• Advice

Books on Shirts! The Story of Out of Print Clothing

The Freelance Life spotlights members who are pursuing their passions through independent work. Meet entrepreneur Todd Lawton, who created Out of Print Clothing with his business partner and childhood friend, Jeffrey LeBlanc. Out of Print is a social-minded company that combines two awesome things: literary apparel and literacy.

Tell us about Out of Print Clothing. What do you sell, how long have you been operating, and what is the company's mission?

Out of Print is all about celebrating great stories. We license original book cover art and design our own literary-inspired art to create apparel and accessories that get people talking about books. In addition to creating excitement for books through things people wear and carry, we also help schools and libraries in developing countries gain access to reading materials. For each Out of Print item sold, one book is donated to a community in need. In the three and a half years since our launch, we have helped to donate over 500,000 books!

Why did you decide to start your own company? Where did you get the inspiration for Out of Print?

We’re inspired by our customers’ passion for books. We wanted to create a brand around the lifestyle of reading to help people express that passion to the people around them. Until we started Out of Print, we felt that no one was really helping readers in this way. We are passionate readers ourselves and we want to continue to make reading fun and exciting.

Has running a business come with any obstacles or challenges? How have you overcome them?

Running a business comes with a steady stream of problems to be solved. You’re constantly reacting to what your customers, operational structure, and market is telling you. A lot of your decisions are from the gut and are scary. You have to be able to weigh the pros and cons and make decisions. The smaller you are, the more decisive you have to be. It’s all about keeping things simple and keeping things moving forward.

What has been your most interesting project?

We’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of great partners. A couple stand out. First, our collaboration with Wilco to host a design competition for one of Jeff Tweedy’s favorite books (Don Quixote). We partnered with Veer and Wilco to get people to help design a logo for the back of the shirt inspired by a quote selected by the band. A ton of people submitted designs, and we held an open vote for our fans to decide which design they liked best. Proceeds from the sale of the shirts were donated to 826 National, which teaches inner-city kids creative writing in innovative ways. More recently, we partnered with the developers of a The Great Gatsby 8-bit video game. We hosted it on our site and used customer participation to help donate books. At the end of the campaign our customers had scored enough points to help us donate about 6,000 books.

What tip would you give to a new freelancer or aspiring entrepreneur?

If you’re motivated by calling your own shots and are really excited about a business idea, make it happen now! There’s no use sitting on a good idea. Take the leap of faith and follow your intuition. Life is too short to deny doing something that you feel strongly about. Don’t bog yourself down with having all the answers too early on in the process. Know your business idea well enough and trust that as soon as you dedicate yourself to pursuing it many doors will open up to you.

Tell us about Out of Print's partnership with Books For Africa. Why is this social purpose mission an important part of Out of Print?

From day one we wanted to use our business as a vehicle to help do good. We found Books For Africa and really liked how they operate. They have a simple mission – to distribute books to students of all ages in Africa – and are very efficient. We also were excited about our ability to help promote their organization.

Do you have a favorite Out of Print Clothing item?

This is the hardest question yet. Today my favorite is the shirt I’m wearing – The Hound of the Baskervilles.

What drives you to keep going?

What keeps us going is having supportive and passionate customers who care about what we do, the knowledge that what we do each day helps communities around the world, and the thrill that there are infinite ways to do fun and creative things with great works of literature.