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Design Bridge Visits: T-SHIRT – CULT – CULTURE – SUBVERSION Exhibition, London

Dare to Wear

I recently visited the T-SHIRT – CULT – CULTURE – SUBVERSION exhibition at the London Fashion and Textiles Museum, which celebrates the surfacing of a once undergarment to a prominent material for self-expression and tool for cultural change. Thought provoking and inspiring, it got me thinking about what brands could learn from the versatile, enduring simplicity of the T-shirt.

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A Wearable Canvas

The historical power of this clothing staple is definitive, yet its role in the future is indefinite; timeless yet contemporary, playful yet purposeful. The T-shirt visually represents the art of conversation. It has a fine balance of familiarity as an object with provocation in its messages, perfectly balancing functional means with emotional value. What’s more, it’s sitting right there in our wardrobes.

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The T-shirt is truly democratic; accessible to people of all ages, shapes and societies. The exhibition takes this idea of democracy a step further, illustrating its power as a surface visual communication tool to one of a far greater meaning. It has shown resistance, objectivity and accessibility, yet deeper messages for community and societal shifts over the past 50 years.

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Mirror Image

This unique medium can convey any intent or aspiration, and we use them as a way of expressing our personality and beliefs – our personal brand. The likes of Instagram draws parallels to this concept in the digital world, projecting the image of ourselves we want to portray to the world. Beyond personal branding, the T-shirt has an interesting relationship to wider brands; both evolving and breaking new ground, responding to the societal and political shifts we see around us.

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Brand purpose is leading, driving change and good practices across categories and industries and with such a high influence, purpose is evolving into a responsibility. Similarly to a T-shirt, we won’t invest in and wear brands that we do not believe in or wouldn’t want to be a reflection of ourselves.

Brands have the power to create awareness and start conversations. In a post truth world, where to peer-to-peer is the new authority, using your brand to initiate conversations is the way to go. Powerful, personal, provocative and playful, it’s the simple notion of provoking thought to get people to talk.

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Brand Broadcasting: What can brands learn from the concept of the T-shirt?

– Wearability: Would you want to wear your brand for the whole world to see?
 Uncompromising: Is your message strong enough and does it speak the truth?
 Disruptive: Do you have the confidence to be direct to the world and instigate change?
 Thought Provoking: Does you message encompass real meaning and is intelligently bold?
 Empowerment: Does your brand encourage the freedom for self expression and create communities?
 Daring: How can you flex your brand assets to convey a message bigger and bolder than the brand? This recent campaign from Lacoste is a great example of this.
 Infectious: Can you cause an Instagram tidal wave?
 Genuine: Do you reflect/resonate with people’s beliefs in an ownable and original way?

As Brand Strategists and Brand Designers we are always talking about being bolder to create an impact, so the lesson here for brands is to wear your heart on your sleeve… or even better, on a T-shirt!

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Want to read more about the power of the T-shirt? The Guardian has a great article – read it here.

All photos by Hannah, who is a Market Analyst in our London Studio.

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