Maybe you saw someone sporting one in the Q at a Cleveland Cavaliers playoff game, or perhaps the Fox Sports Ohio cameras trained on a fan wearing one in the stands. One question comes to mind: “Where’d they get that shirt?”
In all likelihood, the creative designs are the brainchild of T-shirt entrepreneur Nick Luedy. His catchy styles are certainly cause for a double-take, and not likely to turn up at your local mall or big box retailer.
Luedy creates Clevo-centric shirts for his label Cleveland Clothing Co. Along with a handful of other local clothing purveyors, Luedy has tapped into a civic pride zeitgeist, with cool cotton creativity.
He founded CCC in early 2009, after spending time “working at a small mom-and-pop silk-screening shop. I worked on the press there and fell in love with it,” says Luedy. “I definitely knew right away that I wanted to do T-shirts and other apparel, but the idea of going Cleveland-related took a while.”
With a background and degree in graphic design, it didn’t take Luedy long to master the garb-screening process. “My interest has always been in art,” he says. “This seemed like a natural extension for me. Learning the business end of wearable art was more challenging.”
Today, Luedy’s creations trumpet the region’s music scene, sports teams, legendary meteorologist Dick Goddard and, not surprisingly, a certain small forward from Akron who plays for the Cavaliers.
“I’m a huge basketball fan,” Luedy admits, during his lunch break at his other day job, American Greetings. “So there’s definitely a leaning towards the Cavs and LeBron James in my current designs.”
Luedy says he didn’t enter the business specifically to cater to a college-aged audience, but that seems to be his primary buying audience.“I didn’t set out to target a specific audience, but I thought there was a gap in cool T-shirt designs, and my work seems to connect with that crowd,” he says of CCC's limited-run shirts.
“I like very simple graphics," says Luedy. "I’ve never been into those all-over designs that cover the whole shirt. It’s more affordable and cost-effective to steer away from the Ed Hardy style.
“All of that really helps me keep costs down,” Luedy adds. “And I think that appeals to college students who have books, beer and classes to pay for as well.” His use of ever-popular American Apparel shirts doesn’t hurt, either.
Luedy stays connected to his audience by offering all of his designs in his exclusive online store, which operates “almost like print-on-demand,” he says. Ideas are generated for shirt templates through the store’s Facebook page, and Luedy gauges a new design’s print run based on positive responses.
“I like to think I’m giving the people what they want,” says Luedy, adding that while “a lot of people will send me unsolicited ideas for new shirt designs,” he rarely considers producing them.
To wit, Luedy’s current top-sellers have passed his social media muster. They include a “CLV-LND” takeoff on the logo for rap legends Run-DMC; an “I LeBron Cleveland” shirt that replaces a heart with a facial caricature of the NBA MVP; and the pictured Dunkin’ Donuts parody, “Dunkin’ Lebron: Cleveland Runs on 23.” Naturally, sales kicked into high gear for the James-related gear almost immediately.
So is Luedy worried about trademark infringement?
“Not particularly,” he offers. “I make sure to contact [the creators of the original designs] before I run with an idea. When they’re not OK with it, I don’t print it.
“I’ve seen other companies do the same kind of thing with branding knockoffs, and I have to believe if they’re not getting into trouble over it then neither will I.”
Encroachment on another local t-shirt company’s branding has been far more problematic for Luedy. The C.L.E. Clothing Company, which designs and sells stylish designs that promote Cleveland's positive attributes, and Luedy have been trying to separate themselves from each other for the better part of a year now.
“Before I even chose the name for my company, I talked it over with them,” Luedy offers. “And even then, they didn’t seem too happy about it.” Two more creative studios are also adding to the design mix: BCTZ and Collision Bend.
“I just wanted to use a name that would be recognizable, but over the past year, it’s been hard to have people get as confused as they do," says Luedy. "It has definitely caused some friction between us.”
Luedy is contemplating changing the name of his company, along with a move to focus on more sports-related clothing, which seems to represent his current design direction.
But for now – as with the Cavaliers’ fortunes in the 2010 NBA playoffs – we all just have to wait and see. “I’m not sure about either decision yet,” Luedy offers. “If LeBron stays in Cleveland, I definitely will.”