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To Protest. To Question. To Disprove.
March 20, 2007 9:24 PM   Subscribe

Are You Generic? "Giving Brand-America the finger since 2001." The folks at Are You Generic have a few basic demands: "natural, unprocessed foods; ad-free space; trustworthy news sources; a healthy body image; promotion of the independents; and the spread of knowledge." They're getting their message across by means of "culture jams." Their first target was Starbucks in 2002. Some more recent actions are listed here, including Confessions of a Generic Magazine. But they have stuff for sale, so some might argue that they're not that much different than those they mock. Either way, their site does have a great collection of international street art.
posted by amyms (63 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
Ad-free space- what's that? I can't even imagine such a thing. Everywhere I go there's some ad trying to crawl into my eyeballs.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 9:37 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I just realized I committed one of my own pet peeve grammar faux pas in my post: I typed "different than" and it should be "different from"... I wanted to acknowledge it before anyone pops in to blast me for it... lol... Okay, I feel better now.
posted by amyms at 9:45 PM on March 20, 2007


An interesting post... but I disagree with their message. They just have a different brand.

"No Brand" is one of the most powerful brands out there. These guys know it. Adbusters knows it. Urban Outfitters knows it a little bit.

But screen-printing does not a revolution make.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 9:53 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Recommodify the subversive element? check.

Nothing fuels the engine of capitalism more than "revolutionary capitalism."

The greatest thing that "counter culture" types could have done to ensure that The System would remain in place is to convince people that you can have a revolution based on what you purchase.

Check out "Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture" because it posits the same idea.
posted by ervan at 10:02 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


So join the struggle while you may -
The revolution is just a t-shirt away!
posted by bunglin jones at 10:07 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


The jam was meant to instigate, to irritate, but to do so inconspicuously. The copy is mildly ironic because it mimics the expression, "I love a good cup of coffee" and loyal Starbucks patrons might not even catch the significance of the word "invasion" thinking the jam just another advertisement.

That's right, nothing like a good inconspicuous irritation to try and change the world. When I want to make a point, I want to make sure as few people understand its significance as possible.
posted by redbeard at 10:11 PM on March 20, 2007


Thank god for groups like this--you have no idea how depressing and frustrating it is to be an unmarketed population segment.
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:12 PM on March 20, 2007


(unmarketed to, that is).
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:13 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


Guess I'll go have to hand over $30 for a pretty much incoherent poster. That'll stick it to the man!

That way I can cling to my individualism. Just like everyone else.
posted by redbeard at 10:13 PM on March 20, 2007


(And I should have put "unmarketed to" in quotes back there, because it was a word phrase being used as a noun).
posted by Citizen Premier at 10:14 PM on March 20, 2007


I kinda agree with BLT - how does one distinguish between one 'generic' and another one?

Branding is important in building trust with a consumer.

I think that the this issue is about boycotting "prominent" or "whatever" brands. <shakes head violently> or rather <this is stupid>.

"Buy Nothing Day" makes more sense.

Is "Farmer Bradly" who uses no commercial pesticides, and treats his livestock humanely a brand compared to Famer Joseph who uses Monsanto (tm) crops to feeds his transgenic (HighLee [tm]) pigs and whips them out of jealousy and psychosis different 'brands?'

I have something against Monsanto - but nothing against transgenics when used properly; transgenic food - it depends on the reason the genetic material is introduced and the nature of the genetic material. Transgenics aren't bad/good or right/wrong. It's what it is, and how it's used that makes it a 'good idea' vs. a 'bad idea.'
posted by porpoise at 10:16 PM on March 20, 2007


"No Brand" is one of the most powerful brands out there

So generic brands is marketing atheism?
posted by Dagobert at 10:19 PM on March 20, 2007


(And I should have put "unmarketed to" in quotes back there, because it was a word phrase being used as a noun).

Citizen Premier, I think it would be an adjective, not a noun... But I like it.
posted by amyms at 10:20 PM on March 20, 2007


The nursery rhyme, sing-song tempo of the copy ("You Bomb Me. I Bomb You. Monkey See. Monkey Do.") is subverted by its own meaning, and the graphic chaos that fills the four corners of the poster. There is seemingly nowhere to escape the sheer absurdity of world powers engaged in a game of bomb ping-pong. Which begs the question: are monkeys our genealogical past or future?

Ha ha ha. Nothing's more subversive than a poster with a 3 page essay attached explaining why it's so subversive. That way, all you have to do is show people the poster, grab them and have them sit down while you read them the paragraphs explaining it, spend a few more hours explaining what the explanatory gibberish actually meant and then, BAM! Revolution!!

not to mention they used a metafilter favorite phrase in the last sentence
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:36 PM on March 20, 2007


All of these people own iPods. You can just tell.
posted by Mr. President Dr. Steve Elvis America at 10:39 PM on March 20, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was a loyal Adbusterista when I was 20, but now I am just sick of this shit.
posted by Falconetti at 10:44 PM on March 20, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think you are all missing the point here. I don't think these folks are saying a t-shirt is a means of a revolution. I think their efforts are much more simple than all that... It sounds to me like they are simply trying to offer "an alternative to big business and small thinking". More independent products and the support of the people behind them, i.e. artists, musicians, writers... They want people to look beyond the disney-pop world they live-in day-to-day.

If we mock them. Then all that will be left is Microsoft, Viacom, Disney, GE, and the like... no alternatives? Geez, let them be...
posted by gepetto at 10:57 PM on March 20, 2007


I don't think these folks are saying that a t-shirt is a means of a revolution either. I think what they're saying is: "Buy our t-shirts". Because all I see on the website is buzzwords and whiny magazine inserts and glued on vandalism that doesn't have any real effect beyond the people who made it.

If we mock these people, there will still be all kinds of small businesses making independent products. These people are not making magazines with lots of content and few ads. These people are not running mom and pop coffee shops, or providing internet service, or really providing any service at all.

Well, except for the tshirts.
posted by 23skidoo at 11:15 PM on March 20, 2007


I'm pretty sure I've read Henry James describing things as "different than" other things*. Not that I am a great admirer of his clotted prose, (Washington Square excepted), but "different than" can be a useful formulation.

*Note: slack fucker passing off half-remembered crap as fact doesn't count for much.
posted by Wolof at 12:03 AM on March 21, 2007


I stopped watching broadcast/cable TV entirely and now watch entirely through downloads. I can't imagine ever going back to a world where one third of a show is ads that you either have to watch or fast-forward.
posted by Rhomboid at 12:36 AM on March 21, 2007


Ad-free space: it's tough, but you have no tv and ruthless close off, chuck away and block tons of crap. Then you are out of touch with everything everyone else is relying on. It's strange, like being a visitor from another time.
posted by Listener at 12:56 AM on March 21, 2007


Citizen Premier, I think it would be an adjective, not a noun... But I like it.

I meant for the first correction. My understanding is that when you're talking about word choice you need to use quotation marks so it isn't mistaken for part of the sentence.
It's just one of the few, arbitrarily selected grammatical rules I like to take seriously.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:29 AM on March 21, 2007


On a note actually related to the post, I actually do like it when companies market to my desire for less advertising and less claims of awesomeness, and simply tell me what the product is or does.
But this website doesn't do that. No, this website is pure hype.
posted by Citizen Premier at 1:35 AM on March 21, 2007


Brand America prefers the shocker. It'll settle for the finger but really prefers two for the pink and one for the stink.
posted by srboisvert at 1:40 AM on March 21, 2007


Great. Attempt number n at subverting branding by creating a competing brand, where n is embarrassingly larger than 1. This time it'll work for sure, guys!
posted by Ictus at 1:40 AM on March 21, 2007


Sure, they're doing exactly the tired old schtick they're accused of, but I would rather see someone wearing a shirt without a logo, from a shop that's not a sweatshop.

And I am still fucking sick of advertising in all its annoying guises and endlessly expanding locations. Har har, Bill's going for the anti-marketing dollar, that's a huge market, I know, I know, but Adbusters are right: almost all of it is simply unnecessary mental pollution.

(exceptions: ads for gigs I want to go to or films I want to see, the ads for that flatscreen telly that used massive paint explosions, public service announcements)
posted by imperium at 3:07 AM on March 21, 2007


The ad buster is your brain.
posted by gorgor_balabala at 3:40 AM on March 21, 2007 [1 favorite]


These people are not making magazines with lots of content and few ads. These people are not running mom and pop coffee shops, or providing internet service, or really providing any service at all.

Exactly. If they really cared about small-businesses, independent art, spreading knowledge, and trustworthy news, they'd be out doing all that, rather than whining and flailing and fighting "to reclaim our individuality and regain our space and voices from Big Business". Because when they say our, they mean your, and that's what it's actually about: a bunch of kids looking for an identity to distinguish their enlightened selves from the ignorant masses, and settling upon 90s-style anti-capitalism, which is about as hip and relevant as haw-haw-Bush-looks-like-a-monkey jokes. Oh wait, are they actually doing that one too?
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 3:53 AM on March 21, 2007


Ad-free space- what's that? I can't even imagine such a thing. Everywhere I go there's some ad trying to crawl into my eyeballs.

I'm reminded of traveling by car through the old Czechoslovakia, on a couple of different tours during the 80's. The almost complete absence of billboards was so utterly refreshing. The lovely countryside and old buildings completely unobstructed by advertising... it was fantastic. Like being in another century.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:32 AM on March 21, 2007


*Starts Generic™ brand to market to the anti-market market*
posted by Blue Stone at 5:49 AM on March 21, 2007


Let's say... you were to strip this site of all the messages and beliefs, actions, collection of street art and everything else and leave it to be a simple and straight-forward yahoo e-commerce site with nothing but the shirts from their catalog up for sale.

Then what? All of you would have nothing to bitch about, it would fly under the radar and it would be just another collection of tees for the college kids, right? If they were in it for the money, my guess is, they would have taken that route.

Everyone here is talking so much about the money, money, money this site is getting or chasing... under what assumption? I've been visiting areyougeneric since a few years back and they've lost money every year. In fact, to make things even more difficult everytime there is the slight possibility of success (from retailers that want to carry their shirts) they hit them up with a disclaimer, which most refuse to accept:

"areyougeneric.org's catalog was created to provide logo-free, sweatshop-free, concept driven products.

In selling our merchandise, you agree to adhere to the principles, standards, and beliefs with which we founded the organization. We ask that you refrain from attaching any type of branding or logo on our products. Please understand that to be faithful to our concept we require the partnership of conscientious merchants.

We thank you for supporting our efforts and promoting the cause." (disclaimer found on their site)

I am not trying to convince any of you of anything... simply representing the other side.
posted by gepetto at 6:00 AM on March 21, 2007


I can't wait ot see all your faces when it is reveal that Are You Generic is an ad campaign from Coca-Cola. Come hell or high water, you will drink OK Cola.

Seriously, this is a stupid idea, and the campaign is even worse. "I Love a Good Starbucks Invasion"? I would have thought that was an ad by Starbucks.

These are lazy suburban kids looking for something to protest that doesn't require any heavy thinking. Why, precisely, is Starbucks bad? Because they charge $5 for coffee? That's not as egregious to me as a $20 t-shirt. At least you can drink the coffee.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:02 AM on March 21, 2007


Everyone here is talking so much about the money, money, money this site is getting or chasing... under what assumption?

Under the assumption that the site appears to do nothing but engage in petty vandalism for the pupose of building an image that they can cash-in on by selling worthless and unnecessary crap. This is about building a brand ("Are You Generic") to sell to a segment of the market that imagines itself fighting big business, but is in fact the most easily manipulated segment of the market. If I appear anti-big business, I can get their business.

So far, their culture jamming consists of a single poster in front of a single Starbucks that was under construction, and some flyers (less than ten it appears) taped over the shopping card ads at a supermarket. That's it.

And on the basis of that "street cred", I'm supposed to buy their fucking shirts for $20? Does the world need more t-shirts?
posted by Pastabagel at 6:13 AM on March 21, 2007


Agreed, hoverboards... .

Build a better world, not another brand - sorry, "lifestyle".
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:14 AM on March 21, 2007



Seriously, this is a stupid idea, and the campaign is even worse. "I Love a Good Starbucks Invasion"? I would have thought that was an ad by Starbucks.


I was thinking the same thing. If I was a Starbucks executive and I saw this site I would march down to the marketing department and tell them to print thousands of shirts with that message (adding a Starbucks logo, of course) and send them to every hipster clothing shop in the country. How's that for subversion?
posted by saraswati at 6:23 AM on March 21, 2007


But they have stuff for sale, so some might argue that they're not that much different than those they mock.

If you're not against them you're with them?
posted by Chuckles at 6:30 AM on March 21, 2007


Let's say... you were to strip this site of all the messages and beliefs, actions, collection of street art and everything else and leave it to be a simple and straight-forward yahoo e-commerce site with nothing but the shirts from their catalog up for sale. Then what? All of you would have nothing to bitch about, it would fly under the radar and it would be just another collection of tees for the college kids, right? If they were in it for the money, my guess is, they would have taken that route.

People who are in things for the money generally try and do things to attract attention. Sure, other kinds of people do things to attract attention to, but claiming that since they set up a website to attract people that they can't be in it for the money is wrong. A simple catalog like you describe would probably make them less money than the way they are selling shirts now.

Everyone here is talking so much about the money, money, money this site is getting or chasing... under what assumption?

Under the assumption that selling tshirts is the only thing that they actually do. Where's their wiki of places you can go where you can't see/hear any advertising? Where's the campaign to buy billboard space and plaster it with the works of famous/up-and-coming artists? Where's their legislation to decrease the number of mini-malls in their city? If I saw anything beyond the three culturejamming stunts they pulled, I might think "Yeah. these guys are doing trying to do something important" and then throw them a couple bucks. But exactly why do they need my money now? To pay for webhosting? I don't see them *doing* anything.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:37 AM on March 21, 2007



Usage notes on "different than," "different from," and "different to," in which "different from" is recommended as the preferred usage.

"Unmarketed-to" is an adjective phrase ("population segment" is the noun it modifies). The link has some analogues, like "hard-won victory." Using a hyphen helps the reader understand the adjective phrase as a unit. Putting quotations around it signifies something different (that you're borrowing another person's words or suggesting another voice).


Couldn't help myself there...

I am quite concerned about the entrenched and extreme nature of branding in our society, and the way in which has become a force of its own. It's tied up with our difficulties with intellectual property law, and with the problem of corporations gaining ownership of elements of our cultural heritage which were once in the public domain (like the genetic material in animals and plants).

As much as possible, I just try to concentrate on rejecting consumerism, and that at least reduces my participation in branded activity. I don't hate the existence of all brands, but I do hate the way brand image has superseded the actual qualities of a product in creating desirability. Starbucks doesn't sell coffee; they sell a self-image. The recent flap over cat food was remarkable to me not just because it exposed yet another safety issue in our industrialized food system, it also showed that the exact same food was being purchased by people under the labels of Iams, Science Diet, and Eukanuba for four times the price as it went for under the labels of Special Kitty (Wal-Mart), FoodTown, and American's Choice (grocery store brands). What is it people were paying for, exactly? Certainly not product quality.

I'm thankful that critical thinking about messages was explicitly taught in my family and school, but I also realize that that is quite rare. The problem isn't necessarily the existence of the messages, but their disproportionate power when directed at a people who have never been shown the example of asking yourself: who created this message? Who designed this logo? Why did they do it? What effect did they expect it to have on me? Why do I respond to it in the way I do? Do I believe the message? Is the product suggesting it will fulfill some unmet emotional need in me? Is that at all true? et cetera.
posted by Miko at 8:05 AM on March 21, 2007


And, just to point out the obvious here, you don't have to pay $20 for a frickin' t-shirt if you don't want to wear branded shirts. I picked up 3 nice, no visible brand, t-shirts for $10 at Target the other day. They are a solid color with no decoration. They have no visible logos. How's that for generic?

Personally, I'm broke, not generic. If you have to be some trust fund twit who can afford to buy all of your shirts at twenty bucks a pop to be generic then they can blow it out their ass.
posted by sotonohito at 8:23 AM on March 21, 2007


They are 20 dollars a pop, because the tees are sweat-shop free (unlike your $10 Target tee).
posted by gepetto at 8:29 AM on March 21, 2007


Better yet, eschew Target and these husksters and go get some used T-shirts at the thrift shop.

That's what we used to do in the '90s, when everyone was cool and rich and there was a democrat in the White House.
posted by Mister_A at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2007


No TV + adblock plus = very few adverts.
posted by algreer at 8:41 AM on March 21, 2007


As pointed out above, and by Nation of Rebels, we don't need a revolution as much as we need real change. With acts like this, cleverness has replaced actual deep thought and action with lasting impact.

A possible more long term solution would be to start a movement in your community to limit billboard advertising, or other ad creep, actively petitioning to put and end to it. If the people in office don't listen, run against them, etc. Don't just add endless noise to the rapidly diminishing signal.
posted by drezdn at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2007


Here's "culture jamming" for ya (we used to call these things "pranks" back in the '90s...)

At our break room, there's a sign on the door that reads, "this door must remain closed at all times". My boss penciled in, "how the heck do I get out then?". It was an un-premeditated act, and it reflects his character - he doesn't take things too seriously; he's neither obsessive about brands nor obsessively anti-brand.

And you know something else? Brands are important. There, I said it. If you don't believe me, go ride a Huffy and compare it to a Pegoretti. There's a huge difference in price, but also in quality, design, and aesthetics. The point is, the brand helps you know ahead of time what sort of thing you are going to get. Of course it can be taken too far, but all this reflexive brand-bashing by a bunch of Mac-wielding "indy" kids is tiresome in its hypocrisy (and I love Macs, don't get me wrong).
posted by Mister_A at 8:50 AM on March 21, 2007


Amen drezdn.
posted by Mister_A at 8:51 AM on March 21, 2007


They are 20 dollars a pop, because the tees are sweat-shop free (unlike your $10 Target tee).

What brand of shirts do they use? I'd like to be able to research the company's business practices to see if they align with my worldview.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:13 AM on March 21, 2007


Mister_A, brands are only important insofar as they reliably signal the inherent qualities (or lack thereof) in a product. It's not the brand itself that contains or produces the quality of a consumer item.

As I was trying to say in my comment, brands break down and become harmful when they no longer relate in a meaningful way to the quality, goodness, usefulness, or distinctiveness of what is signified by the brand.

I am not a "Mac-wielding "indy" kid" and never have been; to dismiss anti-consumerism as the pastime of idle youth is to ignore its serious intent. There are certain brands I recognize and defend, as long as they continue to represent the qualities promised and have real utility. But there are also too many examples where graphic image, relentless repetition, or attempts to capitalize on flaws in human character have successfully replaced actual quality.

If there are brands which actually are better than their competitors, their owners are the ones who should be most concerned about overdoing the advertising and emphasizing image over product quality. Because if it's all about the image, who's to say Huffy isn't cooler?
posted by Miko at 9:21 AM on March 21, 2007


I think you've partially misread my intent, Miko. The Huffy/Pegoretti comparison wasn't about me getting on a soapbox about Pegoretti (though Pegoretti bikes are hand-made in Italia by a dude named Pegoretti). The point is, if I want/need a bike and have $100, I know that Huffy will be on my list and Pegoretti will not. However, if I just found a large basket of cash lying in some reeds, and I'm an avid cyclist who's longed for a hand-crafted Italian bike, well, I'll look at the Pegoretti. So "better" is conditional; Huffy is better if you're on a tight budget, Pegoretti is better if you're a devoted cyclist with a few extra bucks and want a frame that you'll ride for the next 10 years.

So yes, brands do say something about the quality of the product, and even more so about the "suitability" of the product to a prospective buyer. And yes, some people are swayed by clever lifestyle advertising that posits a certain brand as a key to a certain desired identity (see any Hummer commercial ever). That signals some major insecurity, but on the other hand, "I've always wanted a Pegoretti" is a perfectly valid reason to get one.

The anti-brand stance of the organization presented here is particularly objectionable because it is clearly catering to a well-demarcated demographic (educated white twenty-something hipsters/creative types/wanna-bes). Just look at this:
...appropriates the canvas of urban brick and concrete, noise and dirt– and subverts it into something beautiful and intentionally-provoking. It is defiant and transformative.
This is copy selling a pro-graffiti T-shirt ($22 US). This T-shirt, and all the T-shirts available here, are hackneyed calls for some kind of amorphous revolution involving wheat paste and screen-printing of slogans on shirts. This crap is just more lifestyle advertising. I mean, you see some cute graffiti guy or gal on a track bike (some very Gucci European brand, no doubt) wearing this shirt, and you think, "gee, I could be like that if only I had that shirt", and off you go to areyougeneric.org to get that shirt that will telegraph your membership in the fucking Young White Guy's Cult of the Precious Snowflake, and you drive around in your VW with the Mac sticker, listening to some band I never heard of on your iPod, ever wary against the day that they get too popular and you have to stop listening to them, and congratulating yourself on being so goddam righteous.

Here is more putrid prose from the site:
Are You Generic intends to fuse the cry of protest and demonstration with aesthetic graphic design -- to replace the Tommy/GAP/Nike logos with rallying statements of assertion. We hope to flourish as a grass roots operation -- spreading by word of mouth.
These scammers admit that this is lifestyle advertising, that they want to replace the Nike logo with their own. If these guys were saying, "hey enough with the logos and the messaging everywhere; here are some nice duds with no logos or labels," I could respect them; but this is just fake-ass Che Guevara poster in your dorm room uncommitted pseudo-revolutionary posing.

And where I say "you", above, I do not mean you personally, Miko. I don't think you fall into that group at all, based on what you've written here. I would like to see some advertising reeled back in, especially billboard advertising; but as for advertisings in magazines, on TV, on radio, or (to some degree) online, these media are completely supported by advertising; the only way to avoid the advertising is to avoid these media.
posted by Mister_A at 10:12 AM on March 21, 2007


Wouldn't it be a more effective statement to just try to convince people to wear plain t-shirts than some with a new brand on it? Plus it would be cheaper too.

If you really want, you can go so far as to cut the label out from the inside of the plain t-shirt, you rebel you.
posted by drezdn at 10:27 AM on March 21, 2007


Gotcha, Mr.A. Kind of makes one wonder if the entire site isn't a spoof; what better way to mock social conformity as an indie hipster than to sell them an un-brand?

It's pretty silly. My comments were about brands in general, not about this site, which does seem fairly lame. If they were activists, that'd be one thing, but they're just selling something else.
posted by Miko at 10:34 AM on March 21, 2007


Ok, so I guess I’m in the minority, but that’s never scared me off before. Here’s what I think…

First, why is it that no one blinks when a mega-corporation, which we know is engaging in questionable practices, makes astronomical profits? But, if an organization that is trying to do good makes money, we get our panties in a bunch? I do have a gut reaction against companies that are only out there to capitalize on counter-culture. But does that mean that all independent companies shouldn’t be allowed to make a profit, even theoretically, a hearty one? They’re providing an alternative-- we want these companies to thrive, we want them to be able to compete. Why is making money an automatic red flag? I want to support them. I like putting my money where my mouth is. (Wait, that didn’t quite sound right. But you get the idea.)

Second, it seems like some of you won’t be satisfied unless someone completely eradicates a problem. How realistic is that? What’s wrong with a stepping stone in the right direction? With being a springboard? Why not, for example, applaud a small biodiesel company making fuel out of soybeans, even if, as staunch environmentalists argue, it doesn’t resolve the underlying problem of big cars and excessive energy use. They’re still out there doing something positive—which is probably more than I can say for myself. I mean, isn’t an interim solution better than none at all? And isn’t it more attainable? I personally think it’s a good thing.

So, back to the "anti-brand brand". I just think they’re trying to do their small part in promoting independent design and artists and merchandise (yes, I dared to say the “m” word) that they can feel good about. They are providing an alternative—and whether it’s to museum art or logo-ridden clothing, makes no difference to me.
posted by kundera at 10:42 AM on March 21, 2007


gepetto wrote "They are 20 dollars a pop, because the tees are sweat-shop free (unlike your $10 Target tee)."

You are correct in that my Target t-shirts were sweatshop made. I wish they weren't.

Everything else you said is incorrect.

Sweatshop workers make between $.10 and $.25 per shirt. If we take the high end, and *double* the sweatshop worker's pay to $.50 per shirt it won't make t-shirts cost $20.00 each.

My shirts from Target cost me $3.33 each (pack of three for ten bucks). If a single t-shirt from these guys costs 16.67 more, I'd like to know a) how much of that is really going to the people making the shirts, and b) if it works out to a lot less than 16.67 where the rest of that money is going.

If the pay for the people who made my shirt was doubled it'd raise the price I paid to $10.75 for three, or $3.59 each. Tops.

Who's eating the other $16.41 and why should they get that money?
posted by sotonohito at 1:12 PM on March 21, 2007


sotonohito... Are you kidding?

I doubt these guys are printing anywhere near the quantity of Target. Most likely small print runs of say 72-96 a design. Blank color tees from Hanes or Fruit of the Loom are usually about 2 to 2.25 a tee wholesale at that quantity, but areyougeneric is buying sweatshop-free tees... so double that price to almost 4 bucks a blank tee. Then add... printing a graphic on the small run. Most printers charge $20 a screen and then it costs anywhere from $2 to $2.75 per tee (depending on number of colors). We are already at around $7, now add the cost of hosting the site and paying the online third-party credit card processor a percentage on each sale. It probably brings them to about $10/tee cost and they sell them for $20 which is a less-than average markup for most businesses. In relation to your numbers... you say it costs (at most) $.50 a tee and you pay $3.33 retail... that's much more than double the mark-up.
posted by gepetto at 1:39 PM on March 21, 2007


Gepetto Where can I buy sweatshop free, plain, t-shirts for anywhere near that price ($5)? I looked into it a year ago (or so) and all I could find was $20 shirts, even the plain unprinted ones.

Heck, I'm broke but if I could find plain non-sweatshop t-shirts for even $6 each I'd buy 'em. I don't want the areyougeneric people's branding on my shirts, I just want a plain shirt.

The best deal I can find is from Conscious Consumer, and with shipping factored in it runs around $10 per shirt. I honestly can't afford to pay that.
posted by sotonohito at 1:54 PM on March 21, 2007


Sotonohito,
I don't know much about the specifics of the t-shirt business -- how much mark-up is customary or the minutiae about how expenses are allocated. But, you seem to be responding in a way that is intentionally simplistic in order to make a point. Because there is no way that you actually believe that the ONLY cost in running a business is labor. Right? And, I don't know, I just don't think that $20 is all that much to pay for a great tee, especially if it's made by people who actually got paid enough to feed their family. $20? i don't want to sound old or pessimistic (both of which I probably am), but a lollipop almost costs that much nowadays.
posted by kundera at 2:07 PM on March 21, 2007


I ain't paying $20 for a tee shirt no matter who made it. That's just wrong. Anyway, kundera, the problems with these clowns at areyougeneric.org:

1. The .org url—they are trying to look like an NPO, IMHO
2. The double standard about messaging—they want to put their branding on T-shirts while railing against other companies doing the same.
3. The complete lack of honesty about their mission. If they said, "hey, we want to support local designers and up-and-coming artists," I'd be all for it as I do, in fact, support local designers and up-and-coming artists.
4. The atrocious, hackneyed, subtle-as-a-mallet-to-the-forehead copy with its relentless pop revolution sloganeering.

You said this:
I just think they’re trying to do their small part in promoting independent design and artists and merchandise (yes, I dared to say the “m” word) that they can feel good about. They are providing an alternative—and whether it’s to museum art or logo-ridden clothing, makes no difference to me.
If they had said the same, I'd be much more sympathetic toward them. These guys are just a bunch of OMG teh revolution is on T-shirts, the likes of which I grew tired of fifteen years ago.
posted by Mister_A at 2:22 PM on March 21, 2007


I'm missing a plural noun in the comment above; feel free to add any appropriate noun.
posted by Mister_A at 2:38 PM on March 21, 2007


Yeah, nothing "the Man" hates more than seeing "the Message" on a t-shirt. Totally blows his mind.
posted by Smedleyman at 4:43 PM on March 21, 2007


kundera You are misinterperating what I said. I do not, by any streatch of the imagination, think that labor is the only cost involved in making clothing, nor did I imply that.

Labor is a cost that is largely independent of other costs, and its the cost at the heart of this discussion because of the sweatshop conditions pretty much all clothing is made under. If you increase the wages paid to the people who actually put the shirts together it doesn't increase the cost of the materials, or the shipping costs, etc. This means that if the wage of the workers is increased, the other factors should remain the same, and the price of the shirt should only increase by the amount that the worker's wages increased.

Thus, if a package of three plain shirts from Target costs $10.00 dollars now, if the wages of the people working in the sweatshops were doubled the same package of shirts should cost around $10.75.

Thus when someone is trying to sell me a shirt for six times that amount, I wonder where all the extra money is going, because I'll guarantee you it isn't going to the guys in the sweatshop. They may be getting a bit more, but six times more? I doubt it.

Further, the fact that you are willing, apparently eager even, to spend $20 on a t-shirt says a lot more about your financial situation than it does about your social beliefs. You can afford to pay that much, and good for you. I can't, that doesn't make me less socially aware than you are, it means I have less money than you do.

As for the value of $20, to me its around four days worth of food, that's a bit more than a lollypop there chum.
posted by sotonohito at 7:24 PM on March 21, 2007


This video, via areyougeneric, was good.
posted by Termite at 10:09 PM on March 21, 2007


sotonhito, you are being intentionally obtuse. When a person buys shirts that are sweatshop free, they are buying shirts that were not made in a sweatshop, not shirts for which sweatshop laborers were paid twice the usual rate.

The evils of sweatshop labor are many, and a low rate of pay is only one of them. Fair trade pricing is a start at addressing labor issues, but it certainly doesn't go far enough to make real change at the production level.

So, when you're speaking of a $20 T-shirt that's sweatshop free, you're most likely speaking of a T-shirt made in a developed country (or at least an advanced factory within a developing country) which pays a living wage (or close to it) and provides safe working conditions and basic benefits. That's where the 'extra' money goes.

American Apparel describes its employment program here. Workers make between $8-$18/hour and receive good benefits and work in what sounds like a pleasant environment, in an American factory paying American property tax and adhering to American OSHA law. The costs for them to do business this way are all greater than the costs for a factory in a developing country with none of those benefits. That's one reason the shirt costs more. Don't like AA? Neither do I. Here's No Sweat, a company that contracts with workers' unions at plants around the world for clothing produced at a living wage under conditions negotiated locally. Their shirts also run around $20 for a printed tee.

That's what you're paying for in the higher price. You're paying closer to what it actually costs to produce a shirt with a minimum of human environmental misery, where the cheaper shirts are not really cheaper but subsidized. By buying sweatshop products, you're pushing the real cost away from you, and onto people you can't see and environments you don't have to live in.

A quick look around reveals abundanct information on the web about the world garment industry. The Clean Clothes Campaign has some information and what they call "critical overviews" about factories marketing their brands based on working conditions. It's not comprehensive, but it's interesting. They've also got a lot of international policy news and information. Of course, once sustainability takes on an aura of consumer desirability, some companies will market themselves as sustainable when perhaps they're not. It can be hard to stay on top of these issues.

For me, clothes are one aspect of our global sustainability problem, which is on a lot of minds these days. Our non-sustainable approach to use of the earth's resources is negatively affecting our food, water, environmental health, atmosphere, medical resources, and nonrenewable fossil fuels. It's all connected, and it's complicated. A good hub for information is the Center for a New American Dream.

So while this single project may not be particularly well-designed or meaningful, it's part of a much larger global movement to examine the use of natural resources and seek to improve our system to a level which can sustain global health and life. Avoiding massive brands is usually a good idea, because in most (not all) cases, their scale is such that business practices remove decision makers from the point of impact of their decisions.

I'm not meaning to preach; I'm banging the drum as much for myself as others. I understand that not all of us can afford to buy large amounts of more expensively manufactured stuff. But can you do one of the following?

- Get by with less? Forego quanity (3-t-shirt pack) for quality, purchasing just one t-shirt every few months and gradually phasing out your old ones for the new/better ones? You may need to launder more often, but over time the cost won't be felt as strongly, and it could be that better-made products don't degrade as quickly as the cheaper ones.
- Recycle? I'm pretty broke myself, but I do a lot of clothes shopping at thrift and consigment shops. (I work in a professional office environment, so it's not like I'm just running around in slobby stuff).

Finally, I love the CNAD's "What Matters" page, which I just found and read. It's a great reminder that some decisions have greater impact than others.
posted by Miko at 7:12 AM on March 22, 2007 [1 favorite]


First, why is it that no one blinks when a mega-corporation, which we know is engaging in questionable practices, makes astronomical profits? But, if an organization that is trying to do good makes money, we get our panties in a bunch?

I see no reason to think that areyougeneric.org is trying to do good, or to do anything except sell t-shirts. I think that's the reason for the panty-bunching.
posted by me & my monkey at 4:39 PM on March 22, 2007


Choosing to do business on a human scale, instead of the mega-scale of corporations, is "doing good". Not a huge amount of super saintly good, or anything, but you know..
posted by Chuckles at 5:33 PM on March 22, 2007


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