SOVER project brews up new T-shirt line

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Image from SOVER 2013 lookbook. Photo by Michael Kiser (

Some can argue that craft beer is an art; however, is craft beer fashion? One local craft brewery, Solemn Oath of Naperville, has stepped beyond branded merchandise with a new line of men’s and women’s T-shirts called SOVER. (You may have had a glass of Solemn Oath beer in restaurants such as Glenview House, Farmhouse Evanston or Prairie Moon.)

The lineup of about a dozen shirts debuted in July and utilizes original illustrations and typography inspired by life at a brewery.

“The ideas behind each tee have a strong connect to us from a brewery standpoint, from an entrepreneurial standpoint or from a creative standpoint,” said John Barley, president of Solemn Oath brewery.

Some tees feature sketched renditions of everyday brewery assemblage (beer fermenter, stacks of wooden pallets, scaffolding); others employ stylized typography or abstract lines and shapes.

SOVER is a mash-up name combining the “S” and “O” from Solemn Oath and “ver,” which means “to see” in Spanish and “truth” in Latin. The concept stems from an idea Barley and his team called, “Well-made for free radicals” — “radicals” in both a scientific and humanistic sense.

“In chemistry, [free radicals] cause instability and chaos, and a theory like that applied to the do-it-yourself/maker community is about people not fearing an attempt to build something new,” he said.

Barley and his team — including his brother and business partner, Joe — had been operating their brewery for about 14 months when the time felt right to dive in to the independent apparel realm.

Jourdon Gullett, a Woodstock native and Chicago resident, has been Solemn Oath’s go-to illustrator since the beginning. He’s the designer behind all of the brewery’s artwork — in addition to some prolific mural and skateboard design work in Chicago — and was tapped for the SOVER project.

“The idea spawned in December of 2012 when a group of us started talking about how most breweries do apparel and where we would like to see our direction go,” Barley said.

What came next was a decision to assemble a six-person team (including Gullett and typography designer Claudia Lara) to crank out the apparel project in one long weekend at a cabin in Wisconsin. From a post on SOVER’s blog (at www.

“When we decided to design an entire line of T-shirts — complete with an online store concept and all the sales and marketing work that follows in a single weekend — we had no idea if it would work. We crossed our fingers and loaded our cars with plenty of beer in case it didn’t.”

It paid off. The summit, which started on a late Thursday night in February 2013, ended that Sunday with all conceptualizing, design and web copy for the online store completed.

“I find creative people, like our team, work best under pressure,” Barley said.

“For me, it was a little distressful,” said Gullett, who added this was the first time he had designed so much in such a compressed timeframe. “In this case, the T-shirts you see are the ones we came up with at this weekend.”

SOVER has been well received considering its thus-far short lifetime following its July debut, and Barley said sales have been “solid and steady.”

“We handle our own fulfillment as the orders come in, [to] make it as personal as possible so people know that when they’re buying a shirt from us they’re helping a brewery grow.” he said.

SOVER T-shirts are priced between $30-$35. Visit