Chase McAnulty started Charlie Hustle clothing and represents a new generation of entrepreneurs, and we have to say he represents it well.
Story by Kathryn Jones
If the word “hustle” conjures up images of a street peddler flashing gold chains on the inside lining of his suit jacket, Chase McAnulty would probably be cool with that. As the owner and founder of KC’s wildly popular vintage T-shirt company Charlie Hustle, McAnulty is not exactly your three-piece-suit-wearing, by-the-book business exec. He represents a new generation of entrepreneurs, and he represents it well.
When asked where he got the name for his company, McAnulty replies, “Oftentimes, the word ‘hustle’ is misconstrued, but in this case, it relates to the classic sidewalk salesman on the New York street corner or even the Great Depression, a time where man did anything he could to support his family. It’s also a reference to sports, as it was Pete Rose’s nickname. And it rolls off the tongue well.”
In the two years since McAnulty launched Charlie Hustle, the company has cemented its reputation as the go-to source for demonstrating KC pride. Its “Heart KC” shirt has become a fixture around town. Even homegrown celebrities like SNL comedian Jason Sudeikis have been spotted rocking a Charlie Hustle T-shirt.
Charlie Hustle is actually a spinoff of McAnulty’s first vintage T-shirt company, Wicked Threadz, which he launched out of his parents’ basement while he was still attending the KC Art Institute. McAnulty has always had a passion for vintage T-shirts and textile design, and through trial-and-error with Wicked Threadz, learned how to turn his passion into a successful brand.
To be clear: Charlie Hustle shirts are not vintage T-shirts in the literal sense – they’re more of an homage. They weren’t handpicked from second-hand stores and later resold, but they are reminiscent of the world’s best thrift store find. The soft, thin fabric makes the shirts feel old and well loved as if already worn to perfection by a previous owner. And the retro-inspired graphics portray a fondness for great moments in history, particularly here in KC.
McAnulty’s personal favorite Charlie Hustle shirt, for instance, was designed in tribute to the gone-but-not-forgotten Kansas City Blades. “It’s a super-clean T-shirt with a great memorial behind it,” he quips.
Speaking of great memorials – and this is also where McAnulty’s modern approach to entrepreneurialism comes into play – Charlie Hustle worked in collaboration with the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum to build a Kickstarter campaign that generated more than $20,000 in public funding for the brand’s Negro Leagues collection, which launched last year. The collection commemorates several historical teams, including the Kansas City Monarchs, to preserve the memories of baseball’s segregated past.
“We approached the Negro Leagues in 2012 about the opportunity of collaborating, and I think it was a perfect fit on both sides,” McAnulty notes. “Our goal wasn’t simply to create and sell T-shirts, but to tell the stories of the Negro Leagues through design, marketing campaigns, blogs, etc. – all in effort to build more interest in visiting the museum outside of just Kansas City.”
An avid blogger and general spokesperson for KC, McAnulty runs Charlie Hustle with the contagious enthusiasm that could and should serve as inspiration to entrepreneurs of both the old and new schools.
To those in the old school: “Every shirt we create is meant to be a hit right out of the gate, and it takes some time and attention to detail to get to that place, along with an understanding of your current market,” McAnulty relates. “We are also learning in this day in age to communicate effectively in our unique setup. More and more people are working remotely, and I think in the long run it will be beneficial to the brand as we grow nationally.”
To those in the new school: “We can do anything we want in this lifetime, and in turn, we can help change the world and shape our own destiny,” he says. “I was always known as the guy that had this T-shirt thing. There will always be doubters. Heck, you’ll doubt yourself plenty, but it really doesn’t matter. Do what you got to do so you can do what you want to do. Don’t be normal – be you.”