Headshot of Steven Romeo, founder of Music City Creative.
Steven Romeo, owner of Music City Creative, launched their Nashville-based print shop as a COVID-19 career pivot. — Music City Creative

Steven Romeo, owner of Music City Creative, encourages their fellow entrepreneurs to “pave the way, and be a badass in everything you do!”

And Romeo certainly has paved the way in their own industry: This Nashville-based, queer-owned print shop has amassed thousands of followers across its TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook profiles.

“My biggest inspiration for this brand was to bring a larger visibility to queerness in and around the city of Nashville,” Romeo said.

Known for its vibrant, eco-friendly merch, Music City Creative now designs products for special projects, events, brands, artists, and more.

There’s something in Music City Creative for everyone, whether it’s the Insta-ready wall murals or the viral “Y’all Means All” tees. Customers can shop ready-made designs or create custom projects.

Making the most of a COVID-19 career pivot

Opening Music City Creative was both a career pivot and a risk that Romeo was willing to take. Prior to opening the store, they were running a brand that hosted pop-up shops at Pride festivals across the country. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Romeo had to figure out their next move.

“COVID lockdowns shut the entire business down and forced me to think about what I was going to do with the years of experience I had screenprinting and selling apparel,” they said. “There was an opening in the market within Nashville for another apparel brand, and I went for it in June of 2020.”

Within a few months, Music City Creative’s marketing efforts helped the brand go viral on social media. The company signed a few big clients and expanded its efforts to traditional print shop services for other businesses, all the while growing a team of like-minded individuals.

“I am inspired by the other queer people that work with me, and looking forward to more growth ahead,” Romeo added. “We hope to continue to lead the way in developing more queer talent in the screenprinting industry.”

[Read more: Best Resources for LGBTQ+ Owned Businesses]

Community is at our core. One of our biggest resources during [our] growth has been the support from people like TikTok, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and other small businesses elevating our voices.

Steven Romeo, owner, Music City Creative

Meeting challenges with the help of a strong community and network

Though Romeo has a great team to rely on for support, there have been challenges unique to the industry they’ve had to overcome.

“Scaling in our industry is expensive,” Romeo told CO—. “The biggest challenge for a brand-new business like ours is equipment sourcing during a global pandemic.”

Music City Creative has struggled to raise the proper funding for new equipment and to find the right producer to work with, said Romeo, but relying on a solid network of other screen printers in the area has been a huge help.

Relying on and working with a community, whether in the screenprinting industry or not, is a pillar of Music City Creative. Romeo works with both national and local brands to help promote the message of social equity in addition to working with nonprofits and maintaining diverse hiring practices.

“Community is at our core,” Romeo said. “One of our biggest resources during [our] growth has been the support from people like TikTok, the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, and other small businesses elevating our voices.”

For Romeo, their local chamber of commerce has opened many doors that may have been otherwise closed. They attribute a huge part of Music City Creative’s growth to this partnership.

But Romeo’s “badass” attitude and perseverance are also large drivers of the business’s growth. They encourage other entrepreneurs looking to grow to not be afraid to try new things.

“Take bold steps and do not be afraid to do the right, socially just thing,” Romeo said. “We are one of few all-water-based shops in the industry and queer-owned, [which] puts us in a category all our own.”

[Read more: 4 Businesses Share Their Biggest Growth Challenges]

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Published June 27, 2022