Brian Schaff knows what Rebel fans want. After all, he’s one of them. The Southern Nevada native has turned his lifelong passion for UNLV into a business venture with Rebel Swag, which designs, prints and sells T-shirts and other apparel tied to UNLV.
Schaff, 30, launched the idea for Rebel Swag in 2007 while working for his family’s printing company, which produced T-shirts for promotional giveaways at UNLV basketball games. He found the designs for the promotional shirts plain and uninspiring, giving him the incentive to invent his own creations. His initial designs were well received among friends and other Rebel fans, leading Schaff to expand on his idea.
The Green Valley High School graduate, who used to sit in the Thomas & Mack Center balcony with his parents during games in the Jerry Tarkanian era, chose the name Rebel Swag because of the swagger those teams possessed in the glory days. Giving a fan’s perspective to his designs, Schaff has created a variety of UNLV-themed gear, including T-shirts, hats and backpacks, among other items.
Rebel Swag was on the verge of shutting down in 2010 because of low sales when Schaff got the break he needed, meeting former UNLV player Kevin Kruger (the son of coach Lon Kruger), who first signed an endorsement deal with the company before partnering with Schaff, giving Rebel Swag the name recognition it needed.
Schaff attributes his company’s rise to having Kruger on board.
“I’ve been in the game long enough to have seen fashion line after fashion line that I’ve printed for just fail because they don’t have any kind of name behind them,” Schaff says. “If you don’t have the name, no one is going to buy your product. And I’ve always been taught that 50 percent of something is better than 100 percent of nothing.”
Schaff has signed former Rebel basketball stars such as Larry Johnson, Stacey Augmon and Freddie Banks to endorsement deals as part of his Legends Line, a percentage of which goes to the UNLV Legends Foundation, which was started by ex-Rebel Leon Symanski to provide assistance for former players. A Greg Anthony line is also slated to come out next season.
All Rebel Swag products are licensed through UNLV, which must approve every design submitted by Schaff and gets a percentage of every item that uses the school’s name or logo. Schaff says he was spurned by the university bookstore to sell his gear, which is available primarily through RebelSwag.com, with the Stitched men’s clothing store in the Cosmopolitan the only place locally where items can be purchased in person.
There are plans for a Rebel Swag store inside McCarran International Airport, and Schaff also wants to develop football- and baseball-related items, as well. It is the personal connection with UNLV that gives Rebel Swag an advantage over other apparel companies.
“That’s where we excel,” Schaff says. “We’re really fans designing shirts for other fans.”