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In the latest installment of the Coffee With Friends series, I am SO EXCITED to introduce you to The Curated Tee and the mamas behind this awesome business: Vanessa Ragland and Mandy Sheffer. I met Vanessa through The Groundlings (she’s a current member of the Sunday Company) and in addition to being Mom of the Year (I gave her the award… Congratulations, Vanessa!) and a genius comedian, she and her best friend Mandy recently launched The Curated Tee, a subscription-based company that offers a monthly gender-neutral t-shirt featuring a guest artist’s design, along with a digital download of an activity based around that month’s artwork (check out April’s tee, Strawberry Kisses). In addition to supporting up-and-coming artists, they also expose kids (ages 1-4) to different forms of art that encourage them to think and play! Subscriptions are a perfect baby shower or children’s birthday party gift. I’m not the only fan… Molly Sims recently Instagrammed her love for them.

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The Curated Tee is such a brilliant + beautiful idea for a company. You’re not simply selling adorable shirts to kids… You’re also providing an engaging activity on theme with that month’s design, and you’re offering opportunities to artists to share their work. What was the impetus behind starting this business?



Vanessa: Thank you Annie! You really get us. Well, we have been besties for 12 years, (and we met in college…. HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE??!) We’ve always had a lot in common, but since having our boys we found we also have similar parenting styles and passions for art and letting kids be kids. Mandy and Atlas came to visit after Oliver was born and she and I kept saying we needed to go into business together. Then we started kicking ideas back and forth, Mandy had a beautiful brainstorm, and boom! The Curated Tee was born. We spent the first few months just figuring out all the details – who our first artists would be, where we’d be getting our tees printed, etc. It was kind of a whirlwind, but we were determined to have things together by December in time for the holidays (we just did pre-sales for subscriptions and gift cards). Then we officially launched and starting shipping in January of this year.

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How did the two of you meet?


Vanessa: It’s the classic story of Australian girl (Mandy) goes abroad to work at a ski resort and ends up falling in love with a handsome young co-ed from Virginia Tech who happens to be friends with a weird girl (Vanessa) across the hall. Mandy and I were eating brownie batter together within 10 minutes of our first meeting and the night ended with us dressed as superheroes dancing to Britney Spears.

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Can you talk a bit about your subscription model, and why you decided to go with it as opposed to a marketplace that offers a variety of different designs and activities? (I personally love it – it’s the gift that keeps on giving, with a new surprise every month!)

We chose this model for a number of reasons. By only producing one shirt a month it means we can really focus on high quality designs and downloads, we both love a subscription (who doesn’t want to get fun mail?!) and after digging around a bit, we realized there wasn’t anything quite like it! You can sign up for a three, six or ongoing subscription, and the current month’s shirts are exclusive to subscribers. Everything we do is limited run, and the only people guaranteed to get the designs are our subscribers.

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Even though it is subscription-based, is it possible to buy just one month’s shirt and activity? Or a past shirt and activity, for people just discovering you?

Vanessa: Absolutely. For people interested in only buying one shirt, on the first of every month, the shirts from the previous month are made available to non-subscribers. (ex: on May 1st you can get April’s tee). You are also able to get the activity downloads without a tee at any time.

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The designs and artists change every month. How do you find artists to collaborate with? How are they compensated for their participation?



Vanessa: One of the most fun parts of The Curated Tee is getting to collaborate with amazing artists. Mandy and I are both lucky to have a lot of insanely talented artist friends, and when we approached them on the first round we were amazed at their positive response and genuine excitement. It’s part of our mission not to offer “kids’ art” but to offer art, period. We love that our designs are gender-neutral and meet children at a higher level. When working with an artist we encourage them to stay true to their own style. As soon as we launched, we began getting inquiries from artists all over the world interested in working with us – it is amazing!  We’ve started building a roster and we’re SO excited for the future. Our artists currently receive 20% of all profits from their design (but we’re a micro-mini company, so they won’t be Scrooge McDuck coin-swimming), in addition, of course, to t-shirt love.

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You both have the most adorable sons, Oliver and Atlas. What months have been their favorite activities?

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{Atlas + Mandy}

Mandy: Atlas is our greatest cheerleader, and gets so excited with every new tee he is introduced to. He comes with me to ship every tee and wants to know who they are being sent to, and which tee is in the box. It’s been wonderful watching his interests and knowledge grow and change as we work our way through the downloads, and I do think they have played a huge part in his new found love for making art. Atlas really connected with all the dramatic play activities that were inspired by our first tee, ‘Heartbeat’ in January, and still loves to play doctor and use his stethoscope on anyone who stands still long enough. He loved the mapping element of ‘Bike Fellows’ in February and has become really interested in looking at maps and wants to know more about them. He loved the adventures we took ‘TV Kid’ on together in March, and the large scale paintings we did inspired by these adventures. We are only just delving into April now, so I’m excited to see what he connects with the most.

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{Oliver + Vanessa}

Vanessa: Well, Oliver just turned 1 so he’s just starting to enjoy more structured artistic endeavors. I’d have to say his favorite activity was related to our TV Kid shirt. Since that image is of a child with his head inside a TV, Mandy had the GENIUS idea to incorporate lots of play with cardboard boxes into the month’s activities.  Kids. Love. Boxes. It’s just the way it is. I am sometimes intimidated to let the sweet little monster that is my son loose with paint – but here’s a mess free solution, stick him in a box! I stripped him down, put him in a huge cardboard box (with no top of course) and let him go at it with some water color paints, then crayons. He had a blast – and then the box went into the recycling and Oliver went into the bath. That water became delightfully psychedelic.

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What advice do you have for other women dreaming of starting their own business?

Vanessa: First step – acknowledge the amount of time, money and thought you will spend on this business. Next step:  If tallying up the aforementioned items doesn’t make you barf, DO IT!

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How about advice for people going into business with a friend?

Vanessa: Set ground rules at the very beginning and treat the business the same way you would with someone who isn’t a friend. Sign a contract. Establish what you both want early on and what your roles are. Check in regularly with one another. Be honest. We actually created and signed two contracts, one as business partners and one as besties. We check in on both vows regularly.

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What artistic input do you have? Do you give the artists free rein, or do you collaborate on what the theme will be each month?

Vanessa: It’s a little different every month. The first month, we knew we wanted an anatomically correct drawing of a heart, so we contacted Derrick Nau (a friend, 3d artist, and biomedical illustrator) to work with us and we were so incredibly pleased with the result. February’s Bike Fellows was an existing design of Helena Leslie’s that we were in love with. We are completely enamored with Federico Infante’s painting work, but didn’t know how it would transfer with our design constraints. We asked him to brainstorm some simple line-drawings and he sent us the first (and final!) draft of TV Kid and it was perfect.  So basically, it’s an ever-changing collaboration.

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These days, it seems like toddlers can work iPads and iPhones at a higher skill level than myself (which, to be honest, is not saying much. But you get it.) There is so much technology available to kids these days; did that factor into your decision to include an art project with the shirts each month?

Vanessa: It wasn’t an intentional factor in why we decided to do the downloads, but it’s definitely our hope that the activities we plan take children away from a screen, and get them interested in learning about and creating all sorts of different art. As an early childhood teacher, Mandy was very inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach which has a strong art + play focus, and really emphasizes learning through experiences, and respecting that children are “…competent, creative, curious, and full of potential.” The activities we plan are all open-ended and child driven. It’s not the outcome that’s important, but the process of making the art. We encourage parents to work with their child and support their children’s learning, but not to do the project for them. We try to include activities that even our smallest Curated Kid can do, as well as sharing children’s books and art products that help to extend their learning and interest.

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{Check out The Curated Tee blog for more fun project ideas}

Who are your dream artists you’d like to collaborate with?

Vanessa: Oooph, it’s a long list! Social media, especially Instagram, has been an incredible avenue for discovering new artists. We follow a long list of insanely talented people we’d love to work with including tattoo artist Kim Saigh (@kimsaigh), lettering artist and designer Erik Marinovich (@erikmarinovich), artist Mark Crilley (@markcrilleyreal) and Sara Lowes of Animalesque (@animalesque). We’d also love to find a way to collaborate with other businesses like Red Cap Cards (@redcapcards), Roxy Marj (@roxymarj) and Mer Mag (@mer_mag).

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Celebrity baby you would most like to see rock The Curated Tee?

Vanessa: I mean, if Shiloh Pitt could fit into our 6t, I would die. Can you imagine? I’m thinking a pair of boyfriend jeans, some combat boots, TV Kid shirt and a motorcycle jacket. It’s that easy, Shiloh. Next would be a Hemsworth kid, just because that would mean Chris Hemsworth is hip to us and he would probably end up dating me (it’s fine with my husband, I asked, he gets it.)

Mandy: It would be pretty epic for Rachel Zoe to put her little boys in our tees – that would be an amazing stamp of approval that what we’re doing is relevant and important in children’s fashion. I’d also love to see Joy Cho of Oh Joy! dress her little girls in our tees too (she would also be another designer we would love to collaborate with). And if Beyonce and Jay Z want a lifetime subscription for Blue Ivy, we’re be happy to oblige! :)

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You guys also have a great blog with fun, affordable activities. What are a few projects on your Pinterest vision board you can’t wait to conquer next?

Vanessa: It’s really important to us that every activity we offer is doable at any income level. Art does NOT need to be expensive.  Also, if you aren’t ready to take the plunge but would like some ideas for your kids, each month’s download is available for just fifty cents. We also have a Pinterest board with our favorite art products and where to get them. Providing children with quality products is important, and there are great places to buy these that don’t cost a lot of money.

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As for which project to conquer next, we’re excited to do some weaving on a loom we made from sticks we painted recently. And there are a ton of other exciting things to get into on some of our other boards, which you can find here. Plus, every box we get in the mail becomes a springboard for one of these projects.

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I know you gals are just offering T-shirts now… But they are, nonetheless, FASHÜN. So, that makes you experts in my book. What are your favorite baby fashion trends of the moment?

Vanessa: Baby berets. Baby abs. Baby spray tans. Baby grills! Also, let’s talk infant injectables – I want Oliver’s pout to have a little something more

Ok, I’ve got to be honest, I’m not really up on baby fashion. When I dress Oliver (mostly in hand-me-downs, thanks, Atlas!) I love a lot of bold colors, a lot of patterns (especially stripes), and clothes that are easily washable and soft to wear. I have to say, I find few things cuter than a baby in leggings. I also really appreciate finding clothing that’s gender neutral, which can be really tricky (and was a big reason why we wanted our tees to be so).

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Favorite thing to come out of your mouth that you never thought you’d say as a mom?

Vanessa: I can’t think of a quote but I do think it’s really weird that I will, without hesitation, stick my finger into his diaper to see if he’s pooped. It’s so stupid to do that, and I never learn.

Favorite thing about being a mom?

Vanessa: Oof. Huge question! I have to say, motherhood just opens you up to love in such an intense way that can be terrifying at times. My husband John made a video for Oliver’s first birthday and when I first watched it I thought to myself between sobs, how can I survive this love?! But it’s a love that makes you stronger in every respect. I suppose my favorite thing about being a mom is being Oliver’s mom – I just feel so incredibly lucky every time I look at this little person. What a gift to watch him grow, nurture his imagination, and make sure he always loves me more than any other person on the face of the earth. That last part was mostly a joke.

{Video John made for Oliver’s first birthday}

What’s next for The Curated Tee?

Vanessa: We want to keep growing, working with amazing artists, and interacting with our little subscribers. We’ve been blogging a lot – and would love to expand on this with more content, guest bloggers, and videos. We hope by the end of the year to be working on developing a more interactive website where all the facets of what we do can come together in a more streamlined way. We don’t want to be just beautiful tees, we want to be a springboard for parents to interact with their children in creative ways, a place where children are introduced to art, an inspiration to get messy and let kids be kids. Currently we print each month’s design in one color ink on super soft American Apparel tri-blend tees. However as we grow and add new artists, we plan to expand from this and print some months in multiple colors of ink to be able to showcase each artist’s style a little better. We’re also looking into new tee styles that give us more color options there too.

We’ve also been getting a lot of requests from mamas for grown-up versions of the tees. Who knows!

Photocredit Urban Cub Blog

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Thank you ladies so much for chatting with me!! People, head on over to The Curated Tee to snag a subscription (or a past tee or project) for that special baby in your life! All solo tees are 15% off today with the code EARTHDAY15. And while you’re in a subscribing mood, please click the Follow button to your right and subscribe to Heels in the Hills, too! Thank you so much for supporting me, and the brands that support this site.