By Michael Smisek
It was warm out, so warm that the windows were open and I could hear the long notes of conversation between old lifty and a passing ship under the professor’s muffled syllabus explanation. A UMD classroom was the first time I fell in love with Duluth and it would be 10 years until that feeling came back to me in this town.
Six years and two degrees later, I left Duluth for an adventure on the East Coast. While in Portland, Maine, I scratched the surface of entrepreneurship, learning many of the lessons I use as a freelance designer and business owner today. My time in Maine came to an end in 2012 when I moved back to Minnesota and I took the first creative job I could find in Duluth. Being away for 3 years, I’d always felt a little twinge that Duluth would change without me, that it might’ve forgotten who I was, and maybe it wouldn’t hold the same wonder that it had back in college. With my first steps on the Lakewalk and the accompanying breaths of lake air, my fears were gone and I was back home.
Slowly, I reacquainted myself with the paths, streams and watering holes of Duluth. I began to narrow my focus on work and aspirations within my new community. I tried to put myself in front of every opportunity that came my way and I knew that if I wanted to make a permanent life in Duluth I’d really have to earn it. I love Mayor Ness’s quote about Duluth… “It pushes you away just as hard as it pulls you in.” The people who live here have made the choice to be here and this creates a strong sense of unity among all of us.
Now, Let’s fast forward past the part where I paint chainsaw carvings of woodland creatures and skirt around the section where I didn’t have enough dough to buy a tap beer so we can get to the good stuff.
Two years ago, (almost to the day) I wandered into a Great Gatsby-themed holiday party in the DeWitt Seitz Building and met the woman of my dreams. Until that day, I was in love with Duluth and Lake Superior but now I’d fallen in love with Sarah. From that day forward, she’s been an inspiration to me, she’s helped give me the confidence to follow my dreams and this October, she became my wife.
Duluth is a bit like New York City in a Rom-Com for us – it’s not just a place, it’s another character in our story. We love it here and I’m amazed every day by the opportunities we have to be a part of this community and live along the greatest lake in the world. We started DLH Clothing as an outlet to share our love of this city and provide a way for others to display their pride. Since then, we’ve built a brand that celebrates the unique qualities of Duluth and our designs seem to reflect those traits.
What started as a couple of horn blasts that September afternoon has now flourished into a life in which quality-of-place comes first and great things follow as a result. I can confidently say that my life would not be as full had I ignored the pull of Lake Superior and our city on the hill. I’d urge anyone reading this to live where you feel the most ‘you’. This honesty will lead to stronger personal relationships, closer connections with the resources in your area, and most of all, a sense of purpose and happiness that will resonate far deeper than any graphic tee ever could.