Andrew Brynjulson will be the first to admit that he was a bit hard on Sioux Falls when he moved back last year.
However, as time passed, he made a quick transformation from skeptic to local cheerleader through his new venture, Local Gems.
“I was born here, raised here, I grew up here, and I didn’t see any reason to leave,” Brynjulson said. “But then I did.”
Brynjulson moved to Minneapolis with his wife, Sony Miller, so she could attend veterinary school. The couple liked the Twin Cities so much that they stayed for five years.
Returning to Sioux Falls was a major adjustment, but what Brynjulson didn’t realize was how much the city had changed since he had been gone.
“I was being unfair to Sioux Falls when I first got back,” he said. “But eventually I looked a little closer, and realized that there’s these local gems. These places that survive and thrive.”
A talented graphic designer, Brynjulson spends his days as the creative director for local digital marketing firm, Web Concentrate.
But there was something missing. An itch begging to be scratched.
“For a long time I was sort of waiting in the wings, trying to find my place in this Sioux Falls that had changed so much,” Brynjulson said. “I wanted to find a way to invest or contribute to the community, and as a designer, designing shirts and stuff came naturally.”
Thus, Local Gems was born.
“I kind of made a pact that I needed to lean into being a South Dakota resident again,” he said.
Browse the online shop, and you’ll find a minimalist aesthetic with a twist of state and local pride. White coffee mugs proudly display the Sioux Falls flag, or the South Dakota flag with the cheeky slogan, “United State of Dakota.” Black and white T-shirts are emblazoned with a thin outline of the state’s shape.
“I almost called it the Dakota Territory Project,” Brynjulson said, playing on the idea that outsiders don’t know the difference between North and South Dakota.
“You could talk to a lot of people that might pick music venues, art galleries, parks, or specific events as their local gems,” Brynjulson said. “Mine tend to be food and drink, but that’s the beauty of the concept. It can be anything that makes our state stand out.”
It’s a tongue-in-cheek take on state pride – a tank that simply says “Dakota” to draw attention to those distinct and exceptional features that make South Dakota special.
“The Local Gems story has very little to do with T-shirts for me,” he said. “It’s all about creating a local brand by celebrating South Dakota pride.”
As someone who spends the majority of his time working with or for other brands, Brynjulson says owning his own business and brand has been eye-opening.
“I have so many clients in the e-commerce world, but now I’m actually walking the walk,” Brynjulson said. “It makes that a little more real.”
As sole proprietor (aside from his wife who, Brynujulson says, is always tossing suggestions his way), the creative decisions are all his call.
“[At work] you spend a lot of time asking people for permission to change something, but here, no one’s going to say no to my ideas,” he said. “Local Gems has become kind of my muse.”
The brand is still in its early stages, only recently becoming available for purchase in a few boutiques – Palmer Lea in downtown Sioux Falls and Karisma in Aberdeen.
“At this point, it’s very simple,” Brynjulson said. “It’s not that there’s an untapped T-shirt market.”
In fact, says Brynjulson, if he never makes another sale, he’d be perfectly content. For him, the purpose of Local Gems is less of a business move and more of a community building effort.
Brynjulson’s primary goal is to support South Dakota and any efforts to better it. A portion of the proceeds from his apparel is donated to Feeding South Dakota, an organization committed to ending hunger in all of South Dakota, urban and rural.
“If you can agree that Minneapolis has everything, or New York or Chicago have everything, you can see that there’s a lot of space in South Dakota to grow,” he said.
On his website, Brynjulson has a picture of his great, great, great grandfather, an early settler named Tollef Brynjulson.
“The settlers came and they either saw this place as empty and desolate, or as an unconquered landscape. I’m sure [Tolef] saw nothing but opportunity,” he said. “Sioux Falls celebrates growing a business, raising a family, the elbow room, the space. It’s opportunity. This city is what you make it.”
For more information, visit buylocalgems.com.
Andrew Brynjulson’s Top 5 Local Gems
Considering Brynjulson’s brand, we figured we couldn’t leave out a list of his personal local gems.
Queen City Bakery
Fernson Brewing Company
Photos by Ajla Sundstrom