A brief history of IheartPGH the t-shirt, the blog & the PGH t-shirt show

Thursday, April 23 is the 5th annual PGHTee, a celebration of Pittsburgh t-shirts. This event suits me to a T, well to a T-shirt.  Bad t-shirt puns aside, this blog is the direct result of a t-shirt.  Before I give you the not so brief history of why I love Pittsburgh t-shirts as much as I love Pittsburgh, here are the details on the Pittsburgh Tee Show:

PGHTee 2015 – A Celebration of Pittsburgh T-Shirts

An event showcasing the best t-shirts of the 'burgh

An event showcasing the best t-shirts of the ‘burgh

The PghTee is a T-shirt show and sale. This is one of the many events for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week, so yes there will be beer.

  • Date: Thursday, April 23, 2015
  • Time: 6pm-9pm
  • Location: Commonwealth Press Warehouse, 2315 Wharton St., Pittsburgh, PA 15203
  • RSVP: Facebook Event Page
  • Cost: Free, unless you want to buy t-shirts, and you will want to buy a t-shirt.

In addition to displays some of the finest t-shirt vendors in town will be selling their wares…

Which came first the T-shirt of the Blog?

A brief history of IheartPGH the t-shirt, the blog & the PGH t-shirt show

The universe keeps bringing me back to Pittsburgh t-shirts.  Here is a brief history of how t-shirts are responsible for the creation of this blog and how the PGHTee t-shirt show came to be (which all goes back to a comment from a reader of this blog).

One of the first IheartPGH t-shirt

One of the first IheartPGH t-shirts

Back in 2003, in the days before blogs were even a thing, I was bored on a rainy Sunday afternoon and made a visit to the Andy Warhol museum.  Before I left the museum, I stopped in the basement to try screenprinting.  I left the museum, drove to the art supply store and decided I would teach myself to screen print.  The first t-shirt I printed was the “I heart PGH” t-shirt. I printed t-shirts in the basement of my mom’s house. I would make my sisters hold the screens while I printed  the shirts.  They still refer to the basement as my sweatshop. I am pretty sure the t-shirt in the photo is one of the first that I ever printed, I can tell because it was printed on a Hanes under-shirt that was most likely purchased at Gabes.

I went on to start a little t-shirt company and found a Duquesne student to build my first website. And in true Pittsburgh fashion, last year I worked on a big project and that same Duquesne student is now a big developer at a big Pittsburgh business.

My little business grew and I got a few orders and I needed a partner to print some shirts (my sweatshop crew couldn’t keep up with the demand).  One day I was leaving the Avalon Exchange, back when it was located in Oakland in the space that is now occupied by NoWait.  I picked up a flier for a screenprinting place located on the South Side.  Keep in mind, this was back in the day before Twitter, before Facebook, we are talking back in the era of Friendster and MySpace.  And people, certainly not me, did not use the internet to reach out to connect to strangers.  I emailed the screenprinter and we met for a cup of coffee. I am pretty sure we met at one of the Beehive coffee shops, this was back when there was a Beehive location in Oakland (which is now the noodle shop/T-mobile). That is how I met Dan Rugh, back when he was running his screen-printing shop was in the basement of his house. Today, Commonwealth Press has a storefront on Carson Street, a warehouse/production facility on Wharton Street, a t-shirt truck and employees at least a dozen people who are passionate about printing stuff.

Hand printed t-shirt from Bill Peduto's 2005 campaign for mayor

Hand printed t-shirt from Bill Peduto’s 2005 campaign for mayor

In 2004, I quit my job and went to work on the Kerry/Edwards campaign.  After that I worked on was Bill Peduto’s first campaign for mayor of Pittsburgh.  The campaign didn’t have any money, so we made campaign t-shirts by collecting old t-shirts, and then we headed over to AIR on the open studio nights. AIR is short for Aritst Image Resources, a non-profit organization located on the North Side that basically exists to help people print things.  I wish I had known about AIR when I was first learning to screen print.  We turned the old t-shirts inside out and printed the Peduto logos, designed by local artists, on the inside-out-t-shirts.  While working on this campaign, I met Dave Mansueto, who was just getting into podcasting and would spend hours trying to explain RSS feeds to me.  I knew how to build an HTML website and at the time, I was convinced that is all I would ever need to know.

In the fall of 2005, I was unemployed and using my big old desktop computer to build some websits. This blog started as a kind of a joke between Natalia Rudiak.  Natalia was another person who I had met while working on the first Peduto campaign.  We would talk about what politicians were saying about why young people wanted to move to Pittsburgh and how they were often wrong.  So in response, I built a website. I decided to give WordPress a try, seemed like a faster way to build a website than HTML, and IheartPGH was born.  A huge THANK YOU to Dave Mansueto for patiently schooling me on the virtues of the RSS feed.  If you are interested in podcasting, Dave is the person to talk to and you should check out his app, bossjock studio @bossjockapp , which is one of the best apps for recording a podcast from an iphone/ipad.

Never in a million years did I think that blogging would become my job. But thanks to one of our readers who left a comment on the blog, I learned that the t-shirt company Spreadshirt was hiring a blogger.  I applied and my official title was Wizard of Web 2.0.

In 2008, Spreadshirt launched a marketing effort to elevate the t-shirt by naming the first day of summer International T-shirt Day.  You can see the sad little blog post I wrote about this first t-shirt day on the Spreadshirt blog here.  July 2008 was a big milestone for this little blog. Thanks to the Pittsburgh t-shirt we were featured on the front page of the New York Times magazine section, along with our St. Louis t-shirt loving friends, STL Style. The article was about t-shirts and rust belt cities. (Should you ever find yourself in St. Louis and feeling a bit homesick for Pittsburgh, head straight to STL Style on Cherokee street and mention IheartPGH to Jeff and Randy Vines.  While they love St. Louis, I can assure you that they are solid Pittsburgh fans and will welcome you with open arms.)

IheartPGH in the New York Times

IheartPGH in the New York Times

This Year's T-Shirt
Image by mrdestructicity via Flickr

A few years later, I had been laid off from Spreadshirt. It should come as no surprise that when you have to have a round of layoffs the the first people to go are the bloggers or the people who had the word wizard in their job title, so I was doubly doomed. In what was probably yet another round of underemployment for me, I happened to be scheming, I mean meeting, with Dan Rugh and a host of other local bloggers who love Pittsburgh and t-shirts.  We decided that Pittsburgh needed a t-shirt day event too. Thus the Pittsburgh T-Shirt show was born (you can see a list of some of the vendors from the first PGHTee event here. Thanks to the first Pittsburgh t-shirt show, we met even more Pittsburgh t-shirt lovers like Dave White aka @MrDestructicity who was running his own t-shirt project wearing and documenting all of the t-shirts that he owns.

Thanks to the crafty thinking of Dan Rugh, the Pittsburgh T-shirt show is in its 5th year and now one of the many great events for Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week.

As I write this blog post, I am kind of amazed that I reached out to Dan in the first place. I was incredibly shy and I wouldn’t go anywhere by myself. I am thankful that Dan continues to be a sounding board and cheerleader for my ideas. Today, thanks to Andy Warhol, some t-shirts, a blog, I will pretty much go anywhere and talk with anyone.

I hope to see you tomorrow (or today, depending on when you are reading this) at the 5th Annual Pittsburgh T-shirt show. I will gladly be toasting the t-shirt, especially the Pittsburgh t-shirt.

The Found Magazine Tour Stops in Pgh on Sept. 5 – Win Tickets!

It’s funny how things work out – I was sitting here at my desk bemoaning the end of summer fun – I know summer doesn’t end for a few weeks but it seems like the summer fun stops at Labor Day.  Then I started reading some of the emails and tweets I ignored while I was celebrating a wedding and trying to squeeze the last few hours of summer fun out of labor day.  There is a ton of great things happening in Pittsburgh this fall.  As I was starting to make a list of all of the things I want to post about I got an email from the folks at Found Magazine – they are bringing their 10th Anniversary tour to the burgh on Wednesday.

I had just post a link on the BlogLocal Facebook page about a New York Times article “A History of New York in 50 Objects” – and I was thinking I should ask the IheartPGH readers what 50 objects should go into a similar list for Pittsburgh.  So I think it is serendipitous that Morgan from Found Magazine sent me an email today.

Found Magazine was started by Davy Rothbart – who is a frequent contributor to NPR’s This American Life.  Found is all about items that people find and submit to the website.


And as I was looking up Davy Rothbart on the This American Life website – it turn out he recorded an episode about his conversation with Pittsburgh’s favorite neighbor – Mr. Rogers back in 2001.  You can listen to episode  184: Neighbors here.

Which brings us to 2012 – Found Magazine is on a their 10th Anniversary Tour and Davy Rothbart has just published a new book “My Heart is an Idiot” – the tour stops in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, September 5, 2012 at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont Facebook Event Link.  Tickets are $7 at the door or you can win a pair of tickets below.  Davy is joined on the tour by his brother Peter who the frontman for folk/rock group The Poem Adept and his music was featured 2012 documentary film Mister Rogers & Me.  One of the things that I thought was pretty cool about this tour in Pittsburgh – before I realized all of the Mr. Rogers connections – is the idea of two brothers going on tour together.

Win 2 Tickets to My Heart is an Idiot: Found Magazine’s 10th Anniversary Tour

The folks at Found Magazine have kindly offered us 4 tickets to giveaway to tomorrow’s event. So to enter – I ask that you leave a comment about what item you think should go on the list of Pittsburgh history in 50 items.  You can also get additional entries by following IheartPGH on Facebook and Twitter. And since we’re limited on time for this giveaway – 3 entries if you tweet about this contest and help us spread the word.

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Crafting and Storytelling – Pittsburgh Screening of "Handmade Nation"

Handmade Nation Screening, Baltimore, MD
Image by tigerlillyshop via Flickr

Handmade Nation is a documentary film about the rise of all things handmade and crafty by artist and filmmaker Faythe Levine.   I first learned about this film at the Craft Congress – a meeting of craft fair organizers – that was first held in Pittsburgh in 2007.  You can read more about the Craft Congress in this New York Times article from December 16, 2007.  Again my path crossed with this film at the Art Activist & Equity symposium which was held at the New Hazlett Theater in 2008. [Read more…]

Pittsburghers are Tasty – New York Times Looks at T-shirts and Cities

lindsay_patross_300.jpgToday’s New York Times has a nice little article about t-shirts and city pride. The article includes references to GLUE – Great Lakes Urban Exchange, Spreadshirt.com and the Pittsburghers are Tasty T-shirt. I have just added some more tasty t-shirts and tote bags to the shop.

I enjoyed talking to the reporter for this article – t-shirts and Pittsburgh have been a theme a recurring theme. When I first started screen printing t-shirts 5 years ago, the first shirt we made was the IheartPGH shirt, the blog came a few years later. My friend Breen came up with the idea for the Pittsburghers are Tasty t-shirt which has also been very popular.

It was a kind reader of IheartPGH that first emailed me about Spreadshirt about 2 years ago.collage4.jpg Spreadshirt.com is an awesome web platform that lets anyone design and sell t-shirts on the web – the IheartPGH shop is powered by Spreadshirt and I get to help other groups use t-shirt to tell their stories too.

Turning to T-Shirts to Spiff Up Downtrodden Cities

Published: July 13, 2008

ST. LOUIS — As Jeff Vines pulls down the iron on the heat press in his small studio here, he is trying something far grander than simply searing another image onto another T-shirt. The machine hisses, Mr. Vines opens it and sizes up his handiwork: a cotton weapon in his quest to revive his long-challenged city.

The St. Louis-themed shirts that Jeff Vines and his identical twin, Randy, make are not for tourists. They sport neighborhood references and inside jokes unintelligible to those not from here. Some easily offend, displaying profanity and raunchy innuendo. But to the Vines brothers, their edginess is part of their mission for St. Louis — a place many of their friends from high school fled — to rehabilitate its image from the inside out and, ultimately, to make future generations want to stay.

“You have to get the people who live there to be the best advocates for the city, or else you don’t really have much,” Randy Vines said. “So you need to change the psyche and change the way they see their own city.”

The Vines brothers, 30, are not alone in their effort. In cities like Youngstown, Ohio, and Detroit, damaged by the decline in manufacturing and decades of population loss, entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s are pushing back with the simple stuff of T-shirts, tote bags and soap. Faced with condescending attitudes from outsiders and grumbling from many locals, they are determined to peddle in pride, and hope to convert others in the process.

“It’s reframing the identity of these places that have been misrepresented,” said Abby Wilson, a co-founder of the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, a new group dedicated to bringing post-baby boomers together to work for the health of postindustrial cities in the Great Lakes region.

The Vines brothers’ company, STL-Style, makes retro-looking T-shirts that extol and lovingly tease St. Louis; slogans include “My Way or Kingshighway,” and “Where the Mullet Meets the River.” In Pittsburgh, Lindsay Patross, 28, offers T-shirts and aprons that read “Pittsburghers are tasty.” At City Bird in Detroit, siblings Emily and Andy Linn, 30 and 25, make clocks, lamps, earrings and bracelets patterned with maps of their city. Another company, Rusty Waters Apparel, sells skull-adorned T-shirts celebrating Youngstown, Cleveland and Pittsburgh. A quote on the company’s MySpace page says: “Don’t mess with the underdog. Rustbelt Warriors!”

Another Rusty Waters Apparel design depicts a downtown Youngstown building, the Home Savings and Loan, hanging upside down from the neckline, with birds flying around it.

“The fact that it’s upside down signifies the struggle that Youngstown has gone through,” the shirt’s designer, Kate Butler, 24, explained. But the birds are flying right side up, symbolizing hope, she said.

These T-shirt makers know, of course, that their merchandise will not cure the deep-seated problems of their cities. But they see them as one way to fight against powerful stereotypes, and consider them more authentic than city officials’ public relations campaigns.

Mark-Evan Blackman, chairman of men’s wear design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City, said T-shirts can have a profound effect on social change, and that these shirts should not be underestimated. “It’s saying we’re cool, we’re here,” Mr. Blackman said. “We’ve not jumped out of the boat, this city is cool and we’re making it cooler, and look at us.”

T-shirts became popular in the United States after they were issued to soldiers and sailors in World War II, he said. They became acceptable to use as outerwear, and companies and political campaigns soon realized that T-shirts could be turned into walking billboards.

The tourist-oriented location T-shirts, of course, are hawked the world over. The iconic “I ♥ NY,” started by a state marketing campaign in the 1970s, is widely mimicked, and has been parodied in some Rust Belt cities; perhaps to portray gritty authenticity, the Rusty Waters Apparel version replaces New York’s heart symbol with an anatomical heart.

In 2002, Michael de Zayas catapulted a place-driven apparel craze with Neighborhoodies, a company he started after he was hounded for the hooded sweatshirt he made, emblazoned with the words Fort Greene, the name of the Brooklyn neighborhood he loved.

People love flaunting where they are from and where they live, said Jana Eggers, chief executive of Spreadshirt, an online retailer that lets users design T-shirts and other apparel and sell them online.

“It’s all about identity,” Ms. Eggers said. Shirts featuring places are popular items to make and sell using her site, often displaying inside jokes.

But can they affect a city?

“It’s not the T-shirt that’s turning around the image,” Ms. Eggers said. “It’s the conversations that start.”

While some of the T-shirt makers said they made essentially no money on their merchandise, most dreamed of building successful businesses and expanding to other Rust Belt cities.

In their first year, the Vines brothers sold about 250 T-shirts; six years later, in 2007, they sold about 1,400, plus some 300 other items, including underwear, onesies and stickers. Both work full-time jobs.

About 40 percent of their T-shirts, they say, go to people who have left St. Louis. Occasionally, they get e-mail messages from homesick St. Louis natives.

“Thanks for promoting my favorite city,” wrote Jim Saracini, who left St. Louis 30 years ago after failing to find the right job there.

But as Randy Vines sat at his desk, stuffing T-shirts into envelopes to ship out, he seemed especially pleased to see an order going to a St. Louis address. “One more proud city resident is going to be sporting these,” he said.