I’m finished with promotional materials masquerading as useful objects. Even donating your time you’re bound to accumulate some as “thanks”; a friend worked for a food donation project hosted by Barilla, and got a branded bag and a T-shirt that somehow ended up in my drawer. (These things are like bad pennies.) A bank gives you a T-shirt advertising the bank for giving them your personal info on a credit-card application: a twofer!
We save these items until they crowd out wearable clothes, then trash-bag them for “charity.” This guarantees that whenever we drive through an area replete with government housing, we see children frolicking in oversize shirts hawking sodas or airlines or discount sporting goods. Wearing this crap enables their parents to spend money on food or medicine. When they in turn give it away, threadbare and faded, it ends up in the Global South through the “rag trade” of clothing-by-the-pound, where it is beamed back into the Occident via late-night commercials promising help for harelip children or starving displaced peasants.
The final irony may be the garment’s retirement in its hometown. Production of promotional garments uses the cheapest of cut-rate textile labor—just check the labels of anything wearable and free, then look up the country of origin+sweatshop or +exploit or +”child labor.” So a shirt produced in a Honduras sweatshop may return to finish its days on a child in Talanga. Has so much value ever been wrung from an advertising farthing?
Among my idle fancies of usefulness: If I were to teach welding in the hood, I would teach young adults how to make bookcases out of kitchen sinks. This assumes good enough schooling and parenting that they would care about reading, and that they wouldn’t be too proud to use bookcases made out of scrap metal, itself an aesthetic of privilege—so never mind.
Covering ads on free clothing would be a more fun and realistic thing to do, with a younger group, maybe as part of a larger arts workshop. I think explaining why endorsements should be covered would be most of the point, perhaps taking the angle that if Serena Williams and Kobe are getting paid so much to appear with those logos, why should you only get a XXL T-shirt big enough for a fort?
I recently discovered I could use Earth Safe Finishes’ gel medium to adhere patches to work clothes, and thought to re-message some hats and tees that I’d wear if they didn’t carry ads. ESF gel medium, intended as a paint base, actually works better as a fabric glue than anything I’ve used intended for that purpose. I burn, cut through and dissolve a lot of fabric in my work, and have been able to join fabrics as inapposite as canvas duck to denim, or sheer polyester to wool/cotton blend. I’m happy that I can do this without VOCs or solvents, for what good is preservation if it requires further destruction?
You need only smear the covering fabric patch liberally with gel medium and press it over the logo or slogan, then wait about 10 minutes for it to dry. Then a few passes with a dry iron at 70% heat will fix the adhesive and secure it against wear, tear, washing & drying. It remains flexible enough for knees and soft enough for the inside of hats, but stronger than store-bought patches. An environmentally responsible product that’s more effective and versatile than comparable substitutes—this really is the 21st century.