Bramwell Debuts SUBTL in Art Gala “When We Met”

Photo courtesy of Ellington Bramwell

Ellington Bramwell PO ’19 lacks subtlety. At least, that’s what someone told him in the summer of 2016, months before he launched the clothing line SUBTL.

“I was actually trying to spit game to this woman,” Bramwell recalls, laughing. “What people don’t know about me is that I’m an introvert, and I don’t ‘spit game.’ At all. ... I remember one of her responses was, ‘You lack subtlety.’”

The conversation gave Bramwell the perfect name for his clothing line: SUBTL.

A media studies major and art minor, Bramwell has always been creative. Growing up in Chicago, his high school teacher introduced him to Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, where he channeled his artistic energy into graphics and animation.

The line, which includes graphic t-shirts and a phone case, embodies Bramwell’s dedication to what he describes as the “do-it-yourself culture.” Intentionally shying away from mainstream styles, Bramwell aims for his clothing to cultivate a “raw” feel. The logo, a jagged lettering of “SUBTL” with a graphic of hands, represents his authentic intentions. “I wanted something a little gritty – I didn’t want it to be too clean,” he said. “I wanted to incorporate my gravitation toward thinking about space in general, which is why a part of the logo is kind of like a black hole with hands reaching up from beneath.”

Bramwell detailed his process from ideation to production. As the studio manager for The Hive at the Claremont Colleges, he has used its screen printing tools to produce his merchandise and occasionally outsources to online orders for more complex designs.

“I usually get someone’s bike or someone’s car and take the five-minute ride down the the T-Shirt Mart or the swap meet – that’s where I get all my blanks from,” Bramwell said.

After buying blank t-shirts, Bramwell chooses designs, transfers the design to a screen, and imprints the logo on the shirt.

One of Bramwell’s favorite designs is “Let’s Be Evil Together,” a “grimey-looking couple in a heart-shaped bed.” The design demonstrates partnership and was inspired by the idea that everyone is searching for a partner in crime. “I feel like we all put on shields the minute we get out of bed and just try to conquer each day,” Bramwell said. “The idea behind the design is what if you could do that with someone who’s on the same wave as you.”

Bramwell’s website also includes an editorial section. He partnered with In House Atlas, a production collective at the 5Cs that explores space and truth through art, to curate articles and poems.  

“The people that I interview are other young adults, starting their own organizations, apps, and some are really dope musicians and artists,” he said. “I really just wanted to re-center the light, take a step back away from mainstream culture, and focus more on local initiatives and local shapers of culture.”

Photo courtesy of Ellington Bramwell

Bramwell’s clothing has appeared in pop-ups, instillations, showcases, and is available on his website, inhouseatlas.com/subtl. Pitzer College’s Shakedown Café also boasts a wide collection of SUBTL’s merchandise, where students can purchase phone cases and t-shirt prints with cash or Venmo.

On Nov. 3, Bramwell’s collective introduction came to life in his art gala debut, “When We Met.” Complete with projections, light installations, live painting, dance performances, music, and visual art, over 70 people entered the off-campus home of Isaac Tucker-Rasbury PO ’18. 

Dawned in furs, heels, and suits, many guests abided by SUBTL’s request to “wear the attire that makes you feel most radiant. Despite the guests’ swanky attire, Bramwell came to the gala dressed in khakis. “Typical,” Tucker-Rasbury said with a chuckle.  

Tucker-Rasbury, who has grown close to Bramwell through their work at the Black Student Affairs Office, said that his home near the Claremont Co-Op and Pomona art museum was the ideal location.

“[Branwell] was like, ‘Man, uh, can I use your house?’” Tucker-Rasbury said. “And I was like, ‘You know I want you to use my house, and you should have asked me before.’ I was so happy about it.” Tucker-Rasbury added that there were some days, he would just leave his house open for Bramwell and his team from In House Atlas to set up for the gala.

Tucker-Rasbury noted that Bramwell would have been happy no matter the number of guests or sales made. “Some people do things because at the end of it, they’re going to get to dress up really nicely and stand in front of a crowd," Tucker-Rasbury said. "[Bramwell’s] the guy that does the thing because he really wants to do the thing … He’s not beat over the crowd – he’s doing it because he loves the work.”

The gala allowed Bramwell to showcase his entire artistic collection. “People [had] seen pieces of my work, whether it [was] random stickers, posters, random shirts, or canvas pieces at different events, but they [had] not seen the collective introduction I wanted to have,” Bramwell said.

After pulling over a month of all-nighters, Bramwell’s hard work has paid off: The gala was anything but subtle. “The gala was tight,” he said. “I remember being at this point last year [when] I wanted to collab with all these dope people [who had] wiggled their way into being some of my favorite artists in general, so it was honestly a surreal feeling to be able to collaborate with them on a debut.”

Bramwell donated all proceeds to Puerto Rico’s hurricane relief efforts and Eye Love You, a Chicago youth summer camp, founded by a close friend.

After spending the summer of 2016 interning at CBS in Manhattan, he discovered his true passion: interacting with members of his own community. He now hopes to combine his interest in community engagement with his artistic design skills.

Looking forward, Bramwell hopes to eventually have a retail front, where he can continue to cultivate creative energy through community workshops and gala spaces, like those provided at The Hive. Bramwell says he is not monetarily motivated, but rather hopes to expand upon his collection of artistic content and make art more accessible to everyone.

“I hope for it to be a hub of collaboration married with community engagement,” Bramwell said.

Bramwell admits that it’s funny how far he has taken his company since that one conversation from the summer of 2016 coined SUBTL’s name, despite the fact that the relationship never went any further.

“I don’t even think the person knows about SUBTL,” Bramwell said, laughing. “No one expected it."