An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

An Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt

The Beginning of the End: The Recession vs. the T-Shirt Game

Scott Sasso: The economic downturn deadened the T-Shirt fever. Economically, the obvious effect was that people weren’t buying shit so there weren’t opportunities for all those startup companies that started popping up in 2006 and 2007 to actually be in business. A lot of them that started around then couldn’t continue to exist.

Jeff Staple: It was nuclear winter. That recession seriously wiped out a lot of shit.

Nick Jackson: Things got very stressful, and got very difficult for everybody. And you got into the environment where stores were closing left and right, and things started to get complicated. It happened the world over—it wasn’t specific to this industry.

Adam Weissman (Stussy): I would imagine there are fewer people wanting to start a skate company or streetwear company now because it’s not what it used to be. All those small stores that would carry you and who would give you a chance aren’t really around because they couldn’t survive.

Bobby Hundreds: It forced us to concentrate on products that could sell, and that was something happening across the board. Everything was made to sell and that resulted in obviously a lot of black T-shirts because black T-shirts sell.

Scott Sasso: Ultimately, all that stuff has ended up in solid black, solid white, solid navy T-shirts, it’s reductionist to the extreme. It’s just like, “I want universal.” And Uniqlo wins in the end. (laughs). Stylistically there was the equal and opposite reaction to all the art and goofy streetwear tees, which is that people were just like, "Fuck that shit, I want to do the exact opposite of that, I want to do simple, plain, one-color printed tees."

Bobby Hundreds: During the downtime everyone only had so much money to spend so they were like, "I'm going to go with the staples and I'm just going to go with what I know works for me." That starts with the stores and the store buyers, which then trickles down to the consumers. And for the consumers, that’s all the selection they had so they were just going to stick with what was on the shelves.

Tags: t-shirt, t-shirt-design, history, streetwear
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