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Urban Vision Fresh From The Vines

Randy & Jeff Vines are brothers and business partners in STL-Style. The siblings have taken their passion for St. Louis to a whole new level.

Twin brothers Jeff (left) and Randy Vines say they are dedicated "to educating, encouraging and spreading the word about the awesomeness of our town." photo courtesy of the Vines brothers (click for larger version)
June 03, 2011
Jeff and Randy Vines, owners of STL-Style, love St. Louis.

The twin brothers are sharing the love through their T-shirts, totes and posters sporting uniquely St. Louis slogans. They also serve on several civic committees and boards working tirelessly to tout the treasures of their hometown.

Their efforts caught the attention of Jack Storey, founder of Saving Cities, Ltd., who is featuring the Vines in an upcoming documentary about innovative people, projects and organizations in Rust Belt cities including St. Louis, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and others.

"We're honored, humbled and flattered," Randy Vines said, kicked back in an oversized chair in their Cherokee Street shop. "But it's not about us it's about the city. It deserves something like this and we're here to do it."

The Vines, 32, are thrilled about showing others how great St. Louis is.

"We are dedicated to educating, encouraging and spreading the word about the awesomeness of our town," Jeff Vines said.

The brothers believe St. Louis has the bones of a first-class city.

"Very few cities can say they were ever the fourth largest city at any time in their history," Jeff Vines said. "Around every corner in this city, we are reminded that this city was built to be one of the big boys."

Randy Vines echoed that sentiment.

Randy Vines at the STyLehouse offices located on Cherokee Street. photo by Diana Linsley (click for larger version)
"You know it was built to be a place that matters," he said, adding that St. Louis has its own local flavor. "It has an urban fabric that other cities would kill for. We're so proud of our hometown."

In an effort to help show the film's producers all that St. Louis is, the Vines are hosting an event called GROUPHUG on Thursday, June 2, from 7 to 10 p.m. at their StyLehouse, located at 3159 Cherokee St.

It will be the culmination of the GROUPHUG initiative, which called on St. Louisans to photograph themselves hugging their favorite person, place or thing in the city. The photos will then be displayed at the party on Thursday where people can browse the pictures, listen to music and express their love for all things STL. Prizes will be awarded for the best photos.

"We wanted to do something outside of the box to show off St. Louis," Randy Vines said. "We want to show that this city really does have a spirit that is unsurpassed. Yes, we have problems, but we are a great city."

Saving Cities producers will be filming portions of the event and interviewing people to document how citizens are saving Rust Belt cities through grassroots efforts.

Storey, who is a staunch advocate for his hometown of Cleveland, said Jeff and Randy Vines are a great example of that.

"They've been doing this business for 10 years now and it's a successful endeavour and for-profit business, but with an entirely civic intention," Storey said, noting that's a rarity. "It's a business that's been able to take care of themselves while being true to that civic duty. I've admired that for a while and I'm excited to share it with the world through this documentary."

The intention of the film is to inform and inspire a new generation of leaders to help revitalize aging cities in the Midwest and Great Lakes regions. It aims to showcase initiatives and entrepreneurs whose influence goes beyond providing a product or service and inspires others to help make their towns and cities more vibrant.

The Vines brothers are a perfect example of that. In addition to creatively promoting the city in a stylish way using clothes with phrases like "Highway Farty," "Where'd You Go To High School," and "Bevo Fever," they show their unwavering commitment to St. Louis through their civic involvement.

The brothers serve on the steering committee of the organization that envisioned GROUPHUG called City Affair, a monthly forum for sharing ideas about urban planning and progressive policy in St. Louis.

The Vines also are active in the Great Lakes Urban Exchange, a coalition dedicated to revitalizing Rust Belt cities, and Next American City, a national organization promoting economic growth in America's cities.

"It's really important to keep St. Louis relevant on the national scale," Randy Vines said.

The brothers are happy that what started as two personal T-shirts for themselves transformed into an online venture and is now a full-time business with a physical address, but promoting the city is their true passion.

"We feel that our shirts and merchandise are really having a positive effect on the city's self esteem," Jeff Vines said. "Our designs reflect St. Louis as we see it. We are promoting its authenticity."

More than anything else, the Vines want others to appreciate St. Louis.

"We would like to see an attitude shift," Randy Vines said. "People need to appreciate what we have. Whether St. Louis is the city for them or not, we want people to appreciate St. Louis for what it is."

The Vines believe the people who live here are the best advocates for the city.

"The best way to improve the city's image is to have people believe it is a special place," Randy Vines said. "People become the best advocates by extolling the virtues of where they live."

Although Randy Vines and his family live in the Skinker-DeBaliviere area and Jeff Vines and his wife live in the Central West End, they love just about every part of St. Louis.

Forest Park, public transit, cobblestone streets, old neighborhoods, historic buildings, graffiti on downtown walls, single streets that are microcosms of activity, a unique urban environment and do-it-yourself culture are just a few of the Vines' favorite St. Louis things.

The brothers are optimistic about turning others on to St. Louis.

"People our age who are passionate about the city are now becoming decision-makers," Randy Vines said, adding that there's several other people who are doing great things to bolster St. Louis. "It's much bigger than we are."

Although there are many others dedicated to promoting the city, Jeff and Randy Vines are two of St. Louis' biggest cheerleaders, according to Alex Ihnen, editor of nextSTL.com, a blog that has been recognized for stories that discuss change and issues that are important to the continuing resurgence of the City of St. Louis and the metropolitan area.

"Jeff and Randy Vines provide the enthusiasm for people's ideas to take off," said Ihnen, who serves on City Affair with the Vines and is chair of City to River, which works to improve connections between the riverfront and downtown St. Louis. "There's only a handful of people that have the enthusiasm to take someone's crazy idea (like GROUPHUG) and turn it into an event where 300 people show up."

Ihnen said there would likely be a lot less getting done in St. Louis if it weren't for Jeff and Randy Vines.

"If you don't have the enthusiasm it doesn't happen," he said. "They are tireless cheerleaders."

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