Tarps Apparel Co. is a Hamilton-based apparel company whose line of premium t-shirts celebrate several of the Canadian Football League’s legendary athletes, characters and moments. Co-owner Chris Hyk was nice enough to join us for a chat and give us a little of the back story behind this really cool venture.
@DefendTheR: Let’s start with a little background. How’d you get started and how long have you been in the apparel business?
Chris Hyk: 2018 was the first year of Tarps Apparel. I am an elementary school teacher, and am learning more and more as we go about the apparel business. My partner, Corey Stringer, comes from a background in the sports apparel industry, and we followed his lead throughout our initial season. We had a successful first year and are gaining momentum heading into our second year of a three-year deal with the CFL Alumni Association.
What’s the story of your CFL fandom? Ticats fan, I assume.
I am a lifelong CFL and Ticats fan, and season-ticket holder, thanks mostly to my father working for the Cats in the 1980s and ’90s in a number of roles, including being responsible for creating team-branded merchandise. Coincidentally, dad also worked for the Ottawa Rough Riders organization during the 1995 and ’96 season.
Corey and I both attend all the home games here in Hamilton and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. The atmosphere these past few years at the new Tim Hortons Field has been particularly fun. It’s a really exciting time to be a football fan here in Hamilton, and across the league for that matter.
Where did the concept for Tarps Apparel originate? What was the process like to team up with the CFLAA?
The concept for our apparel line comes simply from us being very interested in the stories of these legendary CFL athletes. We were intrigued with the idea of how we could bring the stories of these legends back and introduce them to a younger crowd of football fan who didn’t get a chance to watch and follow them in their time or really understand and appreciate what these names mean to their cities. We want fans to understand the men who came before, who paved the way and who made football in that city what it is today. These legends poured their soul out for the game and their city, and did it with pride. We want both new and old fans to understand and appreciate these guys the way they deserve. And delivering that on a high quality, bamboo vintage tee seemed like the perfect marriage. The CFLAA and their president Leo Ezerins have been very supportive of our cause and have been nothing but helpful in the process.
Looks like you guys make some real high-quality shirts. Tell us about that and why it fits with your brand.
The use of a high-end tri-blend bamboo tee was conceptualized to allow fans to show their support of a legend and show pride for their city anywhere they go. Be it at the game, out with the boys (and girls) or enjoying drinks on a patio far away from the stadium, the shirts allow you to show hometown pride in a very subtle and fashionable way. Our focus was not so much on the football organization, but rather the player and the city they fought for.
We actually developed our own specific cut for the shirts, as we wanted a more athletic fit suitable for any occasion. This shirt is of the highest quality and comfort, and has a vintage, distressed feel that makes you not want to take it off. Both Corey and myself valued this quality, and we’ve gotten excellent feedback from our customers. We’re extremely proud of the way they turned out, and are continuing to tweak with new styles for next season.
You mention on your site that the sale of each shirt supports the players themselves. Without getting into any financial specifics, how does that work?
Our deal pays the CFL Alumni Association annually, as well as each player we deal with receiving a portion of sales for his shirt. With the backing of the CFLAA, we were able to work closely with each player – a surreal experience for me growing up as a fan and being able to watch many of our athletes compete firsthand as a kid – in establishing artwork, styles, etc. Designs are approved by the guys themselves.
I vividly remember the first time I was able to speak with my childhood hero, Earl “The Pearl” Winfield about designing his shirt. It gave me goosebumps, and was an experience that I won’t forget. It reaffirmed my love of the idea and why we had started this project in the first place.
How did you determine which guys to include in the line?
We worked closely with Leo (Ezerins) and the CFLAA in establishing a gameplan and an identity. We wanted players that left their mark on the team and the community. We also spoke to fans in each community to gain an understanding of which players they felt had the biggest impact in each community. We are happy with the names we chose for the first year, and are continuing to make connections with other players, getting them on board for this upcoming season.
Lots of big personalities in the players you’re working with. Any fun stories you can share?
Seeing the area codes calling my phone, hearing “Hi Chris, its Lui Passaglia”, emails back and forth with Chris Walby, chatting with Paul Osbaldiston about some of his favourite moments as a Ticat… All of these things made me feel like a 10-year-old fan again, sitting in the bleachers, eating a hot dog and wearing my favourite foam Tiger Paw. It’s an incredible position we are in to get to connect with these players, to talk football and to be able to share their stories with fans of all generations. It’s a very humbling experience!
What have the player’s reactions been like to the final product?
We have received very positive feedback from the guys! Everyone has seemed to be impressed with the designs and the quality of the product. We feel it’s a very unique angle in today’s athletic apparel industry, and the guys have agreed. We are very happy with the results thus far!
Tony Gabriel is obviously a member of Ottawa football’s Mount Rushmore, but also won a Grey Cup in Hamilton. What was the thought process in including him in your line?
Tony was an excellent player in both cities, but the idea behind his shirt was of course capturing that incredible moment in time. A play that brought an entire capital city together, and converted many people across the country into Rough Riders fans. Tony’s “The Catch” is synonymous with Ottawa football, and a play that will live forever. It is symbolic of the stamp he left on the game, and a very proud moment for Ottawans.
What’s next for Tarps Apparel? Will there be a new series coming for the 2019 season? Any details you can share about it?
We are currently working with new players, creating new designs, and looking at possibly venturing into other sports markets. Both Corey and myself come from hockey backgrounds (playing junior A hockey here in southern Ontario and still both being very involved in the hockey community here in Hamilton) and would love to eventually work with some legends of the NHL. But we are focused on promoting the stories of many more legendary CFL athletes this season!
Any Ottawa guys included? If so, who? 😉
Yes, we have been tossing around a few names for #RNation, but you’ll have to stay tuned to find out our next legend coming out of Ottawa 😉
On behalf of CFL fans, thanks for this great initiative and making sure these incredible athletes continue to get the recognition they deserve.
We’re very proud and humbled to being working so closely alongside this great game, the men themselves, and the city’s and communities they represented. Were very excited for what the future holds! Thank you again for supporting and sharing our vision and respect for this great league and its fans!
Thanks for reading!
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