They are proud to live in Toledo and want everyone to know it. They also want to give others a chance to show it.
At least half a dozen entrepreneurs in the Toledo area have independently created pro-Toledo T-shirts, which have been popping up on everyone from local festival-goers to Mayor Mike Bell and members of City Council.
John Amato, founder and president of local clothing company JUPMODE, said the mainly grassroots effort was unplanned.
“I’ve never really seen it as a movement, but recently it has been more noticeable, and you could probably call it that,” Amato said. “We all kind of did it independently. I think it shows there are a lot of people out there realizing the same thing — that they really like Toledo and they want to showcase that and let other people know.”
Amato said the designers are supportive of each other.
“Even though we’re technically competing because we’re making similar T-shirts, we want each other to do well,” Amato said. “I want all those other people selling shirts to sell a lot of shirts because it’s good for Toledo. I think they all share the sentiment of the more shirts like this out there, the better it is for Toledo and Toledoans. It’s all the same message. It’s all about Toledo pride.”
Shirts range from $10 to $26 and are sold at local businesses, including Bozarts, 151 S. St. Clair St.; Downtown Latte, 44 S. St. Clair St.; Glass City Café, 1107 Jackson St.; and Loonar Station, 3142 Markway Road or 5801 Telegraph Road.
Amato’s designs are online at www.jupmode.com.
One of JUPMODE’s 10 Toledo designs features the slogan “You will do better in Toledo.” Mayor Bell has worn the shirt to several recent events.
“For me that was really neat,” said Amato, who grew up in Sylvania and counts himself among those who chose to counteract Toledo’s “brain drain.”
“We aren’t here by default; we’re here because we like Toledo and see opportunities here,” Amato said. “I think the shirts like ‘You will do better in Toledo’ speak to a lot of people because it’s a positive message. These are people who are proud of Toledo and are happy to be here. They want a shirt that says that. You can’t show your pride for Toledo in any better way.”
Other JUPMODE designs feature references to Toledo history, including Buckeye Beer, the Lion Store, former NFL team the Toledo Maroons and UT football legend Chuck Ealey.
“There are a lot of really neat things that happened here that people may not be aware of,” Amato said. “I like to showcase that history. It gives people from Toledo a reason to be proud because our history really is significant.”
One of the earliest pro-Toledo shirts was actually made as a joke, said Jules Webster, a Toledo native and owner of Shine Ceramics.
Webster, a Toledo Free Press Star contributor, designed a shirt reading “Chicago doesn’t need you” for Ryan Bunch’s [performing and literary arts coordinator at the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo] birthday party last year only to get orders from members of City Council.
“They debuted as a joke and they sold out instantly,” said Webster, who later made a Portland version as well as a “Team Toledo” design.
Webster and Dana Syrek are opening The Art Supply Depo at 29 S. St. Clair St. on July 21.
Designer Matt Crouse is excited to see pro-Toledo sentiment growing.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw the first Toledo shirts; now there’s so many of them,” Crouse said. “It’s a pretty cool thing.”
Crouse’s family, who owns Erd Specialty Graphics and the Glass City Café, has designed seven Toledo shirts, most recently a depiction of the carousel at Walbridge Park.
The café sells shirts from several designers, including Jemma Hostetler, whose shirt reads “I chose Toledo over your bulls–t city.”
Crouse said the shirts get plenty of attention, especially when he wears one while working.
“If I’m wearing someone’s shirt, I sell at least one, two, three shirts a night just by wearing it,” Crouse said.
Crouse said he sees Toledo pride spreading beyond Downtown and Old West End to all corners of the city.
“Years ago, it was embarrassing to say you were from Detroit; now people from Farmington Hills are proud to be from Detroit. I feel like that same thing is happening here,” Crouse said. “I think it’s started to spread. I think people are not as ashamed anymore. It’s becoming cool and kind of accepted to be from here.”
Max Reddish quit his factory job last year to open Reddish Printing, a screen printing shop he operates out of Reddish Sporting Goods, his family’s store in East Toledo.
He has since designed six Toledo T-shirts, including one stating “Boring people hate Toledo,” one with the word “Explore” above a map of Toledo and one depicting the Skyway Memorial Bridge that asks, “Does yours change color?”
Reddish, who sold his shirts out of a backpack until setting up shop at the Erie Street Market on Saturdays, said the shirts offer a Toledo pride alternative to Mud Hens gear.
“The only Toledo swag around for years has been Mud Hens stuff,” Reddish said. “That’s one of the main things I was hearing from people. People love the area and they want to support it and they want to show their support, but there hasn’t been anything around.”
Detroit native Joshua Kulpa came to the same realization. After moving to Toledo for work more than a year ago, Kulpa has fully embraced his adopted home.
“I just started to realize, wow, this was a city I’ve always wanted to live in,’” said Kulpa, citing nice people, gorgeous Metroparks, urban agriculture, a thriving art scene and “a real sense of community spirit.” “The city, just by every measure, is just one of the best cities I’ve ever been in, period.”
He wanted to buy a Toledo shirt to show his support; not finding one, he decided to make his own.
Kulpa’s design, which reads “Toledo Love” in stacked block letters, was inspired by New York City’s iconic “I (heart) NY” shirt.
“I know it’s become cliché now, but the original was a very real and genuine statement people felt and connected with,” Kulpa said. “I think we’re kind of at the same place where New York was when that shirt was made, when it still had the stigma of the ’70s on it. People were like ‘Why would you go to New York?’ But people were like ‘No, it’s fantastic.’ You might have to look a little deeper, but they realized it’s awesome.”
Lifelong Toledo resident Rachel Richardson, founder of Art Corner Toledo and co-founder and co-director of Independent Advocates, recently designed a shirt that reads, “When you’re famous … tell them Toledo sent you.”
“I just feel like everyone in Toledo is so talented,” Richardson said. “I just feel like I personally am a product of Toledo and I hope everyone else feels the same way. I hope we give Toledo and the surrounding area thanks for helping us achieve what we are achieving right now.”
Richardson, a Toledo Free Press Star contributor, said she is excited more people are embracing Toledo.
“I’m thrilled,” Richardson said. “I’ve got a whole drawer of Toledo T-shirts. It’s like my entire wardrobe, There’s so many unique messages, but they’re all basically saying the same thing, which is that Toledo is a really great place to live.”