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In 2008, while having beers with friends at a favorite local bar, Cleveland native Mike Kubinski realized he needed a creative outlet. A graphic designer by trade, Kubinski had always dreamed of opening a T-Shirt shop. Knowing the immense pride Clevelanders have for their city and their sports teams, Kubinski wondered if there was a way to marry his two passions: creative design and Cleveland spirit.
With the help of a friend and partner, Kubinski bought a screen-printing press, some blank T-Shirts, and got to work on a couple of designs – and that’s how CLE Clothing Company was born. What began as a creative outlet for celebrating Cleveland pride quickly became a pillar of the community, with four stores, 50 employees, and partnerships with a variety of Cleveland non-profits.
That’s why when the coronavirus pandemic started to hit Ohio back in March, Kubinski and his team wanted to give back to the community and help families in need while doing what they do best: “spreading Cleveland pride one T-Shirt at a time.”
The U.S. Chamber sat down with Kubinski to learn about how his shop responded to the pandemic and were able to help feed Cleveland families – all while facing their own operational challenges.
What follow has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity:
Q: Take me back to March of this year. When the pandemic first, how did it impact your business?
A: We were coming out of the holiday season and gearing up to go into March. We had March Madness coming to downtown Cleveland, we had the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, and then we had opening day for baseball. We thought March was going to be awesome. Then March Madness was shut down. Nonessential businesses followed very quickly, so we had to shut down all our shops and furlough all our employees. That was the toughest thing we’ve done in our business. We went straight to online business and had to figure out how to keep moving.
Q: Tell me about how your business helped support the community during this time.
A: We have always had a great partnership with the Greater Cleveland Food Bank, and we are involved in the community in many ways as far as giving back. As a T-Shirt company, we asked ourselves ‘What’s the best way to give back?’ We decided to do a T-Shirt with the theme of “We are all in this together.” We saw so many people lose their jobs, and the Greater Cleveland Food Bank provided meals for them. We saw a huge uptick at the food bank, and they needed donations. They were running out of food and the T-Shirt was a way we could provide donations back to the food bank to give back to the community.
Q: What impact did you all have?
A: We were able to provide over 4,600 meals for Cleveland families. We did two runs with the T-Shirts until nonessential businesses reopened.
Q: Is there a message you would like to share with the Cleveland community?
A: We are just trying to keep going. Business isn’t the same, but we see upticks here and there. We’re still here, we are reinventing ourselves in different ways and coming out with new designs. We are looking toward the future, and still trying to have fun and spread that Cleveland pride. Cleveland will get through this. Thank you to all the Clevelanders who have supported us over the past six months. It is heartwarming that we have so much support.
Q: What does business mean to you?
A: Business, to me personally, is family. My wife and I run the company together and we treat everyone as family.
To learn more about CLE Clothing Company, visit them here.