My first encounter with Josh Barnett was over an ice cold beer at an iconic German joint, called the Gerst Haus, on Evansville’s west side Franklin Street. We were sitting out on the back patio, enjoying a break from the stifling hot Indiana sun that was falling behind the horizon, not unlike a basketball destined for a buzzer beater.
My first impressions of Josh would hold true to the individual I would grow quite fond of as both a friend and mentor in the years to come.
He was both intense and laid-back, a born hustler with the patience to outwork the fiercest of competitors. He was a diehard fan of college sports, with a particular liking to basketball. He possessed a keen eye for style, which was made very apparent in both how he dressed himself and the company he was building from the ground up.
Fast-forward a couple years and yet again I would find myself sitting across from Josh at Lucid Coffee Bar, except this time I would be interviewing him for this amazing story.
Watching Josh sip his green tea seemed counterintuitive as he wore a Nike snapback, some version of Jordan’s and a badass 19nine T.
Remember what I said about him being both intense and laid-back?
By day, Josh Barnett dedicates his time to educating America’s youth at Washington Middle School; by night, he builds the notorious vintage sports apparel empire, known as 19nine.
I had been sporting the coveted 19nine brand for years. But I didn’t realize its full potential until I started finding my favorite t-shirts stolen from my closet, hidden away somewhere in my girlfriend’s belongings.
19nine had accomplished something with college basketball T’s that no other brand had done before -- non-fans were wearing them and loving them.
I was intrigued, and so I asked, how 19nine became… 19nine.
“I had a golf scramble for high school and college buddies called “The Pound It” up in Indianapolis. It was a weekend where everyone came in from wherever they were in the country. We had guys from New Jersey and even Arizona. It would just be a weekend where everyone would stay at my house and we would play a ton of golf and have fun.
It started out with a little over 30 people and at the peak, it got up to over 100.
Anyways, Kevin Spahn and I would make t-shirts for the event each year, and eventually, we decided to start printing on premium T’s. People would take them home after the weekend and hit me up, ‘Barnett, you got any more of those t-shirts? My friend wants one. My brother stole it, and I can’t get it back.’
So, when people started taking the shirts, we realized we may have something here. That’s when Spahn and I hooked up with Aaron Loomer, and Chad Amo and started brainstorming ideas for a t-shirt company.
We decided we wanted to produce quality, vintage collegiate sport's t-shirts with thought and meaning behind them.
The first year we didn’t have a website or anything. We just went to people with businesses, foundations and charities and asked them if we could do their t-shirts. We started to take-off when we designed the t-shirts for the Wes Atterbury Foundation Annual Golf Scramble.
We thought we needed a lot of money to start 19nine, but today we laugh about it. The 4 of us each put in right around $1,000 to get 19nine off the ground. That’s it”
Today, while 19nine is still young, they are growing at a lightening pace, having partnered with some of the biggest names in College basketball -- Butler, Purdue, Indiana, Memphis, Michigan State, Wake Forest and Xavier, to name a few.
A big part of this growth can be attributed to their recent purchase of Retro College Cuts, which has positioned 19nine as the only manufacturer of retro college basketball shorts in the United States.
“Our aim is to bring back the nostalgia of college basketball in the 70s, 80s, and 90s but to do so in a modern fit.”
Josh went on to explain that this growth hasn’t always been easy, and most weeks he and the two other owners put in a full work week outside of their 9-5’s. He reflected on the grind that comes along with running his own business, and he said something that I felt summed up both him as an individual and the company he helped create, very well.
“You have to love it. It’s so cliche to say, but it’s true. I don’t care about the money, I just want to make cool shit. That’s what I love. Period.”
1. What is a daily routine that keeps you on your A-game?
"I don't really have a daily routine when it comes to 19nine because I work full time as a social studies teacher. So, my routine is on the school side of things and then I hustle to fulfill my 19nine obligations after class and at night."
2. What book do you most often gift to other people?
"Most recent is "Shoe Dog" by Phil Knight. It's a great book, both interesting and inspirational. All start-ups and entrepreneurs should give it a read."
3. What is your vice?
"I don't really have much of a filter. You pretty much know where you stand with me at all times. It's both a blessing and a curse."
4. What is your superpower?
"I am up late and out of bed early -- I'll sleep when I'm dead."
5. If you could have a billboard at the busiest intersection in the world, what would it say?
"Phil Knight has a quote in one of the last pages of "Shoe Dog" talking about the journey meaning more to him than the money or fame. I wouldn't know because I don't have money nor fame, but if I had to put something on a billboard, it would simply be, "Enjoy the Journey."