How does Seattle T-shirt brand Horses Cut Shop relate to Grays Harbor?
It’s the brain-child of Gabe Johnson, a former Aberdonian who now lives in Seattle’s Queen Anne Hill neighborhood. After years of touring the nation finding quirky, hole-in-the-wall places to profile on his T-shirts, Johnson is returning to his roots with a line of Grays Harbor-inspired garments and a Timber Revival on the grounds of the Polson Museum.
“I’m an Aberdeen guy, four generations,” Johnson said. “My family is steeped in history here, and I’m ready for that to inspire my work.”
Into the T-shirt business
Johnson left Grays Harbor in 1980 when the region was under going major changes — a decline in the timber industry due to foreign competition and the spotted owl, and the following economic impacts.
“When I left, it was during the time when you could still graduate from high school and get a good job,” Johnson said. “My dad wanted me to stay and my mom wanted me to go.”
He left to attend the University of Washington and has lived in Seattle ever since, besides a brief stint in Minneapolis. He got caught up in the dot-com boom, but tired of the fast-paced lifestyle that accompanies the competitive field.
“More money, longer hours until the point where it just wasn’t the kind of life I wanted to live,” Johnson said.
He got his start in the clothing business in 2004 when he began working with a friend, Peter Smith, who made and sold bar T-shirts. He quit his job as marketing director for a technology firm in 2008 and hit the road in an old Chevy Suburban towing a vintage Airstream trailer in search of new ideas.
“For 18 months, I lived on the road making T-shirts and telling stories,” Johnson said.
At about the same time, he started another business venture: a private social club called Horses Cut Shop, located in Seattle’s eccentric Fremont neighborhood.
“The social scene wasn’t giving me what I needed, or what my friends needed,” Johnson said. “So we carved out a little place of our own in an old garage where they used to part out cars, a chop shop.”
The “Cut Shop” portion of the name is a nod to venue’s former function, and “Horses” references social clubs found across the United States — the Benevolent Protective Order of the Elks, the Fraternal Order of the Eagles and the Lions Club.
“All the cool animals were taken,” Johnson said. “So what’s left? A horse. It’s kind of the quintessential American mammal that embodies the American spirit.”
Eventually, he and Smith merged their respective businesses, keeping the name Horses Cut Shop but closing the social club. The duo is still work together, with Smith running the business and Johnson browsing the country for new ideas.
Telling stories on shirts
Most of the T-shirts — which are sold online and at Nordstrom — feature old business logos. The Harborena shirt, which commemorates Hoquiam’s still-functional skating rink, is printed with a winged roller skate that’s modeled after the rink’s sign and an older sign on display.
“Every time I go into Harborena, it’s strange how a physical place can transport you back in time,” Johnson said. “Because it’s not just memory, it’s a physical thing. I remember that bench, I remember that door. You can’t see yourself, so you almost feel like you’re 13 again.”
And those deep-seeded memories are the reason and the inspiration for the Timber Revival and a line of Grays Harbor T-shirts.
“It’s not enough to just do a shirt for Harborena,” Johnson said. “I wanted to do more.”
He’s “resurrected” logos from several local entities, including Rabey Trucking and Grays Harbor College, and will begin selling garments featuring those logos online Aug. 30. The shirts will also be available at the Timber Revival Aug. 30. Proceeds from these shirts will benefit the businesses that provided the logos in addition to Grays Harbor College’s Natural Resources program
Johnson identified Hoquiam’s Polson Museum as the perfect venue for the celebration, which will feature food and live music. He approached John Larson, the museum director, with the idea. Larson said he recognized that they had a similar goal: educating people about the region’s rich history although Larson’s work typically focuses on an earlier time period.
“Just the idea of the timber revival is something we’re trying to do with our timber camp,” Larson said. “Just keeping the idea alive.”
The Timber Revival will take place Aug. 30 from noon to 8 p.m. at the Polson Museum. T-shirts can be purchased at www.horsescutshop.com. Grays Harbor T-shirts will be availible Aug. 30.