About High Tees

High Tees was born out of a desire to be creative again. 

I came back from maternity leave in January 2018 and started working on my business consultancy, Agents of Innovation. As part of getting back into work, I created a faux business to practice using all my business tools. This faux business was a basic t-shirt company. The more I researched, the more I planned and crunched the numbers the more the business looked like an exciting prospect. The big thing was - how to make the t -shirts original, unique, sustainable and high quality. 

So I went back to the drawing board - literally. Although having studied art at University, I had not picked up a pencil, paintbrush or marker for years having been too busy with my retail career. But now with the evenings quiet with my baby asleep, I started drawing again. I have always had a fascination with portraiture and black and white art. My biggest influences being Chuck Close, Gerhard Richter, Ansel Adams, Masashi Kishimoto, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Helmut Newton, David LaChapelle, Ellen Von Unwerth.

At first, the drawings were rusty and unexciting. But over time with practice and experimentation, I landed on a graphic style that suits the medium and the subject matter. I drew Ita Buttrose about 180 times and Germaine Greer about 120 times to get to this point. After some advice from a friend, to focus on the person's beauty, strength and character so their radiance shines through the image, I felt ready to then prototype. 

The next big hurdle was to find a t shirt and printer that ticked all the ethical boxes important to me. It had to be 100% organic cotton and certified Child Labour Free, the t shirts had to be traceable and very high quality - not only fabric, feel and longevity but also quality print that was a true match to the original design and washed well. I also wanted, if possible to keep it all local too. I found my printer on the other side of Melbourne and we were able to collaborate to make the High Tees today. 

Why do I focus on Australian Icons? Having done my research into what was available in the market, I recognised that there was a gap in the market for this type of t shirt. I believe there are many iconic and heroic Australians and Kiwis that have been slightly lost to time and I wanted to find a way to bring them back and highlight the contribution they have made to shaping our culture. The portraits are celebrations of who the people are and what they stand for. In the era of Slogan Tees and where people wants to wear a statement, I wanted to do something different. It still gives the wearer a chance to make a statement. Clearly if you wear Julian Burnside or Geoffrey Robertson, you are saying to the world that you stand for human rights and equality. Similarly if you wear Germaine Greer, you are showing the world you support feminism. 

I spend a long time researching each person. And the first "album" of people are significant to me. I feel they have shaped, agitated, push the boundaries, stood up, shouted out, created a point of difference for our culture. Some people are controversial and provocative. Some people have changed over their lifetime but I capture the person in the moment I feel they were making the biggest impact and at the moment I was inspired by them. There are many more people to be added to the list. 

So far this is the journey of High Tees and hopefully there will be more of a story to add. 

If you believe there are someone that needs to be added to our list, please let me know. 

This is a photo of me hiking near the Matterhorn in Switzerland. Black and White of course!

Thanks for reading,


Jess McDonald and the Matterhorn