will end up receiving so much of my money over the years.
Talk about how Out of Print came into being.
The long story is that it started in 1984 when my business partner (Jeff) and I met in the second grade. We have always shared a common interest in reading and entrepreneurism. About five years ago, we finally decided it was time to take the leap of faith and start a business. Before we had the idea for Out of Print we decided to rent the tiniest office space in the world. For the first week or so, it felt like we were “playing” office, but we kept a white board list of business ideas. After a couple weeks, Out of Print rose to the top. We loved the idea because it seemed like a natural fit—how it matched up with our backgrounds and personal interests. At the same time, it baffled us that nothing like Out of Print existed. If you love a band you can wear a band shirt. If you love the a football team, you can support the team through all kinds of merchandise. We feel that readers should have the same opportunity to share their passion for books. We want Out of Print to be a conversation starter that eventually gets more people reading.
What's your professional background?
I have a background in sales, product development, and marketing. Before Out of Print, I worked for Nike doing brand management. In addition to having an addiction to graphic tees, Jeff has experience working as a consultant, with business development for start-ups, and as an analyst at a hedge fund. Between the two of us, we had a lot of the bases covered for starting a business.
It's unfortunately rare in the pop culture world to find a company that actually licenses their images. Can you give a brief rundown of the process behind licensing the cover for a book that you'd like to feature on OoP? What are some book covers you'd love to feature in the future?
The hardest part of our job is sorting out permissions and rights. Fortunately we have great relationships with a lot of publishers, authors, and artists. It varies book to book with regards to who owns the copyright. We have a few covers that require multiple contracts. The process is typically: find a cover that works best on a shirt (or whatever product we are designing for) then put on our detective hat to figure out where the rights live.
The cover we get asked about all the time is the original “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Without a doubt this is top of our wish list.
Tell me about Books for Africa. How did you get involved with this partnership?
We heard about Books For Africa before we launched. It was important for us to use Out of Print to not only to get people talking about and reading more books, but to support reading in parts of the world that lack the reading resources we grew up with. There are many great organizations helping improve access to books and reading, but we really liked how BFA operates. We also felt that there was an opportunity for us to help them publicize their great work through our marketing efforts. So far it’s been an incredible partnership. Since our company launch in 2010 we have help to donate over 950,000 books!
You have some t-shirts with art from new book covers designed by Mikey Burton. What other artists are you working with?
In addition to working with Mikey and other contemporary designers (Dan Stiles, Landis Blair, etc.), we’ve been able to work with many of the top cover artists from the golden age of publishing. Paul Bacon, Edward McKnight Kauffer, George Salter, Judith Leeds, and Alvin Lustig to name a few. We feel that the cover artist’s influence is often not recognized as much as maybe it should be. We like that through Out of Print we’re able to help tell their stories and showcase their work.
What are some of your favorite products on OoP?
In terms of shirts, I wear Slaughterhouse-Five, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest a lot. We are launching a new Sci-Fi Collection today, so I now have a new contender for favorite shirt – Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Do you have a favorite book cover of all time?
Leonard Nimoy has authored a few books of poetry that, based on absurdity alone, rank among my favorites. I also really like the aesthetic of Alvin Lustig.
Who designs the beautiful jewelry on the site?
The concepts for our necklaces were a team effort internally, but the actual design work was done by our in-house designers. We are all very happy with how they turned out.
Do you have any future plans for OoP that you can talk about here?
YES! Lots of stuff. We don’t want to be overly specific, but one big extension for us has to do with our customers’ feet. These will kick off in early fall 2014. There’s a lot of exciting things happening for us this year, so for people excited about what we do following us through social media and subscribing to our email list is the best way to hear all about it.
As Todd mentioned, Out of Print just today announced their new sci-fi collection, and it's incredible. You're going to want every single item they offer here:
This is exactly the sort of pop culture company we want to support here at BAD: they offer a thoughtful, original product that exhibits genuine affection for the properties they're licensing, rather than inane mashups that infringe on intellectual property and serve no one but the least discerning consumer. Out of Print is a company that honors authors and artists and that serves the best type of person: booklovers.