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I Heart Ian Beers

 

Originally published in Volume 3-4 (March 2011) of Cleveland State University's Vindicator Arts & Culture Magazine. Reproduced with permissions from the journalist.

By Jordan Stevenson

Like an old Hollywood actress, a national city gradually builds its claim to fame.  With a rocky start, she fine tunes her image, improves her unsightly imperfections and finally reaches that pivotal moment of Oscar glory.  Everyone has their heyday, but as the saying goes, what goes up must come down. Just like that, the Tinseltown career is over, the city is asleep. 

But wait. 

With a little Botox and revamping, the actress is alive again, well on her way to the coveted red carpet comeback.

Sometimes a city is in need of its own facelift and TLC from supporters.  Sometimes, a love affair is in order to boost morale and confidence lost during an economic downfall.  And sometimes, ambitious and driven entrepreneurs, such as Ian Beers, have just enough passion and creativity to reclaim pride and infuse energy back into a city -- our city: Cleveland.

In life, there are those few, pivotal people you can never forget.  Ian Beers is one of those memorable individuals.  During the daily grind of a thankless retail job, I had the pleasure to work with Beers and I instantly fell in love.  Actually, more like fell in admiration and awe.  With his endless visual talent and arsenal of creativity it was difficult not to find inspiration in Beers’ presence.  Following his degree in video production at Ohio University, Beers found himself in an economic recession, one which would “alter his field of study forever.”  Jobless, he found a position with a national retailer and slowly began his visual merchandising career.  With a strong work ethic and positive energy, Beers was later promoted to the corporate office in Columbus.

Life, of course, has a funny way of throwing curve balls just when everything seems to be on track.  In early 2009, Beers, along with a slew of other talented individuals, was laid-off.  According to Beers, “it’s easy to lose sight of what your [original] passion was… being unemployed made me say, oh yeah, I wanted to be an artist when I was a kid!”  With his passion reclaimed, Beers set out to do the unthinkable: create a business in Cleveland, inspired by the architecture and skyline of Cleveland.  On his newly launched web site, ianbeers.com, his personal pride of Cleveland clearly translates, as he offers innovative pop-art products, including everything from Cleveland pen and ink images of the Terminal Tower to wallets featuring Cleveland bridges.  Meet entrepreneurial Clevelander, and my friend, Ian Beers.

JS:  Like so many individuals in the country, you fell victim to the economy. Can you tell us how you created an opportunity in such an unstable environment?

IB:  Honestly, I don’t think I ever would have started my business if this recession hadn’t kind of forced me to. Like a lot of people, I was just kind of coasting along on auto pilot. Then one afternoon I was standing in the snowy parking lot of the company I had worked, for nearly six years, unemployed. I was in a city I didn’t love, without the people in my life that I loved, and without a source of income. I was at a cross-roads–it took this crisis to kind of jolt me awake. It’s hard times that force people to change the course of their lives, after all. In good times they usually only TALK about change.

It was time to close that chapter of my life and begin writing a new one--one that was more deeply satisfying. Obviously it would have been preferable to make these changes in my life from a position of strength and not in reaction to crisis, but in a way it was the enormity of that turmoil that was my life-changer. I knew immediately that I had to come back to Cleveland. I called my mom before I even got into my car and asked if I could move back in with her, and was packing up my town house within the hour. I was living back in Cleveland exactly one week after my layoff.  I originally thought I’d be unemployed for a couple of weeks. It was around my 90th job application in my sixth month of unemployment that I knew I needed a new strategy. This wasn’t working. So I reached out to a friend who taught me how to build a web site, and ianbeers.com was born.

We’re stuck in this mind trap that if we keep working hard enough maybe someday someone will reward us. I always prided myself on having an “entrepreneurial spirit” and this recession made me do something with it. I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I’m rolling around in piles of cash. I’m not. In addition to running my own brand I work a part-time job to get by (and just submitted job application number 265). But there’s something about building a new life that’s based around my own passions… the thrill when someone buys something that I created… that’s more valuable than any annual review in the corporate construct.

JS:  Why did you choose to stay in Cleveland to start a business? What do you feel this area offers to creative minds, such as yourself?

IB:  There’s this idea plaguing our generation that to stay in Cleveland is to be a failure. Everybody is always talking about leaving – they want to move to New York City or Los Angeles or Chicago – anywhere but here. During college I interned in NYC and I planned on moving there. Like my sisters and my friends, getting as far away from here as possible was the thing to do. But I couldn’t afford the move right after graduation, and so I ended up living in Cleveland. And I accidentally fell in love with it. I don’t think I realized how much I loved Cleveland until I was relocated to Columbus for my job. Cleveland is authentic. It has rich history. It has great neighborhoods and architecture and culture and THE LAKE! I can’t tell you how much I missed that lake. I couldn’t get back to Cleveland fast enough! This city needs intelligent, talented, and creative people here to make it great.

I wish more people our generation wanted to stay in Cleveland and invest their energy around building great things rather than run off to some bigger city. Someone who had recently moved here once told me that Clevelanders give the city its worst reputation – that to an outsider it is an amazing place. I agree with that statement.

JS:  Some would say you’re courageous for not only remaining in Cleveland, but creating a business around the city and its attractions. What gave you such an idea, and how has this been challenging?

IB:  Cleveland is one of the poorest cities in America. It has the highest foreclosure rate and 1/3 of the population lives in poverty. This leads to a lot of people here complaining about how much it sucks. Do you know where things used to suck? In NYC, that’s where. Its economy was battered and crime was rampant. Many factors influenced its rise back to the top, but perhaps the most iconic and recognizable of this era (and certainly the most relevant to our conversation) is the “I (heart) NY” design. In its troubled time this art allowed its residents to embrace their battered city and love the seemingly unlovable place.

I think that people genuinely want to feel good about where they are from and where they live (whether they live there by choice or by circumstance). I think people want a cool picture of Cleveland that isn’t from the ‘80s, that they want pop art of their favorite spots. They want to embrace it and stay here. I’m trying to take this idea of escaping from Cleveland and toss it in the garbage. The “I (heart) NY” design spread civic pride with t-shirts, mugs, everything… and that is the very spirit of my brand. Cleveland is awesome.

there is something really interesting going on in cleveland right now...

JS:  Are there any artists or entrepreneurs that inspire you and your work?

IB:  I draw inspiration from just about everywhere because I think just about everything is a piece of art. From the design of a pen to the label on the soup can to how a store is merchandised to what is hanging on the wall framed under glass. Someone thought it up and then created it. That, to me, is art. 

Also, there is something really interesting going on in Cleveland right now... a renaissance of art and culture. We see this in a major way with our culinary scene and the national recognition it’s been receiving lately. We see this in the revitalization of our neighborhoods – Tremont, Ohio City, Detroit-Shoreway, East 4th, University Circle, Coventry, and soon the Market District (and dare I reference The Flats?). For me, to be part of that in any small way is exciting. The many artists and entrepreneurs that make up this movement are more inspirational to me than any one hanging on the walls of the museum.

JS:  You have worked for major corporations, including MTV and Express. What, if any, qualities would you like to take from your work experience and infuse into your own brand?

IB:  Every experience has shaped me into the person that I am today. I know that’s totally cliché, but it’s true. I’ve learned a lot about the impact of visuals, the importance of branding and packaging, the art of marketing and communication, concise copywriting, strategic business management and relationship-building. I think that a lot of creative-types are so into their craft that they often overlook these essential elements when branding themselves.

JS:  What advice can you share with other entrepreneurs or business students?

IB:  Be patient and be persistent. You will not build your empire overnight. But you will build it. There’s no clear-cut path to this (otherwise everyone would be doing it).  Every business is different, and every story unique, so follow your ambitions and remember that multiple talents can bring you multiple sources of income. You may have to work multiple jobs at first.

But success follows doing what you want to do. It requires creativity, risk-taking, persistence, and enthusiasm for what you do. Your creative mind is your greatest asset, so don’t waste it.  And most importantly remember that it’s never too late to change the direction of your life; it’s never too late to be what you might have been. Whatever you dream of doing, begin today. Think it, say it, do it.

JS:  What processes and steps are involved in creating a product?

IB:  I basically create products for myself. (Laughs) I know that’s totally the wrong way to do it, but it works.  Earlier this year I needed a new wallet, so I figured out a folding system to create a paper wallet, printed some of my work onto Tyvek, and The Ian Beers Wallet was born. This summer I wanted a cool Cleveland shirt that wasn’t sports-related so I designed one. And then another and then two more. And so The Ian Beers Tee was born. People have responded really positively, so it must be working!

ianbeers.com

 

 
     
 
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