With camp coming up, my mind is beginning to focus on themes, logos, and shirts. One of my pet peeves is the way I often see people design shirts for youth groups. I believe that if you're going to go to the trouble and expense of getting shirts made, they should be of a quality equal to whatever the kids could buy at a name brand store.
I have known of many people to get shirts designed who meant well, but produced some shirts that must have quickly made it into either the back corner of the closet (best case), or to the local Goodwill (worst case). Here are some common pitfalls to avoid:
1. Bad Color Choices. This is always apparent when you're at an airport and you see a church group traveling. You know it's a church group because they are all wearing shirts that are some neon, radioactive canary color. Sure, when EVERYONE has one, it makes it look a little better and you can spot people. But individually, no one wants to wear a shirt that is so conspicuous, not to mention it could give you a headache. Stay away from neon colors. Most colors can work fine, if the rest of the color scheme is carefully thought out.
2. Not enough colors. People who get shirts designed often worry too much about budgeting. I fully sympathize that we have to not be wasteful, but if you go for the cheapest option possible, with one color printed on one side, the result will be an ugly shirt that feels cheap. One of my club brothers at HU got us a shirt one time that had the right colors, but all that was on it was a one color image on the back with no text, and nothing on the front. He was happy he had kept the cost down, and everyone got one, but most of us only used it for sweating in. Especially when you're thinking about representing your church, and therefore your God, you don't want something that says, "This is not worth spending an extra dime on."
In your attempts to be frugal, you're actually wasting more money than if you had spent an extra few bucks per shirt, because no one will want to wear it. Let's be honest, if you can afford a $7 shirt, you can afford a $10 shirt; especially if it is one that looks good.
3. A bad designer. I have also seen a lot of shirts put together by people with no artistic inclinations whatsoever, because they thought they could whip something together that would be "good enough". Know yourself well enough to know if you aren't an artist. There are lots of designers available who typically do not charge much for a shirt design. Whatever it costs you, to have a shirt professionally designed is completely worth it, and it reflects well on your group. Do not cut corners on getting your design.
4. Following fashions from the wrong era. Nothing makes me more uncomfortable than when I see something for a youth group that looks like it came straight out of the mid 80s. Words like awesome, radical, extreme, totally, etc., in spray-paint looking fonts and a full rainbow of colors are simply not how it needs to be done these days.
Since I've given you some things to avoid, let me make some constructive suggestions on how to have some great shirts:
1. DO spend some time looking at the current trends in shirts to get ideas for yours. Whenever I have given much input into whatever shirts I've had made, I began by doing research into what is popular. Go to the malls and look at the Ts. Look at them online. Take notes about colors, design styles, font styles, and material types. Are they earth tones or brighter colors? Ringer Ts or regular Ts? Is the type bright, or made to look faded?
I get that Christians are to be different than the world in the way we conduct ourselves. There are plenty of verses that urge modesty, but modest is not a synonym for "ugly."
2. Unless you are an artistic prodigy, or have formal training in graphic design, DO hire someone to do your design work for you. I've found that there are a lot of Christian graphic designers who are actually thrilled to do design work for churches at reasonable rates. It gives them an opportunity to use their gifts for God. Ask, seek, knock, and you'll have much better shirts. If you're in the boat of needing a design and you don't know where to find a designer, just ask me; I can refer you to several people who will do a good job. In fact, if you already have a shirt company in mind to use (I can suggest those also), they often have a designer on staff, or one they work with often. It really isn't that hard to find one if you just ask.
3. To make suggestions to your designer, I've had great luck by actually purchasing a shirt that resembles what I want, then giving it to them as a way to help them conceptualize what they will make. The most popular shirt I ever had made was when I was president of my social club. I bought a shirt at Old Navy that I thought looked good, then I gave it to my designer buddy and said, "Make it something like this." Everyone loved it, and no one complained a single time about the price, which was a few dollars higher than usual ($12 instead of the previous $7). I even heard people who joined the club later lamenting that they didn't get to have one. Of course, my designer deserves a lot of the credit here, because he's good, but any artistic person should be able to take an idea and run with it if you give them something of sufficient quality.
4. DO remember that quality communicates. If you spend the time and money to get something that really looks sharp, people notice. Nothing makes me happier than when I'm wearing a church camp shirt and someone says, "Wow...those look really good...where did you get them?"
For some examples, here are a couple of shirts I had made last year. One was for our Monterrey Mexico trip, and the other was for Church Camp. The Monterrey shirt was a darker, earth-tone color. The camp shirt is bright red. It is definitely possible to use bright colors--though I still would hesitate at neons--if everything else is done well.
Preachers and ministers are already viewed in our culture as uncool and suspicious. If I am going to encourage my teens to bring their friends and to represent the Church, then to the extent that I can, I should make sure they don't have to be embarrassed about the things I give them to represent us.