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Caps, shirts battle Inland Empire’s bad image

1LoveIE sells merchandise painting region in a positive – and accurate – light, owner says

Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, inside his store at the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, inside his store at the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)
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By David Downey | Contributing Writer

Like many of the more than 4 million people who call the Inland Empire home, Justin Hudson is well acquainted with the disparaging stereotypes often hurled at the region from people in places like Orange County and Los Angeles.

“‘The Inland Empire is ghetto;’ ‘the armpit of California,’” said Hudson, a 36-year-old Riverside resident. “Those are the two that stand out the most.”

He’s heard that sort of thing for years.

  • Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, organizes Inland Empire-themed...

    Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, organizes Inland Empire-themed hats at his store in the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • 1LoveIE, which stands for “1 Love Inland Empire” and “1...

    1LoveIE, which stands for “1 Love Inland Empire” and “1 Love In Everything,” caps are on display at 1LoveIE, in the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • 1LoveIE and city of Riverside stickers are seen Thursday, Dec....

    1LoveIE and city of Riverside stickers are seen Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, at the Galleria at Tyler store in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, shows one of...

    Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, shows one of his “1 Love Inland Empire” caps at his Galleria at Tyler mall store in Riverside on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Justin Hudson, owner of 1LoveIE, is surrounded Thursday, Dec. 7,...

    Justin Hudson, owner of 1LoveIE, is surrounded Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, by his collection of Inland Empire-themed merchandise at his store in the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Justin Hudson, founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday, Dec. 7,...

    Justin Hudson, founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, with Inland Empire-themed merchandise at his store in the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, showcases Inland Empire-themed...

    Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, showcases Inland Empire-themed caps at his store in the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside on Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

  • Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday,...

    Justin Hudson, owner and founder of 1LoveIE, is seen Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, inside his store at the Galleria at Tyler mall in Riverside. (Photo by Watchara Phomicinda, The Press-Enterprise/SCNG)

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“I mean, my whole life.”

Sometimes, the Inland Empire is put down in casual conversation. But it’s also been and as well as newspaper articles.

Thomas Kramer, a UC Riverside marketing professor, has often heard one comment: “It’s close to a lot of nice places — but it’s not a nice place.”

Hudson decided to push back against the negative vibes in creative fashion.

A decade ago, he launched a business that sells hats, T-shirts, socks and other apparel embroidered with logos and messages that present a positive view of the Inland Empire.

The business is 1LoveIE, which stands for One Love Inland Empire. He came up with the idea in 2013 while attending college, and met his first customers in parking lots to exchange caps and T-shirts for cash.

Today, Hudson runs stores in two prominent Inland area malls: Rancho Cucamonga’s Victoria Gardens and the Galleria at Tyler in Riverside.

“We sell to the world, to whoever believes in love, peace, unity and community” — and to those who love the Inland Empire, Hudson said.

His merchandise also is displayed in retail stores and a casino that have partnered with Hudson.

Hudson’s success caught the attention of Assemblymember Sabrina Cervantes, D-Riverside. In August 2021, Cervantes named 1LoveIE her district’s small business of the year.

“Changing the narrative for the I.E. was very important for us,” said Cervantes, who met Hudson in 2019 at a manufacturing conference for women. “His vision really resonated with me.”

Kramer, the UCR professor, said Hudson’s success shows that the idea has resonated with many.

“He’s telling his customers, ‘Own who you are,’” Kramer said.

In essence, Kramer said, Hudson is offering them an opportunity to “stick it in the face” of critics who make fun of their home.

“As an Inland Empire resident, of course you want to rebel against that,” he said.

Kramer added that most residents “already know it’s not as bad a place as people make it out to be.”

Whether the cool apparel is changing the region’s image is hard to say, Kramer said. Perhaps some people are beginning to think “that maybe there is more to it than bad traffic and bad air.”

Paul Granillo, president and CEO of the Inland Empire Economic Partnership and a Redlands native, praised Hudson for taking the risk of investing in a product that promotes the area.

Granillo, too, has heard the remarks.

“The negativity that comes at us is almost always misinformed,” he said.

Residents have reasons to take pride in the area, Granillo said.

They can be proud, he said, that the region is a place where many live in a house with a backyard in an expensive state.

Granillo said they can be proud of the area’s many attractions, among them the mountain resorts around Big Bear, the popular and music festivals and the expanding .

Others have noted that , of the popular 1970s comedy duo Cheech and Chong, chose to display his extensive Chicano art collection in .

“I think it is time to get past letting others define us and to define ourselves,” Granillo said.

Hudson, who traces his entrepreneurial spirit to his mother’s encouragement to sell candy after school when he was a kid, believes his product line is having an impact.

“We are bringing a sense of pride to the region and something to smile about,” he said.

It has brought a sense of pride to Trevor Mathews, a 29-year-old San Bernardino resident and member of the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians, who frequently buys 1LoveIE merchandise and gave hats to family members for gifts last Christmas.

Mathews is a San Manuel bird singer and Christian hip hop artist.

“It is kind of crazy,” he said. “I was looking for something that was kind of positive and represented the community where we are from.”

Mathews said he mostly buys hats, which he often wears during performances.

“But there are some cool logos on socks and shirts sometimes that I just cannot pass up,” he said.

Mathews’ favorite design is one with a heart shape and the letters i and e.

“It’s such a unique logo,” he said.

One might be surprised, Mathews said, where Hudson’s products pop up. He recalled seeing someone wearing a cap at Walt Disney World in Florida two years ago.

For Hudson, the genesis of the idea came during a 2012 trip to France. While there, he was asked repeatedly where he was from and answered, “Los Angeles.”

“But then, when I came home from the trip, I said, ‘Man I’ve got to let people know, I’m from the Inland Empire,’” he said.

Immediately after launching the business, things were slow. But soon the business received a huge boost.

Two prominent NFL players from Ontario’s Colony High School — Bobby Wagner, who plays linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks, and Omar Bolden, formerly of the Denver Broncos — wore 1LoveIE hats during televised interviews, Hudson said. That prompted many to place orders, he said.

“That’s what changed everything for us,” Hudson said.

Besides selling, Hudson teaches entrepreneurship at Riverside City College and San Bernardino Valley College.

“Despite the negative comments, the Inland  Empire is a beautiful place,” he said. “And what makes it beautiful is the folks that live here. We all have diverse backgrounds. We all have a story to tell. But when we come together we all make up this place we call home, the Inland Empire.”

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