March 01, 2018
Louise Astorino & Paige Kibby, Creators of "Tit Tees"
In the midst of finals and graduating with degrees in Fine Arts, Louise Astorino and Paige Kibby decided to start their own business, Tit Tees. We gathered up ten questions for them about their friendship, their artwork, and their roles in the Women in Power Movement.
Written & Photographed
by Jasmine Jones
What is each of your background and how did you get to know one another? What were your first impressions?
LOUISE: I grew up in Connecticut, and I’ve always really liked fashion, style, and design. I thought I wanted to go to FIT when I was in high school, but then I steered more towards art and I chose the University of Connecticut art program. I met Paige on my very first day of classes as a freshman. Actually, I didn’t meet her, but we were in the same class. She strode off her bike and she had long, blonde hair, Birkenstocks and leggings, and I thought, that girl looks like a yoga teacher. I remember someone from our class saying they were from California and I thought it was Paige because she looked like she was from California.
PAIGE: It’s the surfer hair.
LOUISE: Yeah, and I just thought she was really cool. We used to walk to the bus together after class and talk about our boyfriends, and I just thought, oh I really like this girl. My roommate ditched me for the next year, and Paige didn’t have a roommate, and this is really weird, I texted her while I was at Planned Parenthood getting a pap smear, asking if she wanted to live together.
PAIGE: What, I didn’t know that. Well I was wearing a T-shirt when you texted me that… [laughs]
LOUISE: That’s really weird.
PAIGE: I’m from a military family so I was born in Washington, moved around a lot and ended up in Connecticut because that’s where my parents are originally from. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I always loved drawing and art was always a hobby so I chose UConn, because it had a variety of everything. I just sort of dove into the art program. I remember seeing Louise in this drawing one class, and I remember very vividly you had this really deep talk with Ray [DiCapua, their drawing professor], I had a [singing] who’s that girl? moment. I was like, wow, I wish I had a deep talk with Ray. I remember really talking to you at a study abroad meeting for Florence, and then we rode the bus together.
How did you get started with Tit Tees? What inspired it?
PAIGE: It was kind of inspired by a couple of things. We had always wanted to screen print on T-shirts. We thought it was a cool idea, and we follow a couple of different Instagram artists that did the same so we wanted to experiment with that.
LOUISE: I found a shirt online from an artist I really liked but it was expensive, and my sister Margot said, you could do that, what if you did cute little designs on the boobs? Margot, do you remember which ones you said?
MARGOT: [laughs] Mermaid shells.
LOUISE: Oh yeah, she said mermaid shells, and literally that day, we started sketching designs and we thought, we’re going to do this.
PAIGE: We were obsessively excited about it.
LOUISE: And it was during Finals Week, so we had a lot of things to do, but… It was kind of born out of procrastination. And within that week, we exposed our designs onto the screens and just made a couple prototype shirts, it was like an adrenaline rush.
PAIGE: We got that all done within about three days, and then we had the shoot with you that week. We did it all in one week, which is crazy.
Louise with her sister, Margot Astorino
"I think that we started, along the process, to think about how these shirts could really make an impact."
What does your creative process involve?
LOUISE: We’re definitely inspired by pop culture references, and just funny, ironic imagery. Ordinary objects, like food, or just silly things you wouldn’t necessarily associate with sexuality and femininity.
PAIGE: Just thinking about our art before we started the T-Shirts, Louise always did really cool references to different people.
LOUISE: Yeah, even though our styles are different, I feel like our designs are still cohesive. We’ve watched each other grow as artists for three years so we can say, I think you should try this, or you’d be really good at that. We definitely started to blend our styles a little bit and feed off of each other.
PAIGE: In terms of color, too, I think we’re very similar with our use of color.
Tit Tees gives partial proceeds to women’s healthcare each month. Is that something that was a crucial component to your business when starting?
LOUISE: No. Because when we started, we didn’t even think that we’d sell them, and we didn’t even think that they would be a thing.
PAIGE: We kind of just wanted to make it for ourselves, and we realized, it would be really cool to see other people wearing these designs, and to see their reactions to it. I think that we started, along the process, to think about how these shirts could really make an impact.
LOUISE: Especially with the political climate at the time, it was a few months after the Women’s March, and we were feeling really stressed and inspired by the power of speaking out. We started, and we still are donating to Planned Parenthood, which is an organization that we both feel very strongly about, and right now it just seems like it’s being threatened by our government and by the current political… situations. We felt, at least during this whole political…
LOUISE: [laughs] Yeah, debacle, we didn’t know what we could do. I think a lot of people don’t know what they can do, and this is such a fun and easy way to participate. Not only can we donate money, but we can start a conversation about sexuality with women and sexualizing boobs, we just want to make it not a thing. Like, everyone has boobs, look at them, here. You don’t have to hide them but you don’t have to flaunt them either.
PAIGE: It’s fun taking a taboo subject and making light of it like that.
Which one of your designs have been the most successful?
LOUISE: Statistically the Strawberries, but that’s not as of recently. I think our original designs are definitely the most popular, Eggs, Lightbulbs, Strawberries, Cherries, and Milk. Then when we released Space, those blew up. We had a huge increase in sales.
Which designs are your favorite?
LOUISE: My two favorites are Strawberry and Space. I love Paige’s color association with the space, I think she did a great job with that.
PAIGE: Thank you. I like the Strawberries, especially on the yellow shirt because they really pop.
LOUISE: That was Margot’s idea again. [laughs]
PAIGE: Such a cool idea. I like the Cherries because they were an original idea. From the start we were like, yeah cherries! I have nostalgia about us both wearing that shirt together, especially posing in the first photos where we were super awkward. I also like the idea of the eggs, because I just think they’re fun.
Louise, Paige, & Margot model various designs alongside Sydney Shugdinis, & Emily McAndrew.
"You should be able to own what you have and be comfortable with it.''
What mark do you hope to leave on society with your shirts? How do you hope people will feel when wearing them?
PAIGE: Confident. I hope people feel confident while wearing them.
LOUISE: I feel so many things when I think about that. I remember we had a customer write a caption saying she had always been ashamed about her boobs being big and now she feels like she’s able to just say yeah, I have boobs. That, if anything, is so hyper sexualized. I just want it to be like, yeah, we have them. What’s the big deal.
PAIGE: They’re all different, like all of our prints, they’re all different. Not one if the same.
LOUISE: Yeah, for each one of our shirts, each boob design, the left and the right aren’t identical. So we just want to make it like, if your boobs are different sizes or look different from someone else’s it’s not a big deal. We just want to normalize it in a way. We actually got a message asking why we sexualize boobs, that’s actually not what we’re trying to do. We’re just making it fun and light hearted. You should be able to own what you have and be comfortable with it.
You’re currently only selling T-shirts. Do you plan on expanding to other apparel in the future?
LOUISE: Yeah, we’re thinking about sweatshirts.
PAIGE: It’s getting cold out.
LOUISE: It’s getting nippy. I also like the idea of keeping it simple. I don’t want to overcomplicate it.
PAIGE: I love the idea of it being the original Tit Tees. I think it’d be fun to expand into different things or make them limited edition, but I want to stay true to what we started out as.
LOUISE: Our brand is called Tit Tees, so… Not Tit Sweats. Sweaty Tits [laughs].
How do you see your business growing from here?
LOUISE: I would love to identify ourselves, not just as the T-Shirts, but as a brand and kind of a mindset and a lifestyle. I know that sounds so cheesy, but… Ideally, if we could start selling our line in other stores like Urban Outfitters or something like that, it would be so cool to just be able to reach a wider range of people. Have it be more accessible, I would say.
PAIGE: I agree, I think it’s cool seeing our art. I never imagined it being in this form of a T-Shirt, but I think it’s cool to see it around.
LOUISE: I think it’s cool to just see people starting a conversation, and to have people have a conversation about something that we came up with, as narcissistic as that sounds, it’s really cool and it’s fun. If I could at least change some people’s mindsets and make them feel more confident about their boobs, that’s a successful business.
What is your advice to other young artists who want to start a new business or project but are hesitant?
LOUISE: I would say just do it.
PAIGE: Just go for it.
LOUISE: I am a lazy person, both of us are procrastinators so I would’ve never pegged us to be the two type of people to just start a business. But I think if you honestly feel passionate about something you’ll find the time and you’ll find the drive.
PAIGE: The circumstances were not what you would expect. We were second semester seniors, we were going through finals week, and we had plenty of things to do before doing this, and this is what we started. I think that because it happened so quickly...
LOUISE: We just rolled with it. Just go with it and don’t stop, or you’ll find an excuse to pause. Another thing is to brand yourself, but also be open to collaboration and being inspired. I think with artists, especially, it’s easy to get heavily influenced by other people. People are doing a lot of similar things that we are with this Women in Power Movement, but we’re embracing it. We’re saying, yeah, we’re apart of this, this is cool, instead of being too shut off. But it is important to identify yourself as a brand, as an artists or if you’re starting a company too, brand yourself.