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How the Detroit Vs Everybody brand is reaching beyond the city

After five years, the iconic Detroit Vs Everybody clothing brand is swapping out the D for other cities and groups. Is it diluting its power – or bolstering it?

Detroit Vs Everybody has become a battle cry of the city. Detroiters have worn the bold all-caps logo on shirts, hats and hoodies with pride since homegrown entrepreneur Tommey Walker launched the brand in 2012. It was an eerie time for Detroit, under the national media scrutiny for the Kwame Kilpatrick scandal and facing a looming bankruptcy. It really did feel like Detroit was up against everybody. We were fighting to clean up our image and restore our city.

The brand was fitting for the time. Five years later, it holds its pull.

Only now, it’s not just Detroit. It’s anybody from “Camaro” to “Spartans” to “Flint” against everybody – or, in the case of one shirt, “Everybody Vs Injustice.”

That’s partly by design, Walker explains. “Creatively, I like to play around in ideas that have legs,” he says, “so my idea behind this brand was to create something that would have a place in every closet.”

It’s also partly out of necessity, as others began editing and selling the slogan themselves, from a Canadian startup to a Michigan-based chain retailer.

But let’s start at the beginning.

“When we first launched and got our first store location, the reaction was one I couldn’t have called,” Walker recalls. “I knew we had something special. I knew that it would work – work meaning it would generate money – but the connection that it had with the city and the world isn’t one I could’ve called. It’s just proof that something bigger than me is working through me.”

Walker got his start as a freelance as a graphic designer. After years of working for others, he says he wanted to create something for himself that would have a bigger impact. Before he conceptualized Detroit Vs Everybody, he bought a failing screen-printing company to begin testing ideas.

Walker says the idea came to him in the parking lot of a CVS store. Instantly he saw the design, went home and got to work. The logo took two months to create. He spent time adjusting the line thickness and spacing and testing out various fonts before everything was just right.

“It was a lot of tedious things to get it together,” Walker says. “I didn’t just type and start selling.”

It quickly became part of the city’s identity. And the rest of the world took notice, too.

When the logo hit social media, Walker says it went viral almost immediately. Within nine months Detroit Vs Everybody was featured on The Colbert Report and within 10 months on American Idol – and then celebrities like Rihanna and Yung Joc began rocking the threads. Detroit’s own Eminem even created a song honoring the brand and the city called “Detroit Vs Everybody” featuring fellow Detroit artists Big Sean, Dej Loaf, Trick Trick and Danny Brown. To date, the song has garnered 39 million YouTube views and counting.

Arguably, the brand has grown so powerful that many have tried to bite what was birthed in Motown. Walker had to deal with several instances of infringement.

Most notably, in 2015, Toronto-based startup Peace Collective began selling “Toronto -vs- Everybody” shirts. Walker told Deadline Detroit he sent the company a cease-and-desist letter to owner Yanal Dhailiel, who claimed he didn’t know about Walker or Detroit Vs Everybody prior to releasing his shirts. Since the two designs were trademarked in different countries, it was deemed they didn’t conflict. So the Toronto shirts are still sold today.

That same year, Meijer was at the center of intense backlash after social media users exposed the Midwest chain for selling Detroit Vs Everybody knockoffs in two of its Detroit stores. Technically the shirts weren’t infringing on any trademarks – they actually said “Detroit Vs Everyone” with a similar logo design – but Meijer eventually chose pull the items from its stores saying in a statement that it was “a little too close for comfort.”

“It’s like I don’t even have to do any research to see who’s infringing on my mark because my supporters are constantly, constantly sending me infringements,” Walker says. “It’s like an army.”

His remedy? Replacing the “Detroit” text with other cities, Fortune 500 companies, social organizations, even Divine Nine Greek organizations. “The Vs Everybody brand was a brand where the ‘top line’ could be swapped out,” he says.

To some, this might dilute the power of the “Detroit Vs Everybody” message that gave the brand its start. But Walker says that those who don’t support his expansion don’t understand it’s stronger to show a brand was birthed out of the city rather than having it localized and only available in that city.

Like Walker’s new shirt says, “They can bite us ... but they can’t be us.” And he believes no matter how many cities share Vs Everybody, its roots matter most.

“This brand is bigger than me. This brand is bigger than just Detroit,” Walker says. “I think the important part is that a homegrown Detroiter started this and it was born out of Detroit.”

JASMINE ESPY IS A DETROIT-BASED FREELANCE WRITER.

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