T-shirt company launches line with Negro Leagues Museum

KANSAS CITY — Back in 2014, Charlie Hustle CEO Chase McAnulty and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president Bob Kendrick teamed up to create a Kickstarter, a campaign to help build the local Kansas City vintage T-shirt company and create merchandise for the museum.

After the successful launch, each kept building their brand, McAnulty as Charlie Hustle’s founder and CEO and Kendrick as the NLBM president.

This year, they’re combining forces again for another Negro Leagues collection, called Salute to the Negro Leagues. The largest collection Charlie Hustle has created for the museum, the campaign launched Thursday and features several different series released throughout Black History Month.

“I grew up writing about Jackie Robinson, probably from fourth to seventh grade he was the only topic I really wanted to talk about,” said McAnulty, a Kansas City native who collected vintage T-shirts growing up and founded Charlie Hustle in 2012. “Those stories of the Negro Leagues and Black baseball, lost baseball, has been something that’s been a piece of me and my heart. So to be able to do this from a business standpoint and what we’re good at, merchandise is special. Using a T-shirt as a canvas to celebrate those stories is really what it all comes down to.”

Thursday’s series is called “Starting Lineup,” and the T-shirts showcase Negro Leagues teams — from the Kansas City Monarchs and St. Louis Stars to the Cleveland Buckeyes and Birmingham Black Barons.

The rest of the collection includes special launches for Rube Foster, the Kansas City Monarchs, Buck O’Neil and Satchel Paige, a Negro Leagues stadium series — like Forbes Field, home of the Homestead Grays — and the NLBM.

“They’ve brought a level of hip and coolness to the Negro Leagues brand,” Kendrick said. “… They’re having fun with it. That’s what I love about it. We want to encourage creativity, because if you think about it, the Negro Leagues was this creative art form in the way they played the game. It was bold and brash, and these designs kind of captured that.”

Storytelling was at the focus when McAnulty and his design team came up with the T-shirts in each Negro Leagues series.

“Our job is to celebrate the culture, whatever it is,” McAnulty said. “Whether it’s a college or civic pride — like the KC heart — our job as a company is to celebrate that culture, not just put a logo on a T-shirt. There is so much really good stuff with the Negro Leagues that you could go all day. … You’ve heard Bob. he can rattle off 30 stories in 30 seconds. Our job is to capture those.”

T-shirts will be sold online and in stores, with funds going to both the NLBM and Charlie Hustle. Also during February, as part of Black History Month, the Royals and Royals Charities are covering the cost for anyone visiting the museum this month.

“These stories that surround the teams and players that are being depicted in this line will resonate with folks,” Kendrick said. “That’s what makes me so excited and so proud. You feel the pride in these designs, and it gives you a better understanding of how we view the Negro Leagues. It’s always a celebratory kind of experience, as opposed to a sad, somber experience that a lot of people want to think it might have been because it was attached to segregation.

“The Negro Leagues experience is not a sad, somber experience. It’s a celebration of what they were able to accomplish in the face of social adversity. We want our licensing to convey that message. When I see young people in particular wearing these designs, I’m just beaming with pride.”

Which design is Kendrick’s favorite? Well, he can’t possibly pick just one.

“I’m sure at some point I’ll be rocking all of them,” Kendrick said. “They really are amazing designs. They’re fun. I think our Negro Leagues following will really appreciate what they’ve come up with.”

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