Charlotte design business takes the retail plunge with humorous ‘Queen City Gear’

Some of the “Queen City Gear” line by Charlotte-based Hixson Designs.
Some of the “Queen City Gear” line by Charlotte-based Hixson Designs. Tonya Jameson

Visit the dark blue building on East 5th Street that’s home to Hixson Designs, a graphic design firm, and you’ll find shirts and other gear that pokes a little fun at some Queen City attractions.

On a gray T-shirt, there’s “Plaza Midwood: Home of the dead Penguin” -- a reference to a now-closed popular restaurant.

Baby and adult clothing take on local sports teams: “pantHERbaby” on a onesie, “NetHor” on a purple and teal shirt.

And just in case the Elizabeth neighborhood thought it was safe from the satire, there’s a beer glass that says: “Elizabeth: Home of the Trolley Tracks to Nowhere.” (That would be a reference to the years-long streetcar project scheduled to launch this month.)

Day Hixson and her parents, Gary and Jane, have launched a line of T-shirts, hats, mugs, magnets and other apparel that play on news around the city. The Hixsons’ goal: Make tourists, transplants and native Charlotteans laugh, or at least make the merchandise meaningful.

“Each neighborhood has something you can make fun of,” said Day Hixson, a jeweler who helped her parents design the apparel.

The venture is called “Queen City Gear” and it’s the first foray into retail for the business Gary Hixson started in 1972. In 40 years, the firm has grown into a marketing and branding studio that’s designed signage for Harris Teeter, two concourses at the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and Clean Catch Fish Market in Selwyn.

Last fall, the Hixsons decided to produce Charlotte-centric apparel after designing insulated bags and mugs for Clean Catch. “We were frustrated...that for all these years, there were never nice Charlotte products, and certainly none with a sense of humor or a sense of personality,” Gary Hixson said.

They worked with suppliers, embroiderers, screen printers and vendors they had known for years to make the merchandise. They sell the apparel to local retailers at wholesale costs. Local merchants, including Paper Skyscraper, the Boulevard at South End, Green with Envy and the Greener Apple, sell the items but customers can buy them directly online, where they retail anywhere from $11 to $26, the Hixsons said.

The family says they’ve sold hundreds of items, and there’s more to come, with new products and new designs (a Myers Park beer glass will show an image of two Queens Road street signs with this message: “Street Planning Under the Influence: Raise A Glass to Charlotte Drivers’ Confusion).

Don’t expect a multi-store expansion too quickly. The Hixsons don’t want too many shirts in storage and not enough buyers.

“We’ve been taking our time, pacing ourselves,” Gary Hixson said. “We are really doing it with our heart on the sleeve.”