beyond the studio // September 25, 2013

It’s not a T-Shirt – It’s an Idea!

In the multiple Oscar-winning film “Forrest Gump”, one memorable scene shows how the lead character (played by Tom Hanks) accidentally ‘creates’ “Smiley Face” when he wiped dirt off his mud-covered face with a t-shirt. While the movie’s origins story is fiction, the fact that a t-shirt is a compelling medium of expression and can even become a catalyst in the creation of pop culture icons such as the aforementioned “Smiley Face” – that is very real. Originally issued as an undergarment by the U.S. Navy around the time of the Spanish American War, the humble t-shirt’s popularity has grown leaps and bounds largely because of its simplicity and practicality.


At W3-O, t-shirt designs are by no means created by accident nor are they mere trendy, “pretty pictures”. Instead, these are borne out of well-thought, strategic processes and considerations. Through the years, we have had our fair share of t-shirt designs – done for different clients and purposes such as humanitarian projects, internal usage, campaigns, etc.


From Support Cast to Star

When W3-O designed the t-shirt for the Madhu Duniya event, a jamboree of forest honey harvester of Asia, the objective was to provide support to the event’s other collaterals. This wasn’t meant to be. The organisers loved the design so much because it clearly conveyed the event’s message, that they eventually chose it as the main logo. So when in most cases, the t-shirt design will follow the corporate/event logo, it became the other way around. Talk about the “tail wagging the dog”, so to speak.


Madhu Duniya T-Shirt

Madhu Duniya Conference 2011


Simple can be Spectacular

More often than not, W3-O faces budgetary constraints especially when humanitarian clients are concerned. The THF volunteer t-shirt is a prime example. The brief was single-mindedly simple: it shouldn’t cost so much to print, thus, it’s a single colour print. We thought a single colour is not an excuse to look sub-standard. After all, THF also wanted to merchandise them so, it must really look like something that they could wear many times and be proud about it – pretty much like when you’re wearing a cool surfing t-shirt. This is what the red-hot shirt projected with its unique ball of rope mash-up with the THF logo to signify how all of us are connected and that we need help each other by reaching out, lending a “rope” to hold on. Simple, but intensely meaningful.


THF T-Shirt

THF T-Shirt


Long Lasting Ideas

Once upon a time, we were challenged to design an internal t-shirt. Problem is we only need to print about 25 pieces. Usage would be fairly “rare”, maybe 2-3 times a year so while we were initially very sceptical about it, we decided to go for hot iron printing. The thing is, there are a lot of limitations with this method, so many cons. But one of the pros is that this method also allows us to have “unlimited colours” and high details. Our designer had to give his brain juice a little extra squeeze. And it paid off well. Three years later, the t-shirts still look awesome!


w3-o Charity Mission


Heart of the Matter

For our humanitarian mission to Mantalongon, Cebu, The Philippines, we wanted a t-shirt design that encompassed the mission’s theme, “Let’s Colour Up Their Life”. The mission was in support of the educational needs of some 305 kids from the Living Gospel Community, mostly from poor families whose parents are fishermen, construction workers, labourers and carpenters. The result was this colourful, stylised heart design which is an apt symbol of hope that cheered up these kids who were otherwise living “black and white” lives.


THF T-Shirt for Cebu mission


The Kids Says Alright

For the Media Development Authority of Singapore, media ratings may be a boring topic for a road show, with students to target at that. W3-O’s marching orders were to create a fun giveaway t-shirt as part of this national campaign, one that has to be very fun, particularly to the young folks that the government agency is targeting. The result is a chic yet edgy looking t-shirt design that just about anyone would love to wear – regardless of the media ratings that are literally printed on it to boot!


MDA T-Shirt


Take One for the Team

Again, for this project, W3-O had to “take one for the team”, as a manner of speaking. After all, budget is a major constraint. And the challenges are even more daunting. We needed to create a shirt where people could recognise Team9 members immediately in a disaster hit area. Of course, this is not our first time working with non-profit organisations, so when they mentioned about the budget, we thought, “brain-squeezing time” again.

To create this t-shirt design, we had to consider the situation where Team9ers will wear them. These places could be very messy and chaotic. While soldiers and police forces wear uniforms, Team9 volunteers could be mistaken as tourists, local workers or even some dodgy people who try to profit from disaster. The t-shirt is the first point of recognition for the team. Next, we need to “loudly” convey 2 things immediately: team name/logo and volunteer identity. It has to be loud since helpers could also easily be the victim in these situations. In case they get stranded or lost, people could spot them right away. Last but not least, as relief and “rebuilding” workers, we are supposed to bring hope to the disaster stricken area. So, we want Team9 to appear like the “hope” themselves. Hence, W3-O decided to avoid sombre colours and instead used the cheerful and bright red.

After it was tested on several humanitarian missions, Team9 appreciated our “hope and cheerful” concept as it really gave the vibe they wished to impart with the victims, particularly the IDPs (Internally Displaced People): A strong will to rebuild their lives with dignity.

Team9 T-Shirt


As all these projects show, each t-shirt design goes beyond the confines of artistic discipline but very much into factors such as branding, function, budget constraints, and technical considerations. In the end, each of them succeeds in telling a story, conveying a message, promoting an idea – or all of the above. Each has served a purpose like creating high visibility and impact, or provoked an emotion.

Perhaps in the long run, they too can become pop culture icons like “Smiley Face”, but more than that, we prefer they become symbols that touch hearts and improve humanity.


beyond the studio // December 11, 2012

Star of Hope: Christmas 2012


The Season of Joy is upon us once again and we at w3-o are working with The Humanity Forum (THF) to share it with the visually-impaired students of SLBN Bagian A (tunanetra) Bandung in Indonesia. The overwhelming success of “PROJECT STARGAZING”, our joint 2012 charity event with this school, has illuminated the fact that these students are just as hungry for knowledge as every normal kid – and that they are very enthusiastic to learn more.

That’s why, with your help, we would like them to reach for the stars further.


Simply post a photo that shows you holding the “Star of Hope” that we sent you to THF’s Facebook page. Once THF receives 200 photo submissions, w3-o will give the school an iPad mini – one of the best tools for the visually-impaired with its educational apps and functions that help them learn better.

Share the love. Let’s all lend our hands to THF in bringing these kids closer to their dreams.

If you didn’t receive the “Star of Hope” or if you wish to invite your friends to join this special cause, just click here or the icon below to download it.


Step 1. Print out this “Star of Hope”

Step 2. Cut along the dotted lines

Step 3. Take a photo of yourself posing with the “Star of Hope”

Step 4. Post a photo at THF’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/thehumanityforum

Step 5. Share with your friends

beyond the studio // November 1, 2011

Creating HOPE for indigenous children

by Law Diche

A Truly Sweet Project

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

This timeless saying instantly came to mind when I first heard about the suggestion to help send the Anak Laut to school as W3-O’s 2011 outreach programme.

After all, we’re talking about a group of indigenous people who, through countless generations, never learned to read or write, and never went to school. This endeavour will give their children a fighting chance to survive a rapidly changing global scenario well into the next millennium. Without this chance, the word “extinct” comes to mind instead.

Next question was how to raise funds. From several worthy endeavours came the sweetest of them all- selling chocolates! Initially, the plan was to make the chocolates ourselves but when it became apparent that it may not be worth the effort, we took the experts in and forged a partnership with specialty chocolate shop “Chocz”. The packaging of the chocolates, on the other hand, was a labour of love by the W3-O volunteers as everyone spent countless after-office hours for over a month- daintily arranging each praline in a box, placing stickers, placing notes and a very tricky ribbon tying that demanded perhaps more than a dozen trials to gain perfection. Not to mention of course the selling part, this was a frantic rally for everyone to hit a high sales target that we’ve set for ourselves.

Chocolate from the heart
Chocolate from the heart

The E-Flyer
The E-Flyer

Packing Goody Bags
Packing Goody Bags


Trip to Temiang

After several weeks of selling, planning and packaging, D-Day finally came. From the get go, it was a “sacrifice” as a manner of speaking as we had to wake up in the wee hours of the morning, when the world was still literally covered with darkness for our trip.

In fact, the night before was another tiring streak as we stayed late to prepare and pack the goodies for the school kids- a package consisting of snacks like drinks, fruits and cookies, plus school stuff like pens, papers. Now imagine preparing close to 200 of these.

The sea travel was a welcome respite though as it was relatively calm, even soothing to a point. I was expecting a rough ride, but then even the weather and the sun was smiling warmly at us. The smiles that greeted us at the jetty when we arrived were even warmer.

Boarding at Bintan Island
Boarding at Bintan Island

Arriving at Tajur Biru Island
Arriving at Tajur Biru Island


School Daze

Our bright red convoy, on the account of the bright red THF shirt all of us were wearing, gleefully snaked through the trail towards to school, with some huffing and puffing, as we were carrying the goodies and other donations like guitars and a musical keyboard. Following closely behind were some of the Suku Laut women, all smiles that despite the language barrier, seem to encourage us to move forward.

The scene that welcomed us at the school was an exhilarating sight. Hundreds of school kids running to and fro, laughing, shrieking, finally coming to a grinding halt and hushed silence as the school principal ordered them to assemble accordingly.

I learned that the kids were assembled that day specifically for our programme, as it was a Saturday. None of them seemed to mind though as each face was a picture of excitement and anxiousness. It was enough to melt one’s tiredness from the late night before and sleepiness in the early morning. But, the programme has just begun.

Arts & Crafts Class
Arts & Crafts Class

Singing Class
Singing Class

Sports & Physical Class
Sports & Physical Class

Distributing lunch boxes
Distributing lunch boxes

Official handover of the donation to the school.
Official handover of the donation to the school.

The kids and the goody bags.
The kids and the goody bags.


A Touching Experience

It was time to finally meet the Suku Laut people. Among the donations were 2 specially made “school boats”, painted with the distinctive yellow and black letters of a typical school bus, which the Anak Laut would be using to transport them across the body of water that divides their home and school. As these weren’t big enough to accommodate our group, not everyone managed to go.

Upon reaching their homes, we realised it’s not just the boats that won’t be able to accommodate all of us. The homes itself, while not decrepit, were neither that strong nor big. One of the wooden planks cracked with the weight of a colleague. Less than a kilometre away from the village, life looked markedly different at the Suku Laut’s homes which were built on stilts. While they have the amenities of modern life like TV (not sure if it actually works), a mobile phone even, the living condition is far from ideal as the space looks cramped, the furnishing bare.

Their lot in life can be so much better.

2 brand new "Sampan Sekolah", the school boats.
2 brand new “Sampan Sekolah”, the school boats.

The school boat outside the homes of "anak laut", the sea tribe children.
The school boat outside the homes of “anak laut”, the sea tribe children.

The official handover of the boats to the head of Suku Laut community.
The official handover of the boats to the head of Suku Laut community.

School bags with stationery and shirts, for all anak lauts.
School bags with stationery and shirts, for all anak lauts.


Future Looks Bright

It would take so much more than a mobile phone to adapt to the demands of a far more competitive world, whose resources are fast depleting and only those with access to “information” will be better equipped to face the challenges of a new world.

That information should begin right at the very beginning so to speak, by sending children to school so they can have the building blocks towards higher learning and having better options in life. Now, that has become possible for the Suku Laut people and their kids, the Anak Laut.

Overall, it was a very memorable trip, very memorable experience – from the boat ride to the kids’ smiles.

Everyone agrees, as a colleague would put it, “letting the kids have a chance to go to school” is more than simply fulfilling. Another exclaims joy “when the kids responded extremely well to our songs, and the way they were paying close attention to what we were teaching. Their eager eyes were glistening with curiosity, thirst for knowledge.“

Other experiences were more on a personal note, like “the non-existence of time that I felt. How everything was in slow-motion and I could take my time to inhale the surroundings, which I can’t back in Singapore”.

And yes, the simple fact that “doing your part and giving effort” for the sake of others is something else, something that gives a new dimension to having a meaning in life.

Anak laut swimming and playing in the sea, right outside their homes
Anak laut swimming and playing in the sea, right outside their homes

Anak lauts at school, finally.
Anak lauts at school, finally.


For more information on Anak Laut Goes to School programme by THF, kindly visit its official website: thehumanityforum.org/anaklaut

For more photos, please visit  THF’s Flickr album.