When PSFK found itself at the far end of Magazine Street in New Orleans, we visited one of the creative businesses helping to reinvigorate the city. Dirty Coast is a design company best known for their graphic tees. As part of our ongoing NOLA Changemakers interview series, we talked to co-founder Blake Hanley about how the city inspires his company and how he spreads awareness about NOLA across the country.
It was great coming across your store on our recent trip to New Orleans. How would you describe your business?
We are a merchandise company that concentrates on custom-designed shirts, posters, stickers and bags using different designers and illustrators. All the concepts for the designs come from our team and collaborators in the community. For us, a successful product and design is one that is one that is not immediately comprehensible to someone who is not from the area. It forces the wearer to describe the meaning behind the piece and thus strikes up a conversation about New Orleans or the Gulf South… The product spreads the [understanding of] the peculiar way of life we love in this region.
We met a lot of motivated folks in NOLA looking to rebuild the city on a creative level , and we’d argue that Dirty Coast is part of that movement. Would you agree? Tell us about the current spirit of New Orleans.
Our business model is based on collaboration with other creatives and organizations in the city who also have an active membership. (A Venn diagram of tribes if you will.) Working with other groups is the only way we can expand our reach and find new ideas for work as well as not be dependent on traditional advertising. Dirty Coast has a creative, collaborative business model.
In terms of the movement, the natives of the area have added a great deal to the community creatively. Those who lived through Katrina who were able to stay, and those who were able to return after the storm, brought with them an absence of apathy that was striking to anyone who grew up here. Apathy toward the city’s status quo – the school system, political culture and insular business community – was detrimental to any new ideas, growth or creative solutions. That’s changed somewhat, but you can’t fix a broken city overnight. So we needed help.
More Nola converts have moved here since Katrina and they seem to share common interests, like taking on challenging situations, interest in cultural exploration and a respect for the things locals love and ideas on how to fix what we don’t. These folks have added new energy to the community and continue to do so.
How does that spirit inspire your work?
We grew up here, so we relate to it like a family member. We love the whole city, both the good and the bad. We know we can change how the city operates, and we try, but some of the strange behavior is exactly what makes her such a special place.
The discovery process by those who have just moved here makes locals the happiest, as it allows each of us to be the tour guide and show them Our New Orleans. It is in that spirit that we create our products. Give folks cool designs that are also insider tips to understanding New Orleans.
What’s the inspiration behind your next tee?
Our next two shirts include one for Congo Square and another for Tivoli Circle. Congo Square was the only place in the United States where slaves were allowed to meet, dance and play traditional music. It is the birth place of jazz, blues and funk. It gave the country rhythm. Tivoli Circle was the name for what is now called Lee Circle. It is where the street car line breaks from the residential area of the city and enters the business district.
And you ship across the US, right?
Yup. Someone in every state has bought our work, and we couldn’t be happier to think of the conversations that might happen all over the country about New Orleans.