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Power to the T-Shirt

Yooper Shirts

Ahh, the tee shirt (or t-shirt). It is the ultimate fashion icon of the United States as no other country wears more t-shirts than U.S. citizens. We love them. Everyone has got to have a dozen t-shirts (or several dozen like me).

Communicating with t-shirts is something Americans know how to do best, they have it down to a “T” (insert laughter here). It can be at a bus stop, in a classroom, a concert, or anywhere else. A person wearing a t-shirt doesn’t have to talk to show a part of their character. It’s a way Americans brand themselves and reveal a small part of their character: a sports team, logo, city name, humor and more. The list goes on and on.

When I finished my 50-state tour of the United States I returned home and found myself sorting through about 50 tees I had collected on the road. They had stories, they represented where I had been, what I’ve done, and even things I ate.

One small conclusion I made was that there is no joy to wearing a Nike, Burton, or Abercrombie t-shirt. For most of my trip I wore nothing but local t-shirts of places I had been, and it became the starting point for many great conversations.

Why I love the power of a t-shirt

  • Eskimo Joe’s
    Stillwater, OK is home to one of the most famous t-shirts in the world at Eskimo Joe’s restaurant. When I was there I had no choice to buy one for myself, and I wore it a lot! Almost two months later I was in Birmingham, Alabama. While at a coffee shop a college student came up to me and asked, “Have you been to that restaurant or do you just have the shirt?” I told him my story, he was inspired, and became a big follower of the trip. All because of a t-shirt. If I had been wearing a generic Nike, Burton, or Abercrombie t-shirt that inspiring conversation would have never happened.
  • I {Heart} Belleville, IL
    I Heart Belleville, ILFor several years in college at Michigan State I lived with my good friend Mike. He first came to MSU from Belleville, IL and he always had this awesome yellow t-shirt that I loved, it read, “I {heart} Belleville, IL. I wanted one. When I found out I was heading out on a 50-state tour I made a point to go through Belleville so I could pick up my own shirt. I learned about Belleville six years prior to ever stepping foot in the town, and loved it all that time because of a single t-shirt.
  • Michigan State
    After spending five incredible years at Michigan State I was excited at the opportunity to represent MSU across the country. I can’t count the times I was wearing my MSU hoodie and someone came up to me and asked if I go to MSU. I was able to meet a few alumni this way. Not only was I able to meet some from wearing it myself, but if I saw someone wearing an MSU shirt it was a conversation starter and I knew I had something in common with that person. Once again something that would have never come about if it was just a plain Nike shirt. My Boise State hoodie drew lots of comments too, especially after their undefeated season.
  • Vail, CO and others
    Vail, COWhile in Gatlinburg, TN (a long ways from Vail) I was in a grocery store parking lot while a passer by shouted out, “Awesome town! I used to live there.” He seemed to be in a rush, but it made my day because I couldn’t have agreed more. I’ve had similar comments for my Vermont t-shirt, MSU Advertising shirt, Mother Bear’s t-shirt and many many others
  • Red Neck Yacht Club, Roseburg, OR
    Redneck Yacht Club, Roseburg, ORPerhaps one of the coolest t-shirts from the collection isn’t because of the t-shirt itself, but how it all came to be. I was in Roseburg, OR staying with Randy Wesson, a local country radio DJ. While the Hallmark Channel met up with me to film on the road we spent the final part of the day at Nilknarf’s, where I was inducted as an honorary member to the Roseburg Chapter of the Red Neck Yacht Club. Just about more than anyone on the trip I knew these people would look out for me. They treated me like one of their own.

If only I had a Yooper Steez shirt for all of this, but now you will when you go on your 50-state tour.

For all the times I educated people on my trip about what a “Yooper” is, how big the Lake Superior really is, or what a pasty is, I became motivated to come back and start a new project all about the Upper Peninsula. I hope people will be able to experience similar stories and simply be able to point to their shirt to show people where they live.

I’ve always wanted to create a top notch U.P. website and start a college scholarship. And I realized that unlike Belleville, Eskimo Joe’s, Vermont, or countless other places there wasn’t a t-shirt that was thee t-shirt of the Upper Peninsula.

And this is how Yooper Steez came to be.

All the best,
Justin “Bugsy” Sailor

P.S. If you have any similar t-shirt stories, please share.


17 Wonderful Comments

  1. Megan McMullen
    Feb 21, 2008

    I love picking up t shirts when going to concerts I can’t say I have many for my travels because I don’t travel but I know I get a shirt when I visit a college. It is a great to tell a story and it’s so much better than the name brands.

  2. I love nerdy shirts.

    After working at the Apple store I’ve grown a little collection of a lot of great Apple shirts (nothing says you’re an Apple fan like a shirt that says “Friday 29″ on the front)…

  3. I love you Bugsy!

  4. My favorite t-shirts have been from things I have participated in, like my college dance recitals. I cut them up and customize their style but you can still read the print!

    My other fave is one from my dad, whom has since passed on to the next adventure. It’s a native american one earth type shirt.

    Thinking about designing some print for shirts since it’s so easy to print one at a time now. Neat!

    The site looks GREAT!

  5. Hi
    I have all the T-shirts our son grew up with over the years, from 1 year to 21. Any ideas what to do with them? Yes, we like T-shirts in this family.

  6. Yooper Steez
    Admin
    Mar 11, 2008

    Barb,

    As my mother would say, the best thing you can do with all of those is turn them into a t-shirt quilt. And something you could give to your son and I’m sure he would love it.

  7. I sent my 1-year-old grandson in California an MSU T-shirt with the Spartan logo on it. One time when he was wearing it, my daughter told me a young woman came up to them and asked if they were from Michigan. My daughter said she grew up in Marquette, and amazingly, the young woman was from Munising! Now I need to get both my grandsons Yooper T-shirts!

  8. Today I was walking in East Lansing near campus wearing my “Mother Bear’s Pizza” shirt from Bloomington, IN. (Yes, it is the best pizza in the country.

    A guy walked by and said, “Hey! Mother Bear’s, great pizza.”

    Absolutely loved to hear that somebody else had been there. Made my day, didn’t expect anyone to recognize, except when I walked by the girl wearing a University of Indiana shirt, but she didn’t say anything.

  9. Vince Cavalieri
    Jun 3, 2008

    As a yooper, MSU alum and current Oklahoma State graduate student (and former Stillwater, OK barfly) this story seems to follow my life. I think Bugsy Sailor might be stalking me! Actually awesome site, too bad I didn’t randomly see you when you were in Stillwater, I usually make a point to go up and talk to anybody I see wearing Michigan State clothing. It would have been great to meet another yooper/spartan way down here in Stillwater. Also great site, we need to keep promoting the UP wherever we go!

  10. Hey there Bugsy,
    Well, the shirts made it to Cairo, Egypt! Now, we have to wait and see where they go……..on a camel, a donkey, a push-cart, a historic site, or?
    Hugs,
    a couple of fans,
    B and L

  11. This site is really superb!!! Thank you for your good work! Good Luckb

  12. My sis and I were on Mackinac Island both wearing Grand Valley State University (GVSU) sweatshirts and we were walking around the island. Coming the opposite way were a guy and girl both also wearing GVSU sweatshirts! It was a mini reunion. :)

    I am getting us both Yooper Steez shirts for Christmas! Woo-hoo!

  13. Wow, this was amazing. It really revealed to me the power of all that is a t-shirt. I have never been a t-shirt wearer myself (very unamerican I now realize). But alas! I will change my ways. Any travels that I make now will include a trip to the local t-shirt shop. I will probably order one of yours as I visited the U.P. last year and its a cool shirt.

  14. Mackinac Jack
    Dec 18, 2009

    I purchased “steez” for many relatives this holiday season. Now they can all proclaim their “Yooper Pride”.

  15. You know, I never realized you had an Eskimo Joe’s shirt on your trip… Those things are a lot less awesome now that I walk past EJ’s every day on my way to the office!

  16. i love all the t-shirts :)

  17. I went to MSU and every time I wore my ‘Phils 550′ t-shirt at least one person would come up to me and say ‘hey you’re from marquette!’ loved it!

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