Nothing Too Fancy Charts a New Course

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

It seems Nothing Too Fancy has been a part of downtown forever, cranking out the coolness they are known for. They’ve actually been open for a bit over four years and have been successful from the beginning. I admitted to them recently that when I took photos the night before they opened for the article I wrote about the store, I wasn’t sure they would make it. Remember that next time you are looking to me for some sort of opinion on what will work.

The store is co-owned by John Burnett, his son Dustin and Lisa Cyr Burnett, who is Dustin’s wife and who, she pointed out to me recently, was completely written out of the first article. In penance for that oversight, in this article, she shall be referred to as the “owner,” and John Dustin shall be referenced as her “assistants. In seriousness, it has been a business the three have poured their souls into and they have been rewarded.

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

They’ve come to be respected both for the coolness of their product, but also for the quality of their product. Their product is made from a blend of three fibers (cotton/polyester/rayon) and, as everyone knows who has worn one of their shirts, it just feels better. The purchased their own equipment from Ryonet in 2015. They print their own shirts using that equipment and water-based ink. Many other printers use plastisol, which has been banned in Europe. Ryonet is a company of screen printers, so their equipment is built by printers for printers. They are also, like Dustin, Lisa and John, very socially concious.

Recently, another company caught Ryonet’s attention. Goex had started a factory in Haiti making shirts from all-American cotton and other fibers and paying a living wage to their workers. A living wage in Haiti sounds horrific by U.S. standards. The minimum wage for garment workers rose to just over $5 a day in 2014. Goex pays three times that amount. Ryonet, a much larger company, saw an opportunity to help Goex substantially expand operations and, thus, spread the wealth to many more workers.

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

The owners of Ryonet turned to its customer base in search of companies that could carry the brand and help it lift off quickly. They selected twelve screen-printers, of which Nothing Too Fancy was one. They quickly struck an agreement whereby Nothing Too Fancy and the others would use the shirts from this factory exclusively – assuming they produced the kinds of shirts needed. Nothing Too Fancy is one of only two of the twelve which has its own retail outlet, making them a very important part of the group.

Lisa and (her assistant) Dustin have been in Haiti this week as a part of the diverse group of printers, which includes women-owned, Muslim-owned and others, visiting the factory to discuss the products they need to be produced and to actually meet the people doing the work. While there they will also visit orphanages and witness the severe need in a country so poor parents are abandoning their children and orphanages can’t take them all in.

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

The factory currently employs about 100 and the hope is that with just these twelve companies agreeing to use their products exclusively, they can increase that very rapidly to 400 people making several times the normal pay for the area. The hope is to pressure other employers to have to begin paying similar wages to compete.

On the domestic side, Nothing Too Fancy also approaches the “American Made,” goal they had early – at least in raw products. They will know where their cotton was grown (Georgia and South Carolina) and will be able to visit those farms and witness the entire process through to the shirts they will stock. Ryonet is also working on a substitute for rayon that is produced by using recycled plastic bottles. The model allows for social good to be achieved in multiple ways at once – and it doesn’t add significantly to current costs.

Major figures in the garment industry have gotten involved in the effort, such as a former CEO of Hanes. The hope is that after the twelve initial companies have integrated the product, the larger market will be targeted, with the hopes of then expanding the factory to as many as 1200 employees. The full market release is scheduled for 2020.

Nothing Too Fancy, 435 Union Avenue, Knoxville, December 2016

The time table is pretty immediate: Nothing Too Fancy plans to have the majority of their new stock supplied by the company by early 2017. As old stock sells and new stock arrives, you will only find shirts manufactured in the Haiti plant in Nothing Too Fancy. They are considering a tag that will tell customers where the shirt comes from and makes the point that it was not produced in a sweat shop, as is true for so many textiles. The quality and price should remain constant, but the good accomplished should multiply.

By the time you are reading this, Dustin and Lisa should be home and, I’m guessing, changed. It’s hard to see that kind of poverty and desperation and not be impacted. If you’d like to hear about their trip, their experiences and further details about their plans, please tune in to WUTK, 90.3 FM, or stream it here, Sunday morning at 10:00 AM when I’ll be joined by the couple on Knoxcentric: Powered by Inside of Knoxville.


  1. Jaclyn Levy says

    Thank you for recognizing your oversight writing out Lisa in your original story and taking steps to rectify the situation! I’m excited about this new direction and can’t wait to shop there!

  2. What a great story.

  3. Catherine Chaney says

    Are we supposed to be excited that you are shipping these jobs overseas. Living wage in Haiti or not you are taking advantage of them, the American workers, and us. You can’t pretend that you are not padding your pockets by paying a wage of $15 per day to an employee in Haiti that you should be paying in the US $15/hour or more. Please to do honey coat your decision to make more profit by painting a rosy story about workers in Haiti. This is almost as if the company needed a way to wrap up in a nice bow for Christmas their decision to ship more jobs overseas and we would be destracted by the shiny bows. Marginalizing those workers for 12% or less of a normal days wages may help those folks in the short term, but ask yourself if that is fair to them. By taking your American made product off shore, you just took my business with it.

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      Just for clarification, the clothes you wear are not made here. There are no American jobs going over seas as a result of this or anything else in the apparel industry today. That has been done already and many of the clothes you wear are made in sweat factories by children. “According to the American Apparel & Footwear Association, 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas.”

    • Catherine, What a short-sighted response. I think we should all be glad to have a local company that has an entire world view rather than just a national view. Why NOT help others to change their lives and get out of poverty anywhere in the world, no matter where it is, when presented the opportunity? They’re doing good in the world and all you can do is complain without knowing the full story? Please read the owner’s comment below to try and understand their position.

      A mother or a father can now find a job and hopefully prevent their own children from having to go to an orphanage because they can afford to raise them. In the US when this happens, these children are taken care of because we have a system for that. When this happens in Haiti, people starve and die. I would challenge you to start thinking about others outside of your own world and maybe take a trip somewhere and see what’s going on with your own eyes and touch it with your own hands. It might be the best thing you’ve ever done for yourself and those around you.

      Great job by Nothing Too Fancy. I’ll definitely be spending more of my money there, especially knowing that it’s going to help.

  4. Love it. Thanks for sharing Allen.

  5. Kathy Frederick says

    Wow, I love your store and usually shop there whenever I’m downtown. Now, I’ll have questions as to the reasons you’ve changed your business plan for making your shirts. Seems a little questionable to me too. Just because 98% of the clothes we wear are made overseas doesn’t justify their new business practice. One of the reasons I shopped there was because they are different (“cool “as you say)and were supposed to be made in the good o,e’ USA!

    • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

      I don’t think they have ever claimed to be “Made in the USA,” as that would be impossible. It was always a goal. Now, at least, they know that all their raw products are USA produced. They haven’t moved their shirts from here to Haiti. They now know where their shirts are produced in the world and that workers aren’t being exploited.

      • I think you should also clarify that the shirts are, and have always been, printed here in town. Now, the shirts that are taking the ink will be more responsibly-sourced.

      • Urban Guy, it’s not impossible to find t-shirts made in the USA. A Google search brings up several sources, including

        Not that making shirts in Haiti is a bad thing when done in a responsible way. Trade is a powerful way to improve lives and isolationism is bad for everyone.

      • Why would there be a need to print a different label on the shirt if they where always made oversees. I am sure the prices wont go down. I like there stuff but this gives me a reason to take my business somewhere else.

  6. T-Shirts are a touch business to be in – we know first hand as our blank Comfort Color Shirts are made in Honduras. We screen print them in Knoxville TN and then donate 10% of the sale to local Veteran Nonprofits. That is the best we can do right now – I applaud Nothing Too Fancy for creating jobs in their store and we would love for them to consider making space on their shelves for our brand some day. Thanks Craig Fernandes, President Patriot Threads LLC

    • Why do you place a bowtie on the USA map?

      • KnoxvilleUrbanGuy says

        I’ve asked those guys so many questions like this the last few years. It was the first place I saw the whole mustache thing. Anymore, I just assume pop culture has moved past me and I stick with things like the skyline of Knoxville on a shirt. That, I get. Maybe someone else can answer the bowtie question?

  7. Nancy Voith says

    We LOVE Nothing Too Fancy and all the quirky shirt sayings related to Knoxville. (We just bought in there last week and had to wait in line to pay because there was so much interest. All Great…) My only request (PLEASE!!!) is that the store also offer some 100% cotton offerings. We have a lot of friends in TX and FL that we like to share Knoxville things with; but those hot locations mean people normally only wear 100% cotton. It’s just too hot to wear blends. PLEASE consider adding a few 100% options to your offerings. Otherwise, it’s perfect.

  8. Dayton Hanford says

    Y’all, the American consumer is the reason that “Made In America” is a freekin’ joke. Y’all flocked to Walmart instead of your local store that did sell stuff made here so you could save 25 cents on that sweat shop, child labor,Chinese,
    Shri Lankan et al Tee shirt. Now you’ve got a great local store with environmental and social responsibility concerns and you have the damn nerve to complain! Y’all should be happy that there are any locally owned stores left. Love to all the Burnetts, especially my lovely buddy Lisa

  9. Lisa Cyr Burnett says

    You can look in the tags of any of our shirts to see where they are made. We have never claimed that they were made in the US, because the majority are not. It is very difficult to find US made triblend shirts that our customers respond well to. We have expiramented with some to no success. We are happy with the quality of our current brand, but do not know what the factories are like, how the workers are treated, or what they are paid. This has never really sat well with us. When we were approached to take part in building a new brand from the ground up, we were curious. When we learned that the fabrics were US sourced and made from recycled materials in an eco-conscious way just about 2 hours from Knoxville, we were excited. When we then learned that the shirts would be cut & sewn in a facility run by a non-profit dedicated to orphan prevention, dignified work and economic growth in a struggling area, we were intrigued. When we went to visit the people and the country, when we met the kids and the workers and the leaders who gave up everything in the US to help get this off the ground, we were sold. We’re going to be paying a little more than we currently do. And we feel good about that because we know that no one involved in the production of our shirts is being taken advantage of. As always, these will remain designed and printed right here, in Knoxville.

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