Glen Infante Glen Infante
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Glen Infante bursts into ILTHY in one big whoosh

He pushes through the front door, quickly glides across 30 feet of linoleum to the rear of the store, and sinks right into a vintage, red plush armchair seemingly all in one fluid motion. 

With his back to the store, he doesn’t see the customers looking through the racks of clothing adorned with bold, colorful prints. A young Akron couple browses through the newest arrivals in the store, picking up a sweatshirt with hand-drawn pop culture characters. There’s Donald Trump, Stan Lee and a bearded Eminem, all shirtless and drawn from the shoulders up, each set against a different brightly colored background like swatches from a Pantone book. 

Killing time in the Gordon Square Arts District on this February afternoon before heading to a Cavs game, they pull out a yellow sweatshirt off the rack. On the back are illustrations of Rocky Balboa facing off against Mr. T. over a pink frosted doughnut. As the couple smiles at the shirt, they talk about how much they enjoyed Brewnuts, a nearby doughnut shop. 

Infante half-turns his head towards the couple. 

“I did some of the art in there,” he tells them. 

“Oh?” they say in unison. 

“Yeah, the Pulp Fiction piece in the front and the Breaking Bad art in the back? I painted those,” Infante says. 

“Great!” the woman responds. 

“Awesome!” her partner echoes. 

The couple looks at the salesperson, visibly confused as to the identity of the random lounging guy. 

“This is his store,” the salesperson quietly informs them. 

The couple immediately springs into motion, talking over each other about their yearslong appreciation for the ILTHY designs while simultaneously admitting that they didn’t know anything about the guy behind the clothing. 

Infante leans back into the plush chair with a shrug and a smile. He is used to this response from customers. The 38-year-old artist, graphic designer and founder of ILTHY has been living in this nexus for a few years: the man behind a well-known brand who isn’t always recognized as an artist apart from the clothing. The brand itself has quickly become a shining star in the apparel world. Infante has collaborated with Nike, Honda, LeBron James and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, among others. 

But the man behind the streetwear brand is ready to make a name for himself beyond the pop culture-driven and sometimes subversive shirts, hoodies and jackets lining the walls of ILTHY. With popular pieces such as the Cleveland Cavaliers Believe mural and Tribute to Prince mural in Ohio City, as well as original art inside local eateries such as Rebol and Sugarland Food Mart, Infante has been pushing himself creatively.

“People know me as the guy who puts famous people holding pink doughnuts on shirts,” says Infante. “I’m so much more than that and I’m ready to show the world what I can do.” 

Infante’s upbringing bucked the norm right from the start. A child of a factory worker and a nurse, his parents made the decision in his toddler years to bring their aunts and uncles from the Phillipines into their small home in the Bellaire-Puritas neighborhood on the West Side. Though he had no siblings, Infante never recalls a moment of his childhood when he was alone. 

“With 10 adults in the house, I was really taken care of as a kid,” Infante laughs. “I was the only child among all of these grown things and everyone was always trying to share one piece of wisdom or another.”

Though the house may have been crowded, there were no other children to keep him company. Infante learned quickly that he had to depend on himself for entertainment.

As soon as Infante picked up markers and crayons at four years old, he realized he could create characters and an entire kid-friendly world around him by filling up the blank pages with ink. For early inspiration, he turned to the biggest paranormal crime fighters of the 1980s. 

“Oh man, I loved the Ghostbusters!” Infante exclaims. “At five years old, I drew myself as a Ghostbuster, in the whole brown suit, with the car behind me.”

The artistic bug followed him to Ascension School, a Catholic elementary school, where Infante became known as the go-to guy for both teachers and his fellow students whenever an artistic project was on the table. It was a reputation that set him apart from his peers in a school where he was already noticeably different as one of the only Asian-American children in a predominantly white school. 

“When I was younger, I experienced a little racism here and there,” Infante remembers. “I always felt different and sometimes a little ashamed of my skin and the way that I looked. As a kid, it’s hard to accept that you get made fun of for things you can’t change.”

His family moved to Parma when he was 16. While he had gained some popularity for his artistic talents from peers on Cleveland’s West Side, he struggled after transferring to Valley Forge High School. He joined a commercial art vocational program, spending half the day in art classes. But the academic side of school gave him problems. He was only able to graduate from high school by the grace of his science teacher, who gave him a “D” instead of the “F.” 

“Those high school years were definitely the loneliest in my life,” says Infante. 

With subpar grades, his dreams of securing an art scholarship at a four-year college were dashed, so Infante enrolled at Cuyahoga Community College to study visual communications. It was instantly not a fit. He started smoking cigarettes, dressed differently to have a more “badass vibe” to fit in and barely attended classes. He dropped out after one year. 

“I felt indifferent to everybody,” he says. “I attempted to change up my whole visual approach just to be socially accepted, because I was just some Asian dork.”

Art was always a part of Infante’s life. It was there to help him when he was feeling down and a way to be inspired. 

When he found out he was going to be a father at 25 years old, art then became a way to make some extra money. 

He had enrolled again at Tri-C when he began designing flyers for local acts. 

In the beginning he only had two clients: a club promoter and E-V, the local club DJ. 

“It wasn’t enough to support a baby on the way,” he says.

Though the work wasn’t plentiful, his art jumped off the page when put next to his competitors. While everyone else was inserting cut-and-paste clip art or stock photos, Infante’s was far more nuanced. 

Take the flyer he designed for a club party called “Flirt” at the now-closed Metropolis Nightclub. The work was as eye-catching for its daring red backdrop as it was for the way the divergent fonts came seamlessly together to present the partygoer with a trove of exciting information and bold tagline: “We’re bringing sexy back.” He also brazenly listed his contact information at the bottom of the flyer just in case anyone needed design work. 

The strategy paid off in a big way. 

Columbus Woodruff, the founder and CEO of Hotcards, one of the nation’s first and largest online-based printing and direct marketing companies, saw his work. 

“I instantly knew that this guy clearly had talent,” he says. “I was immediately blown away.”

Woodruff called Infante and asked him to come work for Hotcards full time. The only problem: the offer would require that Infante drop out of Tri-C. He was a year from finishing his degree, something he thought he needed to have in order to be hired.  

“I was torn about working full-time,” says Infante. “But with a daughter on the way, why would I finish a degree so that I could be offered a job that was already in my hands?” 

Thus began a five-year career at Hotcards — a role that Infante describes as the best job he has ever had — and a close relationship with Woodruff. 

“I came alive at Hotcards,” remembers Infante. “Columbus was always right behind me and gave me all the freedom I needed to just explore my talents and create.”

With flyers still acting as the main method of promotion for concert venues and up-and-coming artists in the mid-2000s, the work came in droves for Infante. His eye for graphic design coupled with his own original art made Infante the go-to artist for musicians. 

This time, his clients included national venues such as the House of Blues and musical artists trying to get into regular rotation on stations across the country. For one mixtape cover design, Infante drew a shaded side profile of a local rapper staring confidently into the distance, set against a camouflage-shaded background in various greens, beige and pink. His subject was 24-year-old up-and-coming artist Kid Cudi. Dat Kid From Cleveland featured one of the first collaborations between Kid Cudi and Kanye West.   

“Kid Cudi, Machine Gun Kelly, they would all just be there in the office way before they were big,” says Infante. “I loved getting a feel for their style and being able to put their energy into my work so more people could discover them through my art.”

But Infante’s biggest success is thanks to none other than Delonte West. 

During a special correspondent spot on the hit TV sports show Jim Rome is Burning, the then-Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard hazed teammate JJ Hickson, telling him, “I don’t care if you have to fly, trains, planes or automobiles. You better have my doughnuts!” 

When the clip went viral, it inspired Infante to create a T-shirt with a caricature of West in his No. 13 Cavs uniform. But instead of spinning an orange basketball, he placed a pink frosted doughnut at the tip of West’s fingers. The art featured a Dunkin Donuts-style font and orange-and-pink color scheme, proclaiming, “Brotha Red’s Donuts: I don’t care if you gotta fly.”

“Once I made the shirt, everyone went bonkers for it,” says Infante. 

Some staffers from Jim Rome’s show saw the shirt on Infante’s message board on and requested their own batch. Infante sent some over free of charge, even though he wasn’t sure he could afford to do so. 

The risk paid off — Rome included the shirt on his nationally syndicated television show and demand for the merchandise exploded. 

Infante had to call his printer to request 500 more orders. 

“Why are you ordering so much?” the printer excitedly asked. 

“Our shirt ended up on TV!” Infante yelled back. “There’s a big hype!”

“How do you feel?” the printer questioned. 

“I love the hype!” Infante proudly responded. 

When Infante hung up the phone, he couldn’t get the phrase “I love the hype” out of his head. He decided to shorten it, and ILTHY became his brand identity. 

Woodruff signed on as a business partner and made a financial investment in the company. Infante set up shop in a small office in Hotcards and began creating various sports-related paraphernalia, while still working on various Hotcards products.

“The whole process blew my mind,” says Infante. “Something would happen in sports, I would make a shirt about it, and it would sell out — over and over again.”

One popular line was a series of shirts that Cavaliers fans could order to root against players and mascots of opposing teams. The drawings featured characters such as Lucky the Leprechaun of the Boston Celtics or Michael Jordan with bullhorns. In homage to his childhood passion, all of the characters were situated behind the red “banned” symbol of the Ghostbusters. The ILTHY “No Bustas” line was a huge success and attention on the brand made orders for ILTHY come flying in from all over the country. 

But the increased popularity of his ILTHY line meant it was harder to complete his work at Hotcards. In 2011, an investor approached Infante about an opportunity to open a brick-and-mortar storefront for ILTHY, complete with a studio for Infante. Infante brought the offer to Woodruff, hoping for some interest. Woodruff didn’t bite. 

For Infante, the chance to open his own store felt like a dream he had to chase. But in order to pursue it, he and Woodruff needed to end their business relationship. Woodruff only asked for the money back on his original investment. They transferred the paperwork into Infante’s name, and just like that, the partnership was at an end. 

“It was like breaking up with somebody for somebody else,” says Infante. 

Setting up shop on West 54th Street and Detroit Road, ILTHY’s first storefront opened Dec. 10, 2011. The grand opening was a huge success and featured a new line of merchandise that Infante created just for the event, all featuring the doughnut, which had become his signature stylistic element. 

“That night, I finally felt like an artist,” remembers Infante. “I wasn’t just making designs for someone else. I was in full control and I felt on top of the world.”

That feeling didn’t last forever. After moving ILTHY’s storefront a couple of times — a different space in Gordon Square, then to Lakewood — Infante was exhausted. In 2015, Infante closed the brick and mortar ILTHY shop to take a break and figure out what he wanted to do next.

Then LeBron came home. 

When the Cavaliers found themselves in the 2016 NBA Playoffs, Nike was looking for a local artist to commemorate the occasion with a huge mural right outside Quicken Loans Arena. Steph Floss, the Cavs’ official DJ, recommended Infante. 

The Cavs returned to Cleveland for Game 3 down 0-2 in the series. Infante had set up shop outside the arena around 1 p.m. that day and began painting the heads of 12 Cavaliers above the bold wine-colored motto, “Believe.” An enormous crowd chanted “Let’s Go Cavs” over the 10 hours he spent creating the 20-foot mural. 

“When I was done, they won that game,” says Infante. “Everyone streamed out of the Q while I was still painting and left believing. I like to think that painting that mural started the energy that led the Cavs to win.”

The mural started to get noticed as fans blanketed social media with pictures in front of Infante’s art. It was not lost on him that all the attention was happening during his break from the ILTHY shop. 

“Apparently I had to actually close my store for people to see my art and not just my products,” says Infante. “The Cavs mural was so validating and got my name out there as a real Cleveland artist.”

With the Cleveland community now seeing Infante as capable of doing large-scale work, more offers started to roll in. A partnership between the Cleveland Foundation and Ohio City resulted in Creative Fusion’s mural project in 2016, the installation of close to a dozen pieces of public art on Cleveland’s Near West Side. They reached out to Infante to be part of the project.

Infante’s tribute to Prince features the music icon decked out in his white ruffles and signature purple coat, set against a lavender background. In his hand is, yes, Infante’s signature pink doughnut. The design elicited immediate excitement, particularly among some local youth. 

“I really wanted to create something Cleveland iconic,” says Infante. “This is my city, so when I see people taking pictures in front of something I created, there’s nothing better.”

With his goal of being established as an independent artist separate from ILTHY, Infante jumped at the opportunity to create any art he was offered, from personal portraits to paintings to more public pieces. He has been commissioned to work on several other murals such as a portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 3D glasses for Public Square’s Rebol. He was even asked by Hotcards to work on a piece for its downtown office. The result is a large portrait of Apple founder Steve Jobs painted in the tech company’s signature rainbow motif. 

“Getting people to see me as an artist was always the goal,” says Infante. “I’m more than just designs on shirts.”

But Infante hasn’t given up on ILTHY.

In 2016, his original location, 6602 Detroit Ave., was sitting vacant. He decided to move his storefront right back to its old digs, where he continues to create striking images, such as a sweatshirt with the Virgin Mary saying “Nobody’s perfect” under the ILTHY logo. 

“We constantly have to look for the next thing that the customers are going to like,” says Infante. “I’m at a point where I need to play chess to figure out our next move and keep things interesting.”

But he is also hard at work getting his name out there as an artist outside of the brand. On New Year’s Eve, he covered the walls of event venue Red Space with his original art — a shaded portrait of singer Lauryn Hill and nude figure drawings set against a blend of primary colors, plus two marker drawings of artists Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, two of Infante’s artistic inspirations.  

“It was the greatest art show of my life,” beams Infante. “I want to travel, showcase my art in different cities, and untap more talent I know I have in me.”

Currently he is hard at work networking with colleagues in other cities to set up more art shows, while continuing to put his name out there via social media for mural and painting commissions. 

He even added “teacher” to his resume in February, when he taught his first DIY T-shirt and print class to kids. 

“I want to teach art full-time at some point,” says Infante. “I can’t hold up this lifestyle in my 50s and 60s, so teaching what I’ve learned will be my way to give back after the grind is done.”

But for now, on this February afternoon, he’s here at his store, still loving the hype. 

Soon after the Akron couple leaves, another customer wanders in. This time, the spectacled man makes a beeline straight for Infante.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” he says. “It was a long time ago…”

“Of course!” Infante exclaims.

It’s DJ Bonics, the hip-hop DJ for Wiz Khalifa who is performing tonight at the House of Blues. DJ Bonics says he made a trip to Gordon Square specifically to seek out Infante, the artist who had once designed a mixtape for him. 

DJ Bonics spots a large ILTHY duffel bag. 

“You have to have that,” Infante tells him.

“I don’t know,” muses DJ Bonics. 

“Everyone will notice you with that,” Infante continues. 

“You think?” asks DJ Bonics. 

“Definitely. It’s a must-have,” Infante says. 

The two take a selfie in front of the AstroTurf living wall at the back of the store, with the ILTHY neon-white sign above their heads and the newly purchased duffel in front. 

DJ Bonics leaves the store with a promise from Infante that he’ll stop by the show that evening. 

Infante smiles at the interaction. He’s appreciative, but still wants more. He wants to be known outside of Cleveland as more than the guy who paints pink doughnuts. 

“There’s something more in me, a next level, but I don’t know what it is,” says Infante. “If you’re done chasing, you’re done. And I’m just not done yet.” 

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