T-shirts Might Bring Your Brand Close to Immortality

People Hoard Them, Guaranteeing You Will Have a Walking Billboard for Life

By Published on .

T-shirts are the lazy man's scrapbook.

That must be the reason they're so hard to throw out. Go into your bedroom, open your drawer and be honest with yourself: How many of those tees are you really going to wear again? How many will you really fit into again?
Megan Nicolay's book is a way to scrapbook without actually scrapbooking.
Megan Nicolay's book is a way to scrapbook without actually scrapbooking.

And yet, when your roommate, spouse or mom asks: "When are you finally going to get rid of that ridiculous mound of shirts?" The answer is usually: "This weekend!"

The reality is: "When I'm dead! (And could you please bury me in the Stones' Steel Wheels Tour shirt from 1990?)"

Humble, trite and tacky though they may be, T-shirts remain one of the longest-lived promos you could ever throw at a customer. Long after the free pen has exploded and the free Frisbee has been chewed (hopefully not by you), the T-shirt remains a garment -- something we humans seem hard-wired not to throw out. And we never seem to get enough of them, either.

"Everyone is looking for T-shirts," says publicist David Schemelia, himself the owner of a box of save-forever faves crammed into his crawl space.

"I really am uncertain why I love T-shirts so much," admitted Jason Tirotta, a communications guy at Case Western Reserve. "I think of myself as very fashion-conscious. But after work or on the weekends, I just love to throw on a tee."

Part of the reason is simple comfort, of course, and part of the reason is economy: Shirts just seem to materialize, like mildew. They come free with registration for the race, the dance, the school, the reunion, the conference. Or maybe -- let's say for the sake of argument -- you actually buy one.

Either way, the shirt ends up helping you remember a trip or a triumph -- something. And it is that connection to a particular time, place and event that makes it so powerful.

"It's like a trophy," said Gail Sideman, a publicist who counts a "gazillion" shirts in her collection. Shirts remind you of who you've been. They show the world who you are. But that doesn't mean they have to be devoid of marketing messages.

"I attended a wing festival in Buffalo with my 14-year-old son and he was given a 'Too Hot To Handle' T-shirt for eating the spiciest wings offered by one vendor," said Drew Neisser, CEO of Renegade Marketing. "The T-shirt was made of cheap cotton and had a big logo of the pizza joint with their address. He wears it all the time."

Sure. He's proud! "Each T-shirt represents a period of your life or a different experience," says Megan Nicolay, author of "Generation T: 108 Ways to Transform a T-shirt." Her book shows how to turn old T-shirts into leg-warmers, quilts, even a wedding dress. It's in its eighth printing because here, at last, is a way to scrapbook without actually, uh, scrapbooking.

"One of the designs is a 'Road Trip Skirt,'" says Nicolay. "You take all these tees you gathered during a road trip and sew them together in vertical panels, so the next time you go out you can say, 'This is from when I went to California, this is from that crazy weekend in New York City ..."

A T-shirt starts conversations -- that has always been one of its biggest jobs -- and the more comments it elicits, the more it gets worn. Nicolay's favorite shirt just says "Magic" on the front and "13" on the back. "It's obviously a sports team's jersey made with iron-on letters, but I've been walking down the street, and people will start singing, 'Do You Believe in Magic?' or 'Black Magic Woman.'"

Make a brilliant T-shirt for your brand, and you will have a walking billboard for life.

And possibly a billboard in the afterlife, too.
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