Tee Time

Fashion entrepreneur Brandon Grbach took a chance to design shirts that go against the grain.

Photos by Cory Morton

When Brandon Grbach decided to take control of his future, he was six credits away from graduating college. Think 8 a.m. classes and bedraggled walks across campus. Around him, people were schlepping to one unsatisfying job or another, trying to make one more loan payment. To Grbach, founder of Pittsburgh-based clothing company DeadBuryDead, higher education began to seem like nothing more than a machine churning out complacency.

He admits that he went to college because he was fearful. “Everyone always said that if you didn’t go to school, you’d just end up digging ditches,” Grbach recalls. “But then I thought: Maybe I’d love digging ditches …”

Not ditches — but he really digs T-shirts. Soft, well-designed ones.

Grbach dropped out of school, made some money and bought a screen-printing kit online. It took weeks to learn the machine. And even when he got the hang of it, he needed to learn Photoshop — which is even more complex.

Fast-forward seven years, and DeadBuryDead is exporting to Japan and the UK — and Grbach turned down an offer from Urban Outfitters to stock the shirts. He’s always had a pretty straightforward goal in terms of his designs: “I want to be your favorite shirt,” he says. “You know, the one that’s 10 years old, super soft and worn-in — and even though it’s covered in curry stains, you still love it.”

But Grbach’s designs also grow out of profound moments in his life. He was in the hospital when he designed a simple anchor for his “Sinking Ship” design, with a hidden print inside the shirt that reads “I won’t go down with this ship.”  It has proven true both personally and professionally.

Today, Grbach stays true to his ideals — designing comfortable T-shirts with personal meanings, working with small suppliers and retailers, and living in a way that’s truly fulfilling. “The more fearless and ambitious I am with my art, the greater my success,” he says. You could easily say that about his life, too.

Categories: Style