Daffy Dan Gray on ... The Cleveland T-shirt

Long before There was CLE Clothing, Fresh Brewed Tees or GV Art + Design, there was Daffy Dan — a longhaired, mustachioed dude who became the godfather of the Cleveland T-shirt. You can still swing by his shop at 2101 Superior Ave.

I dropped out of high school in my senior year and went to work in the record store business, and I started to carry some rock group T-shirts. I got a catalog of shirts from who knows where. ... Other record stores were coming to me and asking me where I got them from, and rather than telling 'em, I looked up a dealer and started to wholesale them.

Before long I started to realize, Wait a minute, this guy isn't doing it right. I can do it better. The rock group T-shirts just took off like a rocket. That was 1973. We located our storefront over on Clifton and West 104th Street, and that's where we really started. From the beginning we marketed ourselves as Daffy Dan's from Cleveland, Ohio.

We went from a single store in 1973 to 27 stores in 1978. It wasn't tourists. It was Clevelanders buying Cleveland-themed T-shirts and merchandise. It was a phenomenon. If you go back 40 years ago ... there was a counter-culture that loved the city and what it was and what it had to offer. WMMS was just gaining loyalty. The Agora was packing 'em in every night. Rock 'n' roll T-shirts I saw as an absolute natural. ... It was a blast.

I'm so frickin' excited about what's coming down the pike right now. I watch these kids [doing Cleveland T-shirts]. I think it's great. The more the merrier, and there's so much creative stuff that can be done, and I like to see it being done.

Somewhere in there, there's gonna be a niche for us to walk in again. When this gets going in the next year, when the Medical Mart opens up and some of these other things, you could very well find Daffy Dan's smack in the middle of it.

— as told to Jason Brill  

Tee the People

Our local T-shirt companies turn tough times into cotton badges of honor.

Share this story: