Hoop City Memphis is the shared project of two people who care deeply about Memphis. In an era of prefabricated strip-malls, reality television, and people being famous for nothing, the city of Memphis remains authentic. We may live in an era of plastic surgery, but Memphis wears it’s scars for all to see. They are scars from our history, a darkened past many would like to forget. But all of it has made us what we are as Memphian’s. Getting here wasn’t easy, and there’s still a long way to go, but while we can, let’s pause for a moment and think about how unique Memphis is.
We are blue collar. Street level. Hardworking.
We are fighters. We’ve had to be. Nothing comes easy to Memphis, and we don’t expect it to. But we keep our heads down, and keep grinding.
Memphis is an idea. Hoop City Memphis is also an idea, created by Ian Lemmonds and Leslie Skelton, who both know that basketball has always been here for Memphis. Through the dark times and the light, basketball has been the thing that brought us together as a city, no matter how divided we may occasionally be. Memphis is, and will always be, a basketball town. A Hoop City.
There are things you do for love, and things you do for money. Hoop City Memphis was started by Skelton and Lemmonds for love of the city. Their goal is to be creative, quick, and put things out that allow people to express their own sentiment about Memphis and the cool things going on inside of it at any given time.
What allows Lemmonds and Skelton to have a project like Hoop City Memphis? Their day jobs. Leslie Skelton is a digital marketer and internet strategist. Ian Lemmonds is a User-Experience Expert & Designer. As they would say it, they “Spend most of their time in the digital world”. The two work together for Mouse Foundry – a digital studio specializing in websites, e-commerce, digital strategy, branding, and many other things. As Ian would say “We just want to make people look cool and smart, which is exactly the same reason we make our Tee-shirts”.
The following is a conversation with Skelton and Lemmonds:
Q: How did you meet and decide to make shirts?
Leslie: We started working together a couple of years ago, when we were both working for the same company. We didn’t know each other before that. Although we worked in different departments, our desks just happened to be near each other. The company didn’t have anything to do with shirts, though. The environment we worked in was an open room filled with other creative people, so while we worked ideas would seemingly fly around the room. Ideas about the digital sphere, the change in media, Memphis – all kinds of things. It was a great room to be in, and great company to be in.
Ian: It was a great place to be, and diverse. While everyone had different backgrounds, political views, religious views, etc, our discussions were inspired. No one got upset or angry, and nothing was “off the table”. It was the first time I’d ever sat in a room and thought, “Wow, I genuinely admire these people”. I actually felt lucky to get up everyday and go to work. Who gets to do that?
Q: How did Hoop City Memphis come about?
Leslie: Ian and I are big, big fans of the city. And because where we worked dealt directly with the city, the topic of “Memphis” was a day-to-day thing.
Ian: There also happened to be a bunch of “History Nerds” in the room, including myself. So topics like Civil Rights – which Memphis has a direct historical connection to – would come up, or the Stax record label, or the Memphis Tigers….everything, really. Everything Memphis.
Leslie: We’d often talk about this “low-self-esteem” we thought the city had. While we thought, “Hey, Memphis is Amazing…”, there are others who didn’t seem to feel that way.
Ian: I think part of it was what I call “architectural degradation”. Other cities have these pre-fabricated strip malls and shiny new buildings of gleaming glass – and that’s what everyone thinks a city is supposed to be.
Leslie: But Memphis is real. Who has the history we do? How many amazing things happened here? Are we supposed to tear down the historic buildings and replace them with parking lots and malls? I mean, Ian actually moved here from Seattle because he saw a movie…
Q: Is that true?
Ian: Yeah. I was at a film festival in Seattle. I saw a movie called Mystery Train by Jim Jarmusch. It was filmed here. I bought a plane ticket that week. Memphis looked so beautiful in the film – like no place I’d ever seen, and I’ve lived in tons of places. Long story short, I’m at work one day and we happened to be talking about the racial divisions that always seem to occur in the city. The Memphis Sanitation strike came up – the one that Martin Luther King came to help with and was eventually assassinated. I said that his death seemed to divide the city forever, even though his entire life was about the opposite – bringing people together.
Leslie: -But there is a time when we are all together, when the Tigers go to the NCAA tournament!
Q: The Memphis Tigers?
Leslie: Yes! The city seems magically transformed. Everyone is happy. Everywhere you go people are rocking their Tiger gear. All of the sudden, its like the clouds part and everyone is united. It’s like for two or three weeks we see what Memphis should be.
Ian: So we came up with an idea. Let’s make cool things for people here, based on the culture here, designed to combat the “low-self-esteem” and just say “Look people, Memphis is awesome. We Rule. It’s the other cities that are crazy. Memphis is real. I’ll take a crack in the sidewalk or an abandoned building any day over some strip-mall tanning salon”.
Leslie: -and if there’s one thing that’s always united us – it’s basketball.
Ian: We decided to do a cool “throwback” type brand. Vintage, gritty looking designs people would be proud to wear. We started spending our nights and weekends working on Hoop City Memphis. It’s a bit scary to start printing shirts. I remember telling my wife Elizabeth about it, and how it getting shirts printed was going to cost 1500 bucks. I was worried, because that is money, you know. But Elizabeth works with Emerge Memphis, and Launch Your City, and they are all about ideas. Their job is to encourage and promote economic development in the city. So, they have this stake in Memphis as well, and –
Leslie: (laughs)- and we got out our credit cards and had shirts printed.
Ian: (also laughing) I guess I should say “the rest is history”, but that was like three weeks ago we did all this….
Q: I noticed you have a shirt that says “Grit and Grind”, which seems to be related to the Grizzlies. Are you ever worried they’ll come after you?
Ian: I’m actually a big hockey fan, and a lot of people don’t know, but the notion of a “grinding” team comes from hockey. It’s the idea of just to keep working hard, and eventually an opponent will give in. In the late 90’s the Toronto Maple Leaf’s were constantly called a “grinding” team. The idea of “grinding” is something Memphis needs to embrace in many areas when we compete against other cities – not just in sports, but in education, economic development, entreprenuership, etc. You may not realize it, but Memphis is competing against other cities in ways that are much bigger than sports…
Leslie: And we are very, very careful. We don’t steal. We don’t use any organizations logos, colors, or anything. We aren’t bootlegging shirts for a quick buck. This isn’t something that is going to let us retire and hang out on a yacht somewhere in the South Pacific. It’s actually the opposite. We do it because we love Memphis. For instance, we did a “38103” shirt. I live downtown and I love it. So do a lot of other people, and we want to give them a way to represent what’s cool about downtown. I’m definitely not going to make a fortune selling “38103” shirts to people…
Ian: Not unless millions of people suddenly move downtown. But the whole thing is just what we are about. There are lots of people selling shirts about Memphis. But not to people who actually live here. They are selling shirts to tourists who come here to go to Graceland, tour Sun Studio, and hang out on Beale Street. While all of that stuff is cool, no one sells shirts to people who actually live here: real Memphians.
Leslie: Right. We love the city too, and for different reasons. We actually live here. When I go to visit Nashville, I want to wear something that proudly displays the fact that I’m from the best city in the world: Memphis.