Q&A: By Luciana's Maria Martinez Makes Shirts with Wit

Staff Writer
Columbus Monthly
Maria Martinez in the Short North, near her home studio

Maria Luciana Martinez doesn't care much for what's on the surface. The 28-year-old senior graphic designer at Victoria's Secret is more interested in the intention behind things.

"Where are people's minds? How are generations moving? What do they need? How can you fulfill people?" she asks. "That's what this is to me."

"This" meaning By Luciana, her collection of pretty graphic T-shirts and prints with cheeky phrases like "French fries or die," "The chic shall inherit the Earth" and "You are the Marc to my Jacob." Prices range from $20 to $49.

Martinez, a native of Colombia who spent time in Paris and moved to America to go to CCAD, designs and constructs the shirts in a Short North apartment she shares with her longtime boyfriend, Nathan Kropp. She calls him the "production guy."

The two have transformed their living room into By Luciana's warehouse. They have a silkscreen machine, a hot press, a framing station and a bubble wrap station. She tacks bits of inspiration everywhere, and gold foil, one of her mediums, often coats the floor and the noses of her two beloved Maltese dogs. "It's my happy place," Martinez says.

By Luciana, which launched on Etsy two years ago, started with Pelotonia-related prints. After receiving positive feedback, Martinez built her own website of prints with inspirational, catchy or comical messages and, eventually, tees with the same.

The fashion crowd took notice, with bloggers all over snatching up and styling her designs. Now, selling an average of eight to 10 shirts a day, she's just trying to keep up with demand.

"I have zero free time," she says, laughing. "But this doesn't feel like work."

You can find By Luciana T-shirts at Milk Bar Boutique in the Short North and at

On her first tee

We did the #heartthis T-shirt. It was a white tee with black type. It was a V-neck, and it was very simple. No color choices. To be honest, it was before a lot of the boom of graphic tees. I think that's why it caught on. Hashtags were just getting big. We came up with it at a bar one day.

On where she gets her sayings

It's really funny, because English is my biggest weakness. I just come up with things in the shower and when I bike. I'm constantly thinking. I run them by people. I say, "Does this make sense?" Friends send me stuff all the time. I'm constantly online or in magazines. We like to travel a lot. When we travel, that's the best free moment. It's a disconnect, and we come up with a lot [of ideas] traveling.

On speaking four languages

I learned English in high school. When I got here [from Colombia], I was like, "I know English. I'll figure it out." But 90 percent of it is slang. I had to learn English all over again. When I was in high school, my mom and I took some Italian classes just for fun. And then when I graduated and I wasn't sure what I was going to do. My boyfriend [at the time] was going to go to Paris, and I said, "Can I tag along?" That's when I learned French.

On her favorite design

I'm very happy with the Pelotonia pieces. My boyfriend and I are huge fans, and we support it 100 percent. He's done it three years. I did it last year and volunteered the past three. It has so much meaning. It's so deep, and it's been received so well by the community. I've gotten messages thanking me, and that's just so gratifying.

On future plans

I've started to think more seasonal. We're incorporating new items. We're going to do some really cool bags, some holiday. We're doing some Halloween things and Christmas stuff.