Valentin Esparza made his first Tulsa-themed shirt when he was 19 because he loved the idea of art on a shirt.
"Not just text or something someone could draft up on Word, (the shirts) are things I've drawn, my friends have drawn," said the 22 year old, who was born in Mexico, but raised in America since the age of 3.
Esparza's first T-shirt was inspired by a friend's unique photo of Tulsa's Golden Driller. Now his Ts, with simple, interesting line drawings of the Tulsa skyline and several new Tulsa-centric designs are sold exclusively at Dwelling Spaces, 119 S. Detroit Ave.
At a break-neck pace, the hard-working Esparza graduated from Memorial High School, decided to make a cool shirt, learned to screen print, launched T~Town Teez, fell in love with sewing and has now designed several collections of avant-garde clothes under his new label, simply called "E."
A key part of Esparza's creations is his ability to compile and morph the ideas of his friends into fresh artistic pieces. For 2011, Esparza decided to release a new T for every month of the year, and many are collaborations with his artist friends. So far it's going well.
Among the Tulsa-themed releases are Ts featuring clean, line-drawn images of Tulsa Art Deco, Bigfoot, the Blue Dome and, naturally, a construction cone. And now he's expanding into screen-printed throw pillows. He got the idea after noticing he had a lot of leftover, heavier materials that wouldn't work for clothes but would make for good home décor pieces.
So Esparza made up 13 pillows using recycled fabrics from thrift stores. He then washed, ironed, cut, printed, stuffed and sewed each pillow, and figured that would be the end of it.
Within a matter of days, Dwelling Spaces had sold the last one.
"I can't get them to last a week," he said.
In late May, his models walked a makeshift runway in an alley behind Gypsy Coffeehouse for the debut of his Chocolate Pelican Fall 2011 line.
"I like to do fashion in random alleyways," he said. "I'm looking for a warehouse for my next one."
This summer, Esparza will release some short, draped dresses in cream and black under the E label. Then it's off to the Indie Emporium in October to show a spring collection.
First T-shirts, then the world -- Esparza doesn't just want to launch a few successful clothing items. He also wants to knit together a community of working fashionistas in malleable Tulsa.
"If you go to Dallas, everything's already set in stone and you just have to play along," he said.
He hopes for the day when 10 or more designers put on runway shows within a week of one another.
Esparza's upcoming spring collection will be a tactile, bold collection of mostly dresses, which represent his thoughts on the decline in natural resources, China and the American Industrial Revolution.
Esparza's inspiration board is dotted by bits of everything from bags of acorns to antlers, from grey lace to a Saved by the Bell trading card.
"I'm already gathering tree bark for one of the dresses," he said.
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