Homage: An Ohio State Story

Born from a love of Buckeye lore, Homage continues to expand, but the locally owned apparel company knows its roots are at Ohio State.

As one of the hottest brands in college sports, Ohio State has become inseparable from fashion and apparel. Whether it’s companies that have produced the coolest gear or former Buckeye athletes who have gone on to design clothing for others, the convergence of top talent and high demand has made Ohio State a force when it comes to apparel. Today, we continue our weeklong series on Ohio State and fashion with a feature on Homage, the apparel giant that started with OSU and then took over the world.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re familiar with Homage. It’s all but impossible to attend an Ohio State sporting event or even walk the streets of Columbus without seeing someone clad in something from the locally owned apparel shop.

Homage is not really affiliated with Ohio State – the store is a licensee of Buckeye apparel, but the same can be said for 26 other colleges – but without OSU there would likely be no Homage.

“I would like to think so, but there’s no dancing around the issue,” director of marketing Nate Ellis said when asked if the company would exist without Ohio State. “The Ohio State property is very, very valuable. It’s coveted, people want to be a part of the tradition and history. I would like to say that it would have happened without, maybe in a different location, but I think without having the OSU license and having those stories to tell on the T-shirts, I wouldn’t be surprised if we hadn’t opened.”

That’s been the goal from the beginning for Homage, to tell stories, and Ohio State has as many or more of them than any school in the country. Homage attempts to tell them all.

From shirts honoring two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin to apparel commemorating Chic Harley and the house he built to T-shirts remembering the Buckeyes' lone basketball championship won in 1960, it appears all of Buckeye lore is represented. When the company brings in newer Ohio State concepts, such as its “Bring The Juice” shirts lauding the Urban Meyer era, they do so with caution, Ellis said, trying to ensure that anything from the too-recent past has staying power.

“I realized that I had a fondness for clothing that communicated some type of story,” Homage founder Ryan Vesler says in a video on the company website. “It’s not about a label or a status symbol, it’s about a story.”

Vesler, who grew up in the Columbus neighborhood of Bexley and attended Ohio University, had the idea to tell stories through clothing in mind when he founded the company from his parents’ basement. He worked with friends to create a board of Ohio State inspiration – pictures pulled from old yearbooks and various other OSU memorabilia – that he took to the university’s office of trademark and licensing. With some insistence he got the license. He began selling T-shirts wholesale before Homage’s first brick and mortar location opened in Columbus' Short North in 2010.

The opening of that store was prompted by a partnership with a Buckeye athlete who helped push Homage over the top. Ohio State basketball walk-on Mark Titus had a relationship with Vesler and the two struck a deal to print Club Tril shirts. The shirts commemorate a trillion, the moniker earned by a player playing one minute and not recording a single stat (showing up as a 1 and 12 0s on the box score), what Titus believes is a walk-on’s best accomplishment. Because Titus was a student-athlete at the time all proceeds went to charity, but that deal led to Homage sponsoring the Nut House, the basketball student section, allowing the brand to really take off.

“Having the OSU license and sponsoring the student section really opened a lot of doors when we were starting out,” said Ellis, who has been with Homage for four years. “For a guy like Ryan starting out selling T-shirts, being able to say he is an OSU licensee and being able to showcase the work that he did for the university, it opened a whole lot of doors for Homage.”

That’s when Homage apparel started to become ubiquitous at Ohio State events. Maureen Flanagan, a 20-year-old Ohio State student who works at the Short North location, said the brand’s distinctive look is omnipresent on campus.

“Definitely not,” she replied instantly when asked if you can attend a Buckeye sporting event without seeing an Homage shirt. “There’s always someone wearing it, plus I’m usually wearing it.

"Having worked here now I can even spot the older stuff and say, ‘Oh, that’s definitely an homage shirt,’ even if we don’t still sell it.”

Thanks to the support of Ohio State fans, Homage continues to grow. The company opened its second location at Easton Town Center in 2012. The Short North location has moved from the small Brickel Street store to a larger, more prominent spot four blocks north on High Street and the first location outside of the 614 opened in Cincinnati’s Over the Rhine neighborhood last fall.

That Cincinnati store is the first step towards developing Homage into a regional power. The company boasts apparel for 27 different colleges, has collections representing 12 different locations in the United States and plans to continue expanding with other Midwest locations.

Still, it all started at Ohio State and in many ways that is where it remains. The company’s website has 96 Ohio State items listed, more than the number of items for the next six colleges combined (Ohio University, University of Kentucky, Miami University, Indiana University and University of Dayton). Around 45 different OSU items are on display at the two-story High Street location, far more than any other school or collection. The Cincinnati store features OSU apparel and Ellis expects any future locations will feature some Buckeye items.

“With Ohio State there is no shortage of great figures and great moments,” he said. “Part of it just being our hometown team and being based here. Coupled with that there is so much to work with when you are looking at the lore of Ohio State, that just kind of creates the perfect storm for us to continue to expand what we offer for Ohio State.”

Wherever Homage goes the company knows its roots are firmly planted at Ohio State.

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