To Cap It Off

The dream job of Justin McKeever '14 landed him on top of your head.

by Robin L. Flanigan

Justin McKeever

Justin McKeever '14 was on the G train last summer, going back to his Brooklyn apartment after playing beach volleyball at the Brooklyn Bridge piers, when he spotted a man wearing a hat McKeever had designed for Foot Locker.

It was late 2016 and the tan "Dad cap" style—with its low crown, relaxed fit, curved brim, adjustable strap, and commemorative pin—had recently hit shelves. This was the first time McKeever had spotted it on someone's head, and to have that experience in a city of eight million people was quite the rush.

"I tried not to be super creepy about it, but he was looking down so I sneaked a picture with my phone," he says. "That was definitely one of those moments that were inspiring yet totally humbling at the same time."

With a bachelor's degree in visual communication design from Nazareth College, McKeever landed his dream job just one year after graduation, working as a technical designer for the Buffalo-based New Era Cap Company, a leading headwear brand around the world. In addition to working with global artists and brands, the company provides headwear for Major League Baseball, the National Football League, and the National Basketball Association, and as a result has full rights to their logos.

McKeever, who grew up playing and watching sports and has a passion for graphics and typography, now works out of an office in New York City. He edits those familiar sports logos to create custom graphics for hats, with varying degrees of client input, then puts together production specs that bring them from the computer screen to store shelves.

Sometimes he designs series of hats that pick up on a fashion trend. For example, one he created in early 2017 pays homage to the satin Starter jackets that were big among young sports fans in the '90s and are making a comeback. (McKeever's own red and yellow satin jacket celebrated the Kansas City Chiefs and was helpful during back yard football games: "It made it hard for people to tackle me because it was so slippery.")

He made two versions of those hats, with an oversized front panel and triangular stitching, for the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, now being sold at Foot Locker's flagship store in Manhattan's Times Square.

The frequent critiques McKeever gave and received in design classes at Nazareth helped hone the skills he uses every day with the graphic design software Adobe Illustrator.

"I got a sense of what was working and what wasn't, and most importantly, why it wasn't," he says.

The small class sizes and close relationships with professors taught him how to collaborate, which McKeever does as part of a tight-knit design team, and speak intelligently about his work, something he must do regularly when pitching his ideas to a superior or client.

"The professors did a good job of teaching me to come up with my own style and own it," he recalls.

A four-month internship with Nazareth's Undergraduate Association in 2014, meanwhile, gave him his first taste of apparel design, requiring him to create graphics for T-shirts, as well as water bottles, posters, and other giveaways at special events.

McKeever often thinks about how he wore sports apparel as a kid, and how there are kids today, doing the same thing, who may be lucky enough in the future to land a design job like his.

"It's definitely a really cool thing," he says, "to have helped take what once was a concept and turn it into a reality."

Robin L. Flanigan is a freelance writer in Rochester, New York.

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