Chances are if you've been following me on any form of social media, you have seen the "High Hops Low Cars" T-Shirt in some sort of picture. It's a cool design, which is no wonder why it is the best-seller to this date. But where did it come from? I've been telling the story to people a lot lately, and thought it would be cool to do a little write up about it before I forget the details. Believe it or not, the story behind this simple T-Shirt is probably more complicated than the story behind how you were conceived.
Why I like German Cars
Before we even talk about the design, its important to know where my interest in German cars came from. When I had been riding for about three years, I met some local legends by the names of Geno Villafano and Kevin Gantnier. They had been riding and killing the few spots in Newtown, Connecticut before I even got my first bike.
-Kevin Gantnier with a wallride on one of the Stamford trips we took. Photo by Geno Villafano
I looked up to both of them a lot, they were smart, really talented at riding BMX, and they were really nice people too. Not to mention they didn't do drugs, which seemed to be a rare occurrence if you were over 16 and rode bikes in CT. I was 14 or 15 at the time, and had a really tough time getting rides to places other than my local park, which I was getting quite bored of. Kevin and Geno would take me along with them on street trips where I would sit in the back seat of Kevin's MK4 VW GLI or Geno's B5 Audi A4 listening them go on and on about turbos and MK4s and all this car stuff I had no idea about. Some of the trips we went on were the best times I've had on and off of my bike. Knowing nothing about cars, it was pretty explainable for me to want a GLI as my first car just like Kevin's. It was fast, looked good, had the PSST noise when it shifted, and it had a bike rack! When I turned 16 I got hit with the "I NEED A CAR RIGHT NOW" bug and ended up buying a car at the first dealership I even looked at, a 2002 BMW 325i. I had been in love with this white e36 M3, but it had high mileage so that was out of the question. My 325i wasn't a GLI, but it looked cooler than the base MK4 Jettas the dealership had and I only cared about looks at the time.
-My 2002 325i on the left (post mods) and Kevin's MK4 GLI on the right
I over-payed a ton, and regretted buying it, but we learn from our mistakes. After that I spent every living minute on e46fanatics.com reading about how to fix my problematic-lemon of a car or on other sites ordering "mods" for my car. I became obsessed, but luckily I kept riding unlike some other riders that get hit with the car-bug. So that's briefly how I became interested in German cars, now I can get on to the T-Shirts.
My first signature T-Shirt that never existed
Some time in early 2013 I woke up to a text from Brian Hoehne, the owner of Wallingford Bike Barn. He knew I had a massive online following, and wanted to help make me some money for gas and food with a signature T-Shirt. I was so excited at the time that I didn't even care what it looked like, I was just excited to have my own shirt!
- The design Brian's brother in law, Brian Hall, had created.
It was like the day before the shirts were printed when I decided to pull the plug and tell Brian to call it off. I had sent the design to a few of my friends, and on top of me finding out it was an already used phrase, I was told the shirt was corny and it would make me look really bad. I was still set on having some sort of signature shirt, but it was back to the drawing board.
Where "High Hops Low Cars" came from
At my high school I was known for two things: my love for BMX, and the marks on the speed bump from me scraping as I left every single day with my lowered car.
-My car hated speedbumps when it was this low....
When it came time to choose my yearbook quote, I figured it would be only right to pick something that encompassed both cars and bikes. For some reason, the saying "Keep your expectations low and your hopes high" was in the back of my head, and I changed it around to "Keep your cars low and your bunnyhops high". Needless to say, the girl who was in charge of the yearbook lost everyone's quotes so it never got used. After pulling the plug on the "Life Behind Bars" shirt, I needed a new design. That's where my yearbook quote came into play.
-My car did wind up in the yearbook though. It wasn't hard winning "Car You Wish You Had" when you're at a hick school where everyone drives lifted trucks (there was a separate superlative for "Nicest Truck")
Designing the T-Shirt
It was very important to me that my signature T-Shirt represented who I was. At the time, I was all about cars and bikes, so it seemed natural to do a design that expressed that. Originally, my idea was to shoot a picture of me hopping over my car off of a loading dock and have my yearbook quote as a caption underneath it. Not knowing any photographers, my idea was unattainable so I had to settle for a computer generated design. I sent a rough sketch of what I wanted over to a guy I knew named Mike Johnson and he adapted it into something way cooler.
- My rough sketch that I sent to Mike Johnson
-What Mike Johnson sent me the next day
Mike's design was cool, but something was missing. The BMX rider seemed fake. It looked like something that would come on a lunch box you could buy at Walmart. So I sent him this picture of me doing an over-double peg, hoping that he could cut me out and replace the Walmart biker with something more realistic.
-Over Double Peg shot by Jay Smith
He was able to make it work, and the design was deemed complete. I posted the mock-up on facebook and its response was overwhelmingly positive, everyone loved it. Mike sent it over to Brian at the Bike Barn, but there was an issue. The car was not one color, which was necessary in order to have it screen printed on a T-Shirt.
- The final mock-up of the design that I posted to facebook to gauge interest
Mike said it was too difficult and lost interest in the T-Shirt project all together. Brian said it would cost hundreds of dollars to have a professional re-work the design and he lost interest too. Yet again, my signature shirt had been born and killed within the same week. Now I had dozens of people asking me when they could buy the T-Shirt from the picture I posted. Was I supposed to tell them it would never be made? My hope was restored once I started talking to BMX superstar, and fellow BMW fanatic, Alfredo Mancuso.
Making the Shirts
If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself. I figured I would take this T-Shirt project into my own hands and have them printed on my own. I talked to my school-friend Kevin Keane, who was the best digital designer I knew, and worked out a deal with him to make the design print-ready for a measly $60. (It's funny, because now I've learned how to use photoshop and could have fixed the design in like 10 minutes). It took a couple days, but we got the design looking perfect and print ready. I was nervous. I knew how to sell stickers online thanks to swagga stickers, but I had no idea how to go about packing and shipping the T-Shirts and I was about to sink all of my summer-yardwork money into. After my interview on The Come Up Adam 22 had connected me with Alfredo, who talked to the TM of DC about me and got me a bunch of shoes and shirts. I had always looked up to Alfredo, half because he owns an e92 M3, half because he is super smart and kills it on his bike. I knew he was in charge of TCU's shirts so I figured I would hit him up for some advice. After about a week of texting I probably sent Alfredo over his cellular data-usage limit, but he taught me everything I needed to know to pack and ship the T-shirts.
-Alfredo in one of the first HHLC tees that I sent him as a thank you for all the help. Photo: Adam 22
Now it was time to get the shirts made. My dad runs a Disabled Waterski Organization called Leaps of Faith and had shirts printed all the time, so I went to him for help with the printing. He set me up with his shirt guy, and a couple weeks later I had my shirts! They weren't the softest shirts in the world. They were basic, kind of like the ones you would get for free at your high-school. I kind of regret that looking back, because the shirts now are a million times better quality. I may have very well lost a lot of potential customers who now assume all shirts are like the ones from the first batch. Needless to say I put them up for sale and sold out within the first month!
-One of the first days of shipping the shirts. Hand-drawn pictures are still included with every order to this day.
What has changed
Since the first run of HHLC tees, a lot has happened. I actually crashed my car between the time I paid for the shirts and the time I picked them up, so every dime I made off selling them had to go into fixing my car. I learned another lesson: not to drift on dirt roads with steep embankments on the side.
-Luckily me and the passenger (Jordan Grandinetti) were fine. My back end hit a snowbank and it spun me around in the other direction.
Since the HHLC tees I have made quite a few other shirts. Other car related goods include the BMX Snapback and the I Love Racks Tee. Most importantly, the quality of the shirts has improved drastically. I now print on high-quality shirts that are super soft and lightweight. If you don't believe me check the product reviews, everyone loves them! Being a full-time college student I don't have much time to obsess over my car anymore, or even wash it for that matter. All my time is spent doing homework, riding, filming, and shipping shirts out for you guys! If you are interested in buying a High Hops Low Cars T-Shirt, you can get one here for just $20.
-The new and improved HHLC tees
I would like to thank my parents, Alfredo Mancuso, Jordan Grandinetti, Mike Johnson, Cody Krueger, Brian Hoenhe, Brian Hall, Kevin Keane, Adam Grandmaison, and everyone else who helped make these shirts possible.
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