T- world : An Interview with Eddie Zammit

Eddie Zammit is the publisher of the world’s only dedicated T-shirt journal, T-world. The latest edition throws a spotlight on New York City, home of iconic designers like Milton Glaser (‘I Love New York’) and cult international brands such as Milkcrate Athletics and Supreme. Zammit has also just finished curating the Southern Hemisphere’s largest T-shirt exhibition, NEXT, featuring over 1,000 T-shirts from all over the globe (the viral campaign alone attracted an incredible 85,000+ hits).

VNA: So, tell us about the latest edition of T-world?

EZ: We’ve just launched the seventh issue of T-world, based around New York City, I’ve long wanted to focus on just one particular city. I’d always created T-world as an out-of-hours project and I got the opportunity when I quit the design agency I was working at about a year ago. When I got to New York, I decided to take it a lot more seriously. The T-world you see now is still a journal, but with a hardcover. The reason I’ve gone down this route is because a lot of people want to use it as a reference guide, so I don’t really see it as a typical journal, more a reference guide. It’s about information that you might not be aware of.

VNA: Is each issue a snapshot of what’s going on at the moment?

EZ: Definitely, the New York issue was pretty self-indulgent to be honest. It’s really a snapshot of what’s around me at the time. The beauty of this edition is I’ve featured people from 18 up to 81, that’s what I love about T-shirts, they’re not exclusive to any age group.

VNA: Where has this come from? Have you always had a fascination with T-shirts?

EZ: I’ve always worn T-shirts and I didn’t really realise how many I had up until I had a fight with an ex-girlfriend where I needed more wardrobe space than she did! I now own, errrrr, 3,500+ tees.

Read on for the rest of the interview and to find out how you can win a copy of the T-World Journal

VNA: Wow! So, I guess it’s all kind of relates to hip-hop culture, usually people get tied up in sneaker fetishes though!

EZ: Well, the most amazing thing about T-shirts is that brands or artists that we know these days have only really existed from the ‘90’s onwards. There’s really only a few T-shirt labels that have existed pre-1990. Freshjive was created in 1989, before that, Stussy, in 1980, but beyond that there’s not much. I actually think we’re in the peak of it all. It depends on the style of what you’re into, I guess I’m just into T-shirt graphics because of my background. I studied graphic design, I love type, illustration and photography and that all gets featured on T-shirts.

VNA: What instigated T-world for you?

EZ: One of my all time favourite brands is FUCT. I really got into T-shirts through parodies, I loved the Ford flip of FUCT and really loved a lot of Rick Klotz’s early work, with the Tide logo being Jive, the Big Gulp, all of that stuff, and that’s probably headed towards my raver days in the early 90’s. Then from that I went into design and magazines, I guess that’s where T-world was born from.

VNA: Where do you see T-World going from here?

EZ: I want to travel with NEXT to cities that have larger audiences for the exhibition, like LA, London and New York. It all comes down to money and finance, it’s not the cheapest thing in the world to do, but it’s good, because it lets peoples see how valuable T-shirts have become. I think until you see it all in one spot, you start to take it more seriously, you see the volume people are producing graphics at.

VNA: How do you fund it all?

EZ: Initially, it was through my own personal funds, and to a certain extent it is still, for cash flow purposes, but also through advertising and sponsorship. It’s pretty hard though, you don’t really do a magazine because it’s a cool thing, you do it because you can actually give a voice to something that you are genuinely passionate about. I’ve got a lot of energy for what I’m doing, it’s not the easiest thing to be creating, but when my Dad died, it made me realise why I’m doing it, it’s important. Life is short, so you gotta do what you’re passionate about…

VNA: And how is NEXT funded?

EZ: There was a grant allocated through the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust. NEXT is like a massive magazine in context, there was advertising funds coming through for different parts. The thing that I’m mindful of is that I don’t want to lose the integrity of what I’m trying to say, there’s always going to be those kinds of obstacles.

VNA: Has this given you a platform to communicate with brands better?

EZ: Without a doubt. While I’ve been doing T-world since 2005, I think I’ve easily been networking on the idea for well over a decade. You always find people that love whatever you do, it’s a matter of pushing the limits every time. The issue previous to the New York Issue was a Cool Kids Issue, because I found that a lot of designers were parents themselves, and a lot of them were saying to me that kids
T-shirt designs were pretty bad, you couldn’t find anything beyond chain stores like Target. So I went out of my way to do a Kids Issue, and managed to get myself on the set of Sesame Street. I grew up on a diet of Lego, Sesame Street, Star Wars and The Muppets. I ended up doing a T-shirt collaboration series called ‘Brought to you by the letter T’, with individual Sesame Street muppets and certain designers that were actual parents. For example, the owner of Threadless, Jake Nickell, got given a package with Grover, also known as ‘Global Grover’, and I thought Threadless were the biggest on the web for their tees, so there was an instant connection. Then I chose Luca Ionescu from Sydney, who’s probably one of my favourite typographers in the world, and he’s got Romanian blood, so I matched him with The Count because of Transylvania. It was cool because the artists had the rare opportunity to interview the characters. The biggest challenge for them was to find out something that you couldn’t find on the internet.

VNA: What are your favourite brands today?

EZ: I’m still a big fan of FUCT, I think they’re way ahead of the curve, everything Erik Brunetti touches is gold. I love Sixpack, as a brand, they’ve got not only quality designers, but also quality garments. I love Addict, I really like some of the artists who are designing for them. Australia’s a funny place though; I love Freshjive, but I’m not so sure about their image over here as oppose to L.A. I think Rick Klotz has really pushed the boundaries of what a brand should be, to the point where they don’t even put their name on their logo, it’s just a black rectangle. Design-wise, I really love Morning Breath, over in Brooklyn. I love Milkcrate too. Aaron Lacrate has collaborated with some of the most insane people on the planet. I remember in the late ‘90s I would wear so many Milkcrate tees. There are some brands that are better at design and some that are better at PR. The current issue entailed tracking down the guy that created the ‘I Love New York’ logo, Milton Glaser. It was definitely worth tracking him down, he’s probably the best graphic designer the world has seen. What I loved about his workspace was that he doesn’t have a computer at his desk. He’s probably not as in-touch with computers as much as the younger generation, but it does actually show the concept still beats the execution.

VNA: Yeah, I think going back to a pen and a pad really engages that creative part of the brain.

EZ: Absolutely, one of the most inspiring Australians for me is Jeremyville. He’s based in SoHo, in NYC, and he’s always got a sketchbook in his back pocket. Even if he’s out, he never stops; he releases Community Service Announcements everyday on Facebook. He has a massive backlog of work. As we go into the future, it’s definitely going to be the idea that is most memorable. Actually another brand that I think is really interesting is Supreme. I like how they go for that celebrity-that’s-reached-their-peak collaboration.

VNA: They get gunned pretty hard for it though!

EZ: I like how they push the boundaries of what they are. They’re not a streetwear brand, I think they’re one of the few labels that can actually say they’re still a skate brand. A lot of people confuse the street market and where it’s going.

VNA: It’s interesting, a lot of so-called streetwear has been extracted from things like skating and BMX, these homegrown scenes.

EZ: I think it’s ok so long as you stay true to your roots. I love brands like Mishka, they’re such awesome guys, but also they’ve never steered away from what they’re into; unique toys and obscure weird shit. It’s something you can really relate to if you grew up in the 80’s.

VNA: It’s interesting that it’s all come back around, graffiti and Star Wars, now that people from that era have grown up and have more disposable income, they can buy a piece of that childhood nostalgia.

EZ: It’s kind of sad that a lot of kids will grow up only shop online and miss out on the retail experience. The thing about all these brands and artists is that going into their stores you get a bit of an idea about their personality, they way that they would present it. For me, ALIFE is the king of New York in regards to their shop, back in the day it was so unique and fresh.

VNA: For me, it’s like going down to your local record store and seeing the latest releases.

EZ: I totally agree, I’m not against online shopping, it definitely has its place. I’m speaking about the younger generation, who are missing out on the beauty and art of retail. I also have a whole other section on details in T-world. I’m a bit of a geek when it comes down to it, I always love seeing other peoples neck labels, shopping bags and stickers. I have a whole bunch of stickers I picked up on my travels, it’s always amazing how much local stuff you see on your travels, I was walking around in the middle of the night and I could still find Meggs and Reka (Melbourne-based artists) stickers, it’s good to know that they’d been there.

VNA: Talk us through the rest of the magazine…

EZ: Basically I started again on this issue, I wanted to have a bit of a fresh start, so I took a break from the design studio I was running and worked out what I liked and didn’t like about T-world. The design is simplified. I’ll always think the content is king, but it took me seven issues to work out that I needed to divide T-shirt artists from T-shirt designers. So someone like Kid Zoom is an artist, not a designer, though he’s done designs for T-shirts. Then I’ve narrowed it down to 10 sections, including T-shirt brands, T-shirt designers and T-shirt souvenirs. I came across some amazing ideas too, I found out that retail costs approximately US$50,000 a month, and there were these two guys who ran a company called Cookies-n-Cream. They managed to produce a truck for less than US$15,000 and sold tees in the centre of SoHo. I think that’s a really interesting concept that’s not only business savvy, but almost putting a middle finger up to the big guys paying rent.

VNA: Obviously New York is huge for you, what’s your favourite city?

EZ: Melbourne is without a doubt number one because it’s home for starters, but the size of the city is great, the people are really down to earth and have a good sense of humour. Probably against it is the weather, LA is one of the T-shirt capitals of the world simply because you can wear a T-shirt all year round. I also love Tokyo, it’s crazy, they have such good style and know what they’re after. I respect London for the level of excellent graphic design produced.

VNA: It’s supposed to have the highest concentration of creatives per square foot in the world in East London. You can see that when everyone relocates to Bread & Butter, skinny jeans everywhere…

EZ: I think Bread & Butter is awesome, how massive it is, how the brands go to so much effort, sometimes it’s better than their own retail! As an Australian, I have to travel loads to find out the information. One thing I try not to do is get caught up in is the politics. Someone was saying to me over in LA that it’s actually good that the publication’s being produced in Melbourne, halfway round the world.

VNA: Yeah, I was gonna say, brands like The Hundreds come under a lot of fire.

EZ: From meeting him and spending time with him, he’s definitely a nice guy. I know when he named the Top 50 streetwear brands of all time for Complex Magazine, he got a lot of criticism. He also got backlash on HighSnobiety against a T-shirt with an aerial shot of New York on 9/10/01, when I asked him about it, his response was: “I guess we can agree to disagree… We had nothing but compliments on that t-shirt in person. The aerial shot of the city with the World Trade Centre pre-9/11 was taken by noted New York photographer, Craig Wetherby, who also runs the Frank151 scene, we didn’t ask him for that shot, I asked Craig to submit something that meant New York to him. He shot that photograph the day before 9/11 and it meant a lot to him. other New Yorkers wear that T-shirt as a symbol of pride in their city.” I guess what’s so good about Bobby’s answer is that he’s really diplomatic; he’s very well-considered. A lot of people think they have investors, they don’t, they’ve built the brand from the ground up, one T-shirt at a time. It’s the same way I work…

VNA: Nice, Eddie, we like your style. Keep up the good work!

We’ve got two copies T-world to give away! All you have to do is answer this simple question:

Where does all-round t-shirt boss and international space pimp, Eddie Zammit, live ?

a) Melbourne
b) Mars
c) Melrose

Please email your answers to ro@verynearlyalmost.com with COMP in the subject line. Closes 13/1/12