Before Abby and Eric Troyer uprooted their central Indiana lives and moved to Chicago for Eric's new job with an online men's fashion business, they created a memento on a whim. After eating lunch at the Nickel Plate Bar & Grill in Fishers, the young couple stopped in at a T-shirt shop that they'd heard about from friends. And they left with a special memory -- both of the store, Vardagen, and of their time in Indianapolis.
Vardagen made its name by creating quirky tops that feature animals, throwback typography and a healthy serving of business-branded designs. But the company also offers an online application for a Vardagram, which allows customers to print their online Instagram photos onto shirts. The Vardagram is what the Troyers happily stumbled upon during their visit to the clothing outlet, where they created "a cool little symbol of a chapter closing and a new one beginning," all on a men's cotton T-shirt.
"It was pretty meaningful for us -- a picture of our son looking out into our backyard at the house we were moving out of," says Abby. "You can customize the number of likes and the location, so we changed the location to our street address and the number of likes to 317, as a reminder of where we came from and the home that our son was born into."
The human-level impact of this fusion of fashion and social media matches owner Jared Ingold's unique approach to selling clothes. Rather than having multiple companies print, distribute and retail its wares, Vardagen does all of the work, and the designs are done by central Indiana artists. Similarly, the line incorporates images that celebrate both the Hoosier state's shape ("the Bearded State") and Fishers' high school team mascot.
Even with that focus, though, sometimes even local customers don't realize immediately that the business is proudly based in central Indiana.
"I had no idea [at first that] Vardagen was based out of Indianapolis," says David Johnson, a Vardagen customer. "I've been telling my buddies about it and everyone seems to like it now."
Vardagen is the Swedish word for "everyday." The company chose the name, Ingold says, because "we just wanted to make everyday clothes." Crafted of soft and comfortable fabrics, Ingold's shirts and the designs they bear are meant to be easily incorporated into daily life.
Vardagen started in 2006 as a bit of a hobby, but the orders kept coming. People from more than 50 countries make up its customer list. By 2012, the first brick and mortar store opened in Fishers. In 2008, those successes led Ingold to launch The Art Press, a screen-printing company based out of downtown Indianapolis that uses environmentally friendly inks.
Although it's an eco-conscious company, Ingold says they don't market that.
"It's a value more than a marketing strategy," Ingold says. "It's who we are and what we care about. Our ink is unique because it's water based. We mix our own colors. A lot of shops will have a set amount of colors, but we have an endless amount, which gives us more creativity."
Ingold's primary focus remains being a central Indiana-based operation.
"My passion is to offer something to Indianapolis," he says. "In the beginning we skipped over Indianapolis accidentally because we got featured on design blogs. We've sold to 55 different countries, and our focus was outside the city. Now, I want to have roots and a foundation here, so that's why I got the Fishers store. It's just a home base for us."
Ingold says they have been really lucky with their business because a lot of the success has come from word-of-mouth. Now, they are trying to figure out the next logical step for the company.
"We may open up a downtown location next," he says. "Right now we have our hands in retail and wholesale. We don't want to keep putting out new locations and start wholesale, so we're trying to figure out the best model, then go from there."
In addition to launching the Vardagram app, this past winter the company also started selling children's shirts with the VDGN Kid's label. And, even though the Troyer's may not be Indy-based anymore, they are happy to celebrate the local business they still love from the Windy City 180 miles away.
"My little Harvey man is wearing a Vardagen shirt," Abby Troyer says over the phone, with her just-under-2-year old son playing in the background. "It's the Vardagen Everyday with the polar bear, a little gray one."
Like many Vardagen fans across the country, their shirts are just cool little reminders that art can be wearable and comfortable everyday.