The Arc of the Cleveland T-Shirt Economy Bends Toward Justice


  • Courtesy Tim DeWald
The barons of the Cleveland t-shirt economy are among the nimblest in town. They are quick to capitalize on hot, sensational local news. Take, for example, the "Pittsburgh Started It" product line, (courtesy of the Wahoo apologists at GV Art + Design), which debuted mere moments after Steelers' QB Mason Rudolph likely uttered the N-word and Browns' defensive end Myles Garrett was handed an indefinite suspension for responding to both physical and verbal provocation (i.e. hate speech). Head Coach Freddie Kitchens himself wore the shirt in what became a very stupid national news story that epitomized a very stupid Browns season.

But t-shirts like these, and Cleveland t-shirts more generally, are extremely popular in Northeast Ohio. Perhaps uniquely so. A local news story a few years ago joked that the local economy was fueled by LeBron James, craft breweries and t-shirts. 

It's natural and good, then, that these local t-shirts not only reflect a generic, and often ironic, homerism (as when Avon residents sport "Cleveland 'Til I Die" gear), but a concern for real problems afflicting the region.

To that end, two intrepid Northeast Ohioans with a creative bent will be selling limited edition t-shirts at 78th Street Studios' Third Friday event tomorrow (12/20) from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Both of their designs have, shall we say, a slightly less promotional edge than the threads on display at Cle Clothing Co. and the like. 

One (pictured above) is straightforward enough. "CLOSE BURKE" it says. That's a reference to Burke Lakefront Airport and reflects the overwhelming public support for converting the prime acreage, which is used now only by the private-jet set, into publicly accessible space.

The second (pictured below) reads "Cleveland 50.5" imposed over the doleful eyes of one of the iconic Guardians of Traffic. The number is the city's childhood poverty rate, a rate that's highest among the nation's big cities and continues to climb.

All proceeds from the sale of the 50.5 shirt will go toward the Center for Community Solutions, which has authored a number of important regional studies on poverty, including the 2018 report on child poverty, when Cleveland's rate was down at 48.7. Cleveland now owns the distinction of being the only large city in the country in which more than half of its children live in poverty.
  • Courtesy Tim DeWald
Tim DeWald, one of the shirts' creators, said that he and designer Ben Rodriguez are concerned citizens who have never done anything quite like this before. And so there's no long-term business plan or sales strategy beyond selling the 70 shirts they have in stock for $20 a piece at the event Friday.

"We'd like to make more," he said, "and we'd like to sell them online eventually, but right now it's just tomorrow. So act now!"

DeWald told Scene that they're planning to have information available on site, courtesy of the Center for Community Solutions, that people will be welcome to take and read.

"All knowledge about the reasons Burke should be closed will be speculative in nature and opinion-based," he said, "probably spoken too loudly, by me."

It's needless to note that either of these designs would make for a killer last-minute holiday gift for the concerned Cleveland citizen in your life.

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