For a while there it seemed as though fall weather would never come, which isn’t so bad when you’re sporting a slick tee from local businesswoman Andrea Tomlin’s Fly Nerd brand.
As a long time admirer and proud T-shirt and button wearer, I HAD to have a sit down with this Baltimore fashion-forward thinker. If you haven’t seen her style, get ready to be enthralled. (And feel the need to have a few dozen of her amazing shirts!)
just B more: First, thanks for taking the time to answer these questions. I stumbled upon your Fly Nerd definition tank top in a boutique in Hampden and had to have it. It never fails to get compliments and comments. (Mainly, “So you’re a fly nerd?” To which I’m always replying, “Hell yeah!”) Since then I’ve always made it a point to stop by and see you when you’re vending. I have a LONG list of things I need to buy!
With fall weather finally making an appearance and fashion always in season, I wanted to pick your brain about being an independent business owner, growing a recognizable brand in Baltimore, and of course fall fashion.
While I’ve seen bits and pieces of the Fly Nerd origin story, how did this all start? You know, why T-shirts? Where did you get the name Fly Nerd? When did it all start?
Andrea Tomlin: I created the first Fly Nerd design in 2009 while I was living in New Jersey. I had a local print shop make one tee and gifted it to a musician that inspired me. He embodied the vibe of a Fly Nerd. Nothing came of it really. I had no clue how to move forward in terms of production.
Years later I moved back to Baltimore and learned to screen print. I printed that same Fly Nerd design for a small flea market at my nephew’s school. It was a very small event, maybe two or three vendors. I loved the response. I loved offering a wearable product where I could merge my love for fashion and graphic design.
Around that time I was making clothes, showcasing in local fashion shows. I incorporated the tees with the clothing. It was a great way to get some visibility for what I was doing. I officially registered the business in 2013.
JBM: This is probably a silly question, but I don’t want to assume. Were there struggles with starting your own business, both as a woman and as a woman of color?
AT: No such thing as a silly question. There are definitely struggles. A lot of them internal. Getting over imposter syndrome, procrastination and just pushing through times when it seems like you are wasting your time and money.
Specifically as a woman… There have been some creeps along the way. A few men I’ve encountered come off as if they want to help or assist in building the business but have other motives. When I would vend with my boyfriend (at the time), people would approach the table and assume he was the owner. He was awesome in that he always made sure they knew that I was the owner and creator.
I am very fortunate. Baltimore has an amazing network of entrepreneurial women and women of color who are very supportive of one another. It is an awesome feeling to know that you are surrounded by people who genuinely want to see you win.
Having that community, I think it trumps the negative challenges that come my way.
JBM: How long have you been creating art? Would you call yourself an artist as well as a T-shirt designer, or are you an artist who happens to make T-shirts?
AT: I would call myself an artist. I’ve been creating art since I was a kid. I LOVED to draw people. In middle school and high school, I became fascinated with fashion and fashion drawing. I studied graphic design in college and went on to study fashion. I have been creating SOMETHING my entire life. This season, I’m creating T-shirts. I love to paint and sketch, even though I don’t as much as I would like.
I would say I’m an artist who happens to make T-shirts.
JBM: What inspires your prints? It has a very signature feel that can’t be copied. Where do you go for inspiration?
AT: Thank you! People I see. I people-watch at events. I love seeing photos of street style. It could be a style or trend I see someone wear and create a graphic inspired by that look.
90s television is a huge inspiration as well. Shows like A Different World and Fresh Prince are some of my favorites.
JBM: I can totally see the 90s inspiration in your work. Where do you hope Fly Nerd goes from here? Are you looking to expand your business to a national chain store, or do you want to keep it local and handmade? Who do you hope wears your brand?
I’ve been reflecting on that question recently. It’s cool that you asked. Right now, I want to keep it local and handmade. I plan to strengthen the online presence. Improve the service of our website to make it more accessible for those in other areas.
I hope anyone who connects or is inspired by the theme will wear the brand.
JBM: What are your fall must-haves for this season? Any trends you’re seeing that are Baltimore specific? Trends that have had their moment?
My fall must haves… A good pair of boots. I am currently on the prowl for some Dr. Marten’s. A GOOD hoodie, of course it will be a Fly Nerd hoodie. The hoodies I sell are SUPER comfy. I am also obsessed with wide-brim wool hats.
I would love to see the chunky tennis shoe of the early 2000s just disappear. Some things don’t need to come back. lol
JBM: I think that your shirts are a must-have for any season. Where can people go to purchase your clothing line? Do you offer men’s and children’s sizing? Will you offer more than T-shirts?
Thank you, again! They can visit www.flynerdapparel.com. I offer men, women and children sizes. I will be offering more hoodies and jackets this fall. You can find me on Instagram and Facebook under @flynerdapparel
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