Talal Obeid, a 29 year old self-taught graphic designer, was mostly known for his blog Tata Botata, which he started back in the early 2000s. After disappearing from the blogosphere for a while, he comes back today with a new project: the Monochrome Collection.
The Monochrome Collection is a set of t-shirts with some of his greatest illustrations. He describes it as the coolest underground clothing label, with artworks that refer to Kuwaiti and Arab pop culture, assured to put a grin on your face.
What can you tell us about yourself?
I’m a graphic design/illustrator, but I will go by ‘Art Director’ within the setup of an advertising agency. I’ve been working in advertising since 2001 and I’m completely self-taught.
In 2004, I started a blog (tatabotata.com) that covered visual culture in Kuwait among other things, but I was mostly known for a t-shirt line I started out of that blog. For a while, I was widely known around Kuwait as “that guy who makes t-shirts”.
I like to keep challenging myself creatively, so I dabble in music-making whenever time allows it. One day, I’m gonna drop an album that will change the face of modern Arabic music. Scratch that, it will change the face of music, period.
I’m also a new member of the "Marriage Institution," I have never realized how much sense this makes. It’s like you have four hands instead of two. I love my extra set of hands (i.e. my lovely wife).
I remember your blog tatabotata.com in the early 2000s. Today and after a few years of inactivity, it’s back, but as an online store, why the gap?
Over the past several years, between work and life, I just didn’t have the energy nor the drive to continue blogging in my spare time, I however chose to focus more on my development as a person. I made some decisions in my life, that might have been unwise at the time but I regret nothing. It’s been a crazy ride ever since the last time I wrote on the blog.
I have always maintained the domain with plans of re-launching the t-shirts, which just happened last month. I might start blogging again in the near future on the same site but it will definitely be less personal than it used to be.
So what's the Monochrome Collection?
It’s the comeback collection. It’s a small number of designs, some old some new. People have been asking about some of these designs for years now, especially after I presented at Pecha Kucha in mid 2010.
Many of my t-shirt designs started as sketches or doodles in my notebooks. They got streamlined to their bare minimums to exist as a viable idea that communicated whatever I was going for. In that one single color of my pen or pencil, they delivered everything I wanted them to deliver. So in this collection I’m celebrating the minimal, simplistic aesthetic that these ideas started in.
How is it going? What kind of feedback have you been getting?
Considering the t-shirts have just been launched for the first time since 2006, things are going quite well. I’m honored to know people still remember me and those who were fans then still remain loyal fans to this day. I’ve been getting emails and comments from people who used to read the blog back when they were kids in high school; they have their own family and kids now.
There been complaints about how prohibitive the prices were, but I got burnt out of over saturation before. When I first started the t-shirts, I was literally selling them out of the trunk of my car. Overnight, all the ‘cool kids’ in Kuwait were wearing the t-shirts. I would go to a birthday celebration to find half of the gifts people were giving were my t-shirts. I didn’t want people to get tired of these t-shirts instantly. I want this to remain as ‘underground’ as it used to be at the very beginning, if not more.
Plus, this is not a car trunk operation anymore. I have invested some considerable amount of time and effort to get things done to the highest standard possible. Quality is definitely a priority and I have yet to receive a complaint in that regard. Also, did I mention we print on American Apparel T-shirts?
What and/or who inspires you?
That’s a really hard question for me to answer. I mean, sometimes I feel like my brain is a connection-deprived laptop that keeps on finding free Wi-Fi hotspots in every little thing around it. I start sentences that I don’t finish, because I get distracted by the very same train of thought that was forming that sentence (which drives my wife crazy sometimes).
But really, the ongoing discussion of ideas like originality, inspiration, creativity and re-creativity is almost futile. I mean how original was the concept of language, and where would it be without the reuse and abuse of everything about it?
So, pretty much everything and everyone, especially everyone.
Where do you see the t-shirt trend going in Kuwait?
T-shirts are just an application, it's graphic design that I'm interested in the direction it's heading. A few years ago, Kuwait's University's Women College (where I lectured once) was the only place that offered graphic design courses here. Nowadays every private university has that covered and a little more. It's a very exciting time right now for local designers. I think local designers, with their cultural insight and connections, can afford not getting a 'day job', which seems to be the most creatively rewarding situation for people in this field. Opportunities for fun creative work in Kuwait really open up when you're not chained to your desk.
But back to your original question, I think it's really refreshing to see local t-shirt brands springing up to existence after I started selling t-shirts out of my car back in 2006. Wait, are you trying to credit me with starting this whole 't-shirt trend' thing? Oh no. No, no… Well okay, if you insist.
Can you tell us about your plans for the future?
Yes. Our next collection should be coming out early next year and will include several different designs. We’re hoping to release a new collection a few times a year and eventually branch out into more than just t-shirts as the seasons change. Currently the Tata Botata label exists mostly as a web store, but we are working with retailers like Sauce in the UAE and Fortune Cookie here in Kuwait.
Anything else you'd like to tell our readers?
Go buy my t-shirts! Haha! I just want to tell the readers that they are already doing great picking up an awesome publication like Khaleejesque, but I really want people here to shift from consuming to making and creating. It's really rewarding, not only in a materialistic way, but you could really find your true calling by 'doing' it rather than just talking about it.
– Yasmine Mehdi