Reclaiming Rustic Roots

By Alyssa Weston

RustLife Apparel, an online clothing store, has a goal to bring together the people of the Rust Belt region through artistic designs that encourage Rust Belt pride, regardless of its past challenges.

Doug Costanzo, CEO of RustLife Apparel, said he came upon the idea for his company while traveling among the southern states.

“I wanted something that represented the area where I was born and raised, so I just grabbed it and started working on it,” he said.

Costanzo said he is proud to represent the “forgotten about” people who still believe in the Rust Belt and to tell the stories of what the region has been though in the past and the potential it has for the future.

He said the Rust Belt has been the backbone of this nation through many hard times and wars, providing rich history of what Industrial America once was and still is.

“Regardless of whether you still live in The Rust Belt or have moved away, your rustic roots and your power horse work ethic stay with you for a lifetime,” Costanzo said. “I wanted to give people the opportunity to have pride in their background, and where it is they call home.”

Although the website launched in late 2017, Costanzo said this past spring is when RustLife Apparel became a reality through working with a marketing team.

Steve Cross, part of the iSynergy marketing team, has been working with RustLife in areas such as website design and advertising campaigns.

Cross, a self-proclaimed T-shirt enthusiast, said although he has hundreds of shirts from around the country, the uniqueness of RustLife is what drew him to this project.

“[Costanzo has] done designs to make the area hip and trendy, which is a difficult step for a lot of brands,” he said.

Cross said enough time has passed since “the great shutdown” of the steel mills in the Rust Belt, so it can be seen as a good brand, without any negative connotation.

Tara Hatmaker, graphic designer, is one of the designers that has been working with RustLife Apparel to help bring Costanzo’s vision to life.

Hatmaker said the designs are a great way to display hometown pride.

“I love where [Costanzo] is going with [RustLife Apparel]. I think that it is a creative spin on bringing more attention to the area,” she said.

RustLife Apparel has three designs featuring Youngstown and Pittsburgh, but is currently working on creating a fourth design. There have plans to expand the merchandise to represent other Rust Belt cities in Indiana, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania.  

The company hopes to showcase merchandise in different museums and campuses along the Rust Belt, and perhaps open a store one day.