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Ohio State apparel deal worries local businesses

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Some local business owners have expressed concerns about how the recently announced Ohio State apparel contract will affect their clothing orders and memorabilia diversity in the coming months.
OSU agreed to a 10-year, $97 million deal with two apparel and retail businesses, J. America and Fanatics Inc., to exclusively produce and sell university apparel.
J. America and Fanatics will pay $23 million up front for exclusive rights for design, marketing, production, retail and distribution of all apparel, according to a Thursday university press release.
Columbus’ manufacturers and retailers have voiced concerns over the agreement that was announced Nov. 15, afraid it will monopolize available OSU merchandise and cut down on diversity between stores.
Mitchell Hirsch, CEO of Art Tees, Inc. said he thought the deal won’t provide the university body with adequate OSU apparel.
“What I wonder about is right now we’re printing an order for the hospital, (Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital). They have an event next month,” Hirsch said. “It’s 300 sweatshirts. Is J. America going to print the 300 shirts for them?”
He said in addition to OSU departments that order shirts from him, he is concerned about the new clothing firms’ ability to serve student organizations. He provides departments and student organizations with small orders.  
“Is J. America going to print 15 shirts? Because all the student organizations want something printed with Ohio State on it,” Hirsch said.
Manufacturers are not the only ones affected by the new licensing deal.
Kelly Dawes, owner of College Traditions, a Lane Avenue retailer, said her business will probably be affected by decreased product variety.  
“I am hoping we will still have enough product,” Dawes said.  
She said she might need to find other products to sell as a result of the contract, but that isn’t ideal.
“I hope I don’t have to do that, I mean it’s my understanding that J. America will sub-license,” Dawes said. “Who knows, it’s hard to say.”
Mark Carcraft, textbook supervisor for campus retailer Buckeye Books said he thought the deal will likely have a similar effect on his company.
“We have a lot of different merchandise that is licensed from other smaller retailers,” Carcraft said. “An agreement like that will probably cut down on the amount of people we could buy things from.”
According to an OSU press release, local manufacturers will have an opportunity to continue producing OSU apparel.
“Through J. America and Fanatics, Ohio State may continue to use Ohio-based companies as sub-licenses, suppliers, embroiders and screen printers,” the release said.
Hirsch said working through the new licenses is the route his business will most likely pursue.
“We’ll approach them to see, you know, if we can keep printing for the stores that we already print for,” he said.
The release said the deal will not hurt local businesses.
“Their current base of business with Ohio-based companies – including packaging, freight, blank apparel, corrugation and insurance services – is expected to double as a result of this agreement,” the press release said.
While concerned about the contract’s effects, Dawes said she sees the issue’s silver lining.
She said the choice to deal with J. America is better than the alternative: contracting with the Dallas Cowboys. A contract with the Dallas Cowboy’s Silver Star Merchandising has been protested over the past year by members of the student group United Students Against Sweatshops, who have accused the company of using sweatshop labor.
Dawes said she was pleased about the university’s decision to go with a different company.
“I think we are all happy that Silver Star didn’t get it because of how their business practices (are) and that sort of thing,” Dawes said. “I’m trying to be as optimistic as possible and having faith in Ohio State making the right decision. There is nothing we can really do about it, but time will tell.”

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