Pittsburghers Representing Pittsburgh
Written by Seth Povich
Photos by Sheldon Crossland
Steel City Clothing Company, known mostly by Steel City, is a unique mom and pop clothing store located in the heart of Pittsburgh. The shop is unique itself, featuring custom made clothing that represents the city well. They pride themselves in having unique Pittsburgh clothing and merchandise, as with being next to one of the biggest parking garages Pittsburgh has to offer – and it’s a nice one. Most of their clothes represent the city’s sports teams and The University of Pittsburgh, which is one of the state’s most recognized colleges. Once you walk inside, you’ll say, “Yinz have a nice store!”.
The store itself was built in-house with love for design and the area the store is in. Their goal was to capture the “heart and essence” of the city, and they did just that. Their tall, bright, open ceiling, simplistic colors, and vintage lighting really makes you feel like the store is like home. You’ll be in awe when you walk in and see the vintage champion banners, old photographs and trophies, and the gigantic scoreboard located right above the checkout counter. To say the least, it’s truly magnificent. Not to mention, their studio is right in-house!
In their catalog, they have some amazing shirts, featuring their “Sidney Crosby Is Really Good At Hockey,” “Pittsburgh: So Many Rings It Should Be A Planet,” and their “Multi Hypo” design shirt. They also have a “Steel City Tee Club” subscription for $30, that ships every month and has exclusive designs for their club members. If you’d like to know more, you can check out their website by going to shopsteelcity.com.
While going to their shop for a tour and photoshoot, I had the chance to interview the shops manager, Alex Clemence (A), and assistant manager, Erich Kudlik (E).
How did you end up managing Steel City?
A: I started out at Steel City when we first opened the pop-up shop here; I started out as a team member for the holidays, and then stayed on when they opened the store permanently. Then, in March they were looking for a manager. There were four of us initially working here as team members and the owners basically doing all the management, so they were looking for someone to take that over, and they liked me and ultimately offered
me the position.
E: I first heard of the brand when I was living in Texas. I’m from Pittsburgh, born and raised, but when I was living down there I wanted to find some real cool Pittsburgh shirts to have, and then I found out about Steel City. Then, I moved back here and was working for Urban Outfitters part-time until I moved myself up to full-time team lead. That Summer, I applied to work here because I needed more money and wanted another job. I saw that Steel City was hiring, and realized that was another brand that I really like and would like to represent, so I applied and got it. I was working full-time at Urban, and part-time here; it ultimately became too much and I needed to eliminate one. You’d think I would keep the full-time job and quit the part-time at Steel City, but I didn’t want to leave Steel City because I love the brand and I believe in what they represent and want to be a part of it. I told Alex that if she gave me a full-time job here, I’d quit at Urban, and a few weeks later she offered me the job as Assistant Manager.
Whats the easiest thing about managing Steel City? Whats the hardest?
A: I’d say the easiest thing is that the people who support us as a company [Steel City] are very family oriented, and everyone in the company is about helping you grow as a person, especially our owners; they’re all about helping us grow as people and in our professional lives. We do also have really great fans of the company, so we get to interact with those customers every day. We also hold events and stuff like that and get to meet those people. That makes it definitely worth it. The hardest is just trying to keep a balance between me and my employees. You have to have a line where it’s your friends, but also still having to be a manager, which I’m not too much of a fan of. You just want to be friends with everyone and don’t want to tell them what to do.
E: Working here at Steel City as a manager, the easiest part is also the hardest part for me, but it’s not really the hardest, it’s a good hard; we are really passionate about this company, and because of that, it makes coming to work here every day easy. Getting the opportunity to lead with all the individuals we have here, and to have an influence in the brand, to help take that to a really special place, to me, is the easiest. But it’s also the hardest because, like with what Alex Said, finding that balance between your work life and personal life. We are so passionate about it and we want to give everything we have to it. It’s hard, but it’s not bad either; it’s really fun. I’m glad to work here and know that the hard parts are really just going to go to a really good place.
How do you come up with the product ideas?
A: Our owners (we’re owned by a husband and wife), mostly the husband part of that equation, he does most of the designs for everything. It’s mostly designed for the seasons, so right now the Pens and hockey are really big for us. He gets inspiration from just living in Pittsburgh his entire life, and just goes with what is around him at that time.
E: His visions for his designs are that he wants to have the vintage Pittsburgh, the historical Pittsburgh, and because of that we have a lot of shirts that are based on Pittsburgh history, sports teams, and stuff like that. He also wants to be based on pop culture too, and so we made shirts for the show This Is Us, Amanda Kessel, and whatever is Pittsburgh in the past, present and future.
Do you work with designers to promote Pittsburgh based stuff they create?
A: Typically, we don’t work with outside designers and dip our hands in that sort of thing. We try to keep it with just our owner and whatever ideas we have if they want to go with them. He does though have some illustrators he works with and gets designs from them, because sometimes he needs some help, but for our “Phil the Thrill” shirt with the hot dog on it, we had a different illustrator draw that up because it’s more of a cartoon than anything.
E: We have a pretty unique style, so it all comes from Brandon’s mind, and he doesn’t want to really do anything that would be different from the brand that’s there now, so we don’t really work with many other designers. But we do collaborate with other artists from Pittsburgh, like Pittsburgh Dad; Brandon still does all the designs for him. We also do things with charities like the Mario Lemieux Foundation, so we do collaborate with other people, just the designs are usually from Brandon.
Who do you think is your biggest competitor and why?
A: People love this question, but I always like to say we don’t have competitors because we compare ourselves against ourselves. We try to be the best we can be, but obviously we do have to have competitors. I’d say that our biggest competitors would be Homage or FourOneTwo. Homage is from Ohio, and they have a shop there, but they just opened a shop in Pittsburgh selling Pittsburgh clothing.
E: Yeah, we definitely have competitors, I’d say. I think it’s fun to see what everyone else is doing and see where the trends are, but I think for Pittsburgh fans, even though Homage is a pretty cool company and have cool designs and stuff, you can tell the shirts they make are probably made from someone who isn’t a real Pittsburgher; I think their shirts are very generic, so that’s something really cool with our brand. The thing with FourOneTwo is that they have their one design, and they use that over and over again, where with us, we try to understand Pittsburgh. So something I think is really cool with our brand is that it does really well with natives and tourists. Since they’re not from around here, they come in looking for something genuine and wondering what some things mean, so we get the chance to explain to them what they mean. When natives come in, it hits home and they see what we have, and they really love it. It brings back memories and good times for them, and that’s something I really enjoy with our brand that some other brands lack, in my opinion.
Have you ever thought about opening your own store, like Steel City, with the knowledge you have now?
A: Uh, no! I never thought I would be managing a t-shirt store or anything really close to that, but I’m happy I’m here. I never really thought about that.
E: I have. Nothing very concrete, but Brandon, the owner, likes to think of himself as an entrepreneur. This isn’t the first business he’s ever started; he’s created anything from skateboard shops to other brands, so he has that entrepreneur spirit, and he tries to instill that onto us as well. I have thought about it and what I’d do, but I’ve never spent time trying. It’s fun to think about, and being here, we’re learning how to do that with the creative experience that working under Brandon has given us.
What do you like to do for fun when you’re not managing/working at Steel City?
A: A lot of our lives revolve around our store. It’s our baby. I like spending time with my family and my friends. We do like to travel, though.
E: We both like to hang our friends, family, and we are just always looking for the fun experiences and those groups.
Steel City is everything you’d expect it to be. Compared to stores like FourOneTwo and Homage, both having stores in Pittsburgh, fans and city-goers love Steel City. It is a must-see tourist location for anyone just visiting, whether it’s for business, leisure, or you’re coming to see The Penguins, Steelers, Riverhounds, Pirates, or The University of Pittsburgh compete.
If you’re looking to get some amazing Pittsburgh clothing, looking for a souvenir for that special someone or a friend, or buy a friend who is expecting some awesome Pittsburgh baby clothes, Steel City is the place to be. From their hockey collection to YouTube celebrity “Pittsburgh Dad” section, Steel City has everything you’d expect.
I would like to extend my thanks to Steel City, Alex, and Erich, for letting me and my team come in, take photos of the store, use their clothing, and for letting me interview them. I’d also like to say thank you to the owners, as well. The store truly has some wonderful people and anyone, including myself, would be lucky to work with them.