Messenger - Vol. 3, No. 2, Page 3
Winter 1994
Topsy-turvy tees boon to travelers

     Several years ago, travel enthusiasts Robert F. "Rob" Wilson, Delaware
'73, and his wife, Beth Wise, were driving around the Yucatan Peninsula
when they found themselves in an area where the language was unfamiliar.
Wilson's solution was to take a Magic Marker and scribble a few key phrases
on a T-shirt he planned to wear.
     That gesture would change his life.
     While Wilson's words appeared upside-down to the people he met, all he
needed to do was glance at his chest to pick up the phrase he needed. The
first in a long line of Info-Tees was born.
     Today, Info-Tees, designed exclusively by Wilson at his New York City
graphics studio, named Blue Hen Graphics, have caught on big time. Full of
information designed to benefit the wearer-the shirts appear upside-down to
everyone else. Designed to met the needs of travelers and hobbyists, there
are four lines available: Travel-Tees, Nature-Tees, Lifestyle-Tees and
     The shirts are marketed in exclusive catalogs and gift shops by Sarut,
a marketing company owned by some of Wilson's friends. They are, for
example, the first T-shirts to appear in the upscale Hammacher Schlemmer
catalog, which has been published since 1848. Disney sells the language
T-shirts at its gift shops in Epcot Center. The Biblical Archaeology
Society markets the Hebrew, Arabic and Greek T-shirts and the John Deere
Co. sells both the Frogs and the Garden Bugs shirts.
     "I think of them as walking books," Wilson says.
     After Wilson's Magic Marker experience, the Travel-Tees were the first
in line. They are now available in 15 languages, including French, German,
Italian, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, Danish, Greek, Hebrew, Mandarin and
Russian, just to name a few. Some of the translations (Arabic and Japanese,
for example) are phonetic.
     There are basic language shirts and specific shirts with conversion
charts or menu items. Printed with brightly colored graphics incorporating
the flags of the countries they represent, the general language T-shirts
have key words and phrases printed in English and the foreign languages.
The information is grouped into six categories of 12 phrases each. Examples
of what a traveler might find on a shirt include:

        * Basic phrases-like "yes," "no" and "thank you";
        * Hotel phrases-such as "The toilet is broken";
        * Dining phrases-such as "I would like to order...breakfast, lunch,
          dinner, wine";
        * Shopping phrases-such as "I would like to buy..."and indicators
          such as "small," "large," "cheap," "expensive";
        * Travel phrases-such as "Where is the airport?" or "What time does
          the train leave?"; and
        * A category titled "Things"-with words for such everyday items as
          "aspirin," "razor," "wallet."

     The Nature-Tees are printed with fall foliage, backyard birds, sea
shells, garden bugs and other topics.
     "Basically, I visit bookstores to see what's selling, to discover
trends. Weekend gardening is big right now, so if a gardener is wearing the
Garden Bugs shirts all he or she has to do is look at it and be able to
say, 'Oh yes, that roach....'"
     General Lifestyle-Tees is a miscellaneous category that includes
(upside-down, of course) hand tools for the slightly confused or novice
handyperson; symphony instruments for the occasional concert-goer; winning
strategies for blackjack; pasta shapes for budding gourmets; nautical knots
for the weekend sailor; cloud formations, wind directions and meterological
terms to predict the weather; and more.
     The newest line, Kids-Tees, includes shirts featuring First French and
First Spanish (beginning words in each language), critter tracks, optical
illusions, and, once again, bugs.
     "It's sort of like book publishing. There's almost no limit to what
you could 'publish' on a T-shirt," Wilson says.
     Wilson is sought after for special orders. A language society may
special-order a number of shirts and request its logo printed on the
sleeve, for example. CBS-TV recently placed a large order for Language Tees
for all staff covering the Winter Olympics in Norway.
     "Almost nobody speaks Norwegian. I'm really hoping to get a few shots
of the shirts on television," Wilson says.
     Not that he needs publicity. In recent months, his shirts have been
featured in articles in publications ranging from USA Today to Cruise Views
(a sales training publication for travel agents).
     Radio talk shows on travel often call him for interviews.
     Wilson has come a long way since his days at Delaware, when he worked
in the University Bookstore, steam-pressing Blue Hen decals onto T-shirts
and struggling to pass his foreign language requirement.
     "I'm pleased and my ego has been tremendously gratified by the
response to the shirts. It's been hard work, and while I'm not exactly
ready to rival Mr. Trump financially, I'm optimistic that the business will
continue to gain steadily," he says.
     For more information on Info-Tees, call Wilson at (212) 260-2423.
                                                  -Beth Thomas