A derby hat-clad ape stares out through a monocle next to the words, “train to evolve, evolve to survive.”
This is an image that appears on T-shirts sold at Distinguished Apes, a Roseburg-based business offering men’s apparel, grooming supplies and vintage items.
The owner, Eric Andrews, also known as Eric Yo, is a DJ and graphic designer with a background in consulting for restaurants, bars and other businesses. He travels around the world for his other job, recording conferences.
Andrews just celebrated the shop’s first anniversary in August, and said Distinguished Apes is a music, art, outdoor and Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle brand. Andrews has been practicing Jiu-Jitsu for two years at Performance Martial Arts Academy in Roseburg and is currently a yellow belt.
He said he’s focused on the pursuit of being the best he can be through self evolution and improvement, whether in a sport like Jiu-Jitsu, a career, hobby or passion. He chose the tagline, “train to evolve, evolve to survive,” because it relates to values of Jiu-Jitsu and hints at evolution.
“I think the training aspect really clicked with the Jiu-Jitsu community,” he said. “Some people associate Jiu-Jitsu with mixed martial arts, and a lot of the guys who do mixed martial arts are larger, so some of them identify with the ape character.” The distinguished ape character is also a representation of evolution, tying back into the tagline.
“People don’t see apes as being distinguished and it just led itself to creating visual graphics,” he said of the business’ ironic name. “For me, evolution is more of a choice nowadays. You choose to better yourself in your everyday life.”
Ryan Cunningham, owner of Performance Martial Arts, said training for Jiu-Jitsu is mentally and physically engaging, and Distinguished Apes meshes together the physical outlet of Jiu-Jitsu with the creative outlet of graphic design.
Andrews has helped design T-shirts for the gym, and Cunningham said he’s a talented and creative guy who comes up with unique ideas. Recently, Cunningham asked him to incorporate kanji, Japanese writing, into a T-shirt because Jiu-Jitsu originated in Japan.
“He came up with this Japanese surf-inspired T-shirt idea I never would have thought of in a million years, it was super cool,” Cunningham said. “He’s got some talent there.”
Cunningham, who also runs a gym in Eugene, said Andrews has a big following.
“Our gym has done a ton of charity fundraisers and he’s always there jumping on the train trying to help me figure things out logistically and artistically,” Cunningham said. “He’s a super invaluable guy to have around and I feel really lucky he stumbled into my gym.”
Cunningham added he’d like to encourage people to find a Jiu-Jitsu gym to discover for themselves how the Jiu-Jitsu lifestyle can be mentally and physically engaging and can help them improve their lives.
“It really did change my life,” Andrews said, adding he hadn’t been active since his teenage years, and when he moved to Roseburg from California three years ago he weighed 180 pounds.
“Over the two years I lost 40 pounds and it’s definitely given me some muscle definition, it’s helped with my coordination and cardio,” Andrews said.
Distinguished Apes began as a blog for Andrews to write and post photos from his travels. Soon, it transformed into an online store on Etsy, selling vintage clothing, boom boxes, Pendleton flannels, Levi Jackets, as well as his own brand.
Once his shirts appeared in a Jiu-Jitsu subscription box called the BJJ Box, orders were coming from across North America, Australia, London and Iceland. Tom DeBlass, a Jiu-Jitsu instructor and former UFC/Bellator MMA figher, and Tait Fletcher, UFC ultimate fighter contestant and stuntman, were both seen wearing his designs on photos they’d posted online.
Andrews decided to open the brick and mortar shop because he missed the in-person aspect of going to a business or shopping. He previously managed a DJ-oriented record store, and wanted to open his own shop as a hub for like-minded people.
The shop is part of a shared space in the old Umpqua Hotel building at 815 SE Oak Avenue.
Glen Simpson of Seven13, a graphic design studio, relocated to the building once his business partner, Ray Bartram, decided to open Old Soul Pizza on Main Street. Since the space was bigger than what his small studio required, Simpson wanted to invite Andrews to join him.
“I figured why not have more creative energy in the space by inviting others to come share it with us,” Simpson said. Andrews and Simpson repainted the walls, remodeled the floors and changed the lighting of the building to make it their own.
“His shop is unique to Roseburg and I think it’s something we see in bigger cities or areas that have really cool downtown shops,” Simpson said of Andrews and Distinguished Apes. “He brings a lot to downtown and I just hope everything he does grows.”
Carl Metzler of Metzler Media also joined the two businesses in the building this past July.
Andrews moved to Roseburg three years ago. He had often visited friends in Glide since he was 13, and his parents moved up to the area when he was 18.
“It’s nice having a slower-paced life to come back to after being in different cities,” Andrews said.
However, he found there weren’t many men’s retail shops quite like Distinguished Apes in Roseburg.
“Last Christmas season was great. I was really surprised by the demographics that came in, it wasn’t just the younger generation but their grandparents, mothers and fathers.” Andrews said. “They all said it was a great addition because there’s nothing like it in the area and there hasn’t been for a while.”
As a graphic designer, Andrews has worked with Salud Restaurant, Battle in the Burg Cage Fights, Old 99 Brewery and The Bun Stuffer. He’s also DJ-ed for the Douglas County Fair, Dutch Bro’s employee holiday party, Knock Knock Lounge, Funktion, Old 99 Brewery, Backside brewery, Salud Restaurant and Henry Estate Winery for the Roseburg High Class of 1997 reunion.
For more information, visit www.distinguishedapes.com.