Words by Florence Robson.
Louisa Maycock is the co-founder of Girls on Tops, a ‘t-shirt celebration of female voices in film’. Girls on Tops sell their t-shirts nationwide and have been worn by Lynne Ramsay, Greta Gerwig, Rooney Mara, Timothée Chalamet, Laura Dern, Annie Clark and more. They have collaborated and partnered with Little White Lies, Barbican Centre, Peccadillo Pictures, Amazon Studios and put proceeds from t-shirts sales towards funding female-lead film projects and commissioning female-lead film writing.
Did starting a business come naturally to you?
Absolutely not. I probably shouldn’t say this, but I’ve very much stumbled my way through all the ‘business’ side of getting Girls on Tops established – it still feels a bit strange when I talk about it as ‘a brand’, as it was never the plan. I remember being in my first ever business meeting and bringing out a Kylo Ren Star Wars biro to make notes. When my partner pointed it out afterwards, I immediately went out and bought a pack of rose gold ballpoint pens. I do think, however, it’s important and very liberating to say “I have no idea what I’m doing”, as it can be comforting to all those other people who are feeling the same way.
Where did the idea for Girls on Tops come from?
It came from a conversation I had with Jake (my partner in life & work) and a few friends after going to the cinema to see Mike Mills’ 20th Century Women in early May 2017. It’s a film about the adolescence of a young boy & how he’s shaped by a selection of pivotal women, he also happens to wear the iconic Talking Heads: 77 pink & green t-shirt. When our housemate went online to buy the same t-shirt it made us think, ‘women in film should be treated like rock-stars. Annette Bening & Greta Gerwig should be on t-shirts.’
The design of your t-shirts is both pared back and bold. What was the thinking behind it?
There can’t be any item of clothing cooler or more effortless than a classic white t-shirt. Inspiration came from Jean Seberg’s New York Herald Tribune tee in Breathless and of course Katherine Hamnett’s iconic slogan t-shirts from the 80s. When the idea first came up, it went: ‘let’s put the names of our favourite women in cinema on t-shirts’, so we did just that. The power, I think, lies in the simplicity of the design – our t-shirts leave space for the wearer to project their own meanings behind why they want to wear the names of these women on their chest. I’ve also heard that they work as very effective conversation starters and ice breakers in social situations. I love that our t-shirts can start dialogues about these amazing women, and in turn, share and promote their work.
How do you choose which women to feature on your tees?
On that first evening, we passed around a notebook and pen and took turns writing down the names of our favourite women in film. There were no rules to it. Obviously we couldn’t afford to print all of them, so just decided on the few we and our friends were most passionate about – Greta Gerwig, Annette Bening, Andrea Arnold, Pam Grier, Sally Potter, Mia Hansen-Løve (the aesthetics of that name in particular was definitely extra motivation to print it on a t-shirt!). Since then, we’ve tried to be diverse not just across names, but also the disciplines they might represent; not just actors, but directors, writers, producers and costume designers. There’s still no real rhyme or reason behind our thinking; we go with what feels right (except that time we let Twitter decide – they chose Isabelle Huppert & we couldn’t have been happier).
The film community have embraced your t-shirts whole-heartedly. What has been the highlight of your business journey so far?
When I got an email in February from the fashion director for Stylist magazine, asking if I could supply a couple of t-shirts for their cover shoot with Greta Gerwig, I was totally floored. I remember delivering the t-shirts to Claridge’s, where the shoot was happening, and having to push down the “I don’t belong here” voice in my head. I definitely had very little chill that morning. Right up until the moment I saw the photographs of Greta actually wearing our Agnes Varda tee, I couldn’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I’m in the process of getting the photos printed and framed to hang in my first flat in London.
Before that, Tracy Letts wore our Greta t-shirt to TIFF 2017 for Lady Bird press – that was the moment that introduced the t-shirts to the world, I think, and was hugely exciting. Recently I found out Tracy used Carrie Coon’s Etsy account to order the tee and that he secretly planned the whole thing, which is so sweet. Oh and Laura Dern was gifted an Andrea Arnold
t-shirt after wrapping Season 2 of Big Little Lies. I knew this was going to happen and sent a Laura Dern t-shirt too; apparently Reese Witherspoon wanted it, so Laura gave it to her. Just crazy.
There are those big moments that are completely amazing, but I also really love when someone emails or tweets saying they wore one of tees through a hard day and it helped them feel a bit stronger.