Holiday shopping for a car nut? Blipshift’s clever t-shirt designers have you covered

Blipshift t-shirt

Blipshift.com is in the business of selling you something you didn’t know existed about five seconds before you absolutely have to have it. The site mainly sells T-shirts printed with car, motorcycle, and driving-oriented designs, but there’s a twist: The designs come and go at lightning speed. New ones post every day, and you have 48 hours to jump on them after they first appear or you might never get another chance. Thus, if you absolutely had to have a T-shirt with the words “What the” above the image of a Fuchs wheel, or a drawing of a turbocharger that says, “Stay in spool,” or the image of a new Toyota Tacoma that shares its wheels with the mirror image of a ’70s Toyota Hilux, then you have to hit the buy button when you see it.

Joe Oh, who founded the company with his partner Sebastian Ruta in 2012, told me they are trying to make Blipshift (other names considered: Shirtwerks, Blinker Fluid, and Formula Threads) a stop on the car enthusiast’s list of daily go-to websites. “We are as much a content site as a retail site,” he said. After you check out the day’s new design, you can page through the site’s 55-and-counting pages of previous ones. If you see one you crave—you absolutely will—you can tell the site you want it back. Blipshift brings back a couple dozen of the most in-demand designs each year, usually with some kind of tweak.

Oh and Ruta met in the New York–area club racing scene while they both knocked around the tech industry in various nonauto jobs. They wanted to start a car-themed business together and experimented with vehicular plush toys among other false starts before turning to T-shirts. Actually, the idea wasn’t to sell T-shirts with their own designs but to get enthusiasts to contribute the ideas. “Crowdsource” sites have been around—Facebook and YouTube, for example—but nobody had tried it in the automotive T-shirt space yet. Submit a winning idea in words, and you can get $100 plus a free copy of your T-shirt.

Submit a finished design, and you get $1 for every shirt sold, with a guaranteed minimum of $250. Nothing is too out there to be considered in Blipshift’s weekly meeting of its nine employees based in Queens, New York, although less than 20 percent of the designs are accepted. Basically, says Oh, be cool and be nice, as the site above all tries to stay positive. So don’t bother submitting a design that shows a little boy peeing on a car logo. It’s been done, it’s stupid, and it won’t get through. The company tries to avoid having to license anything, which is why trade names almost never appear in the designs, and images of racing cars are stripped of their sponsor decals. If it were possible to trademark just the colors used on Martini-sponsored racing cars, BMW M cars, or Gulf-liveried Porsches, Blipshift might be out of business. The one time the company got in trouble was over a design that mimicked the North Face clothing logo, which instead read North Schleife, after the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife circuit.

Thus, the designs are often generic while still being hilariously tongue-in-cheek. Perennially popular subjects include manual shifters, Miatas, and Porsche 911s. The ranking best seller is the image of two horizontally opposed pistons that reads, “The World Is Flat,” obviously for its draw for VW, Porsche, and Subaru (and maybe some Ferrari) fanboys. Another winner reads, “You can’t buy happiness but you can buy horsepower, and that’s kind of the same thing.” However, some of the designs just sail over people’s heads, including the image of a two-outlet exhaust pipe that reads, “Ceci n’est pas une straight pipe.” I didn’t get it, either. When a design involves the accurate rendering of a particular car, tons of research is done to get the image right. “If we ever get something wrong, we are called out on it,” says Oh.

As the site has evolved, Oh and Ruta have moved beyond racing subjects to include bikes, trucks, and overlanding. The one-a-day drip is intended to keep people interested but not saturated. Says Oh, “We know it’s possible to have T-shirt fatigue.”