It all started with a pen and paper.
Franco Te walked into his older brother’s room in their Anaheim home one night in 2013 to find him sketching zombies and other characters from “The Walking Dead” in a notebook.
“That would look really cool on a shirt,” Franco told his brother, Francis Te, whose art he had admired since they were children. And thus Tee No Evil was born.
The pop culture T-shirt company, which displays at comic conventions and has an online store, got its start from an online fundraiser that the Te brothers launched in August 2013.
After a month, Tee No Evil raised $6,500 to begin production.
Since then, it has created unique designs with themes based on video games, comic books, movies and television shows — “The Walking Dead” being a particular favorite.
Franco, 33, said the company, which this year will have a presence at 12 conventions and an equal number of other events like art walks, is different from other pop culture T-shirt companies because the artwork is done by a single artist.
As a result, its products are consistent and customers know what to expect, he said.
The T-shirts are popular items at Half Off Books in Whittier. Manager Brently Sanders said the bookstore donated to Tee No Evil’s Kickstarter and sells the shirts.
“They’re very popular in our stores,” Sanders said. “A lot of people really connect with them. It’s something people really identify with. We’re a bookstore, so we don’t generally carry clothing. We’ve tried other artists who have tried to sell cheap printed T-shirts.
“Tee No Evil has by far been the most successful because of their uniqueness, art and how they put these different pop culture images together.”
Seeking pop perfection
Franco said Tee No Evil’s products are also popular at conventions. During last year’s ScareLA, a horror convention based in Los Angeles, the brothers’ booth was constantly busy.
ScareLA co-producer David Markland said Tee No Evil’s uniqueness helps it stand out among other vendors.
“We’re a pretty popular event,” he said. “All of our attendees are all out looking for good stuff to buy. If Tee No Evil is busy, its probably because they have stuff people haven’t seen before. When I go to horror conventions, there are a lot of different T-shirt sellers. A lot of people have the same stuff. Tee No Evil’s designs are very unique and high quality.”
Tee No Evil’s shirts are ready to order. The brothers said fast shipping is one of their highest priorities. Printing so many shirts ahead of times is risky, though.
“We can have shirts in certain sizes that nobody wants, and we’re stuck with them,” Francis, 36, said. “There are some times where we go to events and we don’t sell many shirts. That’s not fun when we’ve worked the whole day. But that’s part of a business. There are ups and downs. For us, though, there are more ups than downs.”
Francis said he is also a perfectionist, which means designs don’t get submitted to the printer until they are absolutely ready.
It can take him two to four weeks to design a shirt.
“I’m always tweaking my work and changing it,” Francis said. “I always have this philosophy that even if I finish something fast, I don’t want to turn it in yet to print for another week because I always like to go back and see if I should change anything. That’s the beauty of running your own business. We can change deadlines. If I have to push a deadline to make a shirt even better, I’ll do it. We don’t sacrifice quality just because we’re rushing.”
Tee time in their spare time
The process can also take longer because Tee No Evil is not the brothers’ full-time job.
Franco works as a multimedia director for a newspaper corporation, while Francis works as a graphic designer. They said their employers are supportive of their business endeavors.
“Our works have helped us build what we have with Tee No Evil,” Francis said. “We’re fortunate enough that the owners of the companies we work for fully support us and give us advice on how to get more exposure. We’re very lucky to have them.”
Linda Pesner, owner of EA Photography, where Francis works, said she supports all of her employees and believes in Tee No Evil.
“It’s difficult these days to make money off art, and they’re willing to work hard to become something successful,” Pesner said. “I have a lot of young people who work for me. Francis has worked for me for a really long time, and the ability around here with what we do to stretch your creative legs is really not there.
“I encourage everybody to pursue their dream. I would rather be that person that helps my employees gain significance in the world rather than one who makes it difficult for them to be able to do that.”
The brothers said their long-term goal is to eventually work on Tee No Evil full-time, and they also hope to sell at conventions on the East Coast someday.
Franco said he’s grateful for the support the company has gotten thus far.
“It’s a very humbling experience when people buy our shirts,” he said. “When we sell out at a convention or art show, it’s a good feeling. This is our passion. To share the enthusiasm with everybody, it feels good.”