Interview: Scott Sasso on the History of the Graphic T-Shirt

Interview: Scott Sasso on the History of the Graphic T-Shirt

For our Oral History of the Graphic T-Shirt redux we connected with some of the leaders in the streetwear market to hear their thoughts on the current state of the industry and the most recent developments in the T-shirt game. We'll be rolling out our series of interviews all week, check out what Scott Sasso, founder of 10.Deep, had to say about the current state of the T-shirt.

Complex: In 2007 there seemed to be no limit to the growth and expansion of streetwear, but that quickly came to an end. What happened?
Scott Sasso: Something's happened stylistically, and then there’s been something that’s happened that deadened that fever, which was the economic downturn. Both of those things have had an effect on where t-shirts are and the kinds of t-shirts that are being made.

How did the situation with the economy impact the streetwear industry?
Economically, the obvious effect is that people aren’t buying shit so there aren’t opportunities for all those startup companies that started popping up in 2006 and 2007 to actually be in businesses. A lot of them that started around then couldn’t continue to exist. So, a lot of those voices got deadened out and that scene quieted.

And at the same time, tastes were changing. How did style change?
Stylistically there’s the equal and opposite reaction to all the art and goofy streetwear tees, which is that people were just like, “I want to do the exact opposite of that, I want to do simple plain one-color printed tees.” That’s how I felt going into 2007. I remember going into that year, I was just like, “I don’t want to do another all-over print, I don’t want to do colors.” And then it was, “I don’t even really wanna be doing sweatshirts and t-shirts.” I started putting out button downs and I started focusing on that stuff in the line.”

What do you think lead to that change in style? Was it just a reaction to the craziness of pre-recession streetwear?
There’s a rhythm to it, there are reactions against things. Everybody goes left, then everybody goes right and back and forth and whatever. I think that happens in culture too. People are like, well, I wanna be grown up and classic and all that kinda of stuff now because they were dressing like they were kids in their pajamas the year before.

Streetwear has always been about what’s cool, with a heavy emphasis on exclusivity. Has that changed?
I think there are still a lot of people who I would say are forward thinking, or very much about “exclusive–special”, but I also think there is a large group of people who don’t give a shit anymore. They just want what they want. They want something cool. I’ve always beat the “exclusive–special” drum around here, or as exclusive and special as we could be and still pay the bills. But now when we talk about stuff now, the last year or two it’s been like, “Fuck exclusive, let’s put our ideas out there, let’s let the business survive.”

And that mentality has had an impact on style and what’s getting put out there.
The reduction to simple things has also happened. Ultimately, all that stuff has ended up in solid black, solid white, solid navy t-shirts. It’s just reductionist to the extreme. It’s just like, “Fuck this, I want universal.” And Uniqlo wins in the end. (laughs).

So what are we left with?
Think about the landscape. Who’s doing it now? It’s The Hundreds, its Crooks, Mishka guys seem to have made it through, and us. I can’t really think of anyone else. Maybe Diamond, but that even feels newer. Supreme wasn’t going anywhere. But, at least to my eye, all the micro t-shirt brands are gone. But now that all that shit has died out, and style has gone to this plain, plain, plain stuff, I think that you’re going to start to see some brands starting to show up again, people starting to do some interesting basic graphic T-shirts again.

What brands do you see doing graphic tees that you like right now?
Right now, I don’t like any brands. (Laughs.) So, I don’t have much of a list. The only brand that I’ve noticed that I actually like right now is ONLY. They just do Helvetica bold, ONLY. And that’s their t-shirt. I like what they’re doing. I’m curious to see if maybe Sophmore will do anything. But you know, there’s not really much.

So is there any hope for the future?
I think it is going to be exciting. It seems like its time for a change. We’ve all be buckling down so long. There’s all this Americana, simple, classic, all this idea, you know. I get it. I’m on it. But you know, I think that it’s time for something new to happen. That’s it. Everything goes to zero and then it will start again. In 5 years we’ll all be talking about crazy T-shirts again.

Tags: t-shirts, scott-sasso, 10deep
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