About two years ago, after Justin Weems moved his commercial printing, T-shirt, records, and vintage-clothing company, Fine Southern Gentlemen, to new digs on East Alpine in Austin, he noticed something interesting and a little bothersome: the name Fine Southern Gentlemen no longer made a lick of sense.

Lots of the customers in the physical store, not to mention the staff, were women, transgender, or nonbinary. The mail-order T-shirt arm did business around the world, not just in the South. After fifteen years of calling out to males below the Mason-Dixon, Fine Southern Gentlemen has become Feels So Good. Or, as the graphic Weems used to soft launch the name this June on Instagram puts it: “Fine Southern Gentlemen Is Now Feels So Good: New Name, Same Feels, Always So Good.” 

The change isn’t completely out of nowhere. Feels So Good is the name of the record label Weems started in mid-2019. (The label is on track to release new material from Austin acts the Bad Lovers, John Wesley Coleman, and Tear Dungeon.) Now that’s the name of the whole company.

This isn’t the first time a Texas brand has decided to shed some regional baggage. The Dixie Chicks famously dropped the Dixie from their name in 2020 and released a critically well-regarded comeback album, Gaslighter, the same year. FSG is a much smaller entity, of course, but even some of the company’s most loyal employees thought the original name was a little confusing. Jazmariah Kemp has been with FSG for about ten years, first as a screen printer and now as production manager for the commercial printing business. “To be completely honest,” Kemp says, “friends of mine thought I worked at a strip club.” She is wildly in favor of the name change. “At this point, most of the department heads are women. It just better represents who we are as a company. We are the opposite of a strip club; we try to put clothes on people.”

Indeed, they have. In 2020 and especially 2021, as folks were spending an awful lot of time shopping online, FSG’s targeted ads on Facebook seemed to hit precisely the right market, and the brand exploded. The company started to reach a national audience. “It’s a good problem to have, but it was putting the name in front of a ton more people,” Weems says.

Erin Riley, who been with the company about four years and has worn all sorts of hats, from HR to events, is thrilled with the name change. “I thought it was great,” she says. “FSG was always the nickname, and most of the folks facing consumers were women.”

The name had been pigeonholing the company, as Weems puts it. He admits that the name change was a business move just as much as a push for inclusivity. “Maybe if I was a New Yorker and saw something from a company called Fine Southern Gentlemen,” he says, “I would not be as inclined to click on a link or an ad and find out what they were about. Inclusivity is part of it, but at the same time, [it’s about] not alienating ourselves from the rest of the country and the world.”  

Rebranding takes a lot of time. “You have to make sure everybody knows about it, knows we’re the same company,” Weems says. The website looks essentially the same, but it took the team months to get the back-end details ready.

The new name isn’t so much signaling a fresh start as it is getting the branding up to speed with the reality of the company. Women have always been in its ads, and mash-up music tees and vintage threads know no particular gender (unless “hipster” is a gender). Women have been behind the counter every time I’ve come into the store to look at new designs, flip through the new and used vinyl, and debate the extent to which I need tumblers from the Carter era. It’s a roomy space that combines the feel of boutique retail with a warehouse vibe. The sound system for the stage is surprisingly strong, as patrons have discovered during the occasional block parties at the shop. The most recent one featured sets from punk, hard-rock, and hip-hop acts from around Texas. 

Feels So Good retail shop in Austin
The Feels So Good retail shop in Austin.Courtesy of Feels So Good

FSG seems set on becoming a culture company, a business with a point of view. It doesn’t just make eye-catching shirts for the too-clever-by-half set. It is a multivalent, with income streams all over the place and roots in club-level music booking. A magazine is on the way, and the website already has interviews with music acts and FSG’s own designers. Is it all a form of product sales? Yes. Is it effective? Also yes. 

Back when Weems and his business partner Anthony Sanchez were promoting punk shows in their hometown of Nacogdoches, Fine Southern Gentlemen was a name to put on flyers, a time-honored tradition of making your DIY operation look just ever so slightly more professional. When Weems and Sanchez made the transition to professional screen printing and mash-up shirts, the name came with them. Short-run T-shirts and small-bore screen printing gave way to a bigger printing operation.

“Clever” or “ironic” T-shirt companies are a dime a dozen, as anyone who is on Facebook or Instagram for more than five minutes can tell you. But FSG seems to have found an aesthetic sweet spot for its mash-ups, a mix of cultural references and design elements. There are fairly straightforward shirts about Dolly Parton, ZZ Top, Houston hip-hop, and weed. There are several featuring iconic post-punk band Joy Division (a shirt with the shape of Texas in the Unknown Pleasures sleeve drawing is a smoother design than—but not as weird as—the one with Rowan Atkinson as Joy Division singer Ian Curtis, which is a joke mostly about sweaters and hair). The Bob Dylan one is brilliant, but you have to be okay with wearing a shirt that cusses.

One of the more popular series, Weems says, juxtaposed louche seventies smooth-jazz rockers Steely Dan with acts that are, on the surface, the complete opposite. The Dan was mixed with sleeve graphics from hard-core punk icons Black Flag and obtuse seventies New York no-wavers DNA and Sonic Youth. The joke (for serious music dorks, if nobody else) is that jazz is an essential element for all three bands, they just expressed it totally differently. (This theory doesn’t quite hold up for the Billy Joel/Black Flag mash-ups, which are from the same designer, Nathan Sakulich. Perhaps I’m overthinking this.)

Weems doesn’t call himself a designer, but he has created some of the simpler shirts: “All you need to know is enough to make the design work, and you can fake the rest.” FSG contracts with artists who submit designs, and FSG does the rest. Weems says there are around seventy contributing artists for the site, including ones who’ve made designs that have gone out of print.

Of course, all of this puts Feels So Good one step ahead of the cease-and-desist letters from various copyright holders. If someone objects, the shirts go out of print. But for now, business, both local and national, is booming, enough to justify the expense of a November 12 party to celebrate the rebrand, and enough to justify a name change Weems thinks is necessary.

“Over half the shop is female, trans, or nonbinary,” Weems says. “It doesn’t make sense for them to clock in every day at a place called Fine Southern Gentlemen. It wasn’t who we are anymore. It’s a whole different animal now.”