Many and Varied Outlets Provide an Abundance of options to show Pirates/Pittsburgh Pride
In under a week’s time, baseball will be back again on Pittsburgh’s North Shore. The Clemente Bridge will shut down in advance of games, the downtown garages will all fill up and hordes of people wearing black and gold will once again fill the streets around PNC Park. And thanks to multiple clothing vendors who sell their wares online and in town, Buccos fans have plenty of options when it comes to sporting the most on-topic, fashion forward and badass t-shirts around.
Fresh Factory and Centerfield Smoke are two extremely popular t-shirt vendors in the market and well beyond, supplying Pirates fans in the US and abroad with unique gear custom-designed with a Pittsburgh state-of-mind, by fans of the team – and even players themselves.
Native Pittsburgher Dan Desko is an IT auditor who needed a creative outlet. “Dan’s day job is very technical and regimented,” said his wife Danielle and Fresh Factory Marketing Director (yes, they are aware that their names match). “He’s very good at what he does, but he’s also a very creative person who loves Pittsburgh, loves fashion, and needs something to do with his creative energy.” So, in 2010, with a chunk of free-time open in his schedule after completing an MBA, Dan and his friend started Fresh Factory.
Initially, they offered “random” designs along with a few Pittsburgh ones thrown in the mix, Desko said. “But the more Dan and his friend realized the passion Pittsburghers, like him, have for their town and sports teams, it just sort of came together,” she added.
Their first design under this new direction was a leaf with the Stanley Cup on it, which became very popular as the Penguins began an earnest run for the championship. The second was a 1979 throwback Pirates t-shirt sporting “We Are Fam-a-lee” on the front.
“Dan grew up a Buccos fan, they were huge for him and his family, even when they weren’t very good – so that shirt was really special for him,” she said. And it was also very big for Fresh Factory. Danielle joined the company in 2011 and eventually she and Dan took over the enterprise.
Zack D’Ulisse started Centerfield Smoke from a University of Akron dorm room in August 2012. Named after the smoke that appears over the centerfield wall when Manny’s BBQ, owned by former Pirates catcher Manny Sanguillen, is cooking up fresh BBQ beef and pork sandwiches for fans on the Riverwalk during games, the company grew from a campus hobby into something much bigger, based on the design of their first shirt.
“I was in the middle of art school pursuing my degree in Graphic Design. I had messed around with t-shirt designs before, selling them around campus,” D’Ulisse recalled. “One day, A.J. Burnett struck out Hanley Ramirez and told him to “Sit The F*** Down’ and the ROOT cameras caught it. A t-shirt design immediately came to mind. Pirates fans know all about that one.”
The shirt caught the attention of Karen Burnett, A.J.’s wife.
“If (Karen) would not have bought him the STFD shirt and posted a photo of him in it on Instagram, I’m not sure if this hobby of mine would have taken off the way that it did,” D’Ulisse said. “AJ and I actually worked together even after he went on to Philadelphia and he basically told me what he was thinking and I made it happen…Once AJ got back to Pittsburgh I would send him the designs pertaining to him. He also sent me signed jerseys and other cool things as a thank you.”
He says players including Jordy Mercer and Brock Holt put in big orders for shirts in the offseason for themselves and their families and it’s always exciting to see them show up on Twitter, Instagram or TV. His website features several images of athletes sporting his designs.
Fresh Factory also collaborates with Pirates players on t-shirt designs, most recently catcher Francisco Cervelli.
“Francisco saw our shirts and he just loved the material, loved the designs,” Desko said. “He sent us a message and asked us to do a ‘That’s Amore’ shirt for him, which was funny because my husband and I were talking about doing a design for him.”
They collaborated with their designers and came up with two designs they loved equally, so they added them both to their shop – one a raglan shirt (baseball tee) with a catcher’s mitt that spells out “That’s Amore” and the other a short sleeve t-shirt with the words written inside a baseball.
We sent the shirts to him and hope maybe he’ll debut them soon – but he’s so busy with spring training right now, we’ll just wait and see,” she added. “We certainly don’t want to get in the way of his work.”
Fresh Factory also customized a shirt for Leury Moreno, daughter of 1979 Pirates World Series star Omar Moreno, who asked if they could add his name in Pirates lettering and number 18 to the back of one of their We Are Fam-A-Lee raglan shirts.
They definitely move a lot of Pirates shirts at Fresh Factory, with their RTJR, That’s Amore and Pierogi Race shirts topping the bestsellers list. They also sell a Run PGH shirt that is very popular with runners. The design started out as a play on the Run DMC logo and the idea of running Pittsburgh, not on two feet for exercise, but “like a boss,” Desko joked. “But runners started buying it and we sell a lot of them around the Pittsburgh marathon season.”
D’Ulisse says 75-percent of his Centerfield Smoke items are Pirates-inspired designs. The ideas for them come from a variety of places.
“If I don’t think of it myself, I try to keep up with everything from player/coach interviews to what the fans are saying on Twitter. I can tell right away if a quote or phrase will be a good t-shirt design. For example: “Business is Booming,” “Too Busy Winning,” “Abso-Bucn-Lutely”…..Clint Hurdle provides a lot of amazing quotes, unfortunately few are t-shirt worthy,” he joked. “I still have a lot of Greg Brown phrases I want to translate into a t-shirt design as well as Mike Lange, but those will come if I am ever having a creative-block. You have to always be listening to what everybody is saying.”
His best sellers include “Everything Pirates. AJ Burnett and Jung Ho Kang stuck out last year,” he said. The most current Top 10 list he receives from his printing company lists six different Burnett designs, the Jung Ho! Ho! Ho! Christmas sweater, along with a Pitt Victory Lights design and others.
A common thread among both Fresh Factory and Centerfield Smoke is that these companies are both operated almost exclusively online and as a labor of love. The Deskos and D’Ulisse all have full time careers and run their apparel companies in their spare time.
D’Ulisse does all of the design work, website design/updates and social media work to run Centerfield Smoke on a daily basis on his own, he works with the company Spreadshirt to take orders, print and ship his merchandise. Fresh Factory has a team of six, including people handling design, printing, shipping and inventory, managing the day-to-day work. 95 percent of their items are US based and printed in Braddock, PA, the steel town in which Dan Desko’s grandfather was raised.
“It was important to us to be sure we bring the business back here,” Danielle said. “We love Pittsburgh and this area and want to be sure we do as much business here as we can.”
Fresh Factory has some new designs in the works that they hope to debut soon and also are planning to stretch out just a little into more “fashion forward” options besides t-shirts – though Desko said the company remains true to their roots. “T-shirts are our main game, we’re not looking to change that, but maybe just test the waters in designing a few things that are different.”
D’Ulisse will continue to keep his ear on those interviews that provide so much of the quotable shirts his customers have come to expect from him, including an OBP t-shirt (riffing on the Naughty By Nature hit “OPP”) he hopes to get to new Bucco John Jaso. But he’s also setting his sights on something bigger.
“The main goal of Centerfield Smoke is to obtain an official apparel license from the MLB and the MLB Players Association,” he said. ‘I won’t speak on how far along in the process I am, but once I have that, the sky is the limit.”
Fresh Factory and Centerfield Smoke aren’t the only Pirates/Pittsburgh sports apparel outfits in the area.
CW Press boasts an impressive array of Pittsburgh-related gear at their online shop as well as their bricks and mortar stores located at 1931 E. Carson Street on the south side and 691 Washington Road in downtown Mt. Lebanon.
The Pittsburgh Fan, located across from PNC Park at 206 Federal St., features a huge variety of men’s and ladies hats, shirts and other gift items supporting the Pirates, Penguins and Steelers.
Yinzers in the Burgh, at 2127 Penn Avenue, sells Pittsburgh pro-team clothes and various paraphernalia in that decidedly in-you-face- Pittsburgh style that makes the city so special.