NYC Sanitation unit has reason to talk trash

Times Staff Writer

When city officials here decided to roll out a line of merchandise featuring insignias of municipal agencies, they had no doubt that there would be a strong demand for items emblazoned with the logos of the Police and Fire departments.

But the Department of Sanitation?

After several months on the market, the bestselling item from the official New York City line is a distressed brown cap with a frayed bill and light blue DSNY patch -- a fact that startled John J. Doherty, the city's sanitation commissioner, who didn't initially think much of the design.

"I was taken back a little," he said. "I thought, 'Why are we using this beat-up hat?' When I go out, I put on a decent baseball hat. But everybody said, 'That's what they love out there.' "

The popular cap -- available in city souvenir stores and carried nationally by Target since July -- exemplifies how New York has sought to harness the power of its brand through a canny marriage of promotion and fashion.

Sales from the merchandise line, which can be purchased at a new online store, at, are expected to top more than $20 million annually. Royalty fees will go to fund city departments.

Up next: a photo campaign featuring city workers modeling the apparel.

"We want to give people who are already in love with New York the chance to show that pride," said Kimberly Spell, spokeswoman for NYC Marketing, the local development corporation charged with promoting the city's image. "Our hope is that if we get enough people like James Gandolfini and Sarah Jessica Parker wearing our stuff, it will catch on with the rest of the country."

The idea grew out of New York's failed efforts to persuade Olympic officials to choose the city as the site of the 2012 Games. In the process, city officials discussed the global appeal of the New York name and realized that they had a ready-made label.

"We started thinking about it, that we do have this wonderful brand," said Lloyd Haymes, vice president of licensing for NYC Marketing. "If there's so much popularity for the city, there's probably a demand for the markings and logos most closely associated with the city."

Several departments, including the NYPD, had already licensed products with their logos, which proved especially popular after the Sept. 11 attacks. But there was no centralized city licensing office, which led to inconsistent quality and a flood of counterfeit items on the market.

"It's safe to say there were millions of dollars that the city never saw," Haymes said.

Last year, NYC Marketing announced that it was consolidating the city's intellectual property under one authority and developing a new line of casual apparel and souvenirs, each with an official hang tag or holographic decal to indicate its authenticity, much like those found on sports apparel.

Manufacturers submitted bids to develop merchandise for seven agencies that city marketers believed would have the broadest appeal. (The Department of Transportation made the cut, but as of now, there are no plans for gear from the Affordable Housing Resource Center or the Mayor's Office of Contract Services.)

The goal: to create a unique look for each department.

For Parks and Recreation, that meant a "green, athletic" theme to appeal to environmentalists and outdoor enthusiasts. Apparel includes a grass-green Central Park T-shirt, which depicts the park's famed fountain, for $19.99, and a simple green baseball cap emblazoned with the department's leaf insignia for $14.99.

The Taxi and Limousine Commission line aimed for a nostalgic, old-time New York look by incorporating the traditional black-and-yellow check design on its T-shirts and mugs. "We were looking for a bit of a retro feel," said Commissioner Matthew W. Daus.

Over at the Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting, Commissioner Katherine Oliver came up with the idea of applying the agency's "Made in NY" logo to a line of fashionable hoodies and black baby tees.

"If we have an upscale line, this is it," Haymes said.

The Department of Sanitation offered a different opportunity -- to tap into the hipster trend. One denim-blue T-shirt features the image of a garbage truck and the line: "Clanging Your Cans Since 1929."

"We thought there could be a unique way to spin it as a hip, grunge feel, a little bit edgy," Haymes said.

Jerry Koske, division manager for brands at Drew Pearson Marketing, the headwear company that developed the top-selling Sanitation cap, said a big part of its success was its color.

"Brown has been really strong in the market," he said. "And it's the whole dirty, grungy look, sort of oil-stained. It's a new technique in headwear."

Whatever the reason, the city's sanitation commissioner said that he was thrilled.

"In New York City, we really don't get too much coverage unless there's a big snowstorm -- then we're darlings of the city," Doherty said. "Just to hear that the hat was outselling some police and fire items, I was ecstatic. To me, that means people like Sanitation."

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