Like a lot of side hustles, The Internal T-shirts started over a beer between friends.
It was back in 2016 when Mark Mason, a senior freelancer, and James Ansley, executive CD at Grey, were talking (commiserating?) about their work and some of the many minor frustrations that come with a job in advertising—make the logo bigger/make the logo smaller kind of stuff.
The pair, who were a creative team at TBWA more than a decade ago, thought that those idiosyncrasies, so familiar to so many, could be shared on a line of T-shirts. But like a lot of good ideas, it was put on the back-burner when the two men got too busy to follow through.
Then the pandemic hit and Mason suddenly wasn’t very busy at all. “I was on the couch for almost two months,” he says. “Everything clamped down, so I had a lot of spare time on my hands, and then James mentioned this again and I thought ‘Yeah why not, let’s fire it up. It’ll give me something to do.'”
Within weeks they had created their own T-shirt brand, The Internal, and had shirts for sale through Teespring.
Each of the shirts features a few words that convey an inside advertising joke or reference. They likely won’t mean much to anyone outside the industry, but that’s what makes them more enjoyable for anyone who works within it: “Turn to page 12 of the brief,” for example, or “Art directors can right two.”
There’s also a gag about the games creatives play around awards shows, with three different T-shirts: “Client version,” “Agency version” and “Awards version.” “We’re not making fun of the industry, we are having fun with the industry,” says Mason. “These are supposed to bring a smile in recognition of those crazy moments.”
The industry seems to be picking back up from the early days of the pandemic, but while Mason is busier, the pair plan to keep the line going. They just added three new shirts, taking them up to 19 with more on the way. “We’ve only just started really,” he says.
They might make a little bit of money from sales—”We call it beer money,” Mason says—but that’s not really why they did it.
Instead, the shirts are a sort of winking homage to a crazy industry they both still love, while also allowing them to do a little personal brand development that lets them stretch their creative legs and pick up some new experiences by marketing a product of their own.
“The fun is seeing how it grows and learning how to grow it,” says Mason.