Making a MESS: Student-artist duo Lila Simpson and Shirin Mavandad promote inclusivity, sustainability

Making a MESS: Student-artist duo Lila Simpson and Shirin Mavandad promote inclusivity, sustainability

Photo Credits: Shayan Kaveh (left) and Sena Soleimannejad (right) pose for a photo in t-shirts by MESS. (Photo by MESS / Courtesy)

MESS focuses on designing graphic tees for customers of all backgrounds

Although Lila Simpson and Shirin Mavandad began their artistic endeavours individually, they found a similar artistic spirit in one another at a volcano in Costa Rica. Ever since, the two have been inseparable in the creation of their up-and-coming brand: MESS.

The two students both studied abroad in Costa Rica in Fall Quarter of 2018, but it wasn’t until a trip to a volcano that their friendship truly sparked. They trusted one another from the get-go and immediately took an interest in each other’s art, even going so far as to share their sketchbooks with each other. This is a very personal thing to do as an artist — and to both Simpson and Mavandad, it can be like showing someone your mind. 

Ever since officially starting their brand in the summer of 2019, Simpson and Mavandad have been creating and expanding their abstract aesthetic on an individual yet cohesive level. Simpson, a fourth-year evolution ecology and biodiversity major, said cartoons, anime, horror movies and alternative music influence her creative process. She appreciates the creative and “gross” aesthetic portrayed in these genres. 

“Things that aren’t real, […] like abstract, are a lot more interesting to me than the physical, actual world I live in,” Simpson said. She enjoys producing exaggerated and abstract art that isn’t stereotypically beautiful but is “appealing to a different part of [the] brain.” 

She is most successful in her new designs for MESS because she gets into what she calls the “artistic flow” — where creative ideas come naturally and build on one another. In fact, some of her best tee-shirt designs have come from doodles she made in class. 

“[Art] is a way for me to put my thoughts onto a page,” Simpson said. “In a way, that makes sense to me, but not necessarily [to] someone else. Someone else can look at it and interpret it. But everyone’s also going to have their own interpretation.” 

As for Mavandad, a fourth-year environmental policy and planning major, her cultural and ethnic background influences her aesthetic the most. Growing up in the Bay Area, street art played a vital role in her specific, curated style. The simplistic geometric and linear designs with creative fonts inspired the aesthetic for MESS, since many of their tees feature the same linear designs.

Mavandad realized that her Iranian cultural identity has also subconsciously influenced her art. Her designs parallel Persian rugs and cartoons she grew up watching. 

“It’s cliché to say, but [art] is really meditative and makes me super happy,” Mavandad said. 

MESS focuses on designing graphic tees for customers of all backgrounds. Their selling point is their inclusivity, affordability and sustainability. They do not cater to one gender. Instead, they create and sell gender-neutral clothing that appeals to all tastes. 

“When we take our photos, we show all types of people, all genders, ages and ethnicities wearing the shirt,” Simpson, who is the primary photographer for MESS, said. “It’s really for everyone. It’s not marketed toward a specific person.” 

In addition, they sell their products at a low price, taking into account the college student’s budget. Along with being inclusive and affordable, Mavandad started screen-printing their shirts on thrifted tees in order to incorporate sustainability in a typically unsustainable industry. 

“Obviously, the idea for putting [our designs] on thrifted shirts is to be sustainable,” Simpson said. “But I think it’s also the idea that we’re not putting more material into the world, we’re just putting more ideas into the world.” 

The embodiment of their brand is to reach a wide audience and promote creativity. Their brand name, MESS, is an acronym for “Mind Elevation, Soul Stimulation.” Mind elevation means feeling creative, and soul stimulation means feeling empowered and inspired to carry out personal aspirations. Mavandad describes it as “feeding your soul.”

As of right now, they promote their brand via social media (@mess_graphics) and by word of mouth. Although they would love for their endeavours to grow, they are happy to simply create art and have others enjoy their product. 

The artistic duo may be a “MESS,” but they sure know how to sell their brand to be inclusive to all people, while upholding their personal artistic values in the process. 

Written by: Sierra Jimenez — arts@theaggie.org