Diana Griego Erwin: Target thinks it's just trendy, but, sorry, this shirt glorifies vandalism

By Diana Griego Erwin -- Bee Staff Writer
Published 2:15 a.m. PST Sunday, January 12, 2003

The T-shirt is black. The illustration on the chest is a cartoonish character crouching, a hood pulled over his ball cap. In his hand is a spray-paint can. At his feet are five other cans. In large gold letters are the words "Motown Crew."

The shirt is not sized for teenagers. This one -- the one sitting on my desk -- is emblazoned on the front of a toddler's shirt, size 4/5.

So, you tell me. Which of these explanations sounds like the most reasonable for the retailer, Target, to give for glorifying a tagger on the front of a child's T-shirt?

A. "No, we don't deem it offensive."

B. "The design, we feel, could be viewed as referencing tagging, but it doesn't show tagging, nor does it show the action of tagging."

C. "No, we don't feel we are proactively endorsing graffiti."

D. "What is it? We think it's a picture of a graffiti-like likeness with a spray can."

E. "Gosh, yep, somehow it got by. We didn't realize it was referencing graffiti."

If you picked "E," sorry, you are incorrect.

That is the ONLY thing a spokesman for Minneapolis-based Target did not say when, tipped off by a reader, I called to ask about this T-shirt from the little boy's section.

Now, believe me, I'm not running around inspecting racks at Target or anywhere else for questionable drawings, words and images on clothing. I am not Inspector No. 45 leaving my little round stickers on everything.

But I didn't expect Target to defend the image, either. A "graffiti-like likeness"? Give us a break.

This is all the more strange in light of the public relations cloud Target was under last year when the retailer was forced to pull clothing with suspected racist symbols off its shelves nationwide.

That time, the nod to racist sentiments first was noted by a Davis man, Joseph Rodriguez. When he came across youthful clothing with the numbers "88" stuck pell-mell all over, Rodriguez recognized it as a code used for "Heil Hitler" because "H" is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

When he pointed it out to Target officials with little results, he turned to the media and the story went national.

Corporate spokesman Douglas Kline said last summer's incident made Target all the more sensitive about what might be considered objectionable material, but that the Phys.Sci line featuring the tagger was developed under the creative leadership of youth-oriented designer Marc Ecko and is in Target stores "by design."

"Target is a general merchandiser always looking for the next trend and ways to remain in front of what's new and exciting for our customers," Kline said. "We believe the designs inspired by Ecko and his team of designers appeal to the young, urban, hip young male guests we want in our stores."

Target signed a licensing agreement with the founder of the hip-hop and extreme sports brand Ecko Unlimited in 2001 to boost its image with the youth and young adult male markets.

When Marc Ecko signed on with Target his design empire had reached $250 million in domestic sales and $30 million internationally. Now, the 30-year-old fashion designer who once planned to be a pharmacist has added his brand to everything from eyewear to footwear, leather, a women's line (Ecko Red), video games and automobile rims. He even publishes a hip, Gen Y lifestyle magazine, Complex.

If any of Ecko's ultra-coolness rubs off on Target, the retailer won't mind. Kline implied that, even though Target takes "every customer complaint very seriously," with a consumer base as broad and far-reaching as Target's, design types can't expect to make every niche happy 100 percent of the time.

Don't appreciate them peddling graffiti-lovin' T-shirts to toddlers?


Complain if you want. Tell them they're irresponsible. They'll listen.

But let's be real. Do you really expect anyone to stop shopping at Target?