Teeing it Up
Torsten Brinkema puts artists’ work front and center
“Think of an artist,” said Torsten Brinkema ’22 to the audience at the Venture Pitch Competition, organized by DavisConnects last spring. “I bet you’re probably thinking DaVinci, Picasso, Michelangelo—someone old and dead who made a huge impact on our history.” The audience confirmed with an instant giggle. But, asked Brinkema, what about the young artist?
Then he introduced his business—Weart Apparel, which puts emerging artists’ work front and center on T-shirts and other apparel.
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Six months later, Brinkema continues to push his company (he recently participated in a statewide pitch competition in Maine), which grew out of his frustration with the lack of appreciation of his artist peers. He remembers thinking during a museum visit in his hometown, Minneapolis, Minn.: “Well, the stuff that I’m seeing right here is cool, but I think my friends’ artwork is just as good as this, and I think it should be getting the same recognition.”
As an artist himself, a studio art major with a sculpture concentration, Brinkema craved to find a way to put emerging artists in the spotlight.
Now he features a young artist every two months, connecting them with Weart’s audience, which he estimates to be around 5,000 people. (Weart’s Instagram has nearly 500 followers.) Since July 2018 he has shared artists’ personal narratives, printed their artwork on T-shirts, and marketed them to art lovers. As of November he had sold more than 260 shirts.
“When I got here, I was totally unsure of whether I’d be able to do anything with my business,” said Brinkema, a Nordic skier. Then he met Lisa Noble, director of employer engagement and DavisConnects advisor for finance, consulting, and entrepreneurship. “She presented me with a plethora of options,” Brinkema said.
He began working at 173 Main St., Colby’s downtown technology center, exploring ways to grow Weart. Shipping T-shirts out of his dorm room, Brinkema turned Mayflower Hill into an open-air photo studio. Several months and five artists later, he presented Weart at the pitch competition, wearing a design by his first artist, high school friend Gabby Weld.
Subsequent artists featured by Weart included Marin Coletta ’21, an English major who made surfing-inspired pen and ink designs. “A year and a half ago, when I started my own art journey, I wasn’t comfortable calling myself an artist,” Coletta said. She’s now developing her own brand and style while making customized pen and ink designs on shoes. She’s also taking printmaking classes at Colby.
Environmental science major Cal Waichler ’21, whose woodblock print of a photo she took of cows in Denmark is a Weart design, said the T-shirts have made her artwork more accessible. “I’m a huge fan of expanding art into more everyday applications,” she said.
Mike Ballin ’21, an environmental studies major whose T-shirt showed photos lined up on a film strip, said the Weart attention helped him feel more excited about photography. Another photographer, Tanner Boucher ’19, a biology and a science, technology, and society double major, saw his long-exposure shot of an Australian pub sell out on Weart. “I wouldn’t have been able to do any of that without his [Brinkema’s] infrastructure in place,” Boucher said.
At the Colby competition, Brinkema was one of the three first-place winners and the sole winner of audience votes, receiving a $6,000 award. With startup funding in hand, he devoted his summer to exploring ways to grow his business. He featured two more college students—rapper Patrick “Freaky Pat” McCarthy and digital artist Wasima Farah—purchased a camera, branched out from T-shirts to products like canvas bags and posters, and collaborated with his previous artists on new designs.
Another big change was in the company’s name, Weart, which initially combined “Wear Art.” “At the beginning, it was all about wearing art to support the young artists,” he said. Not anymore. Hoping to create a stronger network that would go beyond wearing the artists’ artwork, he revised Weart to be “We Art.” Instead of giving 10 percent of the profit, he also raised his artist’s share to 15 percent.
“I want to create a global hub for young artists to receive knowledge, support, connections, and financial needs, in order to turn their passion into a profitable experience,” Brinkema said, who is encompassing different art forms with each artist and constantly exploring ways to get closer to his goals.
He’s putting an application together for a Maine Technology Institute grant as well as competing against other college students in a statewide pitch competition to win $25,000.
“My dream is to one day have a brick and mortar store,” he said, “where I can sell Weart products, produce videos and interviews, conduct panels with artists, and support any young artist who walks in.”