An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

Late ‘80s/Early ‘90s: Hip-Hop’s Golden Age

Kaves (Lordz of Brooklyn): The only other cats that were doing it at the time was Stash and Futura, Haze in California, Third Rail, and Pervert. That was 1990 or something. It was a new way, putting graffiti on tees.

Alyasha Owerka-Moore (Phat Farm, Alphanumeric): Stash and Futura were doing a company called Not From Concentrate, or NFC. Futura and Stash and their ever-popular Phillies Blunt T-shirt.

Angelo Baque: PNB being formed and owned by graffiti artists, I was in awe.

Scott Sasso (10.Deep): The thing that made me think about printing T-shirts was the fact that there were other graffiti writers doing it before I started. Specifically, PNB. A friend of mine came in to school wearing a sweatshirt that was in a graffiti writer’s hand style. He didn’t want to tell me where he got it, and finally he said, “Yo I got it at this spot Union downtown—don’t tell nobody about it.”

Angelo Baque (Absurd/Supreme): You had to be ubercool to have Triple 5 Soul sticker on your binder or a patch on your Jansport. It was still this tiny hole in the wall, nobody knew who the hell Triple 5 Soul was.

Camella Ehlke (Triple 5 Soul): Ludlow Street, 1989. People wore Girbaud jeans, 8-ball jackets, Stussy, Zoo York, tie hats. The store was difficult to find. Guys then wanted to keep it a secret. Our tribe was hip-hop, fashionistas, artsy, all rolled into one.

Haze: There was probably not 25 hip-hop influenced clothing companies in the whole world in ’93. Between the Triple 5 Souls and the ConArts and Haze and FUCT and Pervert and XLarge there was a very small, tight-knit community of people who were reinventing the game.

Jeff Staple (Stapledesign): It was like an exclusive club. You could almost befriend a stranger because both of you were wearing a Project Dragon T-shirt, some shit that only a handful of others were wearing.

Kaves: It opened up doors for anything street culture to [be] put on a T-shirt.

Shepard Fairey: I never even thought it would get as big as it is now. In 1994, I was at the 432F trade show and Marc Ecko was manning his 10x10 booth directly next to me with like a foam cut-out logo as his only piece of signage or prop. None of the crazy extravagant booths that he got into just two years after that.

Kaves: We thought we were killing it, showing at tradeshows. Next thing you know cats like Marc Ecko was like spending $300,000 on just the setup at the MAGIC tradeshow. Like, “How am I competing with this shit?” Money steps it up and you kind of get pushed to the side.

Tags: t-shirt, t-shirt-design, history, streetwear
blog comments powered by Disqus