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Milwaukee Kohl's Designer Creates NPR's New Shirt

Jessica Roush

Public radio listeners often wear their affection for the medium on their sleeves.  Now, they literally can.

A Milwaukee woman’s design has been chosen as the new official NPR t-shirt, the result of a contest by the website Threadless.  Jessica Roush is a textile designer for Kohl’s Corporation and an avid public radio listener.

Her shirt design features headphones topped with different cityscapes, rural scenes, and suburbia, using the NPR colors (red, white, black, and blue). On the bottom of the shirt, the headphone cords spell out "NPR."

Roush's inspiration came from wearing headphones at work to drown out the foot traffic. She says the contest challenged her design skills.

"Not only is it about sound, duh, which is not easily expressed visually, but I love NPR," she says.

More than 150 design submissions were voted on by over 80,000 viewers in Threadless' online design community. At first, Roush thought her winning was a hoax.

Credit Jessica Roush/threadless.com
Roush's early sketches of her winning T-shirt design

"I really didn't believe it until I got the prize package in the mail a week later," she says.

But Roush is no beginner to design; she earned a double degree in textile technology and art and design at North Carolina State. Her work is seen on products sold at one of the country's biggest retailers, Kohl's.

Her graphic designs and painted illustrations appear on household items, ranging from bedding to dinnerware to seasonal decorations sold in the stores.

"Sometimes it's a surprise event...you come in the stores and you see something you (designed) a year before," Roush says. "You see the process from where you began to the final product. It's pretty cool."

Having studied the "science of retail," she knows what colors, prints and shapes are most appealing to consumers. That knowledge likely helped her win the NPR contest, which she says she entered as a "liberating" exercise outside the office.

"Things get chopped, things get changed at work, and sometimes you get really attached to something, and you just can't help it," she says. "And that's why I got into doing work outside of work, I guess you could say."

In addition to listening to public radio, in her spare time Roush paints, experiments with typography and makes items to sell on Etsy.

"My style is not really specific necessarily, so what I'm inspired by and what interests me seems to change daily," she says.

Even though her designs are decorating homes around the country, she says she's already ordered several of the NPR shirts and is excited to give them out to her family and friends.

Additional reporting by Eleanor Peterson.