Business finds success in T-shirts with Native slogans
By Katrina Baldwin, Tundra Drums, 10 July 2003
A new clothing line called ‘inga for real’ hit the market last week.
Inga for real gave its first show under a makeshift blue tarp-tent at last Friday’s Fourth of July celebration in Bethel. Started by locals John Chase and Andrei Jacobs, the business found immediate success.
T-shirts with slogans like “Big Fat Uppa” (big fat grandpa) and “Mamterillermiu” meaning “person from Bethel,” proved to be very popular among the crowds as more than 200 were sold at the festival for $20 a piece.
Inga for real is derived from Yup’ik culture and its rural surroundings.
However, Jacobs and Chase have thrown an urban spin on their clothing. Boldly- colored print upon sharp, white T-shirts proudly shout out Yup’ik messages across the Delta.
“Andrei and I agreed that our shirts are to be empowering, and we wanted to throw in a little humor and make the reader think from a Yup’ik world view,” Chase said. “Basically we are educating people to think Yup’ik.”
“The motivator for this is self-esteem,” Jacobs said. `Making people feel alive and valuable and worthy.”
Jacobs views the company as a reflection of his own life experiences. As half Yup’ik, half African-American, Jacobs and his two brothers Torin and Julien grew up with their mother Blanche Jacobs in both Philadelphia and Bethel.
“My mom is from Philadelphia, so we spent summers in the ghetto in West Philly,” said Jacobs. “Growing up we were always in either extreme urban or extreme rural settings, we never saw suburbia.”
One of the most intriguing aspects of the business is the name, inga for real, and the story behind it.
“Inga is a pet name that my brother Vern gave Andrei, it used to drive him nuts. Vern would tease him about it and make him so mad, and then one day he just accepted it. I wanted to put a more Yupik twist on it and so I thought of Inga for real because Yup’ik means “the real people,” explained Chase. “It flows and it pays homage to the Yup’ik culture.”
Both Chase and Jacobs were graduates of Bethel High School in 1993. Chase graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor of arts in psychology. He now works for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation as the manager of staff development.
As a graduate in communications from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, Jacobs has worked for Alaska Public Radio Network, and was one of the first disc jockeys for the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. He now directs the Grant Development Department at YKHC.
Another addition to Jacobs’ busy schedule came last October when he was elected to the Bethel City Council. As a council member, Jacobs hopes to open the flow of information to Yup’ik speakers in the Delta.
“There should be equal access to information. Generally those who have information are those who are successful. That equal access should be included to our non-English speaking residents,” said Jacobs. I would like to extend communications into the Yup’ik print. It’s fair and reasonable to expect us to do that for the citizens who are predominately Yup’ik. It’s fair because we can do this and should do this.”
Despite his many other projects and ambitions, Inga for real is a high priority for Jacobs. “I think I’m a high performing person and this is an extension of myself that I want to take into over-drive,” said Jacobs.
Chase is also highly motivated to develop their new business. “I want to hit the statewide market and then go as far as we can from there.”