CHICAGO — As the Chicago Cubs opened the 2022 season against the Milwaukee Brewers, it’s also opening day just down the street from Wrigley Field.
At the corner of Clark Street and Grace Street, the popular Chicago t-shirt maker Obvious Shirts is celebrating the grand opening its first brick-and-mortar store.
“Never would have guessed, never saw this coming,” owner Joe Johnson said, as he prepared for the store’s grand opening. “I would have been perfectly content just kind of doing it on the side until I saw the opportunity that it could become.”
Johnson’s playful shirts point out self-evident truths for Chicago teams.
“Making everything literal is funny to me,” he said.
It all started in the summer of 2015, during Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta’s dominant Cy Young-winning season.
“I just walked into the office sat down at my desk and said, ‘Jake Arietta is good at baseball,’ Johnson said. “It started a brief chuckle around my desk mates. And I was like, ‘You know what, I should make that a t-shirt.’’
Now he makes about 100,000 shirts a year and does about $1.4 million in sales.
The secret to his success is his devotion to quality. He uses super soft tri-blend of cotton, polyester and rayon – and will try dozens of shades to make sure they’re perfect.
“I tried over 30 different manufacturers, different ink systems, different manufacturers of different shades of red, different shades of light blue, green, royal blue, purple, black navy,” he said.
Johnson designs most of the shirts on his phone, iPad or laptop while he is watching Chicago teams play.
The growing business has three full-time and eight part-time employees who have worked to open the new shop.
“Part of the reason I’m so excited about our retail store is when you see all of our shirts, when you see a dozen designs next to each other, they kind of reads like a Twitter thread,” Chief Operating officer of Obvious Shirts Devin Wenzel said.
The company has also carved out a place in the Chicago charitable community. When 1985 Bears star Steve McMichael disclosed he was battling ALS, the company sold “Team Mongo” shirts that raised more than $50,000 for his medical care.
And when Bears beat writer Jeff Dickerson died, the “JD” shirts he made raised more than $50,000 for Dickerson’s son.