By Matt Koehler
Everyone has a favorite piece of clothing. Maybe it’s a shirt, a pair of pants, a scarf, or a pair of shoes. For me, it’s a comfortable black t-shirt with bold white lettering that simply says “The District vs Congress.” Wherever I go, that t-shirt elicits a response. And, when they inevitably ask where to find a shirt like mine, I simply reply, “Bailiwick.”
You’ve probably seen their ubiquitous pro-D.C. apparel somewhere. Back in 2016 Bryce Harper put Bailiwick (the word fittingly means one’s area of expertise) on the map when he did an interview wearing one of their 51st State t’s (as far as personal favorites go, a close second). Dave Grohl sported one of their 202 shirts while on stage. Mayor Boswer has also been known to wear their clothing. Bailiwick is synonymous with D.C. pride.
Brothers JC and Jeff Smith are the owners and operators of Bailiwick Clothing Co., and. they started their apparel company back in 2015 but the seed for Bailiwick germinated more than ten years ago. “We (my brother and I) entered one of those ‘design a shirt’ contests with a local company back in our Northeast Ohio hometown. We won the contest with our design but as you know, didn’t get much from giving them this great idea. I can’t really say who it is or what the design was because it’s still one of their best selling designs all these years later…”
Before the pandemic, the Smith brothers hawked their wares all over the city at events. Now, until the end of the year Bailiwick will be down at the Wharf at a new pop up shop with Shea Yeleen skincare products. “The Southwester” recently caught up with JC Smith.
Who came up with the name “Bailiwick”?
I came up with the name Bailiwick. Since I was a kid, it’s been one of my favorite words and I always loved its definition. I think names are so important so when naming my company, I wanted to choose a name that was unique and had a lot of meaning. It embodies what we do- shirts are our area of expertise.
Your designs sometimes follow big trending news or movements – what’s the design process like? When you come up with an idea, especially if it’s related to something trending or a national movement, how quickly can you put it together?
I don’t necessarily agree with the notion that we’re “following trends” – I really think we’re trying to meet the moments that we’re in and we’re making shirts and designs that resonate with what people are feeling here in DC and beyond. But when we come up with a shirt that’s around a current event or movement, we try to put our own little spin on it and make it a little different. The design process is pretty simple for us to sketch out our ideas and then talk them over – once we feel comfortable with our ideas, we can usually create the shirts in a week.
Do you also have designs planned out far in advance of big events you know will be coming up (Pride Month, for example)?
We do have a rough schedule of shirts that we would like to release during the year, but we keep it flexible and modify if things come up (like a big event) or a newer, better idea comes up instead. As a small company, you have to be flexible and be able to pivot on a dime.
The pandemic hit a lot of businesses pretty hard – did you feel any of the economic constriction? And, how are you doing now?
Yes, the pandemic hit us hard because we derive so much revenue from in person events (think H Street Festival & DC State Fair). Our shirts are also found in lots of retail outlets which were closed for part of the year and have been greatly impacted, like Reagan airport and the National Zoo. So this COVID pandemic has hit us hard. But we pivoted early on by making masks, and it’s helped our business stay strong this year.
What brought about this deal with you doing a pop up at The Wharf?
A few months ago we met one of the landlords at The Wharf who told us about this opportunity in the former Milkbar space. It has been sitting empty for months, and they thought we’d be good candidates to have a pop up there. We sat down and talked, and the rest is history.
How long will you be doing the pop up down there?
The shop will be open through December 2020.
What’s in store for you guys for the future? Any plans to diversify your business/ do something else?
We’re going to stay the course for now, and move smartly & deliberately until we feel ready to do anything else major. In this pandemic climate, things can change quickly, so we just want to keep our business going and make good products that people like.
Any thoughts on the At-Large race (had to ask!)?
May the best two men or women win… And that’s all I’m gonna say on that.
Any thoughts or messages you want to give the SW Community and the greater DC community?
We love it here in SW – please come by and see us at 49 District Square. And if you stop by, tell us you live in SW for a neighborhood discount.