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Welcome to Cleveland, where we have a t-shirt for everything

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Posted at 6:35 PM, Apr 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-29 19:10:06-04

CLEVELAND — Healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, and finance are some of the biggest sectors of Cleveland's economy. However, spend any amount of time in The Land and you'll see one sector rivals them all: t-shirts.

On any given night in any given part of the city, you're bound to run into someone sporting some Cleveland-centric clothing. It has become a staple in any resident's wardrobe.

"Give me Cleveland or Give me death," one shirt reads.

"The Land that I love," stretches across another.

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Emily Lauer, the senior director of communications at Destination Cleveland and native Clevelander, said the prevalence of Cleveland pride clothing is especially apparent when she travels to other cities across the country, which she frequently does.

"Other than sports teams, I'm not sure that I've seen another city that wears its pride beyond its sports teams. I do think some of that goes back to our personality," Lauer said. "I think we have a very deep-rooted pride in who we are and what we stand for. We know who we are. Knowing who you are and being true to that is really, I think, what has carried Cleveland through."

It had to start somewhere though.

At GV Art + Design's flagship location on Detroit Avenue in Lakewood, the walls, racks, and circular tables that fill the space are a celebration of all things Cleveland. From the Browns to the Tribe to the Cavs, the celebration of the city's sports teams are to be expected. However, filling in the gaps of the festively decorated space are homages to city landmarks and notable moments in the city's history.

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The store is, in effect, a love letter to Cleveland.

"It's really neat to see how full circle it's come. When we started this, people were laughing at us, saying, 'who's going to buy Cleveland stuff?' to seeing everyone throughout the city have that pride," Vlosich said. "To know that we had a part in that is pretty cool to see."

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The love affair with his home city came early in life. Alongside his brother, Greg, and their father, the three were mainstays at Municipal Stadium; the Browns in the fall and winter and the Indians in the spring and summer. The family's flair for art and creativity would also be frequently on display. Not much has changed in their adult years.

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"We'll launch a shirt and you'll go to the game that night and there are 15 to 20 people wearing it at the stadium," Vlosich said. "Basically those signs is now what we're doing. It's funny to see people ask, 'what happens when you run out of ideas?' We have 50 shirts just waiting to launch on our computer right now. I don't think it's something we'll ever worried about."

Vlosich said it all started in the first days of the Great Recession. Cleveland, like a slew of other Rust Belt cities, had already shown cracks after years of disinvestment; the Cleveland of 14 years ago is a far cry from the Cleveland of today.

And, yet, there was nowhere else Vlosich wanted to be.

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"At the time there wasn't a whole lot of ways to express your Cleveland pride so we started the 'Cleve-Land that I Love' campaign. It was a pro-Cleveland campaign," Vlosich said. "We had a lot of pride for our city. We knew other people felt the same way. They just didn't have a way to express it at the time."

Vlosich can distinctly remember the first night he wore one of those t-shirts and the general reaction to the opening of GV Art + Design. Some were incredulous and others became jealous.

"I can remember the first time wearing out our Cleve-Land that I "Love' shirt. I wore it downtown. Literally, every other person came up to me and asked me where I got it. We knew we were kind of on to something," Vlosich said. "People were kind of laughing at us, saying 'who's going to buy Cleveland stuff? It's just funny to see how everything that people wear now is Cleveland [related]. At the time, there wasn't any of that."

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Most of GV's designs sell quickly and, even more surprising, is where the orders come from.

"Half of our orders online are from people outside the state of Ohio. It's pretty cool to see people that may have left Cleveland that still really want to represent the city," Vlosich said. "That's one of the neatest things about it."

Perhaps it has also had another effect: by giving people a way to wear their pride, they're more likely to be proud of their city.

In 2013, Destination Cleveland conducted a survey of residents of how likely they are to recommend Cleveland as a visitor's destination.

At the time, the number was at 34%, Lauer said. After the most recent survey, that number had ballooned to 77%. Sure, downtown development, a booming restaurant scene (pre-pandemic of course), an NBA championship, successful Republican National Convention, and World Series appearance helps but so too do the t-shirts.

"Resident recommendation is a huge part. It's the number 3 source of information for a potential visitor," Lauer said. "If someone is not only going to talk about their pride in Cleveland but wear their pride in Cleveland, it's doubly effective."