In-between the top 10 music videos, the show featured interesting guests and small-business owners. Wallace showed her some of his T-shirts. She told him to get in touch.
Months later Wallace was on the set of “The Big 10,” sporting one of his first creations and talking about his new company, Alternative Motive. He brought a big red Santa bag stuffed with T-shirts for everyone on the show. “I love T-shirts,” he told viewers. “Who doesn’t?”
Six years later, Wallace remembers the day well. “It was one of the highlights of my life,” he says. “It’s what any entrepreneur would love to have.” Wallace was just getting started then, and his inventory was limited to three or four styles, including one called Randomosity—“probably the lamest shirt I ever designed,” he admits. His designs have improved, though, and MTV called him back in 2009. This time they wanted T-shirts to include in SWAG bags at their Woodie Awards ceremony.
Wallace took the long road to the T-shirt business. After college he moved to San Francisco to sell wine. But pushing pinots wasn’t his passion, and in 2004 he returned to Cincinnati, where his wife, Christie Reinshagen—a 2000 art graduate—opened a clothing boutique. Wallace decided to put his art to use and start a business of his own.
“I’d always liked T-shirts, and I’d always liked drawing,” Wallace says. “But the one thing I didn’t like about art is how expensive it is to buy.” Printing art on a comfortable T-shirt, he thought, would make it affordable and transportable. “It’s moving art,” he says. “And it creates a conversation.” All he has to do is “let the cotton speak.”
Wallace’s most popular design depicts the state of Ohio in a series of large white dots. One red dot, in the lower left corner, represents Cincinnati. “People seem to like it,” he says. “It’s simple, yet abstract enough to be cool.”
It’s also easily adapted to other states and cities. Its offshoot label, City-State Tees, features similar designs for Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Hawaii, Alaska, Chicago, Indianapolis and more. One shirt promotes Xavier basketball. And another pictures the state of Kentucky asking Ohio and Indiana for a three-way. (A chili innuendo, we hope.) The designs aren’t limited to shirts, either. Wallace also sells hoodies, onesies, jackets, hats, umbrellas, laptop cases, blankets, tote bags—even doggy tees.
Nowadays Wallace keeps the business running online while also being a full-time dad. The joy of seeing someone wearing one of his shirts outstrips any satisfaction he found in the wine business. “That’s better than selling thousands and thousands of dollars of wine for someone else,” he says. “I’m doing it on my own, in my own way.”
Wallace’s business taps into the emotion people feel toward the place where they live. “Everybody thinks their city is the best city ever,” he says. Now they can wear that pride on their sleeves.