Unconsumption and T-shirts

Posted by Rob Walker on May 6, 2008
Posted Under: Things/Thinking,Unconsumption

Longtime readers may recall my past musings on what I refer to as “unconsumption.” I haven’t written about it lately, but I have thought about it a lot, and particularly recently, for reasons I’ll get to in a few weeks.

I’m going to start writing about it again, sort of to revive it as a theme, and I want to start by defining the term, as I now think of it. Or rather, I hope to work my toward a definition, over a series of posts, and see if anybody has a reaction or a thought or a vicious smackdown in response.

Previously I’ve written about unconsumption as a name for, basically, getting ridding of stuff, as opposed to acquiring it. And I’ve tried to explore whether that process can entail the same pleasures and satisfactions that we commonly associate with consumption (or at least the moment of acquiring something new). Today I want to expand or reframe the definition to include: Finding a new use for something that was about to become “trash.”

A number of artists and crafty types work with discarded or recycled materials — a process sometimes called upcycling. Just today I saw a post on Craftzine about someone who makes scarves out of selvedge scraps. The Crafty Bastards Blog regularly highlights upcycling creators, like this maker of recycled skateboard jewelry, or this person who makes grocery bags out of old T-shirts.

The other day, Andy Bosselman posted about a bunch of interesting T-shirt sites, one of which has an interesting unconsumption/upcylcing variation. (I read about or someone emailed me about this site at around the same time, but I can’t remember where and/or who this on Coudal.com at around the same time.) Anyway the site is called Re-Shirt.

The idea is that people donate T-shirts. In particular, you’re supposed to donate a T-shirt with a story: “a T-shirt that someone associates with a special memory: an important career step, an unforgettable football match, a demonstration in Guatemala, the feeling of an entire stage in their life.”

An image of the T-shirt, along with a short version of its story, is posted on the site, for sale.

I like a couple of things interest me about this. First is the recognition that the importance, and value, of an object has to do with its story, or rather the way its story and the owner’s story overlap. (For a whole book of examples of what that means, see Taking Things Seriously.)

Second is that each shirt chosen for sale on the site “is given its very own orange Re-Shirt Label, a number is printed on it, and it begins a new registered life. Every future owner can now document the experiences they have with their Re-Shirt online and continue the story of this piece of clothing.”

I did a Q&A a little while back here with the folks behind (Re), who do something similar, repurposing red T-shirts with an “Inspi(re)d” logo. I’m sort of fascinated with the general concept of a free-floating logo that gets put onto already-existing objects, sort of a secondary form of branding.

I wonder if there are possibilities for the unconsumption idea in that kind of strategy …

Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

Reader Comments

thanks for mentioning my upcycling column at the crafty bastards blog!

your wrote: “I’m sort of fascinated with the general concept of a free-floating logo that gets put onto already-existing objects, sort of a secondary form of branding.”

i agree… it feels like some sort of weird future. like in 2143 all clothing will be like this.

tina seamonster

Written By tina seamonster on May 12th, 2008 @ 11:05 pm

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