By Theresa Malloy
If you have a little art prodigy at home, would you leave corporate America to start a business revolving around these doodles? Bill Farrell, founder of Bōbiam Artistic Streetwear, did just that.
His 8-year-old son, nicknamed Liam Bōbiam, created some sweet designs that the Farrell family printed on tees for family and friends. Farrell thought, why not make this a business?
He contacted a high school classmate Joel Baardseth who knew about the industry. The two reunited after 15 years, opted to leave comfortable jobs, and Bōbiam was born.
They work with local youth artists, some as young as 5 years old, to produce unique graphic T-shirts. What sets Bōbiam apart is that artists make $1 for each T-shirt sold featuring their design. Another $1 goes to FreeArts Minnesota, a local nonprofit that brings art to kids in need. So far, Bōbiam has donated more than $2,500.
Style Parlor caught up with Baardseth COO (although he likes to say that’s a formality—he’s the sales and marketing guy) to talk about Bōbiam’s mission, future, and youth.
This company is really mission-driven and youth-focused. Where does that inspiration come from?
There was always this gnawing feeling of what can we do that’s better. What can we do? Wouldn’t it be cool to leave the world a little better than when we got here? That’s a huge drive, and we love kids. We love the youth. We love the freedom of the youth. We want to help mold them even to the degree of the future of our country, and it has to do with our kids. But it’s really watching them have that expression and unique (individuality). We see a lot of ourselves in these artists.
How do you get artists, and what is that relationship like?
I was a guest art teacher on three occasions (at Armstrong High School in Plymouth). One of them was for five classes in one day. So I spent an entire day in the high school, and I taught class. And what happened was that we ended up getting a lot of artists from there that were interested in what we did, submitted art and kind of bonded with us. And so much so, that when they don’t have school, a lot of them come into our office and draw. So it’s not uncommon to have three teenagers in our office that are just drawing, just doing art. Because they like being around us. So it’s a really cool atmosphere that we’ve created, and that’s the culture we want in our company. We want that kind of fun, synergistic feel.
So how many artists do you have?
We open it up to everybody. We get a lot of art. We probably have over 100 pieces of art that we haven’t looked at yet. Currently, what we’ve been printing, we have about eight artists that have their stuff in print right now. And moving forward, we’re always looking for more. One thing that I would like is any more opportunity to harvest more art and build that out.
You partner with the nonprofit FreeArts Program. What’s your connection?
We wanted to do a for-profit business with a strong charity component. And it’s just from research that we’ve done where companies that are for-profit have strong charity contributions. We’ve seen a lot of benchmarks where they actually end up donating more in the lifetime of their business than nonprofits. … We give a dollar from every shirt we sell to FreeArts Minnesota. … They have a strong mission. They’re a very well-rounded organization, and we love the people there. They use arts as a means of expression to help abused kids.
What can people look forward to in Bōbiam’s future?
Our brand is powered by youth artists. There’s always something new, something creative. You know, a new design. One thing that’s cool about our brand is that it doesn’t get tired or typecast where we’re not all skulls, we’re not all roses, we don’t look like tattoos. It’s art. you know, so there’s a wide range and that alone always keeps our brand evolving. I say it’s organic; it’s alive.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of the job is when we cut the check to FreeArts and the artists. The second most rewarding thing is when we see complete strangers wearing our brand. So picture a teenager, I mean we have artists as young as 8 years old, imagine them seeing their shirt on a website, that’s pretty cool. But picture them seeing a stranger wearing it, and they can’t talk they’re so excited. Seriously, that energy is like, “Whoa.” It’s pretty awesome.
Next month, Bōbiam moves its headquarters to Uptown, swapping a conference room table in its Wayzata office for a studio space. A retail store will follow later this fall at 1400 Lagoon Ave., above The Social House. The hip space will have an industrial gallery feel, healthy juice bar and other surprises.
Bōbiam also has a UVSmART line of hats and rashguard shirts designed by Bill’s wife Dr. April Farrel, a dermatologist who is also a founder and owner in the company. The rash guard prevents abrasion from tubing and keeps out harmful rays. Adult sizes might be added next year.
Bōbiam products are online and now at more than 20 local stores including The Bungalow (229 Water St., Excelsior), Impact of Excelsior (266 Water St., Excelsior) and Summit Board Shop (9242 Hudson Blvd. N., Lake Elmo).
Interested in becoming a guest Bōbiam artist? It’s easy. Send an email to email@example.com. Baardseth says new designs are always in demand. If you want to start out small, Bōbiam features a new artist on its Facebook and Twitter page. Get creative with the logo (the funny o with the line over it).
Featured image: Tornado $61