Photos by Becca Sabot
MN paddle shirt ($28), mug ($20), and duffle bag ($109), all from Sota Clothing; pillow ($54), bottle opener ($12.95), marble cutting board ($34), and necklace ($26), all from Patina; beverage koozie ($4.95), from General Store of Minnetonka; baseball hat ($30), from John Henry
Patina used to designate a display area for Minnesota-themed products. The Minneapolis-based gift store chain doesn’t do that anymore, because Minnesota merchandise pervades the entire shop. Pillows! Puzzles! T-shirts! Mugs! Jewelry! Cookbooks! Cheese boards!
The stuff sells. What I find myself wondering, now that it is virtually impossible to shop anywhere from a small indie boutique to Target without encountering state-stamped products, is why Minnesotans can’t seem to get enough of Minnesota. Is it not enough of a statement to simply live here? To claim a closet full of snow pants and water-resistant, thermo-lined boots that sometimes get used in April? To cheer for perpetually underachieving sports teams? To know that the suffering is worthwhile because of our gleaming lakes, vibrant arts, innovative business community, award-winning food scene, and generally great people?
Must we wear it on our sleeve? And hat? And bottle opener?
We’re not alone in our profuse state enthusiasm. Supporting “local” is trending everywhere these days, as people become more aware of the benefits—economic, environmental, and otherwise—of supporting hometown businesses and resources. We make everything from beer to bikes right where we live, and that matters to us. Stamping “Made in Minnesota” on our locally loomed blankets and locally bottled all-natural sodas is simply an extension of that philosophy.
It helps, too, that our state is now being applied to slim-fitting sweatshirts with leather elbow patches and journals made of beautiful wood harvested from our own trees—high-design objects desired by discriminating shoppers who wouldn’t be caught on Snapchat drinking their locally distilled vodka out of those corny state-themed shot glasses sold at the airport.
“State love has been growing in cities where there are strong or growing maker communities,” says Jamie Carl, co-owner of 50th & France boutique Equation. “It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more people buy, the more retailers offer, and the interest just keeps growing. If the products remain well designed and thoughtful, the interest will stick around for a while.”
But even with the maker movement happening all over the country, Minnesota pride is distinct. Of the 15 bestsellers for Home State Apparel, five are North Carolina products, which makes sense: That’s where Home State is based. But another five are Minnesota products. No other state shows up twice among the top sellers—let alone five times.
“To be perfectly honest, I’m not from Minnesota, so I can’t say for certain,” Home State marketing manager Sarah Bean replied when I asked for her theory on why Minnesota merchandise is so popular. Home State’s T-shirts, tote bags, and necklaces feature the word “Home” within an outline of the state. “There does seem to be a certain kinship and pride to growing up in the Midwest.”
Wisconsin, Illinois, and Michigan sell well for Home State. Just not as well as Minnesota.
Minnesota is also a top seller for catstudio, the Petaluma, California, maker of embroidered geography pillows that call out local landmarks. We’re right up there with New Jersey, California, and Texas. “You can just tell there’s so much pride there,” says Ginny Ball, catstudio’s sales director. She points to strong local retailers that fuel the interest—stores such as General Store of Minnetonka, Patina, and Ampersand, which Ball, who shops all around the country, describes as “really beautiful and unique.”
Something else Minnesota has going for it: our shape. Think about it: Colorado, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, the Dakotas—they’re basically boxes. Minnesota’s borders are distinct, yet the shape of the state is conducive to designing within or cutting out. A Florida-shaped serving tray would be awkward. Hawaii wouldn’t hold together as an earring.
“The shape lends itself to better graphic tees and jewelry,” confirms Fred Scott, founder and CEO of Iowa-based Locally Grown Clothing Co., which also sells a lot of Minnesota gear, including at area Target stores. “But I think it’s more about pride.”
Basically, we’re too polite to brag outright about our feelings of state superiority. So we show it.
“The active locavore movement, healthiest state status, and friendliest biking city are all wonderful springboards upon which we can base our Minnesota-themed products,” Patina buyer Germaine Grueneberg says.
This proliferation did not stop Spencer Johnson from launching Sota Clothing in 2011. It started as a school project at the University of Minnesota-Duluth and really took off when Johnson launched a T-shirt design featuring “MN” between a pair of paddles.
But Johnson recognizes that there are only so many Minnesota shirts a person can buy (or so you’d think). He recently created a new division, Superior Goods, with the intention of branching into garments inspired by Minnesota, yet less literal. First up is the North Star Hoodie, a hybrid sweatshirt/jacket. Sota Clothing launched a Kickstarter campaign earlier this year to begin production on the hoodie and exceeded its goal, raising $35,000 in 12 days.
“When we were creating the video for our Kickstarter, we wanted to convey the passion we have for Minnesota and our lifestyle here,” Johnson says. “The whole process has been very educational and emotional. It takes an army [to build a brand], and, luckily, we have some pretty creative and brilliant friends in the Minneapolis area.”
A new Minnesota tote bag would be the perfect way to carry those warm feelings.
Let the love affair sell on.