Interview: Josh Scholl of Skim Milk


If you’ve been to music festivals in Chicago, or find yourself frequently circulating through Wicker Park and Logan Square and similar areas, chances are that you’ve seen someone wearing a Skim Milk tee shirt. The sometimes funny, sometimes sarcastic, always provocative shirts are the brainchild of designer Josh Scholl. HEAVEmedia got together with Josh to talk about his clothing for high class low-lifes.

Heave: You obviously have a profound love for tee shirts. What came first, the idea to make your own, or the ideas for tee shirts themselves?

Josh Scholl: When I initially started designing my own t-shirts it was more out of desperation than anything. At that time, stupid “sayings” on shirts were huge and there just wasn’t anything available that I would actually wear. To me it almost seems like a waste to be wearing a boring t-shirt. The possibilities are endless as they are blank canvases for expression, and the t-shirts you wear actually say a lot about you. If you’re wearing a Cubs shirt, it portrays that you’re a Cubs fan. As far as my designs, the ideas or images just come to me.

By now I know which images will make cool shirts. Some of the images are my photography and others are the work of colleagues that I respect. One thing that’s for sure is that they cannot be forced. I actually lose sleep over deciding which designs should be shirts. When they are forced due to deadlines or whatever, they generally come off as unimaginative and I would rather take as much time as I need to make sure that the quality doesn’t suffer for the sake of my customers and my brand.

Heave: What have been some of the ups and downs of getting your Skim Milk going?

Josh: The “ups” have been that it keeps growing each year which is a good thing. Skim Milk will be in Japan, China, Canada and various boutiques next year which is exciting.

The “downs” is that it’s A LOT of work. As my fellow designers can attest, the money doesn’t really start rolling in until you blow up. I’d rather keep my brand consistent with customer loyalty than becoming a fad. By doing it this way it will take longer to get to that status, but I feel it will probably have more staying power.

Heave: What’s been your biggest break so far?

Josh: Probably Time Out Magazine and the Dirty Durty Diary

Heave: And you’ve had some successes with getting exposure around the world. Talk a bit about that.

Josh: People from all over have pretty receptive to my designs (especially in Europe and Asia). It’s quite flattering and the validation makes all the work it all worthwhile. Considering that my t-shirts are on the provocative side for some Americans, their admiration is gratifying on a personal and professional level.

Heave: Many of your tee shirt designs seem to signify a way of life. How would you correlate your lifestyle with the inspiration you get for your designs?

Josh: The image of Skim Milk that I’ve been told by customers, boutiques, [and] press is that of “chic meets an educated, but arrogant hipster.” I’m okay with that, as I want the image to be whatever it needs to be for my customer. In many cases they do correlate to my lifestyle. I don’t do drugs like Angel Dust (Angel Dust Saved my Marriage t-shirt) or anything like that, but what can I say? I’m addicted to fun.

Heave: Needless to say, your shirts have some pretty provocative images. Any ideas ever come to mind that you thought may be too offensive? Or any people around you have said, “No, you can’t do that?”

Josh: Sure.  I have a couple hundred ideas that I keep in a notebook and some ideas in there definitely are a bit “much.”  I normally bounce my ideas off friends, buyers and other colleagues to get their opinion, but I don’t always take their advice.  I was once told that “Sex Still Sells” and “Wine Cooler” were too much and would never do well and to this day they are two of my most consistent sellers.  Honestly though, I get a huge kick out of negative feedback from people who don’t “get” my designs as it just reiterates the exclusivity for my clientele.

Heave: How do you try to challenge yourself as you generate more and more ideas?

Josh: With the next line I’m currently designing, I’m wanting to take it into a more sexy/interesting chic direction; with being a little less sarcastic.  I have recently been brain storming with another photographer about different ways to present that without losing the image that my current customers know and love.  I go to a lot of art shows, scan the internet, listen to music, etc to gain inspiration but yet be careful to not ever rip anyone’s style.  It’s pretty obvious when you do and I don’t ever want to get a reputation for being unoriginal.

Heave: How do you see Skim Milk evolving?

Josh: Right now the focus is to continue making limited edition t-shirts/sweatshirts for people like me who are obsessive and passionate about the art. I have recently started considering making wovens and which would be juxtaposition, but if you look at my t-shirt designs, juxtapositioning is kind of my vibe. Who knows, maybe I’ll bring back JNCO’s (just kidding).

Check out all of Josh’s designs over on Skim Milk’s official website. Photo by Dan Scotti.