For the title of Grand Poobah of Dorm Room Start-ups, it’s a toss-up: Mark Zuckerberg, who developed Facebook, the Godzilla of social media (over 500 million users world-wide), or Bill Gates, who invented Microsoft, the world’s largest manufacturer of software. Both guys were students at Harvard. After they came up with their bajillion-dollar ideas, both dropped out. And who could blame them?
The latest would-be dorm-room wunderkind is Eneale Pickett of Chicago; he is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is majoring in elementary education. Pickett has a created a line of clothing he’s named Instantapparel. He makes sweatshirts and inscribes across them provocative statements (examples to follow in a moment). In an interview with a reporter for his campus’ newspaper, the Badger Herald, Pickett said his clothing is intended “to spark a conversation” about revolutionary politics, homophobia, racism, and police brutality — to name just a few topics hand-crafted to ignite a conversational Molotov cocktail.
Pickett rolled out his product line with a hoodie emblazoned with the catchphrase, “All White People Are Racist.”
Since, then, he has expanded his tête-à-tête gear to feature a wider range of thought-provoking jingles, including:
“F–k the police, they the biggest gang in AmeriKKKa.”
“I would ask for justice but I know she’s helping the cops burn my body.”
“No hashtag can ever bring me justice, I’ve seen my death way too many times to imagine myself different.”
“Destroy the city that caused you to bury me.”
“Justice over there acting like she don’t know us knowing damn well she hear us calling her name.”
Your choice. Prices are $45 for a hoodie, $40 for a crew neck.
Still available is Pickett’s classic, “If I Encounter Another Cop With A God Complex I’m Going To Have To Show The World That They Are Human.” When he posted this hoodie on his shop on Etsy, an online site for selling hand-made items and vintage goods, Etsy removed the listing. Since then, the Instantapparel shop on Etsy has vanished.
At the moment, Pickett is not taking custom orders. In a tweet, he had to disappoint a prospective shopper who was in the market for an “indigenous resistance/decolonization” hoodie. Maybe next season.
Okay. I follow his drift. But among other things one could question about Instantapparel’s design choices, let’s focus on messaging: too many of Pickett’s taglines are too long-winded to be effective. The young man really should take a course on how to write memorable ad copy. Some useful examples:
“Can you hear me now?” Verizon, 2002.
“Be all that you can be.” The U.S. Army, 1981.
“Finger lickin’ good.” KFC, 1954.
“All White People Are Racist” is brief and punchy, but it’s not original to Pickett. In most cases, co-opting someone else’s tagline could provoke a copyright or intellectual property lawsuit. But an extensive online search found that although the phrase crops up everywhere, there is no indication who first came up with it. So, the smart money says Pickett is in the clear.
Another issue is design. Whoever designs the taglines has opted for odd typefaces and erratic point sizes that make the message on Instantapparel gear impossible to read, particularly if you’re just walking by the wearer on the street. Short and legible — that’s what Pickett should shoot for. Think of all those T-shirts that read, “I’m with stupid.” Yes, in terms of message it’s rude, and in terms of design it’s rudimentary, but at least you can read it. And I’m sure Pickett wants strangers to read his products.
There have been calls for the leaders of the university to condemn Pickett’s products, but the school’s spokesman, John Lucas, replied, “The individuals involved [in creating the sweatshirts] are exercising their rights to free speech and engaging in a private activity unrelated to their status as students.” True enough. What Pickett is saying on his sweatshirts is despicable, but even despicable speech is protected.
My concern is marketing. Bill Gates hit the big time by coming up with a product a lot of people needed; Mark Zuckerberg dreamed up a product a lot of people wanted. I’m afraid Pickett has limited himself to a very slender niche market. I mean, how many shoppers are in the market for clothing that reflects their state of perpetual outrage?
Thomas J. Craughwell is the author of This Saint Will Change Your Life.