The story behind a Kansas City-designed T-shirt celebrating local barbecue culture has more meat to it than any given ’que joint’s combo platter, Brendan Curran said.
“We met playing basketball in the eighth grade,” Curran, founder of local apparel company, Three KC, said of his childhood friend, Jason Sudeikis, Overland Park-native, actor, comedian, and current star of the Apple TV series “Ted Lasso.”
The streaming series — which sees a fictional Kansas college football coach hired to lead a professional soccer team in England — sent sales of Three KC’s “Joearthur Gatestack” tee sailing toward the goalposts when Sudeikis wore it on screen late last summer — after inspiring Curran to design it in the first place.
“I was tagging along with him at a ‘Big Slick’ event,” Curran recalled, noting a local reporter pressed Sudeikis to answer one of Kansas City’s most loaded questions: his go-to spot for the city’s beloved barbecue.
“I think he said, ‘Oklahoma Gates,’ and I thought it was pretty funny,” Curran said, musing about the TV star’s deft dodge by combining two well-known brands, Joe’s KC (formerly Oklahoma Joe’s) and Gates. “We laughed — because asking someone’s favorite barbecue in Kansas City can stir up a lot of emotions.”
When Sudeikis returned to Kansas City for the Big Slick charity event the following year, Curran — a Saint Thomas Aquinas High School statistics and digital design teacher by day — had gone all-in on Three KC, a side hustle through which he saw designing his own T-shirts as an effort to celebrate the city. Curran was hopeful he could offer locals something different than what was already in the market.
“I asked [Sudeikis], ‘Would you wear any of these?’ And he ended up wearing [the ‘Joearthuer Gatestack’ shirt] to the big show they do,” Curran recalled, noting the attention generated some buzz in the short-term and the friends went on with their lives.
A few months later, Sudeikis turned up on the set of ‘Ted Lasso,’ wearing the shirt once more.
“They were like, ‘Hey man, you can’t wear that shirt; we don’t have permission to wear that shirt,’ and he was like, ‘No, I think it’ll be OK,’” Curran laughed, adding he eagerly signed waivers to approve the shirt’s appearance in the series, opening a floodgate of sales.
Click here to buy one of the shirts or to browse other designs by Curran.
“I really think they’re just doing their part to celebrate the city,” he said of celebrity locals like Sudeikis and ways they and efforts like the Big Slick have elevated Kansas City apparel companies — most notably Charlie Hustle, which received a 2014 boost from the Kansas City Royals and actor Paul Rudd.
Behind the design
Three KC is a Kansas City Clothing Brand started by Brendan Curran in 2019. The brand was inspired by the Three Kings of Kansas City: que, crown, and arrow. If you claim KC, you likely have strong feelings about BBQ and sports.
Brendan is a husband to Casey, dad of 3 boys, a high school Statistics and Digital Design teacher, coaches high school basketball, and the founder of Three KC. His lifelong love of sports uniforms, sneakers, logos, signs, and having been a Kansas Citian since 1984 inspired his creation of the Three KC brand.
Three KC designs are 100 percent original designs created by Brendan Curran.
“When Jason wears my shirts, it’s because he likes them. He’s a good enough friend [that] he wouldn’t wear them if he didn’t like them,” Curran laughed. “I think they really just do it out of love and to celebrate Kansas City.”
And although Curran is grateful to have the support of his friend, such attention for Three KC hasn’t come without conflict, he added.
“People are stealing the designs,” Curran revealed, noting he’s found inauthentic copies of his work up for sale on such sites as Amazon and Etsy.
“It’s a challenge, because I’ve got intellectual property on a lot of these, but at the same time — I don’t have the financial backing to go after every single person that rips off the design.”
While most sellers comply with Curran’s request to cease and desist, others have doubled down on their efforts to cash in on the design, he said.
“One guy on Etsy was pretty competitive about it. That was frustrating,” Curran said. “I’m just trying to protect what’s mine. I’m not retiring off this money, but at the same time, I have enough pride in what I do that I’d like to protect it.”
As Three KC finds its footing as a brand — suddenly earning a spot among the city’s most sought-after makers — Curran said he plans to keep operations small, instead focusing on creating quality designs that celebrate Kansas City in unique, out-of-the-box ways.
“I still really enjoy my teaching and coaching job. I’m not under pressure. I’m just designing stuff,” he said. “It gives me the freedom to only put out designs I really like and I’m proud of. So, right now, I’m pretty happy.”