A locally launched T-shirt outfit catches on. | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

A locally launched T-shirt outfit catches on.

Who steels Pit? You can, or so can anyone so inclined with 25 bucks and an Internet connection, or who feels like scooting over to the South Side's Decade boutique, the exclusive bricks-and-mortar purveyor of some highly cool local shirts.

People's Cartel, a T-shirt design shop launched in Pittsburgh and now largely based in Washington, D.C., has been selling shirts (black and gold, natch, or black and white if for whatever reason you DON'T want to properly represent ...) emblazoned with "I ... PIT." The words are separated by the iconic hypocycloid design forever associated with steel, Pittsburgh and some football team or another.

The line includes plenty of other T-shirt designs -- a deep V-neck that reads "Hot Sex" is a big seller -- but the Steel Pit ones move the fastest. The designs pop with bright primary colors and controlled repetition of graphic elements that might call to mind a Trapper Keeper or Colorforms.

"If we happen to make the playoffs, I'll do a special-edition gold-foil shirt," says Roman Shuman, the man behind the designs since 2006. "I knew people would eat it up. I wear it for Steelers games."

The company began in 2006 when Shuman, a newly minted graphic-design grad from Penn State, was working at American Eagle. He and another new coworker from Chicago started talking clothes: "We thought, 'We should get into this, let's make shirts we would want to wear.'"

The pair spent weekends screening Ts to wear and share with friends. Eventually the Chicago partner moved to New York, and for a while there was long-distance collaboration. While that's done far less now, the pair still exchange ideas and, Shuman says, input from friends is always welcome. Shuman himself recently followed his girlfriend's grad-school ambitions to D.C., but the Pittsburgh shirt is still the biggest seller -- in Pittsburgh, and around the country.

The aforementioned Hot Sex shirt is also a big seller, and a blue graphic blowout of the company logo moves well. A stylized, pointillist rendition of a fat, Vegas-era Elvis sells well, too.

"It's a lot of music influence," Shuman says. "Punk rock, '90s alternative stuff. ... It's very Fugazi-, Nirvana-influenced. There's a lot of '80s-inspired stuff [on the market] now -- as much as I want to be a part of it, I don't exactly remember it," the 27-year-old says.

On average, there have been eight to 10 new designs each year, though Shuman says he's pressing for 12 this year. As demand and sales increase, his literal hands-on involvement with printing has faded a bit.

"At first, it was 100 percent us screening," Shuman says. "For the larger orders I have gone the outsourcing route." But he estimates no more than 40 percent is ever outsourced. "I'm in the mix."

Right now, the designs are printed mostly on American Apparel T's bought wholesale. At some point, Shuman would like to get into manufacturing his own cuts and fits. Hoodies and jackets, too, could be on the horizon.

"He does really well in the store," says Steve Ford, proprietor of Decade at 1407 E. Carson St., on the South Side -- the only non-cyber place to get the shirts. (The Web site is www.peoplescartel.com.) "People come looking for his gear. I can't keep them in."

Ford says the shirts have a wide appeal not just for the obvious local lust for all things black-and-gold, but also the easy cool of the shirts and the bright colors. And, from a shop-owner's standpoint, Ford says Shuman's dedication to his work is appealing: "The nice thing about this brand is that he's pushing it to become something. They might become big."

A locally launched T-shirt outfit catches on.
Is that a hypocycloid on your chest?: People's Cartel's top-selling design.