Wearing it Proudly

Memphis businesses capitalize on love of T-shirts

By Andy Meek

Businesses in Memphis increasingly seem to be getting the essence of their brands down to a T.

Eric Evans, left, and Glenn “Bubba” Buxton of Sache print a custom apparel design for the upcoming Brewery Untapped event. Sache has played a big role in the custom T-shirt efforts in Memphis. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

Said another way, if it involves something enough Memphians care about – the Memphis Grizzlies, civic efforts like the Tennessee Brewery Untapped project or even just slices of Memphis nostalgia, to name a few examples – the T-shirt printing will likely soon commence, if it hasn’t already.

There’s a mix of factors at work in what’s become a kind of T-shirt boom under way in the city. Some of the ventures printing shirts are tapping into intense citywide passion for a brand – as in the case of Hoop City Memphis, maker of a line of Memphis Grizzlies shirts – and recognizing that plenty of people will plunk down $20 or so to broadcast their interests.

Babalu Tacos & Tapas, a restaurant coming soon to Overton Square, has its own “Keep Calm and Guac On” shirts. Then there are businesses such as the Downtown-based retailer Sache, which has shirts that try to capitalize on Memphians’ love of Memphis, as well as more message-oriented shirts.

An example of the latter is Sache’s Tennessee Brewery shirts, which the store is selling to support and build interest in the Untapped series of events happening at the brewery starting this week.

“Personally speaking, I couldn’t be prouder of the job that whole group has done to pool resources and make a commitment to bringing activity and some life to the brewery,” said Sache co-founder John Sylvester about the series at the brewery. “I sit every day and can see it out of my office window, so it’s great to know soon that view will change for the better.”

Sache also is starting a “shirt bus” soon as one of the group of so-called retail trucks launching in the city. Meanwhile, Sache’s other distinctive Memphis-flavored shirt designs include “Grind ‘til you shine,” a shirt that includes a giant diamond and a reference to the Grizzlies’ unofficial motto, as well as shirts with the Memphis skyline atop a bright letter ‘M.’

Another local business doing something similar is Hieroglyph, a creative firm that puts out a line of T-shirts as a complement to its services.

Hieroglyph’s shirts serve as a kind of walking advertisement for the firm’s attitude and creative flair. There’s a particular design aesthetic and pro-Memphis vibe running across the different shirts Hieroglyph sells, which include shirts with a specially designed Memphis logo – with a heart in place of the dot over the ‘i’ – and a variety of nostalgic shirts.

The latter include images of old city haunts, including Libertyland, Adventure River and Skateland.

Hieroglyph, like Sache, has come up with a Tennessee Brewery-themed shirt. And on Monday, the firm came out with new Libertyland-themed shirt designs, with one announcing “I survived the revolution,” in honor of the roller coaster at Libertyland. Another shirt the firm released Monday has written on the front “Old Original Goldcrest Beer.”

Josh Horton, Hieroglyph’s creative director, said the firm also has a shirt with a design of the old Memphian theater in the works.

“We’ve all seen Milton Glaser’s ‘I (heart) NY’ design,” said Horton, whose firm’s big focus is branding, as reflected in its name – a hieroglyph being an image that stands as a symbol of something. “I wanted to create something unique and authentic, something that felt hip, where the city is the primary focus and me loving it is secondary. People love T-shirts. A graphic T-shirt more than any other article of clothing is an identifier. We use them to broadcast how we feel and who we support without (even) having a conversation.”

The reason he said he wanted Hieroglyph to put out the more nostalgic Memphis shirts is that he remembers the experience of going to some of those places as a child, and every time he sees their logos and thinks about that time in his life, “I can’t help but smile.”

Not long after Hoop City Memphis began spreading its Grizzlies-focused shirts around the city, co-founder Leslie Skelton said her business didn’t start as a money-making venture. It was just something she and co-founder Ian Lemmonds wanted to pursue because “we wanted some cool things to wear to games and events around town.”

Brittany Fitzpatrick’s venture MentorMe, a cloud-based platform for mentoring programs, is an example of how a small-but-growing technology company has jumped into the T-shirt fray.

“We wanted to make a T-shirt to celebrate the impact of mentoring,” said Fitzpatrick, whose company has a shirt design that reads “One person can only do so much.” “This is just another way to spread that message. Also, thanks to Agape North, the purchase of the shirts helps to provide school uniforms to kids in need. So it’s a win-win.”