Have Something To Say About Idaho? There's Probably A Shirt For That

Jun 16, 2015

Belt buckles featuring Lana Roth's popular Idaho design.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

You’ve probably seen this design on someone’s chest or the back window of cars:  It's the state of Idaho, appearing as a gun, but shooting a pine tree instead of a bullet.  

The design seems to be everywhere, but so are a lot of Idaho-themed designs. In the last few years, the shape of the state of Idaho has found its way into more and more everyday art like t-shirts, hats and decals.

Lana Roth is the Boise graphic designer who created the image. Roth  founded her clothing company BANANA ink, four years ago. She sells Idaho-themed clothes at a downtown Boise shop, other retailers in the state, and online.  Some of Roth's other designs include wine pouring into a glass and splashing into the shape of the state, and pictures made out tiny Idahos.  

“For me, there wasn’t anything that said ‘Idaho’ more than the state shape itself,” Roth says. “Some people might not know the state shape, but residents do.”

That’s the key to understanding Roth’s business model: Idaho residents.

“I looked at the market and saw that there wasn’t much Idaho apparel for people that lived here," Roth says. "There’s plenty of shirts out there that appeal more to tourists.”  

Roth isn’t the first person to combine art, clothes and the image of Idaho. But she may be the first to start a business on the idea. But she’s got competition. About the same time Roth started, a company called The C.O.T. started selling Boise and Idaho-themed shirts. Places like Bricolage and Fawn and Foal also sell them.

Paul Carew and Lisa McGrath founded the company Wear Boise more than a year ago. Carew has a graphic design and public relations business and McGrath has a law practice. But the clothing business, the couple says, has taken over their home and all their free time.

Paul Carew and Lisa McGrath started their clothing business a week before they got married. They're opening a retail store later this summer.
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

Their best seller features the shape of Idaho with a big, bushy beard growing out of the south. They call it "Put A Beard On It."

Like Roth, Carew and McGrath looked at the market and saw a demand for Idaho-specific clothing geared toward people who live here.

“Our target market is us - people that love Boise and people who love Idaho,” McGrath says. “And they want to communicate that in the form of a shirt or in the form of other merchandise.”

“I think a lot of our shirts are maybe not necessarily about Idaho, they’re about Idahoans,” Carew says. “And I think that really is the distinction - reflecting culture.”

Carew says their tag line is "wear you where."

"And that really is the crux of our business plan," Carew says. "We want people to be proud of our state, and Boise and be able to reflect that."

You can find businesses like BANANA ink and Wear Boise all over the country. Raygun is an Iowa company that’s been around for a decade. It’s been quite successful selling humorous shirts, many of which are only funny if you live it Des Moines or Ames.

The name confusion with Idaho and some other states is fertile ground for apparel makers. From left to right, these shirts come from Wear Boise, Fawn and Foal and Raygun.

“I think a lot of places had something that was geared more towards their residents and their pride in their state,” Roth says. “We might have come a little late to that game.”

Shelby Walsh, president of the company Trend Hunter, says Idaho wasn’t exactly late, but is definitely not alone in the pride-of-place apparel trend.  Trend Hunter watches things like technology, retail, design and lifestyle to help clients like Adidas, Nestle, and Intel identify the next big thing.

Walsh says in t-shirts and other apparel, localism is definitely big these days. And it’s not just state pride or even city pride. She says there’s also neighborhood pride. In many big cities, shirts with maps of neighborhoods have been popular. 

"It's kind of wearing a badge of honor about where you’re from," Walsh says. 

Hyper-localism is a direction Wear Boise goes in. The company sells a Garden City shirt and one for Boise’s North End. A shirt with the correct pronunciation of Boise spelled out phonetically is also a popular item.

Credit Bricolage / Bricolage, Instagram

Walsh says the pride of place trend is part of a larger trend in t-shirts over the past several years. People use shirts, hats and handbags to advertise the small groups they belong to.  

“I think you can make a good business out of something that is hyper-tailored and irresistible to a specific group of people,” Walsh says.

So, whether you want all of Idaho's wolves killed, or you want to tell the world you’re a lesbian from Boise, there’s a shirt for you.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio