The factories might be rusting, the politicians might be facing indictments, and the pierogi might be pretty fattening, but region residents still tend to take pride in where they are from.
Two entrepreneurs from Michigan City who hope that people want to display their region pride have launched the clothing line Region R.A.T.S. The company sells T-shirts, sweatshirts and hats that often feature a tough-looking rat with an eye patch.
The region rat nickname is a familiar one that is supposedly descended from the phrase mill rat, but in this case R.A.T.S. is an acronym that stands for Reach Above The Stars, which reflects the owners' philosophy that ambition is key to success.
Friends Tiere Jackson and Courtney Lewis founded the clothing brand in 2011 after talking about it for years.
"There are West Coast and East Coast styles, and we wanted to represent the fashion or style of Northwest Indiana or the Midwest," Jackson said. "We want to represent where we come from, what it's like being from the 219 or Da Region."
Jackson and Lewis wanted a creative outlet, and spent months coming up with the name and concepts with the help of artist friends in Valparaiso. Shirt designs include The Region University, their Region R.A.T.S. slogan with an outstretched arm from the Indiana Pacers logo, and a 1950s clip art-style woman screaming "Rats!"
"To me, the brand is based off of representing Northwest Indiana, literally all of Northwest Indiana," Jackson said. "It's representing what's cool around here, putting it in front of people, and letting people know there are positive things, good things coming from our area."
Others have sold region rat-themed T-shirts before. The gift shop of the Indiana Welcome Center in Hammond for instance offers "The Region Rats Rule" T-shirts that feature a muscle-bound rat sitting on a brick wall against the backdrop of a steel mill. Indianapolis-based Circle City Clothing, which is run by two Northwest Indiana transplants, sells an "I'm a Region Rat" tee with a scowling, buck-toothed rodent.
Region R.A.T.S. primarily sells its clothes online, on the website therattrap.bigcartel.com. But the due also have established pop-up shops in high-traffic areas of Michigan City, Indianapolis and Bloomington. College students are a key demographic.
A long-term goal is to get the shirts into boutiques, such as in Chicago. But sales have been strong online, and the shirts have proved popular to region natives who have been transplanted elsewhere. Region R.A.T.S. has sold its apparel in four different countries and 20 states, including Virginia, North Carolina and California.
"We're going to do some promoting and step it up to the next echelon," Jackson said. "There's no stopping us."