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The coolest protest merch

Updated on: 16 August,2020 08:09 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Shweta Shiware |

The coolest protest merch

Asha Roka is a rising star in the rapidly expanding Indian mixed martial arts arena. She is wearing the Motherland Superstore Bharat-India T-shirt


This is not an article about liberation-lit slogan T-shirts. The last five years, however, seem to have delivered another kind of Made in India cachet on merchandise: each one guided by a unique theme—patriotism, gender identity, diversity, environment consciousness and youth awareness. People need stuff. Urban necessities and lifestyle purchases that are a cool mix of good Indian design and cultural relevance, instead of jokey, pointless tack. Motherland Superstore speaks to this need. "We don't follow trends. We are inspired by issues around us, like the [skin] colour complex, and bring them into focus. The idea is to serve up a fresh perspective on Indian popular culture by looking at regional classics, emerging sub-cultures and hyper-local trends without being jingoistic," says Nasreen Singh, business head, Motherland Superstore.

Unisex T-shirts with White Tiger, Voter, Trinity and Dark & Lovely iconography or even something niche, like a collaboration with the 50-year-old South Indian snacks maker A1, to add gourmet banana and tapioca crisps to its cache—is the brand's way to telegraph something specific about who they are and what they are into. Can a T-shirt save the world? "Probably not," says Singh, "But it definitely helps rep a message. There's a nonchalant reverence in wearing Indian T-shirts that look good, feel good, without screaming our Indianness. Original ideas that help fly the flag in style. "




A report from Technopak Analysis in 2018 estimated the size of the T-shirt market in India at R5,400 crore. The Coronavirus pandemic has done two things: magnified the existing social crisis and steered our values—somewhat—inwards towards identity-affirming purchases.


Bhaane’s Capital souvenir tee is a chromatic ode to the nation on the back
Bhaane's Capital souvenir tee is a chromatic ode to the nation on the back

When Nimish Shah, 35, reprised the classical notion of the T-shirt at Bhaane, he imagined nothing as provocative as activism, but more an upscale souvenir linked with memory and meaning. "It is about wearing an emotion, a sense of pride and ownership to your roots," feels Shah, creative director at Bhaane.

The Capital tee, for example, is a chromatic ode to the nation; the Viceroy tee takes design inspiration from the umbrella domes of Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. Bhaane is the alt-thinking Indian brand in which clothes are no longer a business; they also need to carry a message. "Problems surrounding LGBTQAI+ rights in India are so obvious that we don't see a point in saying it out loud. The Ally [Pride] tee is a simple way in which I'd support equal rights, expressed with love rather than aggression—a reaction that fashion often uses," says Shah.

 Mixx urges you to take an active part in combating the culture of communicating gender-specific strength and weakness by simply eliminating common phrases like Boy’s Don’t Cry, Act Like a Girl, Sit  Like a Girl, etc. PIC COURTESY/KEEGAN CRASTO
Mixx urges you to take an active part in combating the culture of communicating gender-specific strength and weakness by simply eliminating common phrases like Boy’s Don’t Cry, Act Like a Girl, Sit Like a Girl, etc. PIC COURTESY/KEEGAN CRASTO

Ruchika Parab and Shruti Singhi co-founded Mixx, a platform that addresses gender issues through a curated range of products and experiences across art, design, zine, fashion, film, school curriculums, and even food. "The binary idea of gender and sexuality is part of a larger and deeper cultural conditioning, and visibility via slogans can play a critical role in starting conversations. It allows people to participate and show their solidarity just by wearing a T-shirt," says Parab, 40.

Visibility via slogan tees like Human>Gender may not solve problems but can definitely play a critical role in starting conversations, says Ruchika Parab of Mixx. PIC COURTESY/JOAN RAI
Visibility via slogan tees like Human>Gender may not solve problems but can definitely play a critical role in starting conversations, says Ruchika Parab of Mixx. PIC COURTESY/JOAN RAI

Notorious though they may be, gender-equality supporting slogan tees are useful distillations of social-cultural movements into their most basic concept forms. A gender-neutral shirt that says Boys Equal Girls, or Human>Gender (LGBTQAI+ rights), may not do much to dismantle discrimination, but it does let you know where your energies lie. The Supreme Court of India's verdict to strike down Section 377 in September 2018 brought a perceptible shift in understanding and acceptance. "After [Section 377] was abolished, it became ‘cool’ for people to stand up for, and be an ally to LGBTQI+ rights."

Parab's agency Oblique Studio is also doing its bit to challenge the problem of underrepresentation of women in sporting communities, starting with football. The Mumbai resident's collaboration with Forca Goa foundation led to the launch of the O.R.B (Object. Rise. Burn) movement last year. And her debut campaign, also featuring a T-shirt range, fittingly called, A Girl's Place, reclaimed a jargon impressed upon by the boy's club.

T-shirts, like kurtas, are classic budget uniforms for our weather, and suit almost-all body types. The pandemic has been a wake up call for a more sustainable fashion industry, yet, an organic cotton tee made without compromising on quality, style or ethics, always escapes discussions. To wit: buying an organic cotton T-shirt would save 2,457 litres of water, according to a report from the UK's Soil Association, writes Guardian.

Proceeds from the sale of Pandemos T-shirts will  aid NGOs, including Pardada Pardadi, Jan Sahas, iamgurgaon, United Way Mumbai and Help Age India, working towards COVID-19 relief. The T-shirt prices are fixed in consultation with them, while offering customers the flexibility to choose a charity of their choice
Proceeds from the sale of Pandemos T-shirts will aid NGOs, including Pardada Pardadi, Jan Sahas, iamgurgaon, United Way Mumbai and Help Age India, working towards COVID-19 relief. The T-shirt prices are fixed in consultation with them, while offering customers the flexibility to choose a charity of their choice

A group of 19 and 20 year-old romantics are seeking conscious solutions to throwaway fashion with Pandemos ("of or pertaining to all people"). Meet Agastya Ahluwalia, Aishwarya Bahl, Devin Gupta, Madhav Mohan, Manya Kalra and Riya Ahuja. They met at Shri Ram School in Aravali Gurugram, and stayed friends even as they flew to different colleges internationally. They returned to Delhi during the COVID break, and amid regular chats about what the youth can do to raise relief funds revealed a clothing brand. "Everyone wears the humble T-shirt. Our tees are made in 100 per cent organic cotton. The tie-dye and Flatten the Curve tees use water dispersed inks that are 100 per cent organic and eco-friendly," informs Bahl.

A Girl’s Place campaign by O.R.B Movement featuring footballers from FC Goa
A Girl's Place campaign by O.R.B Movement featuring footballers from FC Goa

The second collection drop is due in a few days on their website, and is created entirely from repurposed materials. "We also plan to introduce slogan tees around consuming better, and making better fashion." Bahl, 19, suggests disparity in the way conscious credentials of fashion are understood and consumed. In relation to the rest of the demographic that doesn't quite think of fashion beyond prettification, generation Z (born between 1995 and 2012) is most interested in brands dedicated to social change. "They want to know more about the 'how' and the 'who' behind the T-shirts they wear."

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