Love Nail Tree Make Cool Tees

Wes Dickson

A young woman screams in an alleyway, but a masked man stifles her cries. People walk past in the background; in big, capital letters loom the words "People Turn Around." This stark, thoughtful image is just one design by Love Nail Tree, a small, Los Angeles-based, shirt-and-jewelry company whose tees feature hipster song lyrics and black-and-white images. Many Southern California bands get the love: Delta Spirit, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, Cold War Kids—they're all there.

Love Nail Tree began six years ago when co-founders (and husband and wife—aww) Tyler and Michelle Madsen were 19 years old and in search of a hobby. The 10-person operation sews each über-soft garment, designs and prints the graphics, and crafts the jewelry. You can find necklaces with steampunk-esque pocket watches or vintage-style cameras boasting Woody Guthrie's iconic phrase "This Machine Kills Fascists." The T-shirt themes range from alcoholism to artistic creation. Take a peek inside the tee, and you'll find original, thought-provoking poems. One such design shows a photo of a man in deep recline clutching a drink, a bottle of gin labeled "Oblivion" placed prominently nearby. It displays lyrics from Cold War Kids' "We Used to Vacation," saying, "I Promised to my Wife and Children."

Employee Paul Cameron explains that Tyler Madsen was an alcoholic. "He recovered—he's clean now, but that's a very impacting shirt," he says. "People will say, 'I'm two years sober' and whatnot. That's always really cool to hear."

The images may seem macabre, but Love Nail Tree is actually an optimistic company. Each shirt is dedicated to raising attention to oft-ignored issues, as well as the merits of the small, heartfelt business in the exceedingly corporate and plastic fashion industry. According to its mission statement, "It is our desire to see the stories we tell will move people to action and inspire a deep change within them."

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Love Tree Nail's products have been showcased at all the super-cool craft shows such as Patchwork, FYF Fest and Unique LA, and its tees have popped up on American Idol and in Australia. Will the Madsens change the world? Who knows, but it's nice to see really cool items made by a grassroots company with heart and vision that are not carried by the cultural drain of Urban Outfitters—and let's hope that never happens. . . .

Follow me on Twitter: @taylorwrites.

This column appeared in print as "Hang Me Out to Dry."

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