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Wear your neighborhood pride on your T-shirt

June 21, 2012|By Amanda Boleman | For RedEye

If you've ever explored the (many) different neighborhoods of Chicago, you know each has its own distinct personality and character. 

Fueled by his passion for design, graphic designer Steve Shanabruch set out to brand each neighborhood with its own logo based on his experiences, research and conversations with residents. Thus, The Chicago Neighborhoods Project was born.

As a Chicago native born and raised in Beverly and current living in the Ravenswood area, Shanabruch knows it's hard to sum up an entire neighborhood in one logo and emphasizes that this is just one designer's vision of the Windy City.

RedEye caught up with Shanabruch to get the details about the ongoing project that has created a lot of buzz in the city and the new T-shirts he is offering.

When did you first start this project? What was your inspiration?

I first started designing the logos in September or October of 2011, and first started posting them to the website in mid-November. I was initially inspired by a similar project that is being done by a designer that is a native of Minnesota that set out to design a logo for all 10,000+ lakes. Her passion, not only for design, but also for where she came from, inspired me to start thinking about ideas of things that I could do that would show that same kind of passion. I wanted it to be local, and I wanted it to be something that I could work on for a long period of time, and it actually took a while to settle on neighborhoods. When I finally did, I had a "what took you so long?" kind of moment. Chicago is a city of neighborhoods, just about every area of the city has a distinct feel, and designing a logo for each area would not only let me grow as a designer, it would also allow me to learn so much more about the city that I love so much.

Have you received funding or have you funded the project out of your own pocket?

Aside from buying a new computer and upgrading my software about halfway through the project, no money has been spent.

Did "The Chicago Neighborhoods" website start out as a blog and evolve into T-shirts or did you always plan to turn the logos into t-shirts?

It started as a creative outlet for me. I seriously love design. If I didn't have real-world responsibilities, I could definitely spend all of my waking hours either sitting in front of a computer messing around in Illustrator, reading design books and magazines, or visiting different parts of the city looking for design inspiration. I design all day long at my full-time job, but I wanted the freedom to design things how I envisioned them. I wanted to try new techniques and styles, and I wanted to push myself to grow as a designer. And I won't lie, I also wanted to gain at least some sort of exposure so I could pick up freelance design jobs here and there. The shirts came about after the project started gaining a little traction on Facebook and Twitter. Chicagoans have a lot of pride in where they come from, and I started getting emails and tweets and Facebook messages asking when I would start selling merchandise. People wanted to be able to represent their neighborhoods, and since there was a demand, I figured I might as well try to supply it.

Where do you get your ideas for the logos?

It depends on the neighborhood. Some ideas come from personal knowledge, some come from online research, some come from suggestions that I have been given by residents, and some come from a mixture of sources. I won't even pretend to know about most areas of this city, but I do my best to listen and learn what I can before starting a design. I know my vision won't always match up with that of a resident of a particular neighborhood, but like the about page on my website says, "I hope that we can agree that a neighborhood with a logo is better than a neighborhood without."

When did you begin your partnership with belowthecollar.com?

Dave at belowthecollar.com first contacted me in February or March after I asked Facebook and Twitter followers what neighborhoods they'd like to see printed on shirts. After exploring various options, and seeing quite a few test prints, I decided that they would be the best fit. They use direct-to-garment printing as opposed to silk screening, and the beauty of this is the fact that I can offer every design on a T-shirt. You want a shirt featuring Morgan Park? OK, done! Galewood? OK, that works too! Screen-printing has a lot of upfront cost, and that would have forced me to be very selective in choosing which designs to offer. I'd have to go with shirts that I know would sell a lot, and unfortunately, people in the smaller neighborhoods would most likely not have the option to represent their respective neighborhoods ... at least not with my designs.

Where do you see this project going in the future?

For the foreseeable future, I will still be designing and posting a logo or two every week to my website. Most logos will then be available on T-shirts a week or so after the design is posted on my site. I'm not quite sure how or where or when it will all end, but if I keep up the current pace, I won't have to worry about that until some point next year. As for merchandise, I plan on offering prints of many of the neighborhood designs sometime within the next few months.

Purchase T-shirts of the various logoed 'hoods at belowthecollar.com.

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