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T-shirt designer Ciara Elend hails from California, but her heart is in her home borough of Queens. The 30-year-old Sunnyside resident doesn’t need to declare that — her sleek, block-printed tees say it for her.

“I HEART QUEENS” is Elend’s signature design and the basis of an entire line of T-shirts and accessories dedicated to the borough.

Elend moved to Queens in 2004 when she began studying graphic design at Parsons, the New School for Design in Manhattan. She makes each shirt by hand in her small Long Island City studio, carving the design into linoleum to form a stamp that is then used to apply ink to the shirt.

Her so-called “Queensbound line” includes “I HEART QUEENS” coffee mugs and bumper stickers as well as tees featuring the Sunnyside Arch or the name of a Queens neighborhood written in flowing script.

Elend said the “Queensbound” line is her attempt to spur home-turf pride throughout the borough. “I’m trying to inspire residents to think about Queens, to be proud of Queens,” she said. “It’s a really great community.”

Her tees, which first hit the market in late 2007, come in sizes for men, women and kids. Maternity sizes are also available.

She also has a second T-shirt line called “Ciara Couture.” These tees are issued new each season and have nothing at all to do with Queens.

When Elend first launched her business, “Ciara Couture” was her hot line, selling at boutiques in Los Angeles and Chicago. But sales dropped considerably when the economy tanked, forcing her to lay off her small staff.

“Right now, ‘Queensbound’ is really what has been keeping my company going,” said Elend, whose tees can be found at ciaraelend.com.


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Queens Tribune article by Lisa Fogarty, March 19, 2009

Anyone who questions Queens’ cultural potential has yet to meet Ciara Elend. Each week, the 30-year-old graphic artist teaches aspiring Queens artists how to block print T-shirts, create collages and capture their own images in a self-portrait. She blogs about life in the borough, where she also trumpets the merits of Queens Council on the Arts, Sunnyside Gardens and The Secret Theatre in LIC, and has found a way to – literally – inspire fashion followers to flash Queens across their chests.

Elend is the founder and force behind Queensbound by Ciara, a local fashion label that specializes in one-of-a-kind graphic T-shirts for women, men and children, many of which feature the logo “I Heart Queens.” Her tees, tank tops, hooded sweatshirts and even maternity t-shirts are custom ordered so residents can select their favorite color and Queens catchphrase. If “I Heart Queens” is not your thing, you can opt to showcase your neighborhood pride with a “Woodside,” “Flushing” or “Astoria” pullover. Welcoming a new addition to your family? Elend’s pint-sized “Made in Queens” tee will give baby a head start in his civic career.

“There are no cool Queens T-shirts. People still don’t think of Queens as hip and cool even though I think of it as up-and-coming,” Elend said. “At first, I just made shirts for my friends and they loved them.”

Elend first got the idea to block print Queens-inspired T-shirts after she and her husband migrated to Sunnyside from Southern California in 2004. She immediately fell in love with her adopted borough, drawing inspiration from landmarks such as Silvercup Studios, the Towers from the New York State Pavilion of the 1964-65 World’s Fair and – her favorite – the Sunnyside Arch. She arrived in New York with a bachelor’s degree in film and television and was accepted to Parsons, the New School for Design, where she began melding art, fashion and borough appreciation.

“The greatest thing about Queens is the diversity,” she said. “It’s amazing how many cultures you run into every day. When we first decided to move here we looked into Brooklyn, but it was too homogenous. Queens was also much more affordable. But, more than anything, the people here inspire me the most because they are themselves – they don’t change to fit in.”

Elend currently designs, creates and handles sales for two fashion lines: Queensbound and Ciara Couture, her more experimental line of handbags, accessories and hand-printed T-shirts. A portion of the proceeds from her sales go towards community art class, Queens organizations that support the arts and artists working in Queens. And if you aren’t entirely convinced that Elend is an artist’s artist, take note: Not only does she frequently volunteer for local art organizations; she also teaches classes at her Long Island City studio. She recently launched an art class scholarship program, which aims to combat the effects of the economic downturn by promoting creativity in Queens communities.

“People who have been laid off can take my classes for free. They just have to fill out a scholarship form and send in a resume,” she said. “When people are looking for jobs, it can be a depressing process. It can only be better for the community when you give people a chance to express themselves creatively.”

To order your own Queens T-shirt, visit ciaraelend.com. Find out more about Elend’s art classes at Queensartclasses.com or follow her blog at ciaraelendblog.com.

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LIC-based graphic artist Ciara Elend works in a variety of mediums – drawing, painting, collage-making – but block printing is her speciality. Her American-made line of designer tshirts combines modern graphics with this “old-school”method of printing, in which designs are hand-carved in blocks of wood or linoleum. Her “Queensbound” line of Queens-inspired apparel for men and women, including the popular “I Heart Queens” t-shirts, in her words, “reflects the spirit, culture, and tonality of Queens.”

Ciara,who lives in Sunnyside, really does love the borough, and says that Long Island City’s thriving artistic culture makes it the perfect place for her growing business. She appreciates its history, its “tight-knit community,” and its “concrete, industrial aesthetic,”which she says is her inspiration – along with the neighborhood’s residents themselves. “All the residents I meet, newcomers and veterans, care about their community and take pride in their neighborhood. That motivates me to go to work every day.”

While many of her neighbors and fellow artists are dismayed by Long Island City’s new high rises and influx of Manhattanites, Ciara is pragmatic in her view of the changing neighborhood. Although she does wish the government would try harder to “protect the history of the neighborhood,” she acknowledges that “New York City, and the whole country for that matter, is filled with neighborhoods that were made hip, trendy, and desirable by a community of artists who moved in because of the cheap rents,” and LIC is no exception.

“When people start to catch on to the cool revitalization, they want in,” she explains. “The people moving into LIC right now are my customers, so I’m glad they’re here. I want LIC to thrive. I want to thrive with it. But if one day, it thrives so much that I can’t afford the rent anymore, then so be it. I’ll find the next community of Queens artists to join!”

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Ana is my beautiful muse. She looks great in the shirt. Thanks Ana!!!



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