During a past SGIA webinar, garment decoration veteran Greg Kitson of Mind's Eye Graphics shared one of his opinions about the industry. “Nobody needs another T-shirt!’’ he said. “What I really sell is memories that happen to be on T-shirts.’’ This statement really resonated with me, and it got me thinking about our ongoing relationship with the T-shirt, and how, for many of us, certain T-shirts become cherished items, strong in emotional connection. SGIA reached out to a smattering of dedicated T-shirt wearers from all walks of life and asked them to tell us the stories behind their favorite, or most cherished, T-shirt. Their responses give a telling view into what builds a strong connection between us and our favorite shirts:
Phil Eberlein Kingston, New York “I found this T-shirt at a small bodega in San Juan. Back then (and often now) a trip to Cuba was very much aspirational for most of us. Because it was such an exclusive destination and had many restrictions, I wanted to experience the island even more. This T-shirt would have to tide me over until the time was right for my travels. It continues to be a staple in my wardrobe for a wide range of reasons. This shirt was never intended to be political for me. It simply looks and feels good, it’s timeless — it’s just cool. It catches people’s attention and many times can create chatter of all types, which I enjoy.
Wyatt Achelpohl Springfield, Virginia I love wearing this shirt. I got it while I was on a trip touring Longwood University. A faculty member came up to me and asked, “Are you seriously wearing a JMU shirt?” I said, “Yes I am; it’s my top choice so far,” and the faculty person said, “Well we need to get you a Longwood shirt.” After the tour ended, one of the tour guides said to me, “Oh, I have something for you that one of my co-workers says you needed.” She handed me this shirt, and I started laughing. I love wearing this shirt because it makes me feel grown up. Any time that it’s clean and I haven’t worn it yet that week, I will wear it to school or a night out with my girlfriend or any of my friends.”
Dugan Broadhurst Knoxville, Tennessee “My shirt has the logo of a now-closed New York City rock and roll venue, The Cat Club. It's my favorite not just because it reminds me of traveling with friends from DC to NYC to see a friend’s band perform, but because I’ve now had this shirt for over 27 years. Back in 1990, I bought the shirt at the bar as a memento of the occasion, and never imagined that the shirt would follow me around for For many of us, certain T-shirts become cherished items, strong in emotional connection. nearly three decades. There are little holes in it here and there, and the white print of the logo has been naturally distressed, but it's still a serviceable rock and roll T-shirt. I wear it to shows now and can't help but smile to myself about how my T-shirt is older than most of the kids in the club.”
Heather Alderman Fort Collins, Colorado “I love my ‘I love tofu’ shirt for a few reasons: 1) My husband got it for me, 2) My son always loved the edamame bunny on the front, and 3) It's a quirky Japanese style riff on popular culture. Also, it's pink, and I always hated pink! But then I got this shirt...”
I think what we learn most from this non-scientific sample is that, for the most part, the thing that connects a person to their favorite shirt is truly intangible. Despite our inside-the industry discussions about screen tension and thread counts, squeegee pressure and flash curing, simulated process and special effects, we have little control over the fact that, for many, their favorite shirt may me a low-quality, one-color job. For a designer or a printer, what makes for a great T-shirt — one that is loved, kept, cherished? This is hard to know. A blank T-shirt is nearly valueless, really, until it is “finished” with a design and a print. Even then, printed T-shirts are ubiquitous — people have drawers filled with them — many were free, many are forgotten, few are favorites. For the consumer, it’s not so much about the printing. The favorite T-shirt is more about identity — connecting yourself to a memory, a cause, a look, a feel, the person you once were or hope to be. It’s tool to help stand out, fade in, make a connection or start a conversation. It is a badge that announces, “This is me.” It is an emotional connection.