NC pride takes shape on T-shirts and accessories

CorrespondentMay 29, 2013 

  • Celebrate the T-shirt

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John Pugh wears his heart on his sleeve. Er, chest.

As the owner and head designer of House of Swank, a Raleigh-based T-shirt and accessory outfit, Pugh shows love for his beloved home through his North Carolina-themed shirts, totes, koozies and more.

“Basically, I’m a stone-cold nut for anything involving my home state, and this sort of design work really speaks to me,” he says.

He’s not alone. Over the past few years, clothing and accessories bearing symbols of city and state pride have grown in popularity in the Triangle and across the state. Even as the slogan shirts that were all the rage nearly a decade ago have faded from the scene, local-centric style has gotten hotter. From necklaces shaped like the state of North Carolina to hip T-shirts printed with “Raleigh Rocks,” repping home has never been more fashionable.

Pugh and a host of other North Carolina designers, such as Raleigh’s Oak City Collective and Moon and Lola, and Carrboro’s Vespertine Café, have filled their stores with pieces celebrating the Old North State.

“I think the city and state designs are growing in popularity because most folks really want a sense of place and attachment with where they live,” says Pugh. “It’s a great outlet for them to show their pride in their community and state.”

And with fewer people staying in their hometowns than once did, people are looking for ways to stay connected to home, even if they no longer live there.

“People are so transient now,” says Kelly Shatat, owner and head designer at Moon and Lola, a downtown Raleigh accessory shop that sells necklaces shaped like North Carolina and the Raleigh skyline. “We have a lot of people who come in and they’re from Raleigh and they live in New York or D.C. and want something that represents home. It’s almost like another version of team spirit—they love their home, and they are proud of where they’re from.”

Pride aside, there’s another good reason North Carolina-centric designs are so chic.

“North Carolina, in particular, has such a good shape,” says Ginna Earl, who also creates North Carolina-shaped necklaces for her Carrboro shop, Vespertine Café. “I really don’t think I would sell as many if it was Colorado or Arizona.”

The increased popularity of city and state-themed fashion has been good for business, too. Shatat says the North Carolina necklaces are one of Moon and Lola’s biggest sellers, and Pugh has been able to turn a small side project into a full-time fashion gig.

“Honestly, this whole thing started with $50, six shirts and a desire to sell enough to cover my bar tab,” he says. “I wake up every day and still can’t believe that I get to do something I love for a living. It’s a real treat.”

Of course, for most of those who do or have called North Carolina home, the popularity of items celebrating the state and its cities comes as no surprise.

“The best city in the world is always the city that you call home,” says Stefanie Baxter of Oak City Collective, a Raleigh-based group that sells screen-print items, including Raleigh-centric T-shirts, totes and more, created by local artists. “Designed apparel gives people a way to showcase that pride and to make it a part of their personal statement.”

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