KC Q&A with Chase McAnulty

Image via Facebook.com/charliehustleshop

Chase McAnulty, founder and CEO of Charlie Hustle, talks retro style, working in the Crossroads Arts District and the origin of the KC Heart.


Favorite Little-Known Restaurant

"It has something for the experience-oriented foodie as well as enjoyable delights for just about anyone."

Favorite Place to Show Off in Kansas City

"We try to catch a Royals game at The K."

Favorite KC Tradition

"We live in the Westside area so it's fun to see all the people lining up in hopes of picking up one of their fresh-baked cheese slippers."

The full interview

Q: A lot of people might think that Charlie Hustle is an actual person, and that that person is you. Do you want to clear the air? Who is Charlie Hustle?

Image via Facebook.com/charliehustleshop

Charlie Hustle is kind of a manifestation of a lot of my own personal inspirations. I grew up infatuated with a brand out of Boston called Johnny Cupcakes. I thought the subculture they created was insanely cool and the name just rolled off the tongue. The nickname Charlie Hustle has been thrown all over the place over time, especially in sports...i.e. Pete Rose—and I was always a big sports fanatic. 

Mix those things with the “entrepreneurial hustle” of our brand, the name just made a lot of sense. To put it simply, it was a name that spoke to me.

Q: CH is arguably one of the most popular brands in KC. With that, there has to be a really cool, behind-the-music-style story as to how it began. Right?

I mean, it's about as organic as any startup. I collected vintage T-shirts in high school and college. 1985 Royals tees, old concert tees … anything that told a story. Now, I understand that might not be vintage to some people, but it's part of my come up I guess. I would get boxes of T-shirts from various rag houses all over the world and sift through them, basically in my parents’ basement, college house or wherever I was at the time.

While going to design school at the Kansas City Art Institute, I really began designing my own T-shirts inspired by the creative simplicity seen on many old ones from the ‘70s and ‘80s. I loved the fit and feel as well and set out to kind of bring that back. One of the best compliments we get is when someone says, "These shirts are so soft!"

The KC Heart Tee has become almost synonymous with Kansas City style and culture. Where did the concept come from, and how fast did it take off?

Image via Facebook.com/charliehustleshop

The KC Heart isn't completely new to Kansas City culture. The railroads had a KC Heart on their pins in the early 1900s, the Plaza had KC Hearts engraved in steel on their light poles in the ‘50 and ‘60s, and the Monarchs had a patch on their baseball jerseys. It just made a lot of sense for us to bring that to the forefront. It was actually our last design added to the collection upon launch. We figured it would be a good tribute to the city, but didn't quite plan for it to become the icon it is now.

There was a perfect storm of events that magnified it during the Royals’ World Series run in 2014. Paul Rudd popped up on a national broadcast saying it was his lucky shirt and it really became a lucky shirt for many during that run. I started the company to get into the collegiate and professional licensing apparel business, yet here was the Heart design that embodied civic pride. We embraced it and kind of pivoted to a more local approach and it has taken right back to where we wanted to be and more.

Q: CH has worked with countless area businesses to produce custom, branded T-shirts. What does that process of collaboration look like, start to finish?

There are a lot of great Kansas City companies to celebrate, many have had a much longer standing than us. It's an opportunity to kind of feed off each other and grow brands. It's like peanut butter and jelly. When two good things come together, it sometimes just makes sense.

Q: In recent months, CH has established a permanent retail space, expanded its collection into several different areas (barbecue and Chiefs come to mind), and vastly increased its collegiate apparel offerings. What’s the roadmap look like for CH?

Image via Facebook.com/charliehustleshop

This is the exciting part for me as a business owner. It's kind of time to put our big boy pants on and really become an actual company. We are working hard on strategies to scale our growth while putting processes in place to become a little more seasoned operation. We have a great group of young talent that’s better than I could ever be and it's amazing to explore their ideas and work together as a team to find solutions.

There are a lot of opportunities, and right now we are kind of honing in on what actually makes sense for us as a brand. We certainly are working to share the culture of our company on a regional and national level and a lot of that is securing larger collegiate licenses to kind of push the needle into other markets. 

Q: Any cool partnerships on the horizon?

We are focusing heavily on securing KU as a license and are getting ready to launch a major campaign with the Alumni Association in February. A big reason I started CH was because I was living in Lawrence, walking down Mass Street and thought there should be something better out in the market. There needs to be more competition. I was always a big Jayhawk fan growing up so beginning this partnership has been a real joy to me personally and will be great for both brands moving forward.

Q: CH’s retail space is in Country Club Plaza but the offices are in the Crossroads Arts District, two areas that have experienced a lot of exciting growth in the past few years. How does CH see itself in both of those communities?

It's really all about location. The best place to shop in KC is arguably the Country Club Plaza. Why wouldn't we put a store that sees more foot traffic than any other area of KC? Again, it just kind of made sense and seemed like a natural fit for Plaza ownership as well. We also live Downtown and it's nice to have an easy commute to work or even jog to work when the weather permits. That always starts the day off well.

The Crossroads Arts District really embraces makers, creators, doers of all sorts and I think is the very heart of the revolution going on in KC. It's important for us to office down here and see everything that is going on. It's truly is amazing to see and we support all of it.

Q: It’s pretty clear that vintage style is key to the CH design formula. How does your team decide to go with one look or another?

Being able to manage the vision of the company is important to me. We are lucky to have the talent we have on staff as well so if there is a formula, it's basically just, “What makes the most sense? What is actually going to sell? Does it fit the brand?”

We often use our staff as an unbiased test market for the general public. That way you get a lot of good feedback and can understand if it's going to be a hit or not.

Q: Sports and sports memorabilia are huge influences on CH. What drew you to this nostalgic sports style?

I think experience and atmosphere are important all in all. Memorabilia is just a piece of that. It's what inspires us, generates ideas and it's fun to be surrounded by greatness. I care very deeply about the people who work here. We spend a lot of time together and I think it's important to work in an environment that is enjoyable.

There's certainly a give and take, but we look for people that fit the culture first and then look at the skill set. I think that kind of thinking translates to the brand and how it’s perceived to the public. I do love me some memorabilia though!

Q: Several major retailers have recently shifted back to vintage, old-school looks, with the ‘80s and early ‘90s being popular inspiration. With that in mind, is there a point when “retro” goes out of style?

Image via Facebook.com/charliehustleshop

I don't think retro ever goes out of style, it is a style. With that said, there is more and more competition. We have to continuously find ways to reinvent ourselves and adapt to the market trends while maintaining our brand identity. I think that's the difference between good companies and great companies. There will always be challenges and I think preparation is key in that if we can see it coming, we can react ahead of time. Everyone had a childhood though, memories are forever and history tends to repeat itself. There will always be new inspiration to pull from.

Q: Three-part Q: Why does KC have such an affinity for city-branded or -themed tees? Is there a T-shirt bubble in Kansas City, and if not, why not?

I think it speaks to the people really and just the Midwest in general. We are very proud of our heritage and there is pride in being from Kansas City. As far as the T-shirt bubble, I think it's good to see makers and creators from all backgrounds doing their thing.

We don't really view it as competition and it's good for the city as a whole. As long as it's original and you aren't setting yourself up for second place then bring it on. We have been on both sides of that fence, but I think there is a lot of respect and room for everyone.

Q: Do you have a favorite CH tee? Which one?

Honestly, my faves are some of the retired pieces. I always go back to the first few designs we had, one being a Starting Lineup T-shirt that was a tribute to the sports figurines from the 90s. It just resonates with me and takes me back to my childhood. Anything like that that takes me back to a time of pure joy and carelessness, or simply happiness I can appreciate.

Q: Do you have any spare CH shirts that you need to get rid of? I know someone that could use them (it’s me).

Ha, we could use some help folding ... maybe you can come in and work for it.