In the hours following shifts at her full-time job at a Seacoast-area restaurant this past summer, Kiki Huntress worked late into the night alone — sometimes accompanied by spiders — in the stone-floored, unfinished basement of her childhood Kittery home.
The University of Southern Maine sophomore realized what she had so long envisioned, Wild Child Clothing, last summer, building drawings into full-fledged designs and then screenprinting her own shirts.
“I had always drawn and painted on my clothing and done these little doodles, and I always wanted to see other people wearing them,” Huntress said. “It’s really cool to see people around campus, or anywhere, wearing my shirts.”
The 19-year-old Huntress has found a niche in just about every aspect of her college experience. She is also a standout defender for the USM women’s soccer team, balancing an Art and Entrepreneurial Studies major, athletics and business escapades with aplomb.
Growing up, Huntress focused more on sports than art, playing soccer and basketball during her high school career at Traip Academy. She actually preferred hoops over soccer until halfway through her high school career. Huntress thrived while playing intense club-level soccer, proving to her just how good she was at the sport. With sports at the forefront, art still found a way to impact Huntress.
Huntress’s uncle and aunt, both artists, imbued in their niece a burgeoning interest in art. So when presented with an extended learning opportunity during her senior year of high school to learn more about the design, screenprinting and business process, Huntress went all-in.
“That’s when I found out about screenprinting, which is such an easy way to mass produce your designs to put on anything,” she said.
Susan Johnson, Traip Academy’s Expanded Learning Opportunities coordinator, linked Huntress up with Portsmouth, New Hampshire-based Rocket Fuel Only Screenprinting Co. owner Sean MacDonald, who served as a mentor for her project. Initially self-taught by watching DIY YouTube videos, Huntress learned the ins and outs of operating a screenprinting company from MacDonald.
“She’s just an awesome kid who’s really inquisitive,” MacDonald said. “She’s got her own style which is great to see and a lot of drive.”
At Traip, Huntress won the Scholastic Honorable Mention award for writing, the Scholastic Honorable Mention Award for Art, the Scholastic Silver Key Award for Art and more. Her project ended with a capstone where Huntress taught her peers how to screenprint. They made tote bags with a special class print.
“Seeing people carry those bags around made me feel like I really needed to do this,” Huntress said about launching Wild Child Clothing. So this past spring, Huntress herself invested in the start-up materials, inks, etc. and spent the summer working by day and creating her first line of shirts by night. MacDonald donated a press to help her make the finished product.
“The full-time job during the summer was kind of a hurdle, so there were very late nights of dedicating time to doing a single part of the process of screenprinting,” Huntress said. “Setting it all up is a pretty long process, but once you get to print, it goes fast.”
At USM, she’s a standout in the classroom and in the field. Huntress earned a William B. Wise Scholar-Athlete Award from USM for carrying a 3.0 or better GPA during both semesters last year. She garnered Little East Conference Third Team and Academic All-District honors for her play last fall with the 2022 conference champion Huskies.
“Her artistic skills allow her to see the game that way and they come out in her personality which we certainly see on the field,” USM women’s soccer coach Seth Benjamin said. “Her attitude is really refreshing. She’s thoughtful on the field and I think that directly relates to her being an artist.”
Having a longer summer break in college lent Huntress ample time to pursue her passion. She conducted a poll on her brand’s Instagram page to choose which of her designs to print. Huntress made shirts with four of her designs. She’s sold more than 200 shirts so far, all via social media.
Her most popular designs are called “Check in on your homies” and “To more life.” The latter is intended as a “cheers” to loving life. The former refers to mental health awareness.
“There were times in my life where I definitely needed my friends to check in on me, and they weren’t,” Huntress said. “It’s just a little reminder to check in on your friends even if you think they’re doing OK because you never really know what’s going on.”
Huntress doesn’t envision Wild Child Clothing becoming her main career and isn’t exactly sure what she wants to do for a full-time job, but she’s excited about continuing to grow her business.
“I definitely want to make more designs and really want to see them in a store,” Huntress said.
Greg Levinsky is a Portland native and follower of local sports. He is an alumnus of Deering High School and Boston University whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Detroit Free Press, and several Maine newspapers. He can be reached at [email protected].