Back when Charleston native Andrew Tew first had an idea for a T-shirt company in high school, he thought "843" would make a good name for it. As he got older, he realized that moniker wasn't as cool as he originally thought. When his concept finally started shaping into reality a year ago, Tew settled on a new name that was much more creative, but that referenced an aspect of the city that was as equally iconic as its area code.
"Flooded Streets — you just don't get much more Charleston than that," Tew says. And it works on multiple levels. "I hope to do more with this project, flooding the streets with the product, so I just feel like it had a lot of different meanings behind it."
Flooded Streets is a creative outlet for Tew, who works for a local TV production and distribution company. His aren't the Charleston T-shirts you'll find in tourist shops on the Market. Instead, they speak to the old-school nature of the Holy City, the "understated yet eccentric character of Charleston," Tew explains, and they'll appeal to everyone from old-school Charlestonians to college kids looking for a hip souvenir of their four-year stint.
Tew has been working with Kelley Wills, an art student at the College of Charleston, on the designs. They meet at Kudu, share ideas, and within hours Wills will send Tew a draft. He's getting the T-shirts from an American company on the West Coast, and Lint Printing has been screenprinting the shirts over at Redux.
When the Flooded Streets website (floodedst.com) officially launches on June 1, Tew will roll out three of their designs: the "Hat Man," the century-old character painted on a wall at the corner of Broad and Church streets; a text throwback to the old Woolworth's luncheonette at 259 King St.; and a bold blue anchor with the phrase "In Defense of Charleston."
"A lot of people have asked me, so does this have anything to do with the cruise ships?" Tew says of the last design. (And it also isn't related to the "In Defense of New Orleans" T-shirts that got popular after Hurricane Katrina, although Tew spent some time living in NoLa and even reached out to that T-shirt company for tips on how to run a similar business.) In reality, it was inspired by a naval pin his dad found at the old Navy Base years ago.
"No matter what you do, not everyone's going to see the design or your work the way you see it," Tew adds. "You have some people wondering, is this political? Does this have anything to do with the port? And it's just something in my mind, something you've got to be ready for."
One of the earliest Flooded Streets designs, and the one that first caught the City Paper's attention, was a likeness of Byron, the penultimate Charleston street character. Tew made only a dozen of the shirts at first and announced their sale on Facebook, with plans to give Byron a percentage of the sales. The design took off, but Tew only produced a small batch, and now the shirts have gone into the Flooded Streets "vault." Going forward, most of the shirts will be produced in a limited run like this — Tew wants people to buy them now instead of waiting. But some will return.
Tew is quick to admit that running a T-shirt business is a learning process. "Two weeks ago, I started freaking out figuring out how much should I order," he says. "I'm not sure how well these are going to do. I don't want these all sitting on my parents' dining room table unsold. At the same time I don't want to sell out and not have anything left." While the store doesn't launch until tomorrow, Tew has been building buzz on Facebook and Instagram in the meantime, and he hosted a pop-up shop at King Dusko earlier this summer.
There are already more Flooded Streets designs in the pipeline, including a Cooper River Bridge Run shirt that's already been finalized for next year. Tew would like to expand the company in the future, whether into other types of apparel or prints, and, in the long term, possibly getting into local stores. He's even considering a photo project that will collect old shots of Charleston. And he definitely plans to stay on the Holy City theme.
"Growing up in Charleston, I remember sitting at Woolworth's having a chocolate milkshake and a grilled cheese," he says. "I always find myself in conversations with people I grew up with — do you remember Woolworth's, do you remember this? My mom grew up going there, and it's that sense of nostalgia that I wanted to bring back."