Raleigh shop using new t-shirt line to spark conversation about Black Lives Matter

Joel Brown Image
Saturday, June 13, 2020
Raleigh shop using new t-shirt line to spark conversation about Black Lives Matter
Despite his shop being damaged during the riots two weeks ago, a Raleigh business owner is stepping up to help with the recovery and healing of the nation's racial divide.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Like every store in the city, House of Swank Clothing (HOS) in downtown Raleigh has been swept up in the crazy COVID winter and spring. The shop has been shut down since March because of the pandemic. And the George Floyd riots two weeks ago dealt another big blow. But, the business is now tying its own recovery to the healing of the nation's racial divide.

HOS has been hanging on economically through coronavirus with 100 percent online sales However, owner John Pugh, this purveyor of pithy phrases on cotton tees, hasn't always been confident the business would survive.

"It totally messes with your head. Because one day you think I'm gonna lose the house. The next day you're like we're gonna be ok. Then, we're gonna lose the house," Pugh said.

And then came the national furor over what happened to George Floyd.

"I mean it was such an atrocity, that hell yeah, people should be mad about it. And they should be in the streets, they should be in the mad," Pugh said.

RELATED: Dozens gather for another night of peaceful protests in downtown Raleigh

What began as hours of non-violent, peaceful protests against police brutality and for racial justice devolved in downtown Raleigh into chaos. Dozens of downtown businesses damaged. House of Swank's front window shattered and some merchandise stolen. But the damage and loss was not Pugh's main concern.

RELATED: Triangle black-owned businesses see surge in sales amid George Floyd activism

"It's a window, big deal. Shirts, whatever. That stuff can be replaced," he said. "It's easy to be cynical. It's easy to get angry, upset. But (racial justice) is important. And it's important to have these conversations and to have the conversation right now."

And so, HOS is now trying to help facilitate the conversation about systemic racism and police brutality -- printing a brand new line of Black Lives Matter t-shirts, face masks, buttons and even onesies. Pugh says he's donating all of the proceeds to Raleigh's Helping Hand Mission, the beloved charity for the city's most vulnerable citizens.

Pugh tapped his friend, Micah Gaugh, a musician and artist, to draw up the design.

"It was tough to a degree because he asked me for more than one design," Gaugh said. "And the other one I thought of was more like a teardrop, like why do we need to discuss Black Lives Matter? But then that would be too sad."

And the goal wasn't to spark sadness -- but to spark a discussion. So, Gaugh weaved in EKG heart rhythms to bring black life to life on cotton.

"You're gonna look at it and be like, what that's squiggly stuff, oh, I get it," Gaugh said.

Pugh added, "It's gonna take a lot of love and a lot of support and a lot of tough discussions for everyone to get through this stuff. And we appreciate everyone's support."

House of Swank's new line of Black Lives Matter merchandise is available on the shop's website. 100 percent of the proceeds are going to Helping Hand Mission.