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Design it yourself with Pasteurized Tees: something for everyone

blog by Avery Hartmans  • 

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to find the perfect t-shirt, you just knew when it was right. It’s soft and snug and has a design on the front that fools people into thinking you’re cooler than you really are. But for all us jeans-and-tee wearers, finding the Holy Grail of t-shirts can be a challenge.

Actually, it WAS a challenge. Pasteurized Tees, located at 478 Elmwood Ave. in Buffalo, is a t-shirt connoisseur’s heaven. Racks on racks on racks of colorful American Apparel t-shirts, tank tops and hoodies line the walls of a shop whose decor relies heavily on a plywood aesthetic, which is way chicer than it sounds. Between all the American Apparel tanks and the cool interior decoration, the hipsters are fast descending. Hey—if you build it, they will come.

Owner Michael Bowen and his brother-in-law Colin Griffin are the geniuses behind Pasteurized Tees, which opened last June. What began in Bowen’s home as a hobby in his spare time has morphed into what he calls a “tattoo shop for t-shirts.” Griffin and Bowen each bring their own unique perspectives to the business: Griffin studied photography at the University at Buffalo, while Bowen studied architecture and taught himself how to make t-shirts late at night after bartending. 

“We both design, we both have our different characters of what we do,” said Bowen. “I think I can lay out things a little better, but he can draw things a lot better. He’s amazing with Photoshop. So there is no role of who does what, he just isn’t allowed to yell and I am.”

Their t-shirt-making process is different than what most companies offer, which I discovered when I was lucky enough to design my own tee from start to finish. It all began with my vague idea involving a photo of a big cat—not an oversized house pet, but a snarling tiger—which the guys then turned into a more well-thought-out design and sent back to me via email. Almost the entire design process took place without even setting foot in the store. Plus, Bowen and Griffin are incredibly patient people, which I discovered after changing my mind roughly four times. Griffin’s emails remained very polite despite my indecision and he accommodated my every whim.

After settling on a design, it was time to head to the store. I was first directed to a rack of t-shirts in a few different fits, where I selected a heathered cornflower blue tee that reminded my of my favorite pair of jeans. Next I was handed a key ring with a whole bunch of enticing colors for my image and text and I watched the monitor as Griffin showed me what my t-shirt would look like in all the different colors I tested. While I was tempted by a sparkly gold, I eventually chose a yellow-orange color called “Athletic Gold.” Don’t ever try to tell me I’m not an athlete. 

Next it was time to create the shirt. Unlike other t-shirt companies, Pasteurized Tees does not do silkscreening. Instead, the designs are printed on a solid sheet of what looks like vinyl—but is actually ink—and then peeled apart by hand and with tweezers.

“You know in middle school when you had a Fruit Roll-Up, when you peeled it away and the moon and the stars were left? That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Bowen said. “So we’re going to peel away all the negative space and you’re left with the image in reverse.”

Once Griffin painstakingly peeled out my tiger design and fancy brush script text, the image was melted into the shirt using a press heated to about 340 degrees, a process which took roughly 30 seconds. And voila! Moments after I walked into the store, I had a real, live one-of-a-kind t-shirt in my hands — an incredibly soft, well-fitting tee emblazoned with a slightly scary growling tiger and the demand to “be brave.”


What made the whole experience so great, and what makes Pasteurized Tees so unique as a company, is their willingness to print nearly any design on any material. Customers can bring their own clothing item—as long as it’s clean—and Bowen and Griffin will hook them up. One customer even supplied them with a gigantic red sleeveless cardigan to print a design on and the pair happily obliged. There are limits to what designs they will print, however.

“I won’t do hateful things,” said Bowen. “There was a kid who wanted us to draw a dead baby and we weren’t going to do that. There are things that we won’t do, but it’s a very broad line. We’ve done a lot of crazy things.”

Some recent examples of their wilder designs include a pair of cow-print pants, a shirt proclaiming love for a certain part of the female anatomy and one rather odd request from a local mother. 

“There was a lady who was an advocate for anti-circumcision…she was a huge basher of circumcision,” said Bowen. “So we made her a shirt that said…‘Foreskin feels good.’ She even gave us some literature.”

Clearly these guys don’t shy away from the bizarre.

So if t-shirts are your thing, you need the perfect gift or you just want to create something one-of-a-kind, check out Pasteurized Tees. But best to clean out your closet first, or your other t-shirts might get jealous.

TAGGED: american apparel, avery hartmans, pasteurized tees, shirts, t-shirts, tees

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