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Interviews — 1 month ago

Teejerker: The World of Vintage Band T-shirts

Vintage T-shirt expert Teejerker’s Matt Sloane on how to source the best band T-shirts.

 

Although Teejerker has been running for just two years, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s been around for a lot longer. For those in the know, it’s quickly established itself as something of a cult institution; an essential destination for truly rare band T-shirts.

 

Born out of founder Matt Sloane’s passion for vintage T-shirts, its Sloane’s dedication to authenticity, not to mention the sheer volume of band tees that he sources – their Instagram is updated daily with multiple pieces – that’s really helped set the store apart.

 

Teejerker has been on our radar for a while, so we caught up with Sloane for his insights into everything from hunting for Pharaoh Sanders T-shirts to sustainability.

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Matt Sloane
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Teejerker photographed by Josh Bryant
Teejerker photographed by Josh Bryant

On What Makes The Perfect Band T-shirt

It’s a combination of two factors. First is the condition of the T-shirt, which can vary dramatically from deadstock that’s never actually been worn, to near-destroyed pieces. There’s a market for both extremes (and everything in between!), but personally, I like a T-shirt to have been well worn, with nice fading and the odd hole. It’s cool to imagine the life it’s had, the shows it’s been to and hands it’s passed through – you can really feel the journey it’s taken.

Stone Roses, photography via @teejerker
Stone Roses, photography via @teejerker

The recent high street popularity of band tees has meant loads have been reprinted, and some are even being produced with fake signs of wear, fading etc. What I love most about a naturally worn shirt is that it’s almost impossible to reproduce: when you’re handling an original you just know its the real deal.

And second, of course, is how relevant, musically or culturally, a band or album has become since the original release.

On Sourcing T-shirts

I travel a fair amount looking for T-shirts, LA is the prime spot due to the amount of bands that are either from California or have at least played in the area. It can take a good couple of days digging through rag houses and flea markets to find a few really good calibre band tee, but when you do eventually come across something special it’s well exciting.

When you’re handling an original you just know its the real deal

I’m lucky now to have a big enough following that people often want to sell me their personal collections. It’s really exciting to receive an email with a big list of awesome T-shirts up for grabs; this helps the business a lot and requires no real effort. And trading with other collectors and dealers plays its part too. When you get two people who’ve both got tees that the other wants then you can usually work out a win-win situation. Not only is this good fun but it definitely fosters a community feel in the world of vintage T-shirts.

On The Best Days of Merch

Aside from the wear and history, what I really like about vintage tees, particularly those from the late ‘80s through to the ‘90s, is the cut, stitching and quality. I find T-shirts from the early ‘90s are the best in terms of shape and the weight of their cotton, which tends to age really well. It’s interesting to see how different the quality of modern tees is; it makes you wonder if they’ll survive the next 20/30 years, and if not, then what will vintage look like in a couple of decades.

Vintage T-shirt collection courtesy of Teejerker
Vintage T-shirt collection courtesy of Teejerker

On Sustainability

I don’t actually wash all the tees that come through Teejerker, unless it’s obviously necessary, as I’m conscious that with selling well over 100 tees a month my water consumption would be excessive, plus most customers tend to wash a ‘used’ T-shirt as soon as they receive it anyway.

We recently did an Earth Day collection with our other brand Unified Goods, with all the profits going to Fashion Revolution, a charity designed to improve the ethics and sustainability within the industry. I definitely find it fulfilling to know that someone’s ‘ruined’ old T-shirt is another person’s treasure and that someone would choose one of our tees over a new item for its uniqueness and the story it tells.

Unified Goods Earth Day Collection photographed by Max Barnet
Unified Goods Earth Day Collection photographed by Max Barnet

On Holy Grail Pieces

I’ve been lucky to have most of the super rare items pass through Teejerker over the two years we’ve been operating. There’s definitely some stuff I really regret selling, the Slowdive Just for a Day long sleeve from Creation Records in 1991 really stands out in my mind.

I’ll spend hours in the studio until I’m totally happy with the mix.

In terms of stuff I’ve yet to own, I know there’s an Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works tee which I’ve only seen once in the V&A archive, that’d definitely be up there. Last year I worked with Goodhood on a Jazz collaboration. It look me around 6 months to source all the tees, and the one I most wanted, but which always evaded me, was a Pharaoh Sanders T-shirt. His 1969 Free Jazz album is probably one of my favourites so if I could get my hands on any vintage Pharaoh tee I’d be well excited.

Slowdive Just for a Day T-shirt
Slowdive Just for a Day T-shirt

A final one that jumps to mind is an original Wipers tee from their Is this Real? period around the early ‘80s. Not only does this seem super hard to find but finding it in a suitable size for me (XL) is maybe impossible, so if anyone has one gimme a shout yeah?

On Unexpected Directions

Travelling a lot and meeting new people is awesome, and it tends to lead naturally to other opportunities too. I was recently in Tokyo and met Keith Morris from Black Flag, and I’ve since been to LA to hang out and buy a big chunk of his collection, something I couldn’t even have imagined doing a couple of years ago.

From a business point of view what I really enjoy is curating the best selections of tees for specific releases or collections as possible. I’ll spend hours in the studio meticulously going through every shirt I have until I’m totally happy with the mix. This is different for each project so it’s a constant challenge getting it right.

For more insights on thriving in music design; check out our interview with Bradley Pinkerton.