It's 2007. The car companies are going bankrupt and Kwame's still the mayor — ultimately, the city is in a state of turmoil. But even in the face of uncertainty about their city and livelihoods, Detroiters remained resilient and on their grind as their pride for their city pushed them forward.
For then-19-year-old Brendan Blumentritt and 20-year-old Joseph "J.P." O'Grady, it was no different. With no jobs and just enough money between the two of them for a starter screen printing kit, they started their company Aptemal Clothing.
Ten years later and they're still going strong.
"It was just an idea," Blumentritt recalls as he sits on the couch in his and his business partner's stylish Eastern Market store. "We didn't have a business plan; we didn't have any experience. It was all trial and error. We really didn't have anything to lose. When you're inside of it, you don't always see the big picture of everything — like all the people in the town wearing your clothes, or influencers and celebs like Eminem and Sir Richard Branson wearing your stuff. We never would have imagined this. But it's just always being on the grind, getting your name out there, meeting new people."
In almost the same breath O'Grady says, "Well, I always knew we were going to make it: I had a dream," and the two burst out laughing.
The bearded duo's first designs included handwritten fonts and the Detroit skyline; Kwame's face and blunts; and renditions of the "RUN DMC" logo. Their major hit came in 2008 with "Detroit Hustles Harder." This tagline has become the unofficial motto of Detroit and its comeback as it embodies the city's entrepreneurial and relentless spirit.
What started as two kids needing money and wanting to collaborate with their artistic friends grew into a business venture bigger than themselves and extended itself to the city and it's community of creatives and local brands.
"It's kind of a big reason why we started this, as well as why we opened a boutique. A big goal of ours was to..." Blumentritt says as O'Grady cuts in to finish, "To showcase our friends."
Recently they collaborated with Detroit-based artist Ouizi. They sold 50 limited edition bomber jackets and patches that incorporated the muralist's unique floral style. They have also worked with many others like Murals in the Market, Slow Roll, Our Issue, and the Movement electronic music festival.
For the last few years, Blumentritt and O'Grady have helped design and print the official Movement merch. They both agree that working with Movement has been one of many
"started from the bottom, now we're here" moments they've been glad to experience.
"We would roll up our shirts with our designs, throw them in backpacks, and hit the streets," Blumentritt says. "We started at Movement festival with a backpack full of shirts."
And since then, they and the businesses they have worked with have grown so much.
"We have an online store too, so we've shipped all over the world basically," Blumentritt says. "And that's cool because you see every order and are like, 'That's our shirt and it's representing the city on a worldwide scale.' And you know, having the creativity or no bounds on your creativity as well as working with other creatives and Detroit businesses is really rewarding. And seeing them grow too. A lot of the people we've worked with, we have been working with for the last 10 years. Growing business-wise with other brands and business and friends has been cool to see."
They say it hasn't been an easy 10 years, but the guys haven't let that stop them.
"I think that's the hardest part, just making shit happen," O'Grady says. "You've got to cannonball into it. Don't bullshit around, you've just got to do it like you said. That's the main thing: just making it happen. If you have an idea, you've got to try it or it's never going to be anything. Trial and error is the best way to learn how to run and do anything, I think."
And as the city grows and prospers, so do they.
"You know, when we started it was 2007 and the city was going through (hell), the car companies were going bankrupt, we had the Kwame scandal, like everything was bad about the city of Detroit," Blumentritt says. "And now in the past few years, you're hearing and seeing a lot of positive things throughout the city as far as the business end of it and downtown coming up. It has always been a tight art community, and I see that growing; that just widens our reach of who we can work with, and what we can do, and what can happen next."
For the last ten years Blumentritt and O'Grady have kept their heads down and focused in the grind; just kids from the east side that found a way to encapture the true spirit of Detroit in their clothes.
"It's always been our main focus to get out there, to get Detroit out there and I think Detroit's growing so much right now as a city so I mean the sky's the limit when it comes to the future," Blumentritt says. "We're going to try to work with as many artists as possible and hopefully we can continue growing and keep doing what we're doing."
Detroit Hustles Harder is hosting a 10-year anniversary party on Friday, June 30 at Marble Bar; 1501 Holden St., Detroit; divisionstreetboutique.com; starts at 8 p.m.; tickets start at $10.
Skyler Murry is an editorial intern with Metro Times.