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Starting From Nothing With Matouš Marťák

With his ‘Allergic Club’ T-shirt, Matouš Marťák set out to see the positives in his Coeliac disease diagnosis, but he hadn’t quite bargained for the doors his design might open up. Fast forward through six launches with us, the art director, whose work spans illustration and graphic design too, has been pleasantly surprised.  

 

From London institution NTS coming knocking for a collaboration, to seeing his work on the backs of a whole new audience, to being able to pay his rent from the sales of his T-shirts, Matouš has seen benefits that span commercial to creative. And all this starting with just a small following on his own socials. 

 

We caught up with him to chat balancing commercial work with passion projects, starting with low expectations, and what T-shirts can lead to.

 

Shop the ‘Allergic Club’ T-shirt by Matouš Marťák now.

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

Surpassing Expectations

Matouš didn’t start out on the assumption his T-shirts would be a hit. He doesn’t have a big following on socials, and though he works as a freelance art director, graphic designer and illustrator, he didn’t have much experience when it came to designing T-shirts. 

“My expectations were very low,” he said, laughing. “I remember spending about two weeks wondering if it was even worth listing the tee on Everpress. I was expecting a maximum of 20 sales – family members and a few good friends I’d begged to buy the tees.”

I was able to pay my rent through the pandemic

He ended up selling close to 1000 of his Allergic Club T-shirts, and the income from his tees has proved a vital source of funds now especially. “Thanks to the few successful campaigns I’ve run, I was able to pay my rent through the pandemic, even when I was fired from my work,” he says. “Plus, I found a new creative outlet that I’m not easily bored by.” 

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

 

You Never Know Where It Might Lead

Despite not having a huge community himself, right from his first campaign Matouš’ designs have been strong enough to attract a cult following of audience and clients alike. London institution NTS even reached out off the back of one of his designs to ask him to work with them on some of their garments. (The initial email went into his inbox spam folder – a lesson in always checking your spam if ever we heard one!) “I was honoured when I was asked to create new merchandise for NTS Radio,” says Matouš. “Unfortunately the project has been put on hold due to the pandemic, but hopefully after these weird days we will finish this awesome collaboration.”

 

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

Creating Breathing Space

“Between paid commercial projects, I am trying to take a moment and create my own personal project,” says Matouš, getting to the heart of one of the big themes in the life of a freelance creative. Whatever field you’re in, creative working can sometimes feel like a never-ending balancing act: well-paying, but often less fulfilling, commercial work vying for attention against the projects you really want to put your heart into. There’s no right or wrong way to approach this, and as we explore in our interview with Jor Ros and Merijn Hos on how they handle creative compromise, part of creative working is finding the balance and trade off that works for you. 

I am trying to take a moment and create my own personal project

Matouš’ sentiment echoes that of Jor and Merijn, in that often finding this balance comes down to creating breathing space for yourself. Being comfortable enough in your finances that you don’t feel cornered into accepting commercial projects that feel totally wrong, and buying yourself the time to work on things which aren’t necessarily about the money too. 

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

Profit From A Passion Project

For Matouš, T-shirts have proved to be a way of combining the commercial side with a passion project (and one that’s free of client input at that.) He found the design freedom, lack of back and forth, and ability to make money via the risk-free pre-order model a much-needed respite from his other work. “I was bored of doing long-term projects or creating graphics strictly via brand manuals,” he says. “I wanted a rest and to give something new, that felt quick and immediate, a go. Something that would make me happy and the client wouldn’t want to ‘burn’ it. At that time doing T-shirts just felt like the right choice for me.”

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

Trying New Formats

“What I really love about T-shirts is, it’s like a walking poster,” Matous mused. “When you’re wearing T-shirts you can meet probably hundreds of people during the day (if it’s not quarantine…) and you can talk with them about what you are wearing, why you like it, what’s the story behind this T-shirt.” It’s a sentiment we hear again and again, but it bears repeating: T-shirts can serve as a whole new medium for your practice, and one that helps get the word out about what you do beyond the confines of the gallery walls. 

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

Turning It Into Something Positive

Sometimes the best inspiration can come from the least likely of sources. For Matouš, it was his celiac disease. “I started to become upset every single time I looked in the fridge,” as he put it. “So I felt I needed to switch this frustration into something positive and make fun of it.”

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Courtesy of Matouš Marťák

And looking outside the box for inspiration doesn’t have to end at your T-shirt design either. Taking a little extra time to make sure you capture beautiful shots of your T-shirts can really swing a campaign. Matouš decided to play to theme or his campaign photos, with a supermarket location. “On our street there’s a Vietnamese grocery store with this photo background and I realized how much going shopping and in-store searching is connected with my life of allergies; plus a supermarket is a great outdoor studio,” he said. “Also I am lucky I have a great photographer as a roommate so it was really helpful. Shout out to Filip Taufer!”

Read More: Collaborating For A Cause With Conor Clinch

Michael Wilkin
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Michael Wilkin
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