Refresh Collective has long been hanging out at the intersection of cool, creativity, and community, but now it has an actual brick-and-mortar storefront to call all its own.
Celebrating its grand opening this Friday, November 16, Fresh Lab Cleveland will become the city’s first “hip-hop makerspace”—selling Refresh Collective’s clothing line and offering both an on-site screen printing shop and music production studio. The new shop is located at 5409 Detroit Ave., not far from Harrill’s wife’s jewelry shop, Oceanne.
“Anne has been in Gordon Square for a year with Oceanne, so we’ve gotten to know the area really well,” explains Harrill of the choice to set up shop in Detroit Shoreway. “We just moved here after 12 years in Glenville, and our kids go to school right down the street.”
It’s a big change for Harrill, whose concept for Refresh Collective was wholly based on his neighborhood experience as a Glenville resident. The idea initially started in 2010 as a free summer hip-hop camp for youth called Fresh Camp, calling on Harrill’s previous experience as a DJ and hip-hop artist. The camps were so successful that they eventually grew to include the East Cleveland and Buckeye neighborhoods as well.
Doc Harrill in the Fresh Lab recording studio“I was able to use my hip-hop skill set to mentor and reach out to youth in the neighborhood,” shares Harrill. “We made songs that addressed different health issues in the neighborhood—such as lead poisoning and gun violence—and the things kids wanted to see change in the world around them.”
Five years ago, Harrill expanded his efforts to introduce Fresh Force—a creative workforce development program that helps youth ages 16 to 21 develop mastery-level skills in the areas of music production, recording arts, performance, design, screen printing, sales and communications. According to Harrill, the idea sparked when he bought a DIY silk-screen kit on a whim.
“The kit sat in my basement for a year until I finally dusted it off,” laughs Harrill. “I knew the students would love to learn how to print their own T-shirts, so I watched all the tutorial videos and learned how to do it.”
Along with learning the art of screen printing, Harrill and the students worked together to come up with catchy slogans riffing on both their love of hip-hop and dedication to promoting community health. The result? T-shirts with fun puns like “Drop the Beet” and “Turn Up.”
At first, they produced the clothing out of Harrill’s home (which also housed Refresh Collective’s recording studio), but about two years ago, Harrill moved the headquarters into a warehouse space at the ArtCraft Building.
“For the past several years, we’ve been successfully employing Fresh Force youth to not only print and design T-shirts, but also run our sales booth at craft fairs all over the Midwest,” says Harrill. “After doing tons of weekend shows in other cities and seeing growth in all aspects [of Refresh Collective], we really wanted to take our space out of a warehouse and into a neighborhood. The T-shirt line had reached a point where it deserved to see the sun and have a storefront.”
Enter Fresh Lab, which Harrill says will allow Refresh Collective “to more easily run workshops and recording programs for wider variety of people. Also, being here in the neighborhood will make it easier to connect with anyone who wants to get involved with the mission.”
A photo from the "Fresh Teachers" displayHarrill and others will perform at Friday’s grand opening event, and visitors can also check out the “Fresh Teachers” display that shows MC2 Stem High School teachers modeling Refresh Collective’s Fall/Winter line and shares their stories.
“Normally our students are the models, so we wanted to switch it up and honor teachers,” explains Harrill.
Moving forward, Harrill wants to start offering programming for ages 21 and up and empowering professional hip-hop artists, along with continuing the signature programs that have made Refresh Collective such a hit (such as Fresh Camp, Fresh Force, and Freshtoberfest). It’s all part of Harrill’s mission to “refresh the heart of the city”—one T-shirt, song, and dope beat at a time.