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Building The Community: Ryan Appell & Ryan Apparel

We are back with UPstar. Music's Building the Community Series. I sat down with Ryan Appell who is the owner of Ryan Apparel. Ryan is a creative who is a graphic designer/T-Shirt Printer and merch guru located in Nashville, Tennessee. Over the years, Ryan has created for artists such as Luke Combs, Chase Rice, Craig Campbell, David Nail, Drew Parker, Ryan Hurd, Nate Smith and The Cadillac Three. He has also created for Ohio State University, Columbus Crew SC, FC Cincinnati, Whiskey Jam, Daisy May Hat Co. and more.


Ryan is a major asset for artists at all levels in Nashville and believes that no matter the size stage you play on, you deserve the best quality merch for an affordable price which can set you up for long term success. I sat down with Ryan Appell and talked about growing up as both an athlete and an art kid, how he helps artists at all levels get an edge on merch and Ryan tells how he got into design and printing shirts in the first place.


Get To Know Ryan


"Growing up, there were almost two sides to the coin. You’ve got this “athlete kid” and this “art kid” and where I grew up... the art kids weren't friends with the athletes and the athletes weren't friends with the art kids. I fell right in the middle. I was in the creative world as much as I was into soccer. I drew, I painted, I learned Photoshop and Illustrator. I figured out I was pretty good at it. In high school I would take as many art classes as I could. I think I took 4 or 5 art classes my Senior year. I’d jump into any art class I could, because I really enjoyed them.


Soccer was a big part of my life. I played in college and after. I coached Women's college soccer, coached in Sweden for a few summers and did that with my brother. Then we moved to Nashville together. I left soccer behind when I moved to Nashville, which was hard for me. I turned 30 and my body said "no". I took that extra time and energy and dove into the creative side."


Q & A With Ryan Appell


Q: How did you come up with the idea for Ryan Apparel and how did this journey start for you?


A: "I've been in the print world as long as I can remember. My dad had a heat press machine and we put names and numbers on every Little League team jersey in our hometown. He would take me to the print shops to see everything when I was in elementary school... I was intrigued. I still have that heat press from when I was in 2nd grade for my business. My dad's no longer with us so it's a cool thing; it's like he was setting me up for my future.


The business started with me wearing my own merch. I'm a creative and artist and it was a way for me to get my creativity into the world. People would ask me "hey man, where did you get that"... and I would respond that I made that. It was "Ryan's Apparel". It began then and people were interested in buying the merch. I made a shirt, then made 2 shirts, then started making designs for other people. It morphed into its own thing. While still living in Ohio, The Cadillac Three guys out of Nashville, saw hats I’d made and bought one of the designs from me for their merch. From that point, I started taking trips to Nashville and meeting people along the way. I realized that I needed to be in Nashville."


Q:What is your vision for Ryan Apparel?


A: "That's always a good question. Looking at where I was last year compared to now, I would never believe it. I look back and it's funny that it took me this long to get to this point. Ultimately, there's the selfish side of me that wants this to be a business which is big enough so I can pay the bills and take care of my family. The other side of me, as an artist I want to maintain a platform that's successful and helps other people. I see t-shirt companies selling t-shirts for $30... I've seen the ins and outs, I know the pricing. For me, there is no middle man. I do the designs, I do the printing, I'm sourcing everything. When I say I'm doing things at cost, I'm doing them at cost. If I'm going to take $30 for a t-shirt, my artists make $10 a t-shirt when it's sold and I'm still going to get mine. For the t-shirts that I sell myself, I attempt to find a place to give that extra money. When I was in Ohio I donated a portion of sales to The Ohio State James Cancer Center. There were times where I knew a family personally and started a fundraiser for that. When my brother was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, I made a shirt for him and the sales for the shirt went to his medical bills. At the end of the day, I'm making enough to get by so I want to help as many people as I can."


Q: Most memorable moments so far with Ryan Apparel / What do you enjoy about your job?


A: "I'd say there are two memories I'll never forget. First moment was when The Cadillac Three reached out to me. This was the early days of Twitter and I sent a Tweet to my 4 followers like "hey, I'm going to The Cadillac Three concert. What hat should I wear?" and they suggested song lyrics. The band messaged me and said they were awesome and asked where they could get some. At the end of meet and greets I gave them the hats. Even if the story ended there, that would have been so cool. For me, it was that a Nashville band that I listened to liked something I made... cool. Then they wore it on stage that night... so cool. The next morning I got another message. The Cadillac Three asked to buy the "White Lightning" design off me because that was their next single. Of course I said yes. I still have that check. It was the first time somebody paid me for my work that wasn't a 9-5 job.


We went to the final show of theTrip Around the Sun Kenny Chesney Tour in Foxborough, MA. Harmony, the bass player for Kenny, surprised us by wearing the "Dream Big" shirt I made for my brother when he was diagnosed with Crohn's. She wore it at Gillette Stadium for the last show of the tour; literally the birthplace of No Shoes Nation, one of the biggest stages in Country Music. This wasn't just one of my designs, it was the most personal shirt I've ever made. That was a cool moment... she wore it, because she knew the backstory behind the shirt. The shirts were made to let my brother know that we had his back and he had people behind him. It was about being positive and encouraging. The cherry on the top was selling them. She did that just to see him smile. That night it was just two 30 year old dudes, happy tears crying with each other.


Honestly, what I enjoy about my job is that I get to create and get paid for it. Growing up, schools cut music, art, sports… things that "aren't important". The fact that I get to be a creative and be able to survive is really cool."


Q: What advice do you have for anyone who's trying to become an entrepreneur and start their own podcast, business, service, etc.?


A: "I've gotten some good advice that's been shared with me. One of the most important for someone who wants to start something, is to dive in and take that first step, just do it. If it's a podcast, you have to start with podcast number 1. You can't be the top podcaster at the very beginning. You have to put in the time and start somewhere. It's never going to be easy. As soon as it gets hard, some people dip out. There are going to be good days and bad days and you have to learn to ride the waves."


If you are just discovering Ryan Apparel check them out at www.ryanapparelmerch.com and on Instagram and Facebook


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