I feel like I’m being set up as a lightening rod. Quite a few people continue to send me messages, calls and tips regarding this new breed of “fashion designer”. I’m sensing this is a topic people want to discuss, so come on in. The door is open, comment away. You’re going to be sorry you asked.

DE means Designer-Entrepreneur. DEs are lean, pull-manufacturers who scare up the time, talent and resources to produce products they thought of themselves (for the most part). I help DEs. These new people are WOATS (Words On A Tee Shirt) and then there’s GOATS (Graphics On A Tee Shirt). There are several kinds of WOATS/GOATS. Some of them are genuine artists selling reprints of their work on shirts, some are outgrowths of political and other product sites but I’m not referring to those. I’m talking about self-proclaimed fashion WOATS.

It annoys me when people co-opt words. If I don’t like it when home sewing book authors call themselves industrial or couture experts, or even industrial and couture experts, or brand-in-a-can shake-n-bake manufacturers lauding their own brilliance, you know I’m not going to like WOATS who call themselves fashion designers. This particular breed of WOATS seem to be 20-something otherwise-unemployed graphic-artists or marketing majors who have co-opted the term “fashion”. They can call themselves unique original fashion designers all they like but how do they expect anyone to take them seriously? I must get 3 phone calls and 10 emails a week from WOATS -who don’t want to buy the book but they expect me to provide them with personalized answers and get nasty if I don’t. They’re rude. I asked yesterday’s WOAT how I was making money on his phone call if he didn’t even buy my book and he graciously offered to “advertise” me once he’d made it. Why would I want every Tom, Dick and Mary he knows to call me for free advice?  I think he was surely possessed by demons. What’s with this new generation of entrepreneurs? Why do they think everything is free? Why am I supposed to grovel and feel grateful for the privilege of providing advice free? But it gets worse.

Judging from an informal survey of WOATS websites, original art and design has been reduced to rectangularly shaped, knitted cotton staples with dye slapped on it. That’s it. They proudly proclaim they’re not like “the big guys” or use sweatshops -as though we did. Is that the best they can do? It’s frightening. The only thing that WOATS produce beyond bad attitude are graphic images in the form of narcissistic sound bites or similar trivialities silk screened on a tee-shirt. The market is so huge that they have discussion forums. A popular topic on one site was the protection of their intellectual property rights. Concerned about this purportedly rampant design theft, I surveyed their websites but I didn’t see anything that would have been worth anyone’s time or effort to copy. If anybody’s copying anybody, they’re copying each other on their same level -the themes were all the same- who else would want to copy them? The one thing they do well is logo and website design. Their sites and logos are fabulous (the most-posted thread on that site was PR) but their products are sad. Their talk doesn’t match their walk.

Here’s a list of terms used on their sites (in bold) with the translation next to it:

  • all new: New ink colors
  • classy: tee shirts for low-rent prostitutes
  • colorful: one color graphic on a white background
  • hip:  v-neck tee shirt rather than round-necked
  • diva:  see classy
  • eclectic:  items found on the ground outside of a dumpster are glued to a tee-shirt
  • edgy: sleeveless tee-shirts
  • inspired by ___ (pick one): forests, the ocean, the mountains, japan, bikes, music etc
  • limited edition: we sunk every cent we had into one tee shirt (many sites only had one).
  • one of a kind: I couldn’t manage quality control if my life depended on it.
  • original: ubiquitous
  • retro, modern and urban art: tee shirts laundered after the ribbing was torn off.
  • subtle, clever, and witty: candy hearts prose + potty mouth
  • tops/blouses: tee shirts
  • unique: camouflaged screen print with a peace sign
  • vintage: 70’s era polyester thrift-store-reject tee shirts.
  • wearable art: stencil-painted tee shirts
  • whimsical art: barnyard animals silk-screened on tee shirts

The market is so huge that there’s sub-categories, like the WOAS (Words On A Skirt) people, WOATB (Words On A Tote Bag) who are similarly inspired. Here’s some of what they say:

  • vintage finds: new, cheap vinyl handbags and cheap solid color socks
  • fantastic detail: the print of the cheap fabric store cotton fabric of the tote bag with cheap webbing straps, is detailed.
  • couture-designer fitted pencil skirt: the skirt fits sizes 4-12 with a drawstring waist. And no, I’m not kidding
  • designer skirt: two rectangles with an elastic waist with a 4″ ruffle at skirt edge. Comes with or without words or an image

If this is the best they can do, we’re in worse shape than I thought. Maybe I should go back to school; I’ve always been interested in environmental engineering.

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  1. Jess says:

    I’m seeing many updates for your book, hee. They seem really young and ambitious but screaming for information. The whole trademark issue is one that I’m interested in. I’ve heard nightmare stories of people being asked to change their names after using it for a long time and building up a business and a .com. I heard of one .com who was told by a huge company (I’m not giving names) to change their name or else hand over a percentage of their sells and these people weren’t even selling the same kind of products! It sounds crazy right? Well, as crazy as it sounds they had to battle it out in court cause they weren’t willing to give up the name. In the end they won but not after a long and expensive battle. We’re actually wondering about the name of our company Adjunct Clothing. We noticed a lot of legal type firms have the name already. Then we thought why not just come up with some nonsensical name like hagendaaz, that nobody could possibly have but then you could wind up sounding like another company. It’s really hard. I seriously could care less what the name is. The name of my font site happened by complete accident and so far haven’t had any objections by other companies (knock on wood). When I name a typeface I always do a google search to see who might be using the name and check other foundry sites. It’s only happened once that I’ve had to change the name of a font and it wasn’t a problem just changing a font name.

  2. Josh says:

    In one way it’s sad that this is all our generation can come up with when it comes to fashion. And in another way it’s encouraging because I know Jess and I can kick some serious butt when we are finally prepared to do so. lol I mean, seeing what’s available is what made me want to do this.

    I wanted to suggest that you sign up for amazon.com’s honor system so that people who read your posts can send money. I think you said in an earlier post you didn’t do it for money. But it only makes sense. You are spending time updating this and I feel like as a reader who values your post, I want to give something back.

  3. Josh says:

    Hey Kathleen, this post is kinda random and off topic here but do you have a home or commercial embroidery machine? Jess and I have been working on embroidery designs for a few months now. We are testing a few designs with people who are using those home sewing machines and also hoping to have some tested on commercial embroidery machines. Here are 2 of the first designs. http://www.clipartcrafts.com/testdesigns/
    If you happen to be set up to do embroidery and want to test those designs please do.

  4. Ashley says:

    Brava! I’m glad that someone in the industry can continue to value traditional design ethics. Making tee-shirts can be amusing, but even among us 20-somethings they’re a cliche that hangs about for those occasions when you want to remember something witty that someone said. Even the major fashion players, like, say, highly respected corporations based on the worldwide publication of a long-standing fashion magazine, seem to reward this kind of “edgy” “graphic” “design.” Perhaps it’s only me, but i don’t genuinely believe that newly silkscreened thrift-store suits should be included in the running for a prestigious “up-and-coming fashion designer” award when other contestants have designed and built an entire menswear collection by themselves. . .from square one. . .

    Anyway, i guess that’s why they call it a business, right? People like those silkscreened blazers an awful lot.

  5. Speaking of tees

    Speaking of tees Eventually I get around to reading Apparel -check it out, the 2005 Buyer’s Guide is up and you can get a free subscription- when I came upon a letter to the editor from Eric M. Henry of…

  6. Danielle says:

    Printing businesses that play as fashion businesses – co-opting terms is silly.

    Copyright is a legitimate concern in that market because while patterns and garments can’t be protected, prints can.

    This market is only tangentially related to the sewn products industry, so I think it’s more fair to look at these issues from a graphic art/publishing standpoint.

    In this case, for woats and goats, t-shirts should be seen as the medium, not the product.

    The amusing/ironic thing is how guilty many woats and goats are of ripping off artists.

    Nice to see Todd Goldman get exposed for the crap-seller he is.

  7. LizPf says:

    I’ve been a GWOAT for a few years, putting my graphic art (and some carefully selected Robert Heinlein quotes) on t-shirts and other products, but I would **NEVER** call myself a fashion designer or DE. When I wear that hat, I’m a graphic artist, having my work printed on cloth objects. [Besides, my target customer tends to run screaming from the word “fashion”.] G/WOATS who think they are making fashion or style are just plain silly.

    I’m visiting this blog because I am a home sewer looking for ways to make the stuff I sew less difficult and better fitting. I’m reading back posts because I think Kathleen is cool, and she has a higher autism test result than I do — I’m 36.

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