Photo courtesy Elena Zytnicki
Queen Anne’s Elena Zytnicki, a senior at Seattle Academy, prepares to apply a design on a T-shirt she and fellow student Max Torres are selling for their senior project. The T-shirts, which feature mural designs seen around town, are on sale to raise money for the Ballard Food Bank and Mary’s Place.
Photo courtesy Elena Zytnicki Queen Anne’s Elena Zytnicki, a senior at Seattle Academy, prepares to apply a design on a T-shirt she and fellow student Max Torres are selling for their senior project. The T-shirts, which feature mural designs seen around town, are on sale to raise money for the Ballard Food Bank and Mary’s Place.

When senior internships gave way to senior projects after schools closed, Queen Anne teen Elena Zytnicki and her project partner, Max Torres, knew they wanted to do something to help the community while fulfilling their project requirements.

Zytnicki and Torres, seniors at Seattle Academy, started Community Threads, a T-shirt business designed to raise money for the community.

“Because of coronavirus, we knew our community was going to be severely impacted,” she said. “The idea behind Community Threads was to create unique and wearable designs that reflect the impact of coronavirus and the needs of our community, one shirt at a time.”

To give back to the community, Zytnicki and Torres are donating 100 percent of the profits if their T-shirt sales to Ballard Food Bank and Mary’s Place because both organizations need the help as they carry out their missions.

Zytnicki said the pair went around Seattle looking for things to incorporate in their designs, and they decided to photograph images of the colorful murals that have popped up on closed storefronts and buildings with the artists’ permission.

“These murals are really brightening up Seattle,” she said.

Zytnicki said the ones she and Torres liked the best had uplifting messages on them.

She said all of the murals are interesting, but she and Torres were drawn to colorful drawings with inspirational messages, like one in Capitol Hill that depicts a rubber duck and says “float on.”

“We thought it was a really simple but brightening message that would go great on a T-shirt,” Zytnicki said.

Another, from Parker Design Studios, simply says “soon.” The last design is from another mural in Capitol Hill that has bars of soap on it and says “Not all heroes wear capes.”

People also have three T-shirt backgrounds from which to choose: white, pink tie-dye or blue tie-dye.

Zytnicki and Torres started their project in late April and have already made pre-sale orders from their website. They began production last week.

“So far, it has been really interesting, just kind of going through the process of starting a business,” she said.

Zytnicki, who never contemplated starting her own business before, said, “it has been insightful learning how much work and things there are to manage” when starting a small business.

Zytnicki and Torres have been responsible for every aspect of the business, from its conception, to marketing, product research and design, to creating the T-shirts themselves.

To determine the popularity of their designs, they presented some options to school and family friends to gather their reactions and see which shirts would sell. They also went to JoAnn Fabrics to test out their tie-dye idea.

For production, the pair created an assembly line for printing the designs onto the T-shirts using a heat press they purchased just for the project and developed a process for packaging and shipping the shirts to their customers.

“We decided we were going to have to spend some of our own money in order to get just the initial materials for production,” Zytnicki said.

Rather than ironing on decals, which Zytnicki said take a long time to do, she and Torres chose the heat press method because it can print the logos and designs on the T-shirts in 20 seconds. The design templates were printed at FedEx, but everything else was created in-house.

While educational, Zytnicki said the project has also been a welcome distraction from sheltering in place.

“It’s been a lot of fun, especially during quarantine,” she said.

Their trips to the different Seattle neighborhoods looking for murals to photograph was also an eye-opener.

“There’s just like nobody, and it was so breathtaking to see the emptiness in the streets,” she said. “It’s like everything’s put on pause.”

Zytnicki said it was interesting to see the differences between the neighborhoods and downtown, where there were no murals.

“I think the most depressing part of this is when you go downtown and you don’t really see any light or positivity,” she said.

While Zytnicki and Torres’ senior project is technically over at the end of the month, she said, depending on what customer responses are like, they may extend their sales into the summer or possibly add more designs that will support different environmental causes.

“I think it’s just a really unique experience and opportunity to give back to the community and make the best of what we can during the coronavirus,” said Zytnicki, who intends to attend Smith College in the fall.

The 100 percent organic T-shirts, which cost $21.99 each and come in sizes small through extra large, can be purchased from the Community Threads website.

People can also follow the project by on Zytnicki and Torres’s Instagram page.