A recent study by Destination Cleveland shows that nearly 80 percent of the city's economy comes from the Cleveland-themed novelty T-shirt industry.
The study shows it's local T-shirt shops—CLE Clothing Co., Fresh Brewed Tees, GV Artwork, Big Fun, The Social Dept., Homage, This Is Our Year, Cleveland Pride Company, Only in Clev, that shady Cleveland tourist shop at Tower City, and the bootleg vendors outside of the Q—and not solely the return of King James that's responsible for Cleveland's sudden resurgence.
Regional sports fan Dave Edwards explains his attraction to Cleveland-inspired designs. "I definitely feel like if we couldn't walk around letting people know we're from Cleveland, that maybe The New York Post wouldn't know that Cleveland's the new Brooklyn. They'd be like, 'Where are we? Is this Pittsburgh? I can't tell because nobody's wearing the local area code on their snapback.' And then they'd call Pittsburgh the new Brooklyn by mistake, and you know, as my shirt says, Puck Fittsburgh."
This pie chart demonstrates regional-inspired novelty T-shirt shops' contributions to the local economy.
Economists have coined a new term, "gen-tee-fication" to describe the effect a brick-and-mortar Cleveland T-shirt shop has on an up-and-coming neighborhood. Longtime AsiaTown resident Sam Ford sees it as a positive. "I've lived here for a long time with my family but I never felt a sense of community here until I saw a bunch of kids walking around wearing $32 unlicensed shirts that say "sportsball" in local team colors. That's when I knew we made it as a neighborhood. We even have a new name, Bracket Town. You know, something less...ethnic." He pauses, "And, hey, we even have a kombucha shop now."
It's yet to be seen how many Cleveland-themed T-shirt shops this city can support. Chloe Beckerman, owner of Edgewater Clothing Co. doesn't seem phased. "They say the bubble's gonna burst, but I just can't see that happening. I mean, Cleveland's got so much unmined history and cultural heritage that people are just dying to celebrate. Did you know we had a mayor whose hair caught on fire? We're gonna sell raglans with his silhouette on it in five colorways."
International CIA student Bjorn Sklaar is new to the country, but that's not stopping him from getting in on the action. "I've made a Kickstarter to fund a T-shirt and tote bag set with a minimalist interpretation of a very sad American Cleveland.com comment section. I just need $75,000 to make my dream come true. Oh, and to erase my student debt." The shirts themselves, printed on Hanes 50/50 tees, will cost just $4 each to produce. "I have a free trial version of Photoshop," he adds.
Economists see no end in sight for the T-shirt economy growth. "By 2020, local-themed T-shirt sales may make up almost 90 percent of the local economy," says Brian Graham, fellow at the Daffy Dan institute. "Statistically speaking every man, woman, and child in Cleveland will own at least one T-shirt company in their lifetime. Maybe they'll make a design based on, I don't know, the Port of Cleveland or Burke Lakefront Airport. No one's done those yet... right?"