In the 1970s and ’80s, Detroit retailer Emily T Gail took exception to the city’s unfortunate “Murder Capital of the World” moniker. Seeking to paint Detroit in a more positive light, she came up with her own, alternative message: “Say Nice Things About Detroit.” She slapped the message on T-shirts, bumper stickers, pins, she even arranged for it to fly behind an airplane in Florida after opening her iconic downtown Detroit store, Emily’s Across the Street.
“As a small-business person, it was a matter of survival for our store to suggest an attitude about coming downtown and feeling safe,” Gail says. “Heck, in those days just getting people to come out of their office buildings was a challenge.”
Four decades later, Gail’s Detroit-positive message is still a familiar sight on murals, souvenirs, and T-shirts, but it’s far from the only one. Over the years, Detroit retailers following in Gail’s footsteps have marketed tees and slogans that have evolved into Detroit essentials in their own right. And while they may differ in tone and style, chances are, they’ve taken cues from Gail’s original message.
“Pure Detroit, City Bird, they all in some way say to me, ‘You inspired us!’ It’s pretty cool,” says Gail, who now calls Hawaii home. “There’s so many of us that just want to be part of the ohana of celebrating Detroit.”
Detroit Ohana? Now that just might look pretty good on a Honolulu blue T-shirt.
1. Say Nice Things About Detroit (1979)
Emily T Gail’s original slogan first appeared on the backs of T-shirts distributed during city fun runs. Gail organized the runs as way to celebrate the city and entice visitors to come downtown. $24, ilovecitybird.com
2. Nothing Stops Detroit (1939)
Originally a Chevy sales slogan circa 1939, the motto has since been revived by The Detroit Shoppe and other retailers touting the phrase on signs, posters, and more. $25, The Detroit Shoppe, Troy, 248-816-5470
3. Made in Detroit (1991)
Founded by passionate Detroiter Robert Stanzler (see No. 5), local rapper/rocker Kid Rock bought the brand in 2005. Since then, the MID’s wrench-wielding factory worker and shifter logos have become as familiar as the winged wheel or the old English “D.” $25, madeindetroit.com
4. Ink Detroit (2005)
Steven Mansour’s and Paul Marcial’s Ink Detroit boasts a full line of Detroit pride tees with slogans like “I Love Detroit” and other familiar phrases like the one featured here. $25, inkdetroit.com
5. Detroit Manufacturing (2005)
Following up on his original brand, Made in Detroit, Robert Stanzler continued to celebrate Detroit’s manufacturing legacy with a new brand dubbed appropriately Detroit Manufacturing. $25, detroitmfg.com
6. Pure Detroit (1998)
As a brand, Pure Detroit goes far beyond T-shirts and souvenirs. In addition to maintaining its three downtown retail stores, the company organizes tours and events, including its first annual Pure Detroit 5K scheduled July 17. $25, shop.puredetroit.com
7. Detroit Hustles Harder (2008)
T-shirt makers Joseph “J.P.” O’Grady and Brendan Blumentritt founded Aptemal clothing in 2007, but it wasn’t until 2008 that they hit on the “Detroit Hustles Harder” slogan. Since then, the now ubiquitous motto has been worn by everyone from Eminem to Sir Richard Branson. $25, divisionstreetboutique.com
8. Detroit Vs. Everybody (2012)
You know your slogan must have some weight if Eminem uses it as a song title. As the brand’s exposure has grown, native Detroiter Tommey Walker has expanded his line with slogans like “Everybody Vs. Racism” and “Everybody Vs. Cancer.” At press time, a Southfield location was in the works. $35, detroitvseverybody.com
9. Détroit is the New Black (2014)
Owner Roslyn Karamoko’s brand pays homage to the city’s French roots. The brand has generated a strong following since opening its “pop-around” store in Midtown in 2015 and moving to Corktown’s Ponyride in early 2016. $29 or $34, detroitisthenewblack.com