A T-shirt snob on her love for Cincinnati, the Bengals and shirts that don’t shrink

Inside her clothing store in East Walnut Hills, her first thought is to lock the door.

“People will think we’re open,” she says.

Outside, snowbanks fill the street parking. It's Monday, and the Super Bowl is six days away. Originalitees, the Black-owned apparel company, is closed today. And inventory is low.

'It's crazy': Bengals gear going fast in wake of historic AFC Championship win

In the window, a mannequin models a white Cincinnati Bengals-inspired T-shirt near a table of beer pong. A few of those same shirts are folded in a pile below a display inside. Three more hang on racks nearby.

In the back of Khisha Asubuhi’s store, where there’s printing equipment, a microwave and a small minifridge, stacks of her other shirts sit on racks. Unseen by customers, these are extra inventory. None of the football shirts are here. They're all out front.

And that’s all she has.

Khisha Asubuhi owner of Originalitees in East Walnut Hills, shows a new Bengals-inspired sweatshirt her company made. Asubuhi started Originalitees, a clothing apparel company, in 2009 while working full-time at the post office.
Khisha Asubuhi owner of Originalitees in East Walnut Hills, shows a new Bengals-inspired sweatshirt her company made. Asubuhi started Originalitees, a clothing apparel company, in 2009 while working full-time at the post office.

Asubuhi sells one to an Enquirer photojournalist on Monday. But not before she checks her recent orders.

“I’m just making sure this doesn’t belong to anyone,” she says.

Asubuhi hopes to release a new Bengals-themed shirt soon. This one features a design with what has become the city’s rallying cry: “It is us.” But the shirts were delayed by the winter storm, and the designs haven’t been printed yet.

Super Bowl 2022: 10-year-old Bengals fan with rare condition surprised with Super Bowl tickets

When the season started, she never dreamed the Bengals would be her No. 1 seller. As long as Asubuhi can remember, the Cincinnati Bengals have been defined by losing, even when they made the playoffs.

Not anymore.

Access all our Bengals coverage. Get a great deal by subscribing to the Enquirer today at https://cm.cincinnati.com/specialoffer.

Recently, she’s noticed people who aren’t even fans come into her store looking for Bengals shirts. They want to feel like they're a part of something, she says. They want to belong.

To the city and the team.

In many ways, it’s why Asubuhi started this business. To bring people together who were proud of Ohio, even if the nation doesn't always understand why.

‘It is us’

Khisha Asubuhi grew up in Columbus. And when it came to football, there wasn’t much of a choice. It was either Ohio State or Ohio State. Professional football didn’t matter.

Not in that way.

Her sport was basketball. She played at Indiana University and was part of the team that won a Big Ten tournament championship in 2002. After college, she moved here to coach at Cincinnati State Community College.

Three keys for Cincinnati: How the Bengals can beat the Rams in Super Bowl 56

She’s always been a T-shirt snob. Ask her about her business and one of the first things she’ll tell you about is shrinking shirts. When she opened in 2009, the warehouse was the dining room of her one-bedroom apartment. She didn't open a storefront until 2020.

And she still doesn't pay herself. (She works another full-time job as the marketing manager at Urban Artifact.)

Ask Asubuhi about her favorite shirt, and she’ll give you several answers. One is a shirt made for Indiana University, where she was rejected for a licensing agreement twice before finally being approved the third time. Another shirt involves a name, image and likeness deal for an entire women’s basketball team — not just one player.

Khisha Asubuhi, owner of Originalitees, says she likes it best when she can sell T-shirts that match the pride she feels in living in Cincinnati.
Khisha Asubuhi, owner of Originalitees, says she likes it best when she can sell T-shirts that match the pride she feels in living in Cincinnati.

Another favorite is kept in a locker near the register.

“Product of Public Schools,” the shirts say.

When Asubuhi moved to Cincinnati in 2003, she was confused by the number of times she got this question: Where did you go to high school?

In Cincinnati, it’s like asking about the weather. Sometimes, she felt judged when she didn’t reply with the name of a private school. But that didn’t change the fact that she was proud of where she came from and who she had become.

Doc's column: It's time for a little closure. Former Bengals' advice for this Super Bowl team.

She put that pride into a shirt. Over time, that pride became a pride for Cincinnati.

Asubuhi is not the biggest Bengals fan in the world, or even in her neighborhood. But this story is about more than the Bengals. This story is about home. The ones we grow up in and the ones we make.

It's about the ones we move to and how they can sometimes make us stay.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Super Bowl 2022: A Bengals T-shirt snob on the Queen City's run