It’s not an exaggeration to say the graphic tee revolutionized the fashion world. Its unique pairing of text and image allowed for an unprecedented level of self-expression, and gave birth to a slew of immediately recognizable designs—from I ♥ NY to Frankie Says Relax to D.A.R.E. (the latter being as ironic as it is iconic).
The ability for individuals to make their own shirts has led to localized versions of the graphic tee trend, and Charlottesville is no exception. Who among us doesn’t recognize a WTJU rock marathon tee, or the teal heart design of the Cville love shirt? Like other small but culture-rich communities, we wear aspects of our city emblazoned across our chests.
Kate Snyder, founder of Charlottesville-based T-shirt company Bottom Drawer, just might have our next iconic logo. The Townie tee, “the very FIRST perfect T-shirt in a line of completely perfect T-shirts” (or so claims Bottom Drawer’s Instagram page) was unveiled in early August, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. TOWNIE is displayed in all caps, block letters—in your choice of black text (“PLAIN BAGEL”) or rainbow (“EVERYTHING BAGEL”)—across a white background.
Snyder says her lifelong townie status—she was born and raised in Charlottesville—combined with a love of fashion, specifically graphic tees, inspired her to make this Bottom Drawer’s debut design. “I think of graphic T-shirts as the most basic way to announce something about yourself through your clothes,” she says. “It’s an interesting way to say who you are…spelled out in black and white—or multicolored, as the case may be.”
Although Snyder has dabbled in T-shirt design before, creating and selling POACH tees (an edgy parody of COACH) a few years ago, she hadn’t planned to start an entire Charlottesville-based business. In fact, she hadn’t intended to remain in Charlottesville at all—a 2020 UVA graduate, her postgrad sights were set on New York. However, Snyder’s professional prospects were cut short by the pandemic. Like so many others, she found herself in “this weird townie space, living in my childhood bedroom.”
Hence the Townie tee. “This was my banana bread or my sourdough starter,” Snyder says. “I wanted to test out that creative side.” Her creative side, as it turns out, comes with a very unique sense of humor—one that can be seen most obviously in Bottom Drawer’s Instagram. Whether it’s a movie still of James Stewart as George Bailey, expertly Photoshopped to sport a Townie tee—It’s a Wonderful Life is, after all, the ultimate townie tale—or an interview of dubious authenticity with Karl Lagerfeld about breakfast and fashion, Snyder has established an undeniable brand for Bottom Drawer in just a month.
Under all the irreverence, though, is a real commitment to her community. Three dollars from each Townie sale goes to The Haven, an idea that Snyder says was brought on in part by the pandemic. “Obviously, the circumstances of people suffering from homelessness in Charlottesville has been exacerbated…it seemed like a no-brainer.” This charity pairs well with Snyder’s newest initiative: including a pre-stamped postcard in each Bottom Drawer package so that her customers can write a letter to someone and support the United States Postal Service.
Snyder has released three designs since Townie, each one punnier than the last. “Hautemeal,” the most recent, features an anthropomorphized and decidedly elegant bowl of oats. It is, as she is happy to admit, “openly ridiculous”—but then, she says, so is the idea of fashion itself. “Why not, when you’re getting dressed, make the thing that you’re getting dressed in as ridiculous as possible?”
Snyder, who still plans on moving to New York sometime soon, isn’t sure how much longer Bottom Drawer will continue to put out new products, but she says the venture has made her realize designing shirts is “something that I would like to do forever.” If wearing fashion is a form of self-expression, then Snyder has found that creating it is a form of self-discovery. “I’m trying to find my own language through my work for Bottom Drawer.”