Writing the Story of the World (and Wearing It, Too!)

[17 January 2012]

By Sara Jane Pohlman


This is a story about a shirt. Several shirts, really. But it’s also about art. And positive social action. It’s about the people, too; those who make all this happen and those whose lives are touched. In sum, it’s the N-Spired Story.

This is a force of energy with a lot of moving parts. The goal is to write the story of the world. Contributors (i.e., anyone with a net connection) submit stories to the N-Spiredstory.com and vote on each posting. The one with the most votes that also suits the tastes of project leader Sam Yousif and art director Manuel Marquez de Prado, becomes the next chapter.

“It is a process that in some cases takes some time because we depend on the stories that the people send us, and it is difficult to select the right one for each chapter.  We get together with a couple of beers, pick the story from the most voted on our website, check which artists are available and decide what the social act should be,” said Marquez de Prado. 

This part is handpicked by the N-Spired team, and takes the longest time, because the group wants to make sure their efforts go to something significant. So far, the acts have been to organize a mini-marathon for a group of young-at-heart seniors, to give away a foldable house to a homeless person and to inspire a group a preschoolers to tell their own stories.

Funding is provided through the T-shirt sales. The shirts are screen printed by hand for $21.95 each, and only on sale for ten days after the corresponding chapter is released. A percentage of sales from the limited-time only togs go directly toward the social act. The Smartphone trick comes in when the t-shirts are sold and the artist’s design begins to circulate.  The app needed is Junaio, which works using image recognition technology. Aim the Smartphone at the shirt and a video pops up onscreen depicting the story and offering a link to the website.

Yousif and Marquez de Prado, pride themselves on finding a creative spin to give back to the community. “For me, the social acts are one of my favorite parts of the project. I mean, we just built a foldable house on wheels for a homeless person in Madrid,” said Yousif. “It is really a great experience to feel that we are doing something positive for the community as well as to be involved with something we can really believe in.”

Yousif says the response has been positive, especially in light of the fact that the project is something so new. “We have received tons of emails from people all around the world saying how much they enjoy the idea of the interactive t-shirt that also encourages a social act,” he said. The team is in high demand from other art and social media players who want in on the project, from organizations hoping to collaborate to artists eager to design a shirt for each upcoming chapter. 

Spanish artist Grande worked with Yousif and Marquez de Prado to create Chapter One: Defying Nature. In this first installment, the team was inspired by the story of Cliff Young, a 61-year old Australian potato farmer. Way back in 1983, a crowd was gathering in Sydney to see the beginning of the Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon, a seven day, 875 kilometer race. This old-timer in overalls and muck boots shows up, signs in and starts running with a herd of professional athletes. Despite the stacked odds, Young came in first. For the full story and the rest of the chapters, go to N-Spiredstory.com.

Influenced by the idea of defying nature, Grande’s graphic and the resulting shirt depicts a tiny hummingbird carrying a giant boulder secured with rope. For their social act, the first Ultra Young Marathon took place in Torrelodones, Spain. Under the watchful eye of an exercise coach, 16 senior citizens ran a symbolic 875 meters, posed for photos and had a great time paying homage to Young.

Grande got involved with the N-Spired Story after some emails with Yousif. “I always like to get involved in good projects whenever I see passion and honesty in the people behind these. To me working with good people is as important as the project itself,” he said.

For Grande, this project was something different. The artist, who will only appear in photos with a gorilla mask on, not only designed the shirt but filmed and edited the footage from the marathon and helped out with promotions. “In this case the main difference was that I didn’t have a clue about how the next step was going to be and how would people react,” he said.

Jonathan Calugi, the artist who worked on Chapter Three: A Child’s Imagination, based his design on the limitless possibilities of a young brain. “What I love in the child mind [is] the capacity to translate each input. Something’s different every time,” he said in an email. Calugi’s work is driven by the idea of beginning new stories, which lends itself well to the social act for this chapter.

The team went to the Scandinavian School in Madrid and asked a group of preschoolers to make up stories. The kids shared their drawings and stories on camera. In return for their efforts, each child will receive a physical book filled with their own tales along with a DVD of the process.

Marquez de Prado was originally drawn to the project when he considered the innovativeness of the idea. “There are lots of t-shirt websites where you can find commemorative designs of something.  But we want something more than that,” he said. To him, the stories carry meaning and are relatable to a reader no matter how widespread the original story might have been. Throwing these stories into the melting pot of online social connectivity breaks down all kinds of walls. “Having the people share the stories and vote on the stories they want to see made into a chapter, as well as with our Facebook page, allows us to get in contact with all kinds of people from different countries and cultures, and you realize that the world is getting smaller, that we all have similar fears and laugh at the same jokes,” he said.

As far as contributors to the site, exactly who is following the story is difficult to pin down. Men and women of all ages from around the globe have submitted stories, but it seems to be users from 18-40 years old who are buying the shirts. Yousif says some are interested in the alternative fashion, but many love the idea of an interactive shirt. This thoroughly millennial approach to storytelling might be a turn off for the less connected among readers, but Yousif thinks it’s just the opposite. Because the story is available online, the Smartphone isn’t strictly necessary. Instead, it’s just another option to put the N-Spired story directly into the hands of readers.

“That is the beauty of this project… By incorporating the design of the artist, not only do you have his or her interpretation of the story, but you also have your own. You can then go on to share the story through your own eyes and interpretations,” said Yousif.

At this writing, the project is a third of the way to its projected finish line. The plan is to create nine chapters. After that, the group will sit down and decide the future of the project. Yousif wants to see it turned into a physical book. The N-spired Book will be more traditional than the course of the project so far, what with being printed on actual paper. The tome will detail each chapter and include a behind the scenes look at the creation process as it happened. However, a few elements of interactivity will remain, so don’t go deleting that new app.

Marquez de Prado is confident the project will sustain itself.  “I don’t think there is a similar project out there,” he said. “And for 20 Euros. Any other clothing brand would sell it for 100.  We are not looking to become millionaires; we just like the project and believe in it.”

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/144436-writing-the-story-of-the-world-and-wearing-it-too/