Patch Bitch brings wit and levity, rooted in queer lingo. It is a new, queer-owned, Chicago-based, limited-production clothing option that is a tongue-in-cheek, vivid celebration of LGBTQ social culture, form-fitted on super soft t-shirts, hoodies and more.Justin Boltz
, 36, a Green Bay, Wisconsin native who has lived in Chicago for close to 20 years, is the company's owner and designer – and the company indirectly ties back to detentions he had in fifth grade, which he got for drawing scantily-clad Spice Girls at his catholic school.
“I have always been an artist and a designer,” Boltz said. “I loved the idea of my sketches and ideas worn on the chest like a badge of honor. There's been a real renaissance of independent and successful queer designers and I thought to myself, 'I have something to say and there's nothing out there quite like Patch Bitch.'
“I had been toying with some concepts for some time and wanted to develop a brand where my changing ideas could be produced rather quickly, especially in terms of the clothing industry. I was initially inspired by the secret language Polari that was used by gay men in the 1960s in England and Wales, where homosexuality was illegal. In that regard, Patch Bitch is really my nod to queer imagery and our turn of phrases. The ridiculousness, humor, and sometimes secret language that bonds us all when we come together.”
Patch Bitch offers such witty shirts as the iconic Pac-Man logo, mouth open, chasing a peach.
“It's funny to see which patches create bigger splashes than others,” Boltz said. “The 'Choke Me Daddy' shirt and Gaymer series have been big hits. In the end, I never design something for sales. My strategy is to just keep my voice authentic and create. At this time, I only produce 50 pieces per design, so if you've bought one of my pieces, you're one of the few handful who is walking around wearing that art.”
Some Patch Bitch items are available in the Lakeview neighborhood at Egoist Underwear
, located at 3739 N. Halsted Street. All items are available online, including exclusive offerings, at WearPatchBitch.com
“When you're the sole entity of a small business and putting yourself out there for public consumption, you definitely feel imposter syndrome,” Boltz said. “What people don't realize is that every single sale, opportunity for collaboration, and DM is the fuel that has kept this dream alive for me and I couldn't be more grateful.
“It is truly a dream-come-true to see where Patch Bitch has gone since I launched in (last) September. What started as a simple sketch of a poppers bottle covered in florals turned into a tee sold mostly to my close friends. Eight months and eight patches later, customers from all over the country and beyond are now rocking our tees, crops, and hoodies.”
Patch Bitch has a Pride-inspired series upcoming, Boltz said.
He is expanding the offers, too. “I've started taking the patch designs into the accessory lane with canvas tote bags, keychains, magnets, and stickers,” he said. “Though I could also see patches on underwear and jocks in the future, there's really nothing off-the-table for Patch Bitch, so it'll be exciting to see where it evolves.”
A swimwear line is in pre-production, titled “The Pool Haus.”
“I designed my first collection when I was 13 for my 8th-grade talent show. I was the black sheep at my conservative catholic school, and I idolized the rebellious energy of McQueen and Galliono. There weren't a lot of well-known male gay figures at the time, and I very much saw myself in them. Throughout my teen years I had several fashion show fundraisers that raised thousands for the American Cancer Society. I ultimately ended up in Chicago with an internship with a designer and a brief stint at the Art Institute. This was nearly 18 years ago, though and the world in general was much different; it just wasn't my time.”
Boltz admitted that not making it as a young designer when he first landed in Chicago was “a major blow, and I don't think I realized what a big piece of myself would be missing when I temporarily gave it up to grow up,” he said. “Being any type of creator or artist has changed so much, though, especially in the last several years with social media. I was continuously hungry for something more interesting than what was already out there and with an online platform I finally saw my window to connect with an audience that maybe felt the same. I think with that I found an opportunity to create and design on my own terms and it has truly felt like coming home again.”
Boltz said running a small business, from ground up, has been “amazing.”
“People see the end results, of course, but the journey there is long and arduous,” he said. “At the end of the day, every photoshoot, product design, marketing decision, and imprint of the brand comes directly from me. Every single shirt that's put together is done personally by me, down to the last sticker on the packaging. That gives me an incredible sense of pride when I see someone in public wearing my shirt, or on social media thousands of miles away.”
Boltz said used local photographer Ross Haley to spotlight the models wearing his shirts.
The Patch Bitch Pride Happy Hour is Friday, June 3rd from 5-7 p.m., at the renovated Graduate Evanston Hotel. “It's a great event to kick-off Pride month with the community as well as Northwestern students before they leave town for the summer,” Boltz said. “DJ Vitigrrl will be providing beats on the hotel patio and the bar will be slinging pride-themed cocktails. I'm excited to be alongside several other local LGBTQ businesses showcasing our diverse talents."