Is the DTES trendy?

I saw something today that peaked my interest.

While waiting in line for brunch this morning, I noticed a man ahead of me wearing a very stylized t-shirt that had “Abbott”, “Hastings”, a couple of other street names, as well as “DTES” printed in a large Helvetica-type font.

I did some poking around the internet and found out that the t-shirts are made by a local designer called Sharks and Hammers, and sold by an art and design store on Main street called Vancouver Special. There is also a line of “Eastvan” shirts that were worn by Vancouver band, the Japandroids, while performing on Jimmy Fallon in January.

Of course, the particular Vancouver locations on the shirt I saw today hold a number of social connotations, and in some cases, stigma. It made me wonder what the producer’s and consumer’s intents were in designing and wearing a shirt that in essence, succinctly contained many of Vancouver’s most pressing social issues.

Was it a social commentary? An ironic statement of some sort? Or simply thoughtless consumerism? (Much like those ubiquitous Che and Mao t-shirts). It reminded me a bit of Andy Warhol’s artistic commentary on the commodification of people such as Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley in Western society in the fifties and sixties. In both cases, the seemingly intangible essence of a person or place is concentrated into mass-reproducible, consumable form.

Is it appropriate to use the DTES as a fashion statement? I’m not sure. To me, it seemed rather distasteful-a disregard for the actual nature of the problems and issues that our city faces. On the other hand, fashion is also art and can thus serve as social commentary. Perhaps the purpose of producing DTES shirts is to raise awareness and provoke thought in the portion of society that can afford to purchase designer shirts, which would make the designers rather subversive and cheeky!

It’s funny to see how social movements can be picked up by fashion and become suddenly “cool”, like environmentalism in the 80s. In any case, it struck me as a funny juxtaposition between wealth and poverty. In some senses, it seemed to sum up the growing division between wealth and poverty in Vancouver.


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Sarah Andersen is both a wave and a particle.

12 Responses to “Is the DTES trendy?”

  1. ElysaHogg

    Whenever I see a Che or Mao shirt (or the seemingly popular ‘Kim Jung Illin’ shirt) I tend to feel offended that individuals who have inflicted their fair share of human suffering are idolized on a t-shirt. When you think about it, what a strange departure from Andy Warhol’s commentary on entertainment figures. Is our society now attempting the commodification of dictators and social issues?

    Interested in knowing what the designers thought, I emailed their media contact (Nicole) and invited her to comment on your post or share a blog I can in turn post.

  2. Sarah Andersen

    Good idea, Elysa! I’d be very interested to see what she says.

  3. BBR

    Maybe the designer of the shirt(Rob Geary) just loves East Van.

  4. Sarah Andersen

    Maybe. 🙂 And I think a little East Van publicity on Jimmy Fallon is pretty awesome.

    I was referring specifically to the DTES shirts in my post. Perhaps they are just a continuation of that city pride/love. Given the connotations, both local and international, associated with that neighbourhood, however, I am curious about whether it was a deliberate choice and if so, what the motivations behind it were. Does the designer feel that these neighbourhoods (East Van, DTES) best represent or capture Vancouver? Or are there shirts for other Vancouver neighbourhoods as well?

  5. RAR

    it’s to represent where you are from, pride in the city you live in. finally someone makes up a shirt that shows pride. people are so easy to judge and assume.

  6. Baback

    Or perhaps the designer, by using the t-shirt medium, wanted to speak on another part of Gastown/DTES/Chinatown: it’s arts and culture movement.

    Most of the people, both locally and internationally, who have formed connotations with this neighbourhood are making surface observations, often without getting too close. I’m not saying the elements to which you allude to are all merely smoke and mirrors and media disinformation, but there are other beautiful and thriving aspects of the DTES that exist and I think it’s great that shirts like this exist.

    If we were merely taking pictures of the transient population and hitting up Bang On to get them on shirts, then the issue of exploitative or hollow political art enters the conversation. Perhaps the best way to find out the true intentions though is to reach the designer. He posted a re-link just above BBR’s comment.

  7. RAR

    here are the exact words from the designer himself from CBC radio interview

  8. ElysaHogg

    Awesome commentary, Rob actually got back to us after I contacted their media contact and asked if we had any specific questions regarding the shirts, which I thought was pretty cool. I invited him to post comments here or I could post a blog on his behalf.

    Got to agree with Baback’s point, I think the fact that Rob is an East Van boy himself and the t-shirts speak to the neighborhood, (as opposed to exploitative pictures as Baback mentioned) is different. Listened to some of Rob’s rap too, I suggest checking it out if you haven’t had the chance.
    By the way RAR, thanks for the link!

  9. Dave Semeniuk

    Having lived in the West End for a number of years, a similar pride appears to be growing – perhaps due to the string of forced evictions by developers in recent years. While “West End” community pride feels less organized or poignant in the greater cityscape, I feel the following streets embody the neighbourhood fairly well:

    West End

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