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Creative Apparel Concepts’ new Faux Real line fits market to a T

The T-shirts, featured on the “Today Show,” are generating sales as far away as Australia and as near as the State Fair.

Faux Real shirts feature photorealistic illustrations.

Some apparel is simply classic. The little black dress. The gray flannel suit. The fake tuxedo T-shirt.

A Minneapolis-based clothing company is updating that last item for the 21st Century. Creative Apparel Concepts recently launched a line of gag shirts that includes fake tuxedos, fake bikinis, fake tattoos and some fake items a bit more on the spicy side.

But the company’s Faux Real line is for real, generating sales from as far away as Australia and the Philippines and landing a coveted spot on an NBC “Today Show” fashion trends segment. Faux Real items also will be sold this year at the Minnesota State Fair.

Creative Apparel Concepts is a family affair, led by twins Jeff and Scott Gray and their brother, Ben. The trio got their start as kids, helping out in their dad’s Golden Valley screen-printing business. When their dad retired, the sons took over the company and expanded it into custom and private-label apparel.

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Their first hit was a line of sleepwear called Toast and Jammies. That led to custom apparel production for clients like Disney and Sea World. Then the Gray boys struck a rich vein with a line of collegiate apparel aimed at women.

“We really found a niche with ladies’ T-shirts,” said Jeff Gray, the company president. “Not a lot of people were creating ladies’ designs in the college market. So we really struck a chord there. Wal-Mart and other mass merchandisers are carrying our ladies’ collegiate apparel, and that’s been a big growth area for us.”

Fifteen years after the brothers launched Creative Apparel Concepts, the company has grown to about 40 employees based in the downtown Warehouse District. The privately held company doesn’t reveal its sales, but Gray said they’ve seen solid double-digit growth for several consecutive years. Some of the production is outsourced to China and India, but the design and much of the printing is done in Minneapolis.

The idea for the Faux Real line was born during the most recent Winter Olympics, when the brothers noticed U.S. snowboard icon Shaun White wearing a pair of snow pants that looked like jeans. They use an advanced process called sublimation to adhere the ink to the fabric, which gives a much more photorealistic look than the old fake tuxedo T-shirts people are used to seeing.

I can attest to that. When I tried on a long-sleeved Faux Real shirt printed with fake forearm tattoos, several of my colleagues were momentarily fooled.

“It’s a perfect State Fair item,” Gray said. “It’s fun and it’s quirky. We took that old fake tuxedo T-shirt and took it to a whole other level.”