London. Paris. Cleveland. New York. Barcelona. What's wrong with that picture? Not one thing, if you ask Mike Kubinski, the brains (along with co-founder Jeff Rees) behind CLE Clothing Co. That list of great international cities graces the front of one of the company's tank tops ($22), joining the numerous irreverent yet earnest textile tributes to a hometown worthy of way more than the "mistake on the lake" moniker.
"I had a sense that Cleveland had a lot of pride," says the 32-year-old Tremont resident. "They just didn't really have a way to show it and wear it, besides wearing sports team things."
In 2011, after three years of online sales, developer Ari Maron approached Kubinski and Rees with an offer of a downtown brick-and-mortar store on East Fourth Street. For Kubinski, it was an opportunity to do more than just hang T-shirts on racks.
"It was such a great location," he says. "Instead of just being exclusive, we wanted to be inclusive."
Inside, the shelves are filled with artwork, clothing and accessories from local designers along with CLE Clothing Co. items. More than 30 brands are represented at the store, which opened in November, from artist Barry Gott's quirky line drawings of the Terminal Tower eating a cheese sandwich ($25), to coasters featuring Cleveland smokestacks ($12.50 for four).
Prints from Grey Cardigan graphic designer Brian Jasinski include images of East Siders and West Siders making "E" and "W" signs with their hands ($40). "They sell like gangbusters in our store," Kubinski notes. On a wooden table, baby onesies created by Lil' Burritos — decorated with a smiling map of Ohio ($20) and wrapped in tinfoil — are lined up in a row.
"We didn't want to be just a T-shirt shop," Kubinski explains. "We started out doing all these local festivals, so we fostered relationships, made some friends. For tourists coming in from out of town, we wanted to show how cool Cleveland really is, how creative it is, so we invited a bunch of people that we thought were doing cool things."