It's hard not to be inspired by the artists and makers of the Cleveland Flea. Brilliant, talented, creative. They're tough as bleepin' nails on their ways to making their dreams come true. We began The Maker Series to take a look — behind the scenes, beyond the booth — to see what drives our makers to do what they love and love what they do.
Q + A with Amy & Greg of Little Chicago Clothing Company
In a region known for it's work ethic, it's no surprise to find such dedicated, born-and-bred makers like Amy and Greg Eibel. The duo runs their apparel business, Little Chicago Clothing Company, as a side hustle in the time that they have left after teaching all day long. Not only that, but they're also part of the team that runs Canton's Print & Press, a handcrafted goods boutique which features local-to-Ohio artists and their work. Astonished? So are we. Read on to discover what fuels the couple's drive to constantly create and how they find new ways to consistently contribute to the community... and maybe you'll snag a great recipe for elbow grease while you're at it!
All photos by Mallory + Justin Photographers.
Cleveland Flea: What was your path to beginning your business?
Amy Eibel & Greg Eibel: When we decided to launch Little Chicago Clothing Co. it came from our own desire for more cool things to be available for northeast Ohio. There was a void in the "t-shirt" market when it came to two things: 1. Great designs for small, local communities, and 2. Genuinely flattering apparel that goes beyond the basic t-shirt for women AND for people of all shapes and sizes.
Greg and I have made our home here, and we’re here to stay. We want to live in a place that’s awesome and unique, and we knew that we could contribute to the revitalization movement that’s underway in the Rust Belt cities of this region. So, we created Little Chicago Clothing Co. and are building a brand that develops the kind of culture we’d like to see in our fair city and other communities across Ohio. Great design and style + local pride + high quality.
CF: Why do you love what you do?
AE & GE: Oh, goodness. There are so many reasons why we love this little-project-that-could of Little Chicago Clothing Co. First, it's a wonderful creative outlet. Amy is an art teacher and practicing artist. This is a great way to pour some creative ideas into design and printing.
Second, it's the greatest feeling to watch a person see your design for the first time and break into a huge smile because we've created something just for their community or because the graphic recalls a great old memory. A number of our designs are inspired by nostalgia and love for local communities.
Finally, through Little Chicago Clothing Co. we've been able to give back to our community through the coolest partnerships, and that's the kind of thing that makes this little piece of the world a better place. We've partnered with the McKinley Presidential Museum, the Canton Museum of Art, United Way of Stark County, the Art Bomb Brigade and Arts LIFT in Akron, and other local organizations.
CF: Why does Cleveland need a business like this?
AE & GE: Cleveland needs Little Chicago Clothing Co. because we create designs on a hyper-local level. While there are a number of truly outstanding apparel brands in Cleveland, we differentiate ourselves by offering designs for smaller communities within the greater metro area and by offering a wide range of flattering styles that go beyond the basic t-shirt. We work with boutiques in suburbs and neighborhoods, designing graphics just for their little part of the world, and printing them (by hand) on very high-quality fashion and comfort-conscious apparel.
CF: Why is Cleveland a great place to launch and run a creative business?
AE & GE: The thing about most folks from northeast Ohio and the Rust Belt, is that they appreciate hard work and good craftsmanship. People here know what it means to put elbow grease into a project and see it through to the end. They want to know where things came from, because this is a place with a proud history of industry and ingenuity. Cleveland has always been making things, and making them well, for that matter.
CF: What's the best part of running your own business?
AE & GE: The best part of running our own business is the ability to control the quality and the excellence with which we feel our products should be made. As public middle school teachers by day, Greg and I work under a number of parameters over which we have zero control, and within which we often feel we can't always provide the things our students truly need to be successful. With Little Chicago Clothing Co. we have the autonomy and freedom to run our business to an outstanding level of quality. That's a good feeling.
CF: What's your biggest struggle from a business standpoint?
AE & GE: I think one of our biggest challenges is differentiating ourselves and our brand from the sea of t-shirt companies that has emerged in the past few years. We love attending markets and fleas, because those give us the opportunity to interact one-on-one with shoppers, and tell our story. Our products, processes and styles are very different from other companies, but it's hard to get the word out and tell that story to the masses.
CF: What are your goals for the business this year?
AE & GE: This, our second year in business, has been a year of managing a lot of growth. We want to continue to expand our design menu for small communities through working with local shops, boutiques and organizations. We also want to build our brand and communicate our story and products to a wider audience throughout Ohio.
CF: Did you see yourself growing up to be a creative vendor?
AE & GE: Nope! Both of us have always had involvement in and an appreciation for the arts, but I don't think we ever envisioned this little business endeavor.
CF: What's the first big moment where you knew you were headed in the right direction with your business?
AE & GE: The first market-style event we attended was in the spring of 2015. We had a lot of great feedback about our designs, which were for a community where NO ONE was making anything cool to wear to show off local pride. We did pretty well at the event (at least we felt like we did okay, but had nothing to compare it to), but I think the biggest sign was the social media and email explosion that came afterward. People went home excited, and told their friends about us. And, we knew we must be on the right track.
CF: Who inspires you?
AE & GE: We are lucky to be a part of a community of small businesses in our area where so many of the local entrepreneurs are just genuinely good people. They have each other's backs. They're creative, and charting a new course for themselves, their businesses, and their community in the process. These folks include Ryan Miller, of Deli Ohio, Becky Dunn of Rust & Found, Rebecca Paliswat & Elizabeth Joseph of Mainstream Boutique, Jess Bennett of Letterpress Jess, Mike Nasvadi of Buzzbin... I could go on.
CF: Have you learned anything about your business by participating in Cleveland Flea?
AE & GE: I think the thing that stood out to us most at that event was the importance of merchandising our products in an effective yet aesthetically appealing way. We've continued to improve and regularly update our displays, so that every event is a new, engaging experience for our shoppers.
CF: What's your favorite piece of advice as it relates to your business?
AE & GE: I think one of the most impactful practices we engage in is regular reflection. We are always reviewing our performance in one area or another, so that we can improve for the future.
CF: How would you hope to hear your business described by your dream customers?
AE & GE: We would hope that our customers describe Little Chicago Clothing as having the best, most comfortable and flattering clothing with the greatest local designs around
CF: What's one thing people would be surprised to learn about your business?
AE & GE: The name for our business - "Little Chicago" was a common nickname for eastern Ohio towns and cities (Canton, Youngstown, Steubenville) during Prohibition and the Roaring 20's. This moniker came about because these towns were a convenient and frequent stopping point for the mob en route between New York and Chicago along the US Route 30 corridor. There's a rich history full of juicy stories from this era, and we wanted to pay homage to that time of hustle and bustle for our region. Plus, Greg is a social studies teacher, and a huge history buff. We hope that this region of Ohio regains some vibrant hustle and bustle with the revitalization movement that's rising in the Rust Belt (although this time around, less vice would be nice).
CF: What's your favorite booth at the flea?
AE & GE: Genuine Article!