Rubber City Clothing’s T-shirts are known for spreading a little Akron attitude.
But did you know those same designs can decorate your broken-in leather belt, your trusty Chuck Taylors or your favorite denim jacket?
The company doesn’t just print its designs on its own products. It will customize apparel, bags and other items its customers bring in, new or used.
That means you can show off your fashion savvy and your pride of place, all at the same time.
“People bring in some crazy stuff” — umbrellas, a tablecloth, surgical scrubs, even a fuzzy robe, said Ang Roloff, general manager of the cheerfully crowded shop on the north edge of downtown. “I always say, ‘I’ll try it.’ ”
Dina Younis did just that for her thrift-shopping and fashion blog, Dina’s Days. Younis, who is also communications manager for Akron’s GAR Foundation, recently had Rubber City Clothing customize three jackets and a scarf she’d picked up at a thrift store to show how personalization can turn even an inexpensive find into a statement piece.
In some cases, she tweaked a few of Rubber City’s designs with the help of the store’s staff, rearranging letters or isolating elements from larger patterns. They moved letters from one transfer to spell “AK Rowdy” down the sleeve of a black jacket, for example, and cut an Ohio shape from another design to decorate one end of a plaid wool scarf.
One design — a heart made up of the names of Akron’s neighborhoods — had to be split down the middle before it was applied to the back of a coat. Otherwise the ink might have split or lifted from the coat’s center seam when the garment was washed, Roloff said.
Younis loved the unique results, even the fact that some of the letters on the black jacket came out a little imperfect and distressed-looking. “There’s so much room for creativity,” she said.
Rubber City Clothing screen-prints its designs onto paper with plastisol ink and then applies the transfers to clothing or other surfaces with heat and pressure, Roloff said. That process works best with cotton, polyester-cotton blends or rayon, but the company has had success with all kinds of fabric as well as leather and even some rubbery materials, she said.
The item just has to fit onto the approximately 2-by-3-foot table of the heat-transfer press.
“We print a lot of blimps. We have yet to print on a blimp,” joked Greg Kiskadden, who owns Rubber City with partner Keeven White. “But we would. We just have to get a bigger table.”
Besides blimps, Rubber City Clothing offers dozens of designs that honor Akron, its neighborhoods and its icons — and, of course, the man who is arguably its most famous son, LeBron James. There are skulls and tire treads and bowling pins, an image of an old Red Barn fast-food restaurant and even a likeness of former Mayor Don Plusquellic. Some of the designs are edgy, while others are playful or nostalgic.
The company started allowing people to bring in their own T-shirts for printing because they would sometimes request colors or sizes Rubber City didn’t stock, Roloff said. It quickly realized there was a business niche in printing on its customers’ own items, and it has even starting to put its designs on an assortment of garments to sell in the shop as a way of promoting its customizing services.
Rubber City charges $18 to customize an item with one large design, two small designs or one medium and one small design. Its logo must be printed onto the item, too, because that’s how the company markets itself, Roloff said.
The business can also print letters to form names or words. It charges $18 to print eight small letters or four large onto an item a customer brings in. Each additional letter costs 50 cents or $1 each, respectively.
The customizing surprised many of the followers of Younis’ blog.
“People were like, ‘No way. I never knew you could do that,’ ” she said. But she thinks it’s a great way to give new life to used items or make new things special.
Even infants’ and children’s clothing can be customized, and Younis pointed out those garments can often be purchased at thrift stores for as little as 50 cents in either new or rarely worn condition.
Garments printed with Rubber City Clothing’s designs are supposed to be turned inside out before they’re laundered and washed and dried without heat, Roloff said. But she’s a mom and is never that careful about her family’s clothing, and she said she’s never had any problems.
“Usually the designs outlast the garments,” she said.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at www.facebook.com/MBBreckABJ, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckABJ and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.