'Makers' Invigorate Raleigh Shopping

House of Swank's employees with husband-wife owners Jessica Robinson and John Pugh (Photo by Guillermo Delgado)

Gone are the days when state workers streamed out of high-rise office buildings making downtown Raleigh, N.C., mostly a ghost town after five. These days, the capital city is bustling with commerce, restaurants, nightlife and — surprising to many — a core of entrepreneurial “makers” selling handmade products.Made in the City of Oaks are T-shirts embracing Southern wit, bright vinyl handbags, mod monogram jewelry, presidential barbeque sauce, fair-trade coffee, artisan chocolate, even organic juices.

House of Swank

Husband-wife team Jessica Robinson and John Pugh screen-print super soft T-shirts with hip Southern sayings, i.e., “Blackbeard is my home boy” and “Namaste y’all.” Among top sellers is a simple graphic of the state divided in two, the east designated Vinegar, the west Tomato — a nod to N.C.’s distinctively different barbecue styles.

“We’re all about North Carolina pride in all aspects, sense of place, sense of community. We have the best state in the planet,” boasts John, who plays a mean guitar (stage name Johnny Swank).

“We fell backwards into it,” he admits. “I’d planned to sell T-shirts out of my truck (at gigs).” The catchy, humorous phrases caught on, and six years later, they market more than 100 designs from their downtown warehouse/retail space. They also take their business to the streets producing custom T’s out of their glitter-green Swank Tank, similar to a food truck.

(The full story is available for purchase. All rights reserved.)

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