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Hearts on their Sleeves: Austin t-shirt designers Xtric8 raise awareness with bold fashion

Austin photo: Contributor_Michael Graupmann
Austin photo: News_Xtric8_logo
Austin Photo Set: News_Mike_Nov 2011
Alesha Spacek and Emily Hicks Photo by Michael Graupmann
Austin photo: News_Xtric8_tshirts
Gay Rights t-shirts
Austin photo: News_Xtric8_child abuse
Child Abuse t-shirt
Austin photo: News_Xtric8_animal rights
Animal Rights t-shirt
Austin photo: News_Xtric8_human trafficking
Human Trafficking t-shirt

They may not be loud about their mission, but Alesha Spacek and Emily Hicks are definitely making a strong statement.

Together, Spacek and Hicks created Xtric8, a screen-printing business selling wearable works of art that encourage dialog on a host of vital social issues like child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. As budding apparel designers, their shirts are generating proceeds that go toward ending these evils once and for all.

Spacek and Hicks are both Austin transplants who realized the synergy of this town that makes a cause-driven start-up business a real possibility. “We’ve both always been passionate about different causes and making people aware of what’s happening around us,” says Hicks. “So we wanted to combine our passion for helping others with our love of design.”

Together, Spacek and Hicks began laying the groundwork for what would quickly grow into a viable side business for their various alternate day jobs. (Hicks is a designer at Austin Cake Ball and Spacek is a graphic designer by trade.)

They designated their company Xtric8, a name they chose to emphasize their goal of helping others escape their bad situations. Their bold, eye-catching designs demonstrate their passion and creativity, implying the messiness of these heartbreaking scenarios but also the possibility for moving forward and healing.

Each of the five current designs are linked to a national and a local nonprofit organization, and a percentage of every shirt is automatically donated to those charities. The animal rights design, for example, provides half of their donated proceeds to Austin Pets Alive! while the other half goes to the ASPCA.

In the last year, Spacek has designed five screen-printed designs, with her sixth on the way. The shirts currently represent (and generate funds for): Gay Rights, Domestic Violence, Child Abuse, Human Trafficking, and Animal Rights. Each of the shirts is made in the U.S.A. and guaranteed to be exploitation free.

“Extricating those in pain is precisely what we’re hoping to do with our funds,” says Spacek. “We wanted to make the name our own, so we came up with this very specific logo. Everything in it has a purpose, from the letters we chose to the arrow formed between the ‘C’ and the ‘8.’ Everything has its place.”

This sort of planning and development guides these two business partners who share more than a business license. Hicks and Spacek have also been romantic partners for the last two and a half years. “We’re learning important lessons about separating the business and the personal,” says Hicks with a smile.

“Emily handles the business side of things, and I’m more the creative and social marketing,” explains Spacek. “It helps to know what our clear roles are. And we both trust each other to do the best job possible.”

After launching in August, Xtric8 is already creating a significant buzz among the nonprofit set in town. “It’s largely been word of mouth so far,” Hicks says. “We’ve gotten a lot of help from the Human Rights Campaign, who is one of our recipients of donations. Likewise, we would love to talk with anyone who knows how these shirts could benefit them or someone they love.”

Clearly, the shirts do their own advertising as well, initiating dialog between the wearers and the folks who can’t help but comment upon the creative designs. “The designs are meant to be in-your-face but not hitting you over the head with their meaning,” says Spacek. “We want to inspire dialog and make people ask what it’s about.”

You can expect to start hearing the smart ladies of Xtric8 in commercial spots on 101X’s live streaming station soon as well. “We’re expanding our message and want to get the word out,” says Spacek. “101X feels independent and local, which matches the vibe of the company.”

Running the company out of their shared home, these busy ladies are currently accepting all orders for their shirts online or at the various events they attend for their chosen organizations. Locally, they’re even available for public meet-ups for delivery orders to avoid shipping costs. “We’re learning how to roll with the punches as we expand,” laughs Spacek.

Their goal is grow the Xtric8 brand into a full line of apparel displaying hopefully twenty or so designs to match various social causes. In a year or so, they’re hoping to open up a brick and mortar store to house their apparel. “I really think Austin is the perfect town to do something like this,” says Hicks. “Even if we were lucky enough to expand, Austin is always going to be our home base.”

The final piece of the puzzle for Xtric8 is sharing the stories of survivors and crusaders for each of their chosen causes. Says Hicks, “We would eventually like to expand the website so people can publish their stories to explain why they’re passionate about the cause they’re buying a shirt for. That would create a nice community and a testament to help raise awareness.”

Whether it’s wearing a shirt or telling your story, it’s undeniable that someone must be outspoken about demanding change. Until the silence is broken, these innovative designers are putting their hearts on their sleeves.

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