This is one crafty sister act.
Sondra Mansfield and Wendy Gross Almasanu combined years of experience in graphic design, marketing and engineering to come up with a unique chalkboard T-shirt that can be customized over and over.
Just a year after launching Chalk of the Town, their products are sold in more than 150 stores across the country and the patent for their chalkboard material is pending.
And the savvy sisters expanded this holiday season with a special T-shirt package being sold at Lincoln Center in conjunction with performances of “The Nutcracker” and with a new partnership with the Girl Scouts.
The shirts come with special markers and stencils to guide designs. But kids (and adults) can also create their own messages on the mini blackboards affixed to the front of the shirts in various shapes, including a speech bubble.
“The speech bubble shape was designed to be reminiscent of the text area of a phone,” said Almasanu, 48, a former Upper West Side resident who lives in Ohio. “Think of a Chalk of the Town shirt as one step beyond sharing emojis in a text or on social media. Wearing one of our shirts is a way to “post” your thoughts, at a moment in time, but no Wi-Fi needed.”
Mansfield, 50, and Almasanu grew up in Connecticut with parents who taught them to always think about “the possibilities of things.”
“My mom was an idea person — she was somewhat MacGyverish,” Mansfield said, referring to the 1980s television character known for his resourcefulness.
Mansfield, who lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children, studied industrial engineering and went to work for a large accounting firm. She got her MBA at NYU and switched to marketing, while Almasanu worked in finance and graphic design.
The two made their first foray into T-shirt design several years ago during a family vacation on Fire Island. Almasanu, who also has two children, and Mansfield came up with several T-shirts emblazoned with the lighthouse and other themes from the popular Long Island spot.
“We started to fool around with the idea for a chalkboard shirt,” Mansfield said. “We had seen one before that used chalk but it was very messy and smudgy.”
They developed a shirt with material that could be used with markers that would not smear but could be easily washed and reused. Chalk of the Town launched in August 2016 and immediately caught the attention of retailers.
The basic kit of one T-shirt, a stencil, pen and cleaning cloth sells for about $28. But people can also customize their orders.
While the internet has been a big part of their sales and marketing campaign, they also got a booth at last month’s Play Fair NYC at the Javits Center as part of an ongoing effort to reach more customers and retailers.
“It’s a challenge to keep up with this part of the business as well as other aspects,” said Mansfield. “But honestly, learning about these areas and conquering these challenges is part of what has made this fun!”