Wrestling T-shirts, now more than ever, are extremely popular with wrestling fans.

A big reason for the growth in popularity—and in actual shirts—is thanks to Pro Wrestling Tees in Chicago, Illinois.

The owner, Ryan Barkan, first opened his One Hour Tees shop in 2008. Pro Wrestling Tees was created somewhat serendipitously in the heat of the summer of 2010 when CM Punk needed a custom T-shirt to wear on SmackDown that said, “I Broke Big Show’s Hand”.

Colt Cabana, who is also from Chicago, knew of Barkan’s nearby One Hour Tees store, and he and Punk were thrilled when the shirt was made. Cabana asked Barkan if he could print a stack of “I Star Colt” T-shirts for him to sell at indie shows.

“Then Colt introduced me to Joey Ryan, the Young Bucks, and Kevin [Owens] Steen, and I started printing shirts for all of them,” said Barkan. “In 2013, I thought of creating a website where wrestlers could sell their merchandise online and we’d ship it all over the world. The wrestlers could network with each other, and with Colt’s help, he gave us a lot of credibility.”

The 35-year-old Barkan, who is from Chicago-suburb Buffalo Grove, started his Pro Wrestling Tees website by featuring shirts from a gamut of independent wrestlers.

“Then I met ‘Diamond’ Dallas Page at a convention, and he signed up with me,” said Barkan. “Then came guys like Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts, then Jim Ross, and Jim then introduced us to Steve Austin. That’s when I knew this was getting kind of big.”

Pro Wrestling Tees now offers a blend of the entire industry, with shirts from 200 different WWE legends, over 800 different wrestlers, and over 100 different wrestling promotions, including their top sellers from New Japan Pro Wrestling.

COURTESY OF RYAN BARKAN

“I never expected it to be this big,” admitted Barkan. “We started this site to help wrestlers make extra money. Some of the wrestlers now depend on the website to pay rent.”

After costs of goods and production, Pro WrestlinJg Tees and the wrestlers share approximately a 50-50 split. Since its inception, Pro Wrestling Tees has paid out over $3.5 million in royalties from the website.

“When you have 800 wrestlers promoting the site, it leads to a crazy amount of traffic,” said Barkan. “Now people can get an indie shirt from the Young Bucks and Marty Scurll, with a shirt from legends such as Steve Austin and the Macho Man at the same time.”