Joey Kellock’s path from hometown dreamer to lasagna baron was already impressive when I met him shopping for oregano in Piedimontes supermarket in Melbourne in 2019.

Dressed in a white fleece crew neck with his company’s name on it, when I asked how business was going, he said, amused, “I sell more trackies than lasagna.”

La la la la, shouted his sleeves as a skateboard chef – designed by original mambo artist and renowned counterculture creative Paul McNeil – invited me to shout “1800 lasagna” from his chest.

A Melbourne national wears the now cult sweater 1800 Lasagne.

The street doesn’t lie: the tracksuits were hot – the perfect tongue-in-cheek chic to start an empire.

When lockdowns began worldwide the following year, Kellock wasn’t the only venue owner to master a busy merchandise trade.

Restrictions have forced the hospitality industry into survival mode, which adds a certain edge to wearing your local joint on your sleeve – or your pocket or your head. It’s not just about limited editions or a clever design; These articles say you care about your city.

The Ruby Lonesome Cafe in Marrickville started selling goods when the pandemic broke out.  It enabled them to subsidize the loss of income from selling food and coffee.The Ruby Lonesome Cafe in Marrickville started selling goods when the pandemic broke out. Photo: Carly Earl / The Guardian

WGSN, one of the world’s top trend researchers who has had a hyperlocal consumer focus since before the pandemic, says that undoubtedly a simmering consumer preference for authenticity and nostalgia is now going up in flames.

Kraggy, a well-known printing and graphics strategist at WGSN, explains, “Souvenir t-shirts are now more important to consumers. There’s a mutual understanding of how to help neighborhood hangouts and the unspoken power of wearing restaurant merchandise. “

In New York, dubbed “Zizmorcore” for a colorful and highly visible dermatologist, it covered a wide range of local gear – from vintage city uniforms to stylish, locally printed tote bags from your nearby fishmonger – all a true loyalty to the city.

Two-way composite.  Valentinas goodsCustomers model goods from the Sydney Café Valentinas. Photo: Carly Earl / The Guardian

Kraggy also points out: “The bold and bold branding of shop signs, discount stickers, restaurant menus and personalized food illustrations can easily be carried over to graphic T-shirts and printed Art Nouveau.”

It’s a concept designer and souvenir t-shirt enthusiast that Todd Vanneste faces on a daily basis at work. His business, Weekdays Design Studio, a branding agency, found itself in the casual avant-garde of what we in Australia today might call “Hospobilia”.

Before Covid, Vanneste had already noticed an increase in clothing requests from its customers (“We didn’t just order 20 T-shirts, we started ordering hundreds”) and these requests are still increasing.

LR Samantha Rose Andison wears a hoodie from Stitch Coffee, Sam Payne, a Chardonnay sweater from Native Drops.

  • Left: Samantha Rose Andison wears a hoodie from Stitch Coffee in Sydney. “I love the design and working with Evi Studio.” Right: Sam Payne says: “[One of] My favorite lockdown merch was this long-sleeved Re Bar t-shirt. If only I looked as cool as Matt Whiley took my government-mandated walks around the neighborhood. ”

Vanneste believes that the most successful venue merch speaks “in a nostalgic tone”. He says Smith & Daughters, part of Melbourne chef Shannon Martinez’s vegan empire, was the first run to hit big numbers.

Smith & Daughters channeled ’90s skate culture to get to the point. Other venues go further back, to a time before jobs like Vanneste’s, when “your sign writer was actually the graphic designer.”

Local business ecosystems are flourishing in Melbourne around the merch boom.

Leonardo's Pizza Palace merchMerch from Leonardo’s Pizza Palace in Melbourne. Photo: Jake RodenDJ Yo Mafia models the Sauls x Ichpig merchandise.DJ Yo! Mafia models the goods of Sauls x Ichpig.

Saul’s Sandwiches opened three venues in a short space of time in east Melbourne last year and recently backed this up with a successful collaboration with local streetwear brand Ichpig. The collection was sold out within two weeks.

Kraggy points out that beyond professional branding, “indie brands, fashion labels and illustrators work with local businesses to create true cross-industry networks with the common goal of serving a community”.

Saul’s co-founder Nathan Orton says their collaboration is economically a “sideline” that works by maintaining mutual contact within each other’s customer bases. “It’s just so good for the brand, it’s so important to stay relevant … stay fresh.”

Rico with Smith and Daughters;  James in an A1 Bakery t-shirt;  Eric, Harriet and Dan at a picnic.

  • Left: Rico, an employee at Smith & Daughters, wears the T-shirt that has become a hit with customers. Middle: Eric, Harriet and Dan having a picnic. Right: James wears an A1 Bakery t-shirt that he bought to support the Brunswick business during the lockdown.

These burgeoning marketing strategies just make sense in a hypebeast world. Orton believes that grocery giveaways can get “sticky” and that a tangible item, especially if it’s a limited run, can be much more effective at creating hype.

Merchandise not only creates enthusiasm, but is the lifeblood of companies like the Melbourne printing company Killer Merch. Josh Lennard, founder of Killer Merch, was making band t-shirts for his friends in the garage ten years ago – now his business is in full swing. Lennard says he’s seen an estimated 30% increase in sales since the pandemic began.

Lennard’s clients are mostly pubs and tattoo parlors who have had to diversify their income streams to tackle disruptive bans. Killer Merch had to buy a larger printer and hire more staff to keep up with demand.

Meanwhile, an online marketplace – Hospo Threads – was launched in Sydney in April 2020, selling merch in nearby bars. This website has now been expanded to include venues in Brisbane, Adelaide and Melbourne.

Crazy girl!  Mathew Garthwaite with his collection. Photo: Delivered

  • Mat Garthwaite has been collecting hospobilia from around the world for more than a decade. He says restaurant items just keep getting better and seeing others wear them inspires him to visit these places.

Kraggy sums up the win-win scenario: “Local facilities have played an essential role in community building throughout the pandemic. Now culinary collaboration and local goods are quickly becoming ways to give something back, as well as coveted items for yourself. “

Kellock describes it as “common ground” – maybe something like a secret handshake or a joke.

I ask if wearing lasagna active clothing is a way of saying you don’t take life too seriously, “Yes!” he muses. “But it says you take your lasagna seriously.”