I'm actually writing the first paragraph last this time around. What follows is a discussion of J!nx clothing and a big thumbs-up to its ever-evolving lines of licensed Blizzard goods, as well as a bit of a manifesto on geeky nerd shirts, clothing and audience. From here on out, J!nx is Jinx, not out of disrespect for the brand, but because that many exclamation points within the article would probably give my editor a heart attack, and I'm usually liberal with the exclamation points.
Jinx has, over the past few years, become ubiquitous in the geek community as purveyors of fun clothing and merchandise, licensed and original. It was only a matter of time, really, until a company founded on geeky wear had to make strides into broader clothing lines. If there's one thing that Jinx showed at BlizzCon this year, it was that it is growing.
I had a wonderful conversation with Kyle McCarthy from Jinx's networking department about the company and the new directions some of the clothing lines were taking. The way Kyle described the company was encouraging -- a whole bunch of geeks who happen to like making clothing and cool designs. One of the more pressing questions I had for Kyle was what goes into developing a licensed product for such a valuable property. Jinx actually pitches Blizzard ideas for licensed clothing and goods, as well as Blizzard putting its own ideas on the table, so that the designers at Jinx can let their creativity roam. Rather than make a shirt about World of Warcraft, the philosophy is to take game elements and fashion something wearable.
The tao of geek shirts
I'm extremely critical of nerd shirts. It's not that I'm embarrassed to wear a geeky shirt or obscure reference design, believe me -- there are plenty of those in my wardrobe. They don't get worn outside nerd gatherings, however, because they just aren't that cool-looking for normal wear. Having the Zelda heart life bar on your shirt is cool and all, but it feels limited.
Sure, the first time you see it, a shirt that has a picture on it and the word "mage" is a fun reference -- gimmicky, but otherwise a one-trick pony. Maybe I'm put off by words -- show, not tell, and all that. It's not about making funny or geeky shirts, but about making good clothing with fun designs that are subtle and tactful. Jinx is entering a stage of growth where both types of clothing can co-exist. Taste is subjective, and they understand that.
There are three examples that jumped out at me perusing the new catalog -- legendary tees, the StarCraft jacket and the incredibly popular murloc hoodie. Each represents a move in a separate direction that allows the company to meet each customer's subjective needs. I'm far past the product review stage and into the fascination of message stage.
T-shirts and beyond
The new legendary T-shirts are cool designs, even if you have never touched World of Warcraft. Universality makes for compelling design, to me. I don't want a World of Warcraft T-shirt, but rather, a piece of clothing inspired by it. I also want some World of Warcraft T-shirts. Does that make sense? I just want choice.
The StarCraft jacket that was on sale during BlizzCon was a sturdy, well-made and tough jacket like the kind you'd find at any good clothing store. To me, it represented the casual consumer, the guy who wanted a new jacket and happened to also love the Terrans. There was a sense of parallel development of a well-made jacket that also happened to have a nice throwback to StarCraft 2. Best of both words, right? The reference didn't consume the clothing, and the clothing was free to accept the reference into its utilitarian function. The StarCraft Terran jacket is coming some time next month, and it seemed to be doing well at the convention. It was a surprising piece -- not something you would expect from the Jinx of a few years ago.
In what I call the premium novelty category was the zip-up murloc hoodie. If you've seen any pictures from BlizzCon, you've seen the murloc hoodie. Effectively, zipping up the hoodie all the way grants you the appearance of a murloc, with cut-outs for your eyes. BlizzCon was full of murlocs -- iconic is an understatement. Such a perfect design tapping into the absolute perfect market and still wearing the humor on your sleeve, literally. There's something magical about that type of synchronization.
More than anything, I think I'm writing this article because I was surprised and impressed with the philosophy over at the Jinx booth. Jinx, the people who design the clothing, and everyone in between give off this accommodating vibe, straddling a delicate line and striving to achieve an almost impossible balance between "gamer" wear and "real" clothing. Frankly, I think it's wrong to even have those two things separated. If the trendiest clothing store on the planet sold a Master Chief shirt or a druid bear form buttondown, would we cry out for validation? It's less about audience and more about respecting the audience, and I think that's what the future of Jinx is about: respecting its audience.
Taste is subjective. Fashion is subjective. I'm happy that I can now buy a pretty cool-looking jacket to go with my mage T-shirt. Also, I totally forgot to pick up one of those new Horde hoodies.