At first, it seems an odd pairing, graphic design and football. But when you look at the sport, at nearly every level, there are logos, slogans, apparel, signs, and a seemingly endless opportunity for images that project power, strength, speed, commitment, and team spirit.
For years, Rob Avriett had quietly blended his graphic design interests and football coaching, occasionally creating logos and t-shirts for friends and former players who were aware of his creative talents. Avriett brought his collective capabilities off the sidelines in 2018, when the head coach at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, where he was on the coaching staff at the time, suggested giving something special to the players at the end-of-the-year banquet . The players loved the t-shirts, and Avriett immediately knew he was on to something.
“It’s grown organically,” Avriett said. “Someone will say, ‘Hey, we need a piece of apparel designed for this purpose, for this event,’ or ‘The team’s going here to play seven-on-seven, can you design us in shirts?’ Each time I did that, surely there would be a handful of requests that came back.”
Even families with kids in other sports were approaching him to ask if he could design apparel for travel teams, tournaments, and even for the parents to wear in support. Avriett was now coaching for Eastern Alamance High School, and requests for his design services were generally come through word-of-mouth.
In December 2019, he sent an email blast to his growing list of contacts that he and his wife, Kristy Cannell, would be stepping up their side business.
In January 2020, the couple officially launched Wild Rhino Creative, which catered more to the graphic design side of the business, and touted “a desire to match the intensity of athletic competition to creative demand.” In June, Avriett and Cannell, who teaches chemistry at Eastern Alamance, launched the apparel side of their business with the S’Go Eagles website. Avriett handles the graphic design and layout end, while Cannell balances the team by handling the marketing and production side. In the short time their company has been more widely-known, the response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“It’s grown tremendously,” Avriett said. “It’s grown from a point of doing it one or two nights a week, and honestly, only a couple hours at a time, to now where I’m looking at doing it full time. I’m volunteer coaching, but the rest of the time is committed to either doing a freelance design, or doing the apparel. And it’s awesome.
“Just about every customer wants to say something about their team, their business, themselves, or their cause, without actually saying anything. They ask ‘How can I be unique?’ A big part of this is translating that rapidly rich digital persona to make a statement about something,” Avriett added.
For many of their apparel projects, Avriett and Cannell use a white toner transfer, which is a hybrid process between the traditional cut vinyl and full, direct-to-garment method for jobs that show a lot of detail. They also offer apparel through screen printing methods, but Avriett said the white toner transfer process is more cost-effective for smaller jobs, often in the 12 to 20 t-shirt range.
Much of the design work is done at a dedicated space in their home, while the production portion is completed in a 30-foot by 30-foot shop outside of their house, where the equipment for screen printing, drying, folding and other necessary machinery resident.
Avriett and Cannell have three children who enjoy “helping” their parents with the business, which is something the couple believes is important.
“We’ve tried to involve all three kids as much as we can,” Avriett said. “We want them to see how we’re making it. It doesn’t just show up as a cute little rhinoceros, or a cute eagle on the shirt. There’s a process to it.”
Along with selling Easter Alamance High School apparel on its website, Wild Rhino Creative has been setting up at the monthly Mebane Makers Markets on the first Saturday of each month. Avriett and Cannell sell the team wear and other designs as part of its line of Chubbys apparel, which trends more to humor and irreverence.
“Very much born to the TikTok generation,” Avriett said.
He said Wild Rhino Creative will continue setting up at the Makers Markets, and has plans to participate in the Autumn Fest and Dogwood Festival.
Avriett said the hope for the company’s future is to not only be the No. 1 source for Eastern Alamance Eagles apparel, but to establish itself as a go-to graphic design resource for businesses throughout the Mebane and Alamance County communities.
But even with the desire to continue devoting more and more time to the graphic design and apparel business, Avriett said he can’t imagine a time when he won’t in some way be involved with coaching football.
“I played football since I was 12 years old. I’m turning 50 in the fall, so it won’t ever not be a part of my life,” he said. “I enjoy the game, and I enjoy teaching the game entirely too much.”