When Mike Kubinski started Cleveland Clothing Company
as an online store in 2008, the city was in the midst of the recession, businesses were closing their doors and local morale was lower than it had been in years. Inspired by Rubber City Clothing, an apparel company in Akron, Kubinski saw a void in the market for local wares that would celebrate the city and defy the depressed images depicted of the Rust Belt at the time.
He also wanted to design clothes that were both a fashion statement and a declaration of pride. “I’m not one to go to the team shop and buy something that’s emblazoned with the Browns or Cavs logo,” Kubinski says. “I wanted something that’s cool, unique and different. If I’m not gonna wear it, I’m not gonna make it.”
CLE Clothing Company
Cleveland, for better or worse, has had its share of iconic moments, not least of all when it comes to sports. Any longtime Clevelander can begrudgingly retell where they were for “The Drive” and “The Decision,” or recall happier memories from the Browns’ 1964 championship or “The Miracle of Richfield.” However, it has only been in recent years that companies have taken that Cleveland pride and pressed it into cotton. Today, more and more local apparel brands are celebrating, promoting and even poking fun at what is means to be in “The Land.”
“Sometimes you have to sit back and laugh,” says Kubinski. “I think that’s part of the Cleveland culture.”
Kubinski, originally a graphic designer, admits that some of his designs might not sit well with some of the more devout Cleveland sports fans, but CLE Clothing Co. still offers a deep line of Browns, Cavaliers and Indians gear that celebrates the teams’ legends and transformations. Yet Kubinski’s brand also aims to bring attention to some of the city’s other big attractions. Recently, the company has partnered with Playhouse Square and the West Side Market and created a variety of designs that even celebrate some of Cleveland’s more regrettable moments and landmarks, such as “Dead Man’s Curve” and the “Burning River.”
“We try to make light of some of our problems and turn them around to make it cool,” Kubinski says.
Today, Kubinski and his team have opened two retail locations in Cleveland. The brick and mortar store at East 4th
and Euclid offers all of the company’s online favorites and is surrounded by some of downtown’s best bars, restaurants and shops. Native Cleveland
on Waterloo is its boutique store and sells a variety of jewelry, art and apparel from other Cleveland vendors.
While CLE Clothing Co. makes a fair amount of cheeky designs that highlight the city’s shortcomings, local brand Fresh Brewed Tees
prefers to focus on the good when it comes to marketing the city and being a strong ambassador for Cleveland through his work.
“With our large social media following, people look to us to see how we’ll respond and we’ve chosen to take the high road and be that strong sense of pride and morale,” says Tony Madalone, the company’s owner. “I think it’s a cool opportunity to be able to shape the culture or at least have a say in it.”
A Cleveland native, Madalone wanted to tap into the market he knew best when he started the business in 2009. Today, Fresh Brewed Tees is designing apparel for teams across the nation, with a heavy presence in the burgeoning Seattle Seahawks fan market. Without the help of championship-winning teams, Madalone was able to be successful early on by keeping a close ear to what local fans were saying, and in 2010 Fresh Brewed Tees got their first big break when their shirt encouraging the Browns to resign longtime superstar Josh Cribbs made an appearance on ESPN.
“I can say without a doubt that Cleveland has the best fan base, and it has nothing to do with winning,” Madalone says. “It’s unique that we’re proud no matter what our teams do.”
With championship rings still pending, Cleveland has found good fortune and its place on the national stage thanks to the addition of two of sports’ biggest superstars, LeBron James and Johnny Manziel. Shirts commemorating James’ return to the Cavaliers and Manziel’s signature “money sign” touchdown celebration became the two biggest-selling shirts of 2014. Madalone was able to flip even bigger profits from the announcements thanks to Fresh Brewed Tees’ retail truck, which is the first of its kind in Cleveland. When downtown became flooded for James’ return, the truck was able to bring the shirts directly to the people without a storefront.
“It helps get things to the market quickly,” Madalone says. “It’s one thing for a customer to go to the mall and pick up a shirt, but it’s something special when they can go to the game, see our truck and maybe pick up a limited edition shirt.”
Lakewood’s GV Art and Design
is one of the newest storefronts offering a fresh take in the marketing of Cleveland apparel. Founders and brothers George and Greg Vlosich started their company with the hopes of creating Cleveland shirts that were equal parts message and work of art.
GV Art and Design
“We treat shirts like a canvas,” George Vlosich says. “There’s not always someone who’s is going to pay a couple thousand dollars for a piece of artwork, but there’s someone who is going to pay 25 dollars for a shirt that’s essentially still a piece of art.”
Prior to staring GV Art and Design, the two brothers had already made names for themselves in the art community. At the age of 10, George discovered his talent for drawing realistic portraits of his favorite sports heroes using an Etch-a-Sketch. Soon, players like Cal Ripken Jr. and Lawrence Taylor recognized Vlosich’s work and his talents landed him guest spots on “Oprah,” “Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee,” and ESPN. When the Cavaliers were making a run in the 2007 NBA Finals, Vlosich uploaded a time-lapse video showing his artistic process in making a Cavaliers-inspired Etch-a-Sketch and within a week, the video went viral with over a million views. Even with his newfound fame, the Vlosich brothers never thought twice about leaving the city where they got their start.
“With our artwork, there were lots of opportunities to go other cities, but we like it here,” George Vlosich says.
“But we knew people wanted a way to express that they loved Cleveland and we thought, ‘Let’s make a statement that we’re happy to be here,’” Greg Vlosich adds.
One of the perks of the job for the two lifelong Cleveland sports fans is the chance to work one-on-one with the athletes in developing some of their designs, including Indians’ pitching ace Corey Kluber, Browns tight end Jordan Cameron and Cavaliers forward Kevin Love, to name a few.
“We’re building their brand as well,” Greg Vlosich said. “Kluber wouldn’t normally have a shirt other than one with his name and number. He was excited to get behind it because he saw himself on a shirt that was artistically done with thought and detail.”
Before opening their storefront, GV Art and Design was run out of Vlosich’s parents’ basement, and the family dining room literally became the shipping room. After many lines around the block, illegally parked cars and visits from the athletes themselves, the family business moved into its current location in August of 2013. Today, their store is covered in gorgeous murals of downtown scenery, Cleveland legends old and new and the phrase coined by the brothers’ father that helped put them on the map, “CleveLand That I Love.”
“A lot of people will take something they hear around town and just throw it up on a shirt,” Greg Vlosich said. “We pride ourselves on being creative and taking the next step by asking, ‘What else as a Clevelander makes you want to wear this?’