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STFU about chicago shirts
Photograph: Courtesy of Harebrained

A local designer is changing the narrative with 'STFU About Chicago'

An apparel collection celebrates Chicago and pushes back on the outsider perspective

Lindsay Eanet
Written by
Lindsay Eanet

Many people who call Chicago home have a story like this one. We’re out of town visiting relatives or attending a work conference, and we mention we live in Chicago. Then begins the flurry of pearl-clutching from out of towners.

“It’s so dangerous!”

“Do you feel safe?”

“Cable news told me Chicago is a lawless hellscape!” 

Like every major city, Chicago has problems, including gun violence, and the conversations on how to address them deserve to be had with those most impacted taking the lead. But many locals are growing weary with cable news grifters and armchair pundits stoking fear about our city from and for an out-of-town perspective. And that frustration has led to memes, merchandise and a rallying cry—STFU About Chicago.

Back in May of this year, amid another rash of Chicago being cable news’ favorite municipal punching bag, local Matt Lindner sparked up an idea on X (formerly Twitter): “Here is a free business idea that will make a billion dollars. A line of ‘Shut the Fuck Up About Chicago’ shirts.” 

Among those who saw the tweet was Anthony Hall, designer, illustrator and founder of local apparel and graphic design company Harebrained. Hall felt inspired to create the first two STFU About Chicago designs, a play on the iconic Wrigley Field marquee and an old-school White Sox logo. From there, the designs took off “like immediately,” he said.

And the designs have kept coming, with the collection including mashups of every CTA line and local pro sports team; beloved institutions like Superdawg and the Green Mill; food brands such as El Milagro and Vitner’s; and old-school references like the Magikist lips. Even mainstay businesses have reached out to Hall about getting STFU About Chicago merch made in the style of their logos. He’s working with Manny’s Deli, the notorious Wiener Circle and even Illuminated Brew Works for a STFU About Chicago beer (Hall says it will of course have an appropriate label).

“I love how it is a little bit like everyone is getting on board with it,” Hall said.

STFU about chicago pins
Photograph: Courtesy of Harebrained

It’s that frustration with the outsider perspective and strong civic pride from locals that have led Hall’s designs to become a social media sensation.

“You talk to anybody from another city and you’re like ‘Hey, I’m from Chicago,’ and people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, isn’t it scary? Isn’t your life constantly in danger?’ And you’re like, ‘No, it’s an amazing city with so many cultural icons,’” Hall said. “There’s so much pride in the city and you take these icons that everyone has these strong feelings towards and you bring this sentiment forward, this ‘Shut the Fuck Up About Chicago,’ and from there it’s a rallying cry for the city.”

Hall grew up in “the corn fields” of Woodstock, Illinois and fell in love with the city following a week-long summer camp at the Art Institute of Chicago as a teen. He's called Chicago home for 18 years and says he’s definitely experienced the phenomenon of Chicago as an urban bogeyman.

“I have aunts, uncles, friends in other cities … I travel for work and I end up in these different cities, and I tell them I’m from Chicago and they’re like ‘Oh my Gosh, how are you still breathing? How are you still alive?’ The perception outside of Chicago is so different than what it is to live here,” Hall said.

Hall thinks the folks peddling myths and right-wing talking points about Chicago should come see the city and all it has to offer for themselves.

“Chicago rules. We’ve got some of the best architecture in the world. We’ve got an amazing public transit system, or we did—it’s coming back. We have alleys. We have a grid system that makes it so easy to get around. We have amazing food, amazing people. Come to Chicago.”

As for Hall’s favorite thing about Chicago, he says it’s the infrastructure. “I love being able to jump on a train and not having to worry about driving someplace, just having some personal time to myself, looking out at the city on the window.

“I love the food but I love just having that freedom to jump on a bus or train, get anywhere you want to go, and you can have some time to yourself.”

Since the launch in May, the STFU About Chicago collection has ballooned to more than 45 designs. Hall says his favorite is perhaps one of the most “if you know, you know” entries—a mashup of two iconic old-school commercials for Victory Auto Wreckers and Eagle Insurance. Another favorite is one of the earliest iterations, featuring the Morton Salt Girl.

“There’s just something about that character just kicking up her foot; doesn’t care, that sort of reflects how Chicagoans feel about the way other people talk about Chicago,” Hall said.

STFU About Chicago stickers
Photograph: Courtesy of Harebrained

And the STFU design series isn’t the only wink-and-nudge tribute to Chicago iconography in Harebrained’s lineup. You’ll also find a mashup of local commercial titan and attorney Peter Francis Geraci with the Taco Bell logo (a reference to his office in a converted Portage Park Taco Bell), a shirt commemorating the infamous Dave Matthews Poop Bus Incident of 2004 and “Run to Da Jewels,” which Harebrained designed for Riot Fest in 2021.

“I run everything by my coworker Amanda because I don’t trust my own judgment,” Hall said, adding “The creative process is just to find something that evokes a little nostalgia or emotion and build off of that.”

Although the Chicago merch has gone viral, it’s just one part of Harebrained’s design and apparel work, which also includes cheeky, pop culture-influenced period underwear (the Zelda-inspired blood moon set is a particular favorite), baby onesies and even a trivia game called Shit for Brains.

“It’s all things I care about and make me laugh,” Hall explained. “Luckily I’ve found some customers and fans that agree with my sense of humor.”

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