Social media accessorizes Chicago T-shirt retailers

by Donna M. Marbury/MEDILL
Aug 08, 2012 sells T-shirts online depicting each of the city’s neighborhoods


Steve Shanabruch, 30, says the Internet is increasing his satisfaction in knowing that local people really love his shirts.“I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think Logan Square has been the top seller up to this point,” said Shanabruch, The 30-year-old entrepreneur launched his T-shirt website,, in November 2011after a project in which he designed a logo for every neighborhood in the city.

Online shopping in the U.S. is projected to be a $226 billion business this year, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., a market research firm. Meanwhile, retailers say social media and smartphones can strengthen brand identity and create customer loyalty—despite the recent example of General Motors Corp. which pulled its $10 billion advertising campaign on Facebook due to skepticism over its effectiveness.A 2011 study by San Francisco-based social commerce network PowerReviews says one-third of consumers use phones and tablets to research and buy online. “There remains a significant opportunity for retailers and brands to leverage Facebook as a platform for connecting with customers in order to build engagement and drive sales,” said Pehr Luedtke, chief executive officer of PowerReviews.

J.J.  Lee wove an idea about bringing out the good in Chicago into a T-shirt line. Lee’s T-shirt and pin line, called Chicagood, sprouted in 2006 from a college project, highlighting the good in the often negatively-depicted South Side. After leaving the city for college, Lee restarted the company in January. With more than 2,200 Instagram followers, Lee often issues challenges to followers to do more good things in the city.

“Chicago has a vibrant start-up and tech community.  Each start up company is trying to disrupt the market and industry with their ideas and creativity, and introduce a solution to a problem,” says Lee, 25, who sells most of his product from the website. “Chicagood strives to do that in a different way. We want to look at poverty, crime, education and such and say, ‘how can we disrupt those issues?’”

Joe Longtin, marketing director of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based AnaJet LLC, a digital apparel printer company, says the Chicago area is one of the company’s biggest markets. Anajet was a distributor at the Ad Specialty Industry Show Chicago in July, and Longtin said more people are getting interested in the latest technology in digital T-shirt printing. “ Within the past 10 years, the barriers to enter the T-shirt printing business went away. The business is very low cost and very low maintenance.”

Longtin points to social media as a key reason why online T-shirt stores are more popular than ever. “What we see in Chicago and other major metropolitan areas is that people are putting just as much effort into their Facebook pages as their websites. Social media is selling their products,” he says adding that for a fairly small investment, T-shirt companies can easily turn a profit. “With social media, online stores are able to cater to customers on a personal basis. Mass personalization allows even larger screen printers to make small, short run jobs.”

Lee is growing his company by passing out pins during outdoor events throughout the summer and teaming with photographers and writers to add stories to the website that correlate with Chicagood’s overall mission.

“So many people are wanting pins or have fallen in love with the concept. They’re willing to sharing what they did and encourage each other to do good as well,” Lee says. “Without us really meaning it, a simple pin has evolved into a social experiment and product. The next step for us is to collect these stories and good deeds of what people did and retell it.”

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