UM Students Put "Hart" Into Charity-Driven Shirt Startup

Last year, two Michigan students turned their dorm room into a startup. Their big idea: combine, art, business, and their love of their hometown into pride you can literally wear on your sleeve. With this mission in mind and some sketches in hand, Colin Cheeseman and Cole Stabnick started Hart of the City Designs.

At its core, Hart of the City is a digital-native apparel company that celebrates the unique cultures represented by different US cities. For Colin, the decision to focus on cities was simple: “People, especially from U of M, love to show the pride [they] have from the [places] they came from.” That very same tenet gave their company its name: inspired by the Jay-Z song “Heart of the City,” Colin and Cole made Hova’s words their own by paying homage to their hometown of Hartford, CT to create “Hart of the City.” 

When it comes to designing a new shirt, Colin and Cole start with research—and not just a Google search.  Their process begins by talking to as many people from an area as possible, learning about their experiences and their sense of local price. By interviewing the citizens of a desired city, it is much easier to understand the nuances behind what places means to their people. Colin is firm: “The design should come from the people, not from a [preconception] we may have about the city.”

Hart of the City's "Ann Arbor" shirt design

Hart of the City's "Ann Arbor" shirt design

Equally important to Colin and Cole is the idea of philanthropy: sales of each locality’s shirt benefits a charity in that city, receiving 20% of that line’s profits. Because a focus of the company is “to help build up cities,” many of the charities Colin and Cole selected as beneficiaries work directly with children.

Balancing Football Saturdays and long weeks full of classes, calling Colin and Cole “busy” is an understatement. But even with packed student schedules, they somehow find time to keep designing and growing Hart of the City. But according to the team, being in college is more of a help than a hindrance: the unique opportunities to “network as two college-aged students has allowed [Hart] to expand” rapidly, from Connecticut to Los Angeles and everywhere in between.

 For Hart of the City, the future is looking bright. Colin and Cole’s next big design project? Boston, one of the country’s proudest and most historic cities. Once they have achieved Boston, the pair hopes to expand the range of products they offer beyond t-shirts to include stickers, phone cases, and other types of clothing. As for the long term? For Colin, it all comes back to service: “[we want] to make a big enough splash that it will force other companies to make giving back to the community in which they profit off of, a priority.”  That’s the sort of heart you can wear on your sleeve.

Interested in learning more about Hart of the City? Check out for more information.