T-Shirt Designer on the Rough Edges of Brooklyn Development
Deb Goldstein, 40, of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, is the witty designer behind MissWit. Her t-shirt company unwittingly got its start when the shirt she made for some friends, simply stating, “And I want to thank Harvey Weinstein,” was displayed in the window of a Brooklyn store in 2003.
Goldstein also happens to be the sister of Daniel Goldstein, who founded the Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn campaign against the Atlantic Yards project that built the Barclays Center that is the new home to the Brooklyn Nets. Goldstein lost his own home to the development’s eminent domain claims. One of MissWit’s latest creations is “I’m still calling it Atlantic Av – Pacific St,” an obvious takedown of the transit hub’s newly minted name, Atlantic Avenue – Barclays Center.
Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: Basically my academic background is in film and I worked in production for a number of years and I was disillusioned by that. After September 11, I did some volunteer work in that area so I went into social work. On the side, I basically have always made collages and played around with words, and writing and poetry. I started doing the shirts by accident. I do not have a design background, I taught myself Photoshop and the business. I’m kind of just an average person, I have a good sense of humor and I think that shapes what I come up with, with my shirts. Sometimes they’re just my observations either of myself or any other self-deprecating thoughts that I might have.
Q: Do you often bounce your ideas around with friends?
A: Things have definitely come up over the years over being out and having a drink. I usually run the ideas by a couple of people. If certain people don’t get it, I know that it’s going to be good. I like having the opinion of others, when I ask for it.
Q: There has been a proliferation of cute and clever Brooklyn t-shirts. What do you think of this trend as a designer?
A: I don’t describe myself or my designs as cute and clever. But I think it’s great. It’s become easier to make shirts these days and I think it’s a good form of expression. Some I think are funny, some I think are clever, I don’t think they all are. I’ve had my own hits and misses.
Q: Are there any Brooklyn shirts that you have seen that make you want to outdo their designers in a game of wit?
A: I have pretty much gone about doing my own thing and have not really ever been influenced by seeing other t-shirts. If I see something that is funny, I appreciate it. But I’ve never really thought, oh I can do that different or better. Up until this shirt [“I’m still calling it Atlantic Av-Pacific St”], the designs and phrases that I have used have a broader appeal, are more universal as opposed to this specific shirt which is Brooklyn-based. Other than custom shirts, I haven’t really made Brooklyn shirts because there are so many.
Q: What are your favorite Brooklyn t-shirts?
A: I’m not sure who did this first — but the 718 shirts. I’ve always liked those. And anything that just says “Made in Brooklyn.”
Q: In your custom design business have you made any shirts about Brooklyn that you have really liked?
A: One of my favorites is the Urban Meadow, a community garden park in Red Hook/ Columbia Waterfront District. And fighting the Atlantic Yards project, I made the shirts for “Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.” I didn’t design it, but I’ve made these shirts over the years.
Q: What are your thoughts about the Brooklyn Nets shirts?
A: That’s one Brooklyn design that I do actually have an opinion on. I understand why people have it. I get this idea that it’s exciting that there’s going to be a team about Brooklyn. I certainly don’t begrudge anybody who is wearing it. I think that most people who are wearing it were not involved, might not live right nearby [the Barclays Center] and don’t really know what it took to get there. I think it’s a terrible design but it doesn’t drive me crazy. Seeing the arena and the mess in that area makes me crazy.
Q: How would you describe Brooklyn?
I would say make your own opinions, create your own opinions that’s all I can say.
Q: And at this point, what are your opinions about Brooklyn?
A: I think that Brooklyn has an incredible amount of amazing things to offer but there are a lot of things with Brooklyn development that is misguided or poorly planned. The way this arena is not all Brooklyn, but what’s been done there and what’s happening there is terrible. Other parts of Brooklyn I do not think are failures, where people are creating their own communities and people are doing good work in the community, both rich and poor.
Q: Is there a characteristic that Brooklyn has that you think you also have?
A: Rough-around the edges. That could be misconstrued to say that I think the outer parts of Brooklyn are rough, and that’s not what I mean.
MetroFocus intern Toby Milstein conducted this interview, which has been edited and condensed.