Chattanooga has made it to the top of many a tops list—from the top 45 places to go in 2012 to the best outdoor city—but thanks to a local fashion entrepreneur, the Scenic City may also one day rank as the birthplace of one of the 50 greatest street wear brands.
Hixson native Blake Porter recently launched his clothing label, Tag Youre It Apparel.
The company was born out of a spontaneous, late-night brainstorming session and continues to draw inspiration for its inventory of tees, hoodies and even underwear from the voices of Chattanooga’s streets and artist community.
Roots in the city’s nightlife
Porter grew up in Hixson and followed the well-worn track to Knoxville for college after graduating high school in 2006. His trial-and-error path through college adhered a little less to the typical post-high school playbook: He lived in Fort Collins, Colo., for a stint working as a server, moved home to attend the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and ran into the same hurdles of a lack of interest in classes and attending those classes.
The requisite “what am I doing with my life” conversations naturally followed, but instead of capitulating to the traditional and seemingly only option, Porter came up with an appealing alternative.
A single night—filled with racing thoughts and ideas—was all it took to conceptualize TYI Apparel.
“At around 8 in the morning, I made the decision to organize some ideas and sketches, and the spark for Tag Youre It Apparel was formed,” Porter said. “Making cool graphic tees has always been something I thought I could be good at and has always been an interest of mine. As soon as I learned the term ‘street wear,’ I knew I had found a sort of niche and subculture I could relate and contribute to.”
He took into account the creative, nonmainstream types and attitudes he was encountering as part of the Chattanooga renaissance and kept in mind the influences that had molded his own style and personality as a “musician, artist and philosopher.”
To shore up the business end of TYI Apparel, Porter matriculated through the Springboard class at The Company Lab. The course helped him write a business plan and obtain the necessary business licenses.
Porter then established relationships and wholesale accounts with a few garment manufactures and produced his first collection—Fall/Winter 2012. As a one-man show, he uses Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator to design individual pieces. TYI Apparel also remains a self-financed venture for which Porter still holds his position as a server at North Shore restaurant Taco Mamacita.
Although he does not have formal training in the fashion industry, the entrepreneur describes his interest and ability for clothing and brand design as “innate.”
“I have always had an eye for, and been critical of, style and fashion,” Porter said. “I would see a graphic tee that someone was wearing and think, ‘That looks really cool, but I would change this, get rid of that, move this, etc.’ It is a true passion.”
Art to apparel
Porter has aimed his brand at the “New Age artistic progressivist,” meaning that the clothing its marketed for specific age or income demographics. It falls into neither the skate nor surf categories.
The inventory consists of tees, baseball tees, underwear and hoodies made of poly-blend or tri-blend materials. TYI Apparel does hold an urban feel and comes together a bit like the artistic work that inspires it.
Although he holds the final creative stamp of approval, Porter frequently collaborates with local photographers, including Allie Clarke, to gather the raw material for the clothing graphics. He will have an idea in mind, brainstorm with photographers to achieve an image, manipulate that image and produce the final graphic to place on the clothing.
The photographer tee, which is part of the current collection, is a baseball-style T-shirt featuring a rectangular graphic that shows at one corner a photographer in a plaid cap and sunglasses taking a photograph with a vintage camera. The other corner shows the same photographer walking away in several motion frames.
Porter explained that the brand’s focus may ring as cliché—creating clothing for those who are engaged in self-improvement and, by extension, improvement of their surroundings—but that the direct contact with the artist community keeps TYI Apparel authentic. Mike Lester of Garuda Screen Printing and David Groves of Kaleidoscope Textile Printing have also participated in Porter's process.
“My mission statement for the company is ‘A celebration of the dedicated, a dedication to the motivated. Take the initiative,’" he said. “My demographic is everyone who is conscious about being on the forefront of the world, their lives and style and who truly believes in and exudes progression.”
Tagging the brand
For now, Porter is keeping his collections small: five pieces for Fall/Winter 2012, Spring/Summer 2013 and Fall/Winter 2013.
Word of mouth has served him well in terms of sales. He set up shop at Mainx24 earlier this month and is considering renting a booth at the Chattanooga Market in the spring.
Ultimately, the business plan for TYI Apparel involves storefronts nationwide and headquarters in a larger city, but for now, the Scenic City is a nurturing home.
“I could not be happier starting this label right here in Chattanooga and am grateful to live in a city this amazing. The art community here is thriving, the support and motivation is great, and the city itself is always trying to expand its art horizons,” Porter said. “The hunger and appreciation for the art scene is genuine and real.”
Updated @ 8:26 a.m. on 12//18/12 to add clothing prices and more information as it became available.