When Mark Ohlson thinks of his clothing line, he doesn’t like to think of it simply as garments. Instead, he sees each piece of apparel as a work of art.

It was art that inspired him to start his own clothing line in November amid a national recession.

Ohlson, who moved to Scarborough from Portland about six months ago, describes his Local-Ink clothing line, consisting of hats and shirts, as one of the newest ways to enjoy art.

“It is art that you wear,” he said. “Our designs, our clothes, they are designed to describe you.”

Ohlson wants each piece of clothing to reflect the work of artists from the greater Portland area, he said.

Each shirt or hat features the designs of two artists per season (spring and fall), usually about three designs apiece, Ohlson said. Each piece is then marked with a leather tag that, for example, says 41 out of 100, along with the artist’s signature. Hats sell for $20-$20, and t-shirts go for $42-$98, with 15 percent of sales going back to the artists.

He also incorporates several house designs per season in which he can infuse his own vision.

“I want the artist to be recognized,” he said. “I want people to also know that when they buy a piece from me, it is one of a kind and no one else owns that piece.”

Ohlson’s debut line featured Tessa O’Brien and Theodore Bettcher designs. O’Brien and Bettcher aren’t wannabe artists, either, Ohlson said.

O’Brien exhibited her work at Vegoose Music Festival in Las Vegas, San Francisco’s Outside Lands Music and Arts Festival, and Bonaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. The Tang Museum in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., also featured her work.

“I absorb and process everything in my life artistically,” O’Brien said.

Ohlson, who also dabbles in art and music, said he became perplexed a few years ago when he saw talented local artists struggling to make a living through their art. He realized that in the art world there are only two classes, he said: “Poor or rich.”

“There is no middle class art world,” he said. “You either struggle to eat or you are multi-millionaire because the right person recognized your work. There isn’t an artist who is in the middle making the $45,000 to $50,000 a year through their work, and I want to try and create that.”

Ohlson developed his clothing line concept two years ago while listening to music. “I noticed the music was making me feel better and improving the quality of my day,” he said. “I decide that’s what I want to do. I want to make the lives of people I don’t know a little better each day.”

Ohlson, who works full time as a bartender at Frog and Turtle in Westbrook, admits he is nervous about starting his clothing line amid a national recession. But he decided the time was right and took a chance.

He put $12,000 of his own money into the project and took out a $20,000 loan from Bangor Savings Bank for startup capital. And, Local-Ink was born.

“Each garment comes with a personal letter from us,” Ohlson said. “It will also have a photo and bio of the artist who designed your piece of clothing as well as a short commentary on their clothing line.”

Tracy Demattis, a former clothing line owner and current mortgage broker in Portland, has offered her support to Ohlson. She is spending her free time helping him with marketing.

Demattis said she wanted to help because she thinks the idea is unique and could eventually blossom into a lucrative clothing line.

“Having been in this business before, I feel this is a good idea,” she said. “Mark is taking the artist and putting them first while creating something that is personal and unique for the owner, and you don’t see a lot of that in today’s fashion world.”

One of the first people to wear Local-Ink was Portland resident Brandi Neal.

“It really is wearable art,” she said. “I feel like I’m supporting the artists and a local company that is really striving to combine art and fashion on a new level.”

Ohlson is going to expand the clothing line next year by adding belts to the mix. He is also going to start marketing through Web site campaigns that target San Francisco, as well as continuing to penetrate the Portland market, he said.

Currently Local-Ink clothes can be purchased only at www.local-ink.com. Ohlson eventually wants to get some pieces in higher-end stores in Portland, but they must be an art-first, clothing-second store, he said.

“That’s the key to all of this,” he said. “These pieces can’t be looked at as clothes only, and they can’t be seen as just another garment. The art must be showcased first. Our mission is to create a unique and original piece of wearable art that is bold, vibrant and inspirational.”

Scarborough resident Mark Ohlson, launched his clothing line, Local Ink, in November. His clothes, he says, are wearable pieces of art and not really garments. Scarborough resident Mark Ohlson, launched his clothing line, Local Ink, in November. His clothes, he says, are wearable pieces of art and not really garments.


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