Make it Look Like Affliction

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As graphic designers for the apparel industry, we’ve heard the phrase “Make it Look Like Affliction” so many times. It’s a strange coincidence. You have a dozen apparel companies and bands who have absolutely nothing in common with each other except for one thing. And that is to make their shirt look like the ever so popular clothing line started by Eric Foss and Todd Beard in 2005. You know, with the dark gothic imagery, skulls, a generous helping of intricate ornaments and woodcut linework, the huge placement across the shoulders, the faded prints, the garment dying, the splatters, the grunge, I could go on! It’s an alternative clothing company’s dream! The ironic thing is, while these bands and clothing companies attempt to differentiate themselves from the rest of the pack, they wind up all looking the same – just not quite there.

So why is Affliction the brand that most of these people want to be like?

Here are 5 reasons:

1.) The illustration is very good. Certainly much better than most of the shirts it hangs next to in the mall. It’s hand drawn, which is admirable in the world of cut and paste graphic “designers” today. Not everyone can just pick up a pencil and draw 16 skeletons riding horses wielding various weaponry. It’s very ambitious illustration driving artwork. I have always had respect for that.

affliction2.jpg2.) It’s trendy. Between a mix of the appropriate spooky subject matter and design fodder such ornaments and splatters it appeals to the rebellious (and somehow the jocks). You will see that on children’s t-shirts at Value City Department Stores for $10 (haven’t checked, but I’m sure you’ll find some). I have been wondering when this trend will die out, but it’s really peaking now. I walked into Buckle recently and checked out the shirts. Just about every brand had some sort of ornate flourishing on it. Yeah, it’s like the make it cool button. But the people behind Affliction like to hand draw this stuff, which is admirable.

3.) Their shirt quality. They have access to specialty apparel manufacturers (possibly overseas) to custom distress, dye, sew, and print their shirts. Word on the street is Affliction gets their shirts cut and sewn by JS Apparel. Printed by Massive Prints and dyed by LA Dye and Wash House.

4.) Their marketing owns you. They have countless Hollywood celebrities wearing their gear. And that probably means more to the general public (those that drop $30 for a t-shirt) than the actual design itself. I am going to make a judgment call and say that a lot of teens at the mall are more concerned with impressing their friends than the art on the shirt. They are more apt to buy into the marketing and celebrity influence than most. Having such a large group of celebrities really does influence what the ignorant public thinks about your brand. A lot of clothing company startups try to sponsor the most popular bands they can because they know they have a good chance of turning that band’s fanbase into customers. And it DOES have an influence on sales. This kind of thing matters to the general public (surprise?). “Fall Out Boy wears this brand so I must wear it too!”

5.) They are setting the standard for this new generation of t-shirt printing. 5 years ago, you couldn’t go to your local screenprinter and have stuff printed and customized to the extent that Affliction does. You still can’t today (realistically speaking), which is changing. Affliction is making this kind of customization popular. With everyone being a designer these days, everyone wants to start a clothing company. The DIY revolution is beginning to take off and individuals are now finding resources that only large corporations had. It’s still not that easy to get this stuff done, but it’s out there if you look hard enough (and can afford it).

Changing the Industry

affliction3.jpgI remember a year and a half ago trying to get Jakprints to do some “specialty” printing and I referenced Affliction. They told me they couldn’t do it. They tried a few techniques that they use, like discharge inks and bigger prints, but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Even today, your typical screenprinting shop won’t be able to do it. But the more popular these brands like Affliction get, they will force printers to step up their game and offer these services. But even today, there are only a small percentage of apparel brands with access to this kind of service.

So apparently, Affliction is sort of becoming a role model for clothing companies that want to appeal to the metal and hard rock scene. Even if you’re not a fan of this brand, you have to respect what it is doing for the industry. Inspiring tons of designers to get off their ass and start creating. It’s also inspiring tons of entrepreneurs and business men to try and capitalize on this fad while it’s pretty much still young. So it’s natural that we have about 1 or 2 requests a week from different companies that want to be like Affliction.

I just find it funny that there is one brand that is consistently mentioned. I am sure other designers reading this get this request too.

Advice to Bands and Clothing Companies

I can offer some advice to bands and clothing companies that are asking us to “Make it look like Affliction”: Be prepared to pay for it (hand drawn illustration takes us lots of time) and make sure you have the resources to be able to print and produce what we design for you. Nothing is worse than spending 15 hours designing a t-shirt that will never be printed because of either A) budget or B) lack of resources and know how. Do not just flat out copy Affliction, I hate that. Affliction is doing some good things, but we hate to copy other people’s work. We encourage bands and clothing companies to understand Affliction’s success formula and adapt it to their own unique vision.

Advice to Designers

Us designers can change the way a t-shirt is perceived. It doesn’t have to be an advertisement. I encourage all designers to “think outside the box” and really challenge what you know about t-shirt design. Educate your clients on the possibilities and don’t just give in and copy and paste what someone else already did. One of the best things about Affliction is that they’re hand drawn. I understand not everyone can draw, but to those than can, do it. You’ll be surprised. As I tell myself when I’m struggling to come up with a design: “Just fucking draw it!”

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About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.

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