Trendsetter: Ryan Vesler

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"Those Umbros are off the chain!" Ryan Vesler exclaimed, examining a pair of black nylon soccer shorts with slightly faded neon yellow trim.

Nostalgia isn't just a marketing ploy for Vesler, 26. His increasingly successful clothing company, Homage, is an extension of his real life, a truth that became abundantly clear during a shopping trip to an East Side thrift store.

From discarded vinyl to secondhand tees, the racks are an endless source of inspiration for Vesler, who makes his living designing throwback T-shirts to capture a moment in time, from Archie Griffin stiff-arms to Rubik's Cubes.

"I'm kind of like this historian. I feel like I'm unlocking the past for people," Vesler explained. "I'm not telling the complete story. I'm selecting smaller stories, and the compilation of all those stories creates this idea of paying homage."

Homage began two years ago. Vesler had been combing thrift stores and selling vintage clothing on eBay since his dorm days at Ohio University.

"I just had laundry baskets full of stinky clothes," he remembered.

With so many thrifters seeking the same goods, Vesler decided he would be better off recreating classic looks.

His first big break came when Ohio State licensed his Block O and Script Ohio shirts. The designs became a hit with locals and global Buckeye alumni, and soon Homage products were appearing in high-end Japanese boutiques and Urban Outfitters.

Vesler got another big boost on May 24 when TNT basketball analyst Ernie Johnson name-dropped him and his company before an NBA playoff game after Homage remade Johnson's trademark "Elevator Ernie Johnson" shirt.

Musicians from Morrissey to Kid Cudi have been spotted in Homage tees, as have astronaut Buzz Aldrin and Stanley Cup-winning Pittsburgh Penguin Marc-Andre Fleury.

Booming business has forced Homage out of Vesler's parents' Berwick basement and into an East Side warehouse that's already overrun with T-shirts and trading cards.

Vesler talks a lot about selling not just a T-shirt but an experience. Every design is concocted with care - he studies distressed tees to faithfully recreate the weathered look - and every order comes with bizarre extras like a pack of New Kids on the Block trading cards.

Soon he hopes to expand that experience to a retail shop, perhaps at Easton or in the Short North. Though friends tell him opening a brick-and-mortar in the internet age is about as practical as his idea for an Homage mobile ice cream truck, Vesler dreams of a storefront with James Brown blaring over faded posters and basketball court hardwood floors.

"I've found that I have a unique story to tell," Vesler said, "and I don't know that the retailers truly can capture that."