Eddie Zammit is either a terminal t-shirt addict or one of the most accomplished nerds of all time. The tee-shirt devotee and editor of T-World magazine has fought with girlfriends over his t-shirt collection, caused political controversy with his graphics, and estimates that he could wear a different t-shirt every day for the next twenty years and still not run out of t shirts.
Hey Eddie. To start, can you tell us who you are?
Hey, my name is Eddie Zammit. I am the publisher and founder of T-World, which is the world’s only t-shirt journal.
What element of t-shirt design gets you off?
I’m obsessed with the graphics. I definitely love t-shirts, but I love graphic t-shirts the most. Over the past few years it’s been a bit sparse: a lot of plain t-shirts are being sold, but it’s the graphics and the artists and the story behind the graphics that interest me.
What’s the first thing that jumps out from a t-shirt?
For sure the message. Whether that message is a joke or it’s serious. T-shirts can do a whole bunch of stuff.
What’s different about t-shirt culture, than say, sneaker culture?
My favorite part about t-shirts is that t-shirts aren’t limited-like sneaker culture-to a certain age. You have little kids wearing funny t-shirts, but you also have older people wearing t-shirts.
Can you tell us a bit about the history of t-shirt culture?
When you think about it, t-shirts haven’t actually been around for that long. Graphic t-shirts really didn’t make an impact until the 70’s. T-shirts that have graphics on them are only forty years old and it takes time for people to explore ideas and innovate. The 70’s were all about band t-shirts. The 80’s were all about surf and skate. The 90’s were when streetwear really kicked in. Hip-hop had a major influence on it. Bands like NWA made t-shirts a fashion accessory and it became a cool thing from there. Around 2004, there was a real spurt of streetwear labels that came about, but since then not a lot has really happened. We’re in an interesting time where technology could really make an impact on t-shirt graphics.
How do you see technology changing the course of the t-shirt game?
We’re going to see smaller labels doing different things because of technology, and because not everyone can be a huge brand. As a result, customization is going to be a massive thing in the future. I would hope that there will be more quality t-shirts with substance, but who knows where streetwear is going?
What is key for a t-shirt label to embrace?
The key idea for any label has to be the story. The personality. There has to be less of that “me too” attitude where everyone copies an idea once it becomes a trend. In the last issue of T-World, I documented my opinion of pocket t-shirts. For a while there, pocket t-shirts with a pocket made from different textured or different material were the big thing, but I didn’t really see anything unique or clever about that. It’s fine if that’s your thing and you’ve got an idea or reason for that, but the substance is the really important thing that makes a t-shirt work.
How did you initially get hooked on t-shirts?
Through rave culture. I went to many many many raves in the early nineties and was influenced by labels like Freshjive. At the time, that whole parody t-shirt blew my mind. Today in 2016, it’s probably a lazy way of making sales, but back then it was just a great way of manipulating a well known logo and changing the message of it.
So if I said New York City, would a specific t-shirt come to mind?
For sure: the I Love New York t-shirt. It’s probably the most well known t-shirt in the world.
Why is that t-shirt the most well known? What about it lent it the success?
Milton Glaser, who’ll go down in the history books as probably the world’s greatest graphic designer, thought one reason the “I Love NY t-shirt has become so popular is because it made people feel that they were smart by decoding it. It seems like such a natural thing now-with emoticons and mobile phone technology-but back then when everything was doom and gloom in New York. It was a genius solution.
What does it take to make it in either t-shirt or graphic culture?
It comes down to commitment and really pushing something. If you’re truly going to succeed, you have to be passionate about what you are doing. You’re not going to have the best year every single year. It comes down to a long term commitment.
Talk a little bit about that away from just the T-world magazine. Talk about some of the initiatives and exhibitions that you’ve been a part of.
A lot of people would see T-world as a publication, but I’ve always seen it as much more. This year, T-World turned ten years old. and in the last twelve months alone I’ve been able to curate twelve exhibitions based over in Melbourne, Sydney, and even Christchurch.
While we’re talking about New Zealand can you tell me a little bit about the “Jesus is a Cunt” incident?
For the Canterbury Museum show T-World did, I applied to the censorship board in New Zealand and was able to get the infamous Cradle of Filth t-shirt unbanned which caused a lot of controversy. The point of it wasn’t to offend anyone religiously, I just wanted to prove that this thing was more than just a t-shirt.
Talk about a few areas where your T-shirt jones has become a problem in itself.
I’m 42 years old now, but when I first moved out of home I didn’t realize I had a t-shirt addiction until I had a funny fight with an ex-girlfriend of mine. I needed more wardrobe space than her. It’s gotten to the point where I now own three storage containers.
Do you buy some t-shirts to archive, and some to wear?
Every t-shirt is wearable, but it would be impossible for me to wear every t-shirt I own. I could pretty much wear a different t-shirt every single day for the next twenty years and not wash them or put them in the laundry. Which is pretty incredible to think, but it’s a possibility. I’m not too precious because t-shirts are one of those clothing items that come and go.
Where do you draw the line on a t-shirt?
Maybe mesh t-shirts. Yea, I’m going to safely say that mesh t-shirts are where the line is drawn.
What’s the most money you’ve paid for a t-shirt?
I’ve paid up to four hundred bucks for a t-shirt.
Are you hard to buy t-shirts for?
Over the past few years I’ve been given a lot of t-shirts. Some people have said that I’m really hard to buy for. It’s pretty easy you’ve just got to go through T-World. Come on.
On that, what is the future of T-world?
I would love to get into retail. Retail has become pretty boring because there’s no effort really in entertaining the customer.
And in your 7,000 or you know give or take, first one that pops into your head.
I Love New York signed by Milton Glaser.