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Northeast Ohio is full of creative people following their dreams while trying to make a living. From jewelry crafted out of broken street glass to sound equipment engineered for rock stars, see what people are "making" in the community.

Making It: Akron’s Any Means Necessary combines streetwear with dark art

Makers: Michael Nemitz, co-owner; Shawn Coss, co-owner & artist

Business: Any Means Necessary, a clothing and lifestyle brand born in Akron that unites streetwear with Shawn Coss’ art expressing tough emotions

How did you meet?

Mike: I was making music at the time, and I needed someone to do an album cover. And I actually went to a local rock concert, and Shawn was displaying his art there for the first time. I went up and told him how great his artwork was and that I was doing hip-hop music and wanted him to do the album cover.

Shawn: And I was instantly turned off. [laughs]

Mike: He didn't take me very seriously at first, but I was very persistent. I messaged him on MySpace the next day and we became friends. I told him immediately after I paid him for doing the album artwork that he wasn't doing the business side very well, that he could make a lot of money on his art. And that's kind of where a lot of stuff started.

Coss, left, and Nemitz in the early days of their friendship. [Any Means Necessary]

What’s the meaning behind the name you chose for the company?

Mike: “Any Means Necessary” is more than just a saying to us, it’s a lifestyle. We started the business in my basement on $200 and turned it into a million-dollar company just by being relentless, never taking no for an answer. And you know, we did everything we could to follow our dreams.

Nemitz holds up a hooded sweatshirt that's part of the company's Valentine's Day collection. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

How did the idea for the business come about?

Mike: I always wanted to have a creative outlet. I always was influenced by music and fashion. And when I met Shawn, I knew we could take his artwork and put it on apparel and make collections out of it and attract different audiences.

Shawn: The whole concept was taking dark art and mixing it in with the streetwear fashion, and no one’s really doing that. There's a lot of brands out there that are making dark art artwork, but there's really no substance to it. I feel like we're one of the only brands that actually has emotion and meaning behind the stuff that we're putting out. We're not just trying to fit a mold. It's always been our own path. So the brand's kind of a reflection of that.

"Dark art is obviously just a subjective term," Coss said. "To me, it's just my type of artwork. Art is in the eye of the beholder. It might be dark to one person, it might be very touching to someone else." [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

You’ve managed to build a successful clothing brand in a matter of a few years, with no business background. What were some of your strategies that got you here today?

Shawn: We've always thought globally as opposed to locally because I mean, Ohio has a certain amount of people and a good percentage of them don't care about dark artwork. But if we started bringing in the world, there'd be a higher percentage. It's starting to come around now to where, locally, we're starting to get a little bit more traction. But we are so spiteful that we're being told, ‘You can't be successful in Ohio.’ And I mean, I don't know, I can't speak for the other clothing brands, but being a million-dollar clothing brand direct-to-consumer of dark art and streetwear fashion with no business background, I mean, we feel like we're doing something right.

Coss signs copies of the "Inktober Illness" series books and prepares them for shipping. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

Now the company is housed within Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron. How has being here helped you grow?

Mike: We actually went from our basement to a 400-square-foot office, and it was bad. Immediately when we came to Bounce that's when things really took off because we were able to scale. We went from a 400-square-foot office to a 3,000-square-foot warehouse space. And Bounce really helped because we were able to be with business-minded people. You know, we always knew then that they had our back.

Shawn: Their whole purpose is to incubate businesses and help them grow. Give them the resources they need because you don't often get that. And having something like Bounce here has helped a lot. I wish we had this opportunity when we were younger. Having business-minded people helping you curate your business, learn how to scale, you know, the terminology, that would have been so helpful for us back then.

Nemitz & Coss discuss new designs while in the company's space at Bounce Innovation Hub in Akron. [Jean-Marie Papoi / Ideastream Public Media]

Explain how the topic of mental health became such an important part of the products you create.

Shawn: I like to use my artwork to reflect a lot of my emotions, a lot of my feelings, a lot of my mental health and just how I see the world, and the world is not a happy place. My art isn’t happy-go-lucky, because I feel like before that people would put artwork out that was like sunshine and rainbows about depression. I'm like, ‘You know, the last time I was depressed, I didn't have rainbows. I didn't have anything happy going on in my life.’ So my artwork, really, I wanted to depict the darker side of what mental illness is. And some people who misunderstood it saw it as, ‘You're making me out to be a monster.’ I'm like, ‘No, you're missing the point. You're not the monster, but mental illness is.’

Mike: I believe Shawn’s art helped create a conversation, and it's an uncomfortable conversation. But it’s a conversation we know needed to be had, because in 2021 mental illness is everywhere, everybody’s talking about it, and it’s a little more normalized now. And that’s a lot of what we did with the brand. I deal with anxiety every single day. I feel like I can’t breathe half the time, but I still run a business, a successful business. That doesn’t define who I am, and I believe Shawn’s art helped create that conversation.

Two of Coss' drawings featured in "Inktober Illness," a series that debuted in 2016 depicting a different mental illness for every day of the month. [Any Means Necessary]

Jean-Marie Papoi is a digital producer for the arts & culture team at Ideastream Public Media.