Ixar Design turns the humble T-shirt into a work of art
We browse the rails with Cambridge entrepreneurs George Culbert and Alex Lowrie
It’s a warm late-summer day and T-shirt entrepreneurs George Culbert and Alex Lowrie are, appropriately enough, wearing their own work.
“That’s really how it started: with us wanting to make the kind of clothes we want to wear,” explains Alex. “You won’t find these T-shirts on the High Street. They’re cool, they’re different. . . They are – literally - works of art you can wear.”
Ixar Design began last November, after the friends – who, now 25, met at school aged just 13 – decided they wanted to launch their own brand. Sparked by their shared interest in contemporary art, specifically emerging urban talents, Ixar turns tees (and, latterly, hoodies too) into a canvas for British artists.
To date, George and Alex have recruited five creatives, including photographer Alex Carter, known for his abstract architectural work; illustrator Phil Whitton, inspired by “skateboard graphics, music, dreams”; and the Mancunian artist Will Da Costa who, using the signature Pomona, produces both mono and colour-saturated prints influenced by “Dali, Escher, Ren & Stimpy and The Simpsons”. Another six artists are in talks, with three new shirt collections planned to launch this side of Christmas.
“That’s one of the measures of success for us,” explains George. “When we started out, we were going to the artists and selling them on the idea; now we’re lucky enough that artists are coming to us. The only thing we’re still missing is a Cambridge artist, though. Ixar is very much a Cambridge brand, so that would be brilliant.”
Working out of George’s Stapleford home – or garden, when the weather’s good: today, there’s a rail of just-printed shirts on the lawn – the friends have kept their business deliberately local. Made from responsibly sourced cotton, all their garments are printed on the doorstep, by city firm Portwood Printing.
With plans to switch to organic cotton in the future, for now Alex and George say it’s currently a little too pricey; keen to keep Ixar affordable, all the tees, which come in black or white, are priced at a flat £19.99. Proceeds are split with the artists.
The designs, all of which are pitched as unisex, range from pared-back black and white graphics to crazy kaleidoscopic prints.
“It’s hard to name a favourite – we like them all – but we do love Three Face; it’s a mask-inspired Pomona print. That’s a customer favourite too, actually. That collection’s our best seller.”
When choosing designs, Alex and George consciously go against off-the-peg trends: “These shirts are different and we want them to look different; you won’t find these designs mass-produced and on sale in every shop.”
Friends since secondary school, the pair say the idea for Ixar came out of a “conversation at George’s house. We’d been talking about wanting to start something and we just said ‘Yes, this is it’. We couldn’t find any other company doing quite what Ixar does.”
Ixar is as much about championing artistic talent as filling a gap in the fashion market.
“I love my galleries – I’ve just been to see the Antony Gormley show at Kettle’s Yard, actually: it was great,” says George. “We wanted to give lesser-known artists a platform, a voice. Longer term, we’d like to sell all kinds of art through Ixar, including original pieces.”
“It’s the brand’s first birthday in November; it’s not even a year old,” adds Alex. “We don’t stop to look back often – we’re always thinking about the next thing – but in a short time we have come a pretty long way. The best thing is seeing someone wearing one of our shirts. That’s a good feeling.”