A Novel Theory

At this point in the semester, the typical UVM student is bogged down with classes, term papers and preparations for finals. These academic commitments are more than enough to keep most of us busy. This is not the case though, for a small group of entrepreneurial UVM students. In April of 2006, two creatively inclined UVM students, Guy Derry (class of 2008) and Chris Lisle (2009), decided to start silk-screening clothing. Derry took a silk-screening class in high school, but this time he had a larger vision attached to the craft. The motivation for the effort was rooted in a desire to combine their creativity with a marketable product. It was another two months of brainstorming, soul searching, testing and product research before a company actually emerged. “From the outset, we had a very clear goal: to create a stylish product while maintaining high standards of ecological and social responsibility,” Derry explained. The young company, later coined Novelty Theory, specializes in “conscious apparel” which fellow Novelty Theory partners and UVM students Ben Stewart (2008), Adam Demartino (2007), Mikey Bisgono (2008) and Tim Hosmer (2008) describe as “wearable art.”True to their vow of social and ecological responsibility, all pieces in the Novelty Theory line are produced sweatshop-free and are hand-dyed 100% organic cotton and hemp. The Novelty Theory web site (http://www.NoveltyTheory.com) is artistic and innovative in its comprehensive display of the company’s first edition product line. For Derry, “A creative online presentation of our products is just as important as the products themselves.” This drive to constantly innovate and reinvent is at the core of Novelty Theory’s creative philosophy, and is also at the root of the company’s namesake.According to the group, Novelty Theory refers to Terrence McKenna’s theory regarding the prediction of the fluctuations of novelty, or “newness,” in the universe. The company’s name has proven appropriate, as circumstance and a trial-and-error approach have led to innovative designs as well as marketing strategies. Despite changes that inevitably accompany growth, Novelty Theory has stayed true to its initial vision of fine style in harmony with social and ecological responsibility. The clothes themselves have an undeniable Burlington feel yet still speak to a larger metropolitan audience, as the local designers combine urban style with a “green” sensibility. One recent shirt design is a nod to the company’s Burlington roots, as it incorporates a bold Burlington skyline faded into floral curvature reminiscent of 60s psychedelic pop art. Another highlight of the collection is a girls’ tank top with an intricate line pattern in which faces and words and other subtle imagery are cleverly embedded. Novelty Theory truly is a group effort, but it also has leadership. Derry is currently acting as ringleader of this collective of young entrepreneurs but stresses the importance of all the partners involved, stating, “If it weren’t for everyone that has contributed to the Novelty Theory effort, this project would be nothing right now.” The group maintains a high level of pride in their products’ style, while actively sporting the apparel. As Mike Bisogno put it, “I do work when they make me, but I am really just here to make the product look cool. Check me out.” Novelty Theory members pride themselves on the company’s attention to detail, but they should also be applauded for maintaining a flexible and fun atmosphere around their work. They liken their motivation to reggae legend Jacob Miller’s proclamation of, “forward – never, never backward!”This group of UVM students doesn’t deny that it can sometimes be overwhelming trying to juggle business responsibilities with academic responsibilities, but it seems that their desire for experience and ambitious drive to do something different keeps them moving forward and thinking about what is to come. “We would like this to be our employment if we can make it work. The reason we formed a company instead of just some off-hand thing for friends is because we would like to potentially earn a living off of this eventually,” Derry says.