by Benjamin Jeffery (@jawcuzzi)
Gildan is unholy on a hot afternoon. The girl at Chick-fil-A is wearing a crucifix, of course, and I’m sizing up the Son Of God. The shirt on my back would fit sloppy on the scrawny savior. I know because I’m scrawny and this Gildan shirt fits sloppy like a cardboard box crown.
If Jesus were a piece of ass, he’d care about the sourcing of his t-shirts, too.
It’s dangerous for degenerates to think too much, but I’m ordering bite-sized pieces of tender all breast meat chicken and my eyes are catching on the pewter around this girl’s collarbone. Gildan Activewear Inc. is a Montreal-based apparel manufacturer that should be little more than a booty call for ad hoc apparel. Instead, Gildan flexed $2.59 billion in sales in 2016 and acquired well-regarded competitors Alstyle Apparel and American Apparel. Mine’s itchy.
Blank t-shirts are the bread and butter of Gildan’s bustling business and blank t-shirts are the reason Gildan is a dirty word. But don’t worry, the sweatshops that produce these ill-fitting shirts are no big deal. The Haitian and Honduran hands that thread needles through collapsed cotton for five dollars a day are accepted casualties in the world of, well, the world. At least Gildan was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index for the fourth consecutive year.
Gildan is a dirty word because the underpaid and overworked people of Haiti and Honduras enable Gildan to sell blank t-shirts for two dollars and Kanye West sold those two-dollar t-shirts for fifty-five bucks at the Pablo pop-up shops that appeared in 21 cities around the world. I didn’t think twice before I bought one.
The ensuing controversy eventually prompted a response from an unnamed source close to West and, incidentally, landed Gildan on Page Six of the New York Post alongside a sighting of Peter Dinklage pushing a stroller past a café in Cobble Hill. The unnamed source close to West dismissed complaints about the cheap blanks and bloated price tag by emphasizing the aesthetic value of the final product and comparing the creation of the shirts to “an artist [selling] a $50 canvas for $1 million.”
Although West’s celebrity commanded the blame, it ultimately confused the pointed fingers. He wasn’t the first to flip Gildan blanks for fat profit margins and the comparison to a painter’s canvas wasn’t an unfair justification for the markup. But West was still guilty of compromising the elemental composition of his work. Skimping on blanks is a betrayal that can only be attributed to greed. It’s the sad bastardization of something that is fundamentally good and I’m complicit as I struggle to spot napkins without my glasses.
But thirst is primal and ridiculous. So, while West is a bona fide artist with a legitimate claim to the tradition of Andy Warhol and Andy Warhol’s elevation of screen printing, West is simultaneously legitimizing the cynical commodification of community that’s been carried out by Anti Social Social Club and VLONE.
The t-shirt is a structure, not unlike the sonnet. It’s voice and canvas, always available to broadcast whatever you woke up wanting to broadcast. Who The Fuck Is Mick Jagger? Dior Addict. Congratulations Class Of 2016. These little radical acts of expression connect Keith Richards and Kendall Jenner and that kid from algebra class who ranks JRPGs on YouTube. That’s the power of the t-shirt as a structure. Belonging.
Both brands are hyped and co-signed, selling out within seconds at inflated prices, despite using the same shitty Gildan shirts that piqued Page Six’s interest in the Pablo pop-up shops. Anti Social Social Club posted on Instagram to preview the merch that would be available at its own pop-up shop on West 3rd Street in Los Angeles and the comments included various exclamations of “Gildan lol.” The protests were empty, though, and the awareness worthless. Advocacy voided by hype. I’m the fool by the balls regardless.
If we are what we eat, then we want to be what we wear. The t-shirt is art on my back and expression across my chest and something I have to wear to receive service at gas stations. But it’s also a commodity that represents an intoxicating threshold for people like me. The limited availability of low-rent decadence oozes some approximation of luxury that tantalizes and looks good, too. I can’t say no, even though I know.