Hometown Jerseys: Old-fashioned racing jerseys made in America
Just over two years ago Jill and I wanted to come up with some new shop shirts that would be different than anything we’d made before. Up to that point, we did what most people do, buy blank, or plain t-shirts from big manufacturers and have them silkscreened. Even though we were able to buy Made in the USA blanks, we were never really happy with the quality and fit. Jill finally decided to just manufacture our own to get exactly what we wanted, a heavy-weight jersey similar to vintage racing jerseys.
The Smith Fabrication jersey was the first item she made. A few months later, my wife started her own business, Hometown Jersey. Today, Hometown Jersey provides all new jerseys and T’s sold on my Store. I’m really proud of what she’s created, not only for me but for anyone who wants their own custom felt lettered jersey or t-shirt.
This week, Hometown Jersey was featured on the blog of Hemmings Motor News, a publication that I’ve had a subscription to for years. It’s been funny how all of my hobbies and business collide. Below is a direct re-post of the article written by Daniel Beaudry.
This is the raglan-sleeve jersey that Hometown Jersey made for my car club.
A couple of us here are members of a group called the Barnstormers VSC (Vintage Speed Club), and when we decided to have jerseys made, we knew we wanted them to be homegrown and to have old-fashioned style and quality. So, when we saw how dapper the McCann clan of DeLuxe Speed Shop—Mark, Scott and Bryan—looked at The Race of Gentlemen this year, we asked them where they got their regalia. “Jill Smith at Hometown Jersey in Joshua Tree, California,” Scott enthusiastically replied.
Mark, Scott and Bryan McCann showing their team spirit in their regalia made by Hometown Jersey at the 2015 Race of Gentlemen. Above photos by the author.
After the race, I checked out Hometown’s website, and liked what I saw—American-made jerseys like those from the Thirties through the Fifties. I sent Jill a message: In light of her website’s sizing, which lists only up to 2X, I had a tall order, literally, as one of our club members is a big fella—6 feet, 6 inches tall and barrel-chested; a 5X. Jill got back to me less than 24 hours later and said that not only could she fit our club’s long name on the front of a jersey in two-inch hand-cut felt letters, she could also make shirts to fit our big-hearted friend.
Just three days after ordering—though Jill cautions that it can take up to two weeks during busy times like the holidays—the navy-and-cream raglan-sleeved jersey was in my hands and far exceeded my expectations.
The design is period-possible, with a neck opening wide enough to accommodate a shirt collar and tie like many speedway drivers wore when racing in the Twenties and Thirties, and the body and sleeves are shorter in the style of the era. The fabric is high quality: a fine-gauge 100 percent heavy-cotton knit. It’s durable and soft, and the material has a kind of natural texture to it.
Wearing clothing that’s in sync with the era of your car or motorcycle isn’t playing dress-up. It’s making sure that nothing detracts from the look of your ride, and it’s getting you closer to how it felt to drive it in its day. For American-made jerseys done the old way, we can’t recommend Hometown Jersey enough.
Raglan-sleeve jerseys, with text in standard font on the front only, start at $139, but there are many options for customization. Our club’s jerseys, with the addition of the lightning bolt, were $145, plus $9.75 S&H.
To view a complete selection and to order, visit www.hometownjersey.com. While you’re there, check out Hometown’s set-in and striped-sleeve jerseys and T-shirts. Pay close attention to the sizing chart on the website, as vintage-style clothing fits differently than modern types. If you have any questions or want advice on customizing your jersey and a price quote, email Jill at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Hometown, here’s our interview with Jill Smith…
Jill Smith, proprietor of Hometown Jersey, in the desert of Joshua Tree where her American apparel company is based. This and all subsequent photos courtesy of Hometown Jersey.
J. Daniel Beaudry: How did Hometown Jersey come to be?
Jill Smith: My husband and I are partners in his business, TK Smith Electric Guitars. Every year, we come up with a new silkscreened design for T-shirts. A few years ago, we wanted to do something different that no one else was doing as far as logo shirts.
We’ve always loved the style of racing jerseys from the 1930s through the 1950s, with their felt lettering. In our shop, we only use tools from the 1930s to the 1960s to build guitars; they’re all made in the USA and still work great. So, we knew if we were going to make a logo jersey, it had to be in the same spirit as our shop: made in America.
When we couldn’t find what we wanted, I decided to manufacture it myself. My jerseys are made exclusively for me to my specs in a factory that also uses vintage machines and has been in business for almost 100 years.
We put the jersey up on the TK Smith website and got a great response, so I decided to create my own website and make custom jerseys for anyone interested. That was exactly two years ago.
Hometown Jersey grew out of the apparel Jill was creating to promote her husband TK’s guitar-crafting business.
JDB: How many people are employed by Hometown, and where are you based?
JS: There are two of us; myself and my seamstress. We’re based near Joshua Tree, California.
Hometown Jersey shares a space with TK Smith, so there is a lot of creativity going on where we work. We have an industrial space with about 1,600 sq.ft., and it includes an office. We’re in the desert, so its a great mid-century building with seven spaces total and a lot of open land around it. We moved to the desert from Los Angeles about 10 years ago so we could “do our own thing”: work for ourselves and have more room to work/live.
My business doesn’t require a lot of space, so I basically take up a corner of the shop. But when Hometown Jersey moved in, our ’29 roadster, which was in the middle of the shop, had to be moved back home, and our 56 Ford Pickup had to be moved to the back in a storage container. Our shop is like our home, which is only five minutes away, so we never feel like we’re “going to work.”
Jill and TK’s ’29 roadster that gave up its parking spot so Hometown Jersey could set up shop.
JDB: How did you get into making jerseys?
JS: I worked in sales and management for one company in the beauty industry for 20 years, and in the industry total for 25 years. My past had absolutely nothing to do with manufacturing clothing, but what I did gain from that career was how to give great service and to put out quality work. Nothing disappoints me more than a consumer getting bad service.
JDB: You had my jersey in the mail in a surprisingly quick two days, I think. How long does it typically take to make a jersey?
JS: Yours was quick! You caught me at a good time, but I generally say to give it at least two weeks. Especially right now during the holiday season. When I tell people two weeks, I try to get it out in one.
If someone wants a custom logo or custom-cut design that is out of the norm of my standard lettering, it can take up to three weeks to set it up, followed by the normal production time. It’s not that it takes that long to make a jersey with stitched felt lettering; it’s that we’re always working on multiple orders at once. So, it may be a few days, or a week, before we can get to it.
Custom fonts and elements are possible; just drop Jill an email and talk with her about what you’d like to do.
JDB: What are the steps in the process for making a jersey?
JS: Every jersey is laid out by hand, and the felt lettering is stitched on one at a time. We use our eyes and a sewing machine, not an embroidery machine and a computer. You can really see the difference. We want our jerseys to have an authentic vintage look and feel. You can only get that with a sewing machine. When you see lettering done with an embroidery machine, you can tell. If they were all perfect, it wouldn’t have the same feeling. We always want them to look amazing and to have our customers be delighted when they receive a Hometown Jersey. Mass-produced perfection is not the goal.
Stock felt-letter colors are black, cream and “Old Gold.”
JDB: How were you able to meet my friend’s 5x needs? Are you always able to be so accommodating?
JS: I’m so happy we were able to make your friend the 5X jerseys! I can pretty much meet any need within reason, it just may take some time if we get a request out of the norm. So, if you can be patient, we can usually make any reasonable requests happen.
JDB: What is the biggest challenge for Hometown?
JS: Our biggest challenge is probably the same one that many small businesses have: How can we stay “small” and yet grow? By “staying small,” I mean continue to give great, timely service; continue to enjoy what we do; continue to keep the selection simple, but interesting; and at the same time grow financially. I’m more interested in doing great work and continuing to have fun doing it than just taking on more work for more money.
A logo consisting of two numbers inside a circle is another one of the options offered by Hometown.
JDB: Is demand for vintage jerseys increasing? If so, is this also true for demand for Made-in-USA products?
JS: I think the demand for vintage jerseys has probably been strong for a long time, but the availability of a new, totally custom jersey, with the true look and feel of a vintage jersey may be increasing.
I think Hometown Jersey has resonated with vintage motorcycle and car enthusiasts because we offer something that no one else does. You can order anything you want to show pride for your car, bike, club, hobby or interest in stitched-on felt. I created Hometown Jersey from a place of nostalgia for my small hometown where I grew up in Illinois.
As far as things made in the USA go, I hope the demand is growing. We feel very strongly about this subject. It would make absolutely no sense for TK or I to sell anything not made in America. There’s no reason to. It’s really easy to buy pretty much everything you need today here at home. Will it cost more? Probably. But the quality is usually going to be much better and last much longer. When you buy products that fall apart in a year or less, it ends up costing you more in the long run to keep replacing them than it does to invest in high-quality goods that will last years. People who purchase a Hometown Jersey today will be able to pass it down if taken care of properly.
The Sta-Lube logo is a stock-cost option.
JDB: What do you like most about making jerseys?
JS: Every day is different, even though the process is the same with each jersey. The layout, size of felt lettering and the personal message we put on them really means something to the person who purchased it. I feel like I have a relationship with each of my customers because I get to know a little bit about them by what they want their jersey to say. It’s so great when someone receives their custom jersey and they send me a message letting me know how much they love it. Thats the best and probably the main reason why I enjoy my work so much.
Hometown’s jerseys are available in a variety of traditional colors and even in stripes.
One of my most surprising interactions was when I was asked to make a jersey for singer Billy Joel as a birthday gift. I wasn’t aware at the time that he has an extensive vintage motorcycle collection. Alex, who runs his shop, 20th Century Cycles, purchased one for himself and one for Billy.
It was probably one of the most detailed logo jerseys we’ve done to date, a lot of custom stitching. They liked them so much they ended up buying a large run of the same jersey to sell at their shop in Oyster Bay, New York. The entire interaction was a lot of fun and gave me the opportunity to make a custom jersey for an American icon.
As Hometown’s jerseys are patterned on historical styles, they fit differently than modern clothing.
JDB: What are Hometown’s hopes for the future?
JS: To keep doing what we’re doing, and like I said before, to figure out how to grow while keeping the feeling of a small company.