Taking a new business venture to the tee

On February 28, 2010, in Latest News, by The News Staff
Julie-Ann and Jacob Burkhart. ~ Photo courtesy of Julie-Ann.

By Julia Fairclough

they say, gifts come in surprising packages; which is why the story of
Julie-Ann Burkhart's tee-shirt business brings to mind that losing a
job can mean the opening of a new door.

Burkhart, 26, was laid
off from her job as a graphic designer for a Somerville marketing
agency in October of 2009. Just a couple months later, she created her
own business that combines the things she loves best, working with art
and surfing.

Bird Swell (www.birdswell.com) touts surf-inspired
tee shirts (or "wearable art") featuring Burkhart's original designs.
While going from graphic designer to tee shirt designer happened rather
quickly, it was a process that was perking on the back burner for a

"I was having some doubts about doing Web design, and
wasn't sure whether I wanted to try something new, like teaching," she
said. "At the same time, I was talking about doing something like Bird
Swell. . . I'd see a plant and think, how cool would that look as a

Burkhart sat down to brainstorm with a friend who is a
creative director. "He asked what my passion was, and I thought,
surfing and art."

Always an industrious woman, Burkhart
researched tee shirt forums on the Internet, and spent hours
brainstorming with her husband, Jacob. It didn't take too long to
create a few prototypes, and then an initial tee shirt line. Her work
embodies delicately gentle waves, curlicued flowers, and diaphanous
jelly fish.

"There was a point where I'd come home from work and she'd have a new design every day," Jacob laughed.

has become almost routine to hear stories about job loss and the
economy. However, there is one demographic whose story is untold. The
"twenty-somethings" out there whose positions are being cut and the
ingenuity and tenacity they are showing in the wake of job loss, said
friend Marcus Andrews, who worked with Burkhart.

"I was amazed
at the tenacity that Julie-Ann displayed," he said. "I was shocked when
we met for coffee two or three weeks after our last day and she already
had a dozen design comps for surf inspired tee shirts. In a couple of
months she had screen printed shirts, a new website and a business

Thus far, Burkhart was traveled to surf shops on both the
East and West coasts. She learned how to make cold calls and show up
with a suitcase full of tee shirts by bravely marching through it.

"I heard so many stories that this was a bad economy, but once people looked at my design they loved them," she said.

Several stories in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts carry her designs, and she does a good business on line.

grew up in Hampton, NH and went to the beach often as a child. She
would watch the surfers riding the waves and was fascinated. When she
was 14 years old, she decided to give surfing a try and was hooked. She
surfs up in Nahant, and takes surfing trips to Costa Rica and Mexico.
She has been creating art since she was five.

She gets
inspirations for her designs while surfing. She will see a piece of
seaweed and move it around before taking a few photos for design ideas.

who lives in Arlington, wants to keep her business local. She works
with Hemlock Inc. in Somerville to print her designs. She also wants to
collaborate with local artists for group shows to accompany her tee
shirt sales.

"I finally found my niche, a true outlet for my
graphic design," she said. "I am excited now to get out of bed in the
morning and to think of new designs."

Join Burkhart for a Bird
Swell launch party at the Landsdowne Pub, 9, Landsdowne Street, Boston
on April 13 from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.


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