Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wearing Books

Out of Print Clothing celebrates the art of cover design and lets you wear your love of books on your sleeve.  ♦ 

In 2010, the online store Out of Print Clothing made its debut in the fashion market based on a simple idea: selling t-shirts designed with book covers from classic novels. The store has amassed considerable success since then and has expanded to stock other literary clothing and accessories such as sweatshirts, baby onesies, tote bags, notebooks, jewelry, and more. But why is it that people are interested in purchasing apparel and accessories that incorporate famous book covers? And what does the company's success say about the state of the book industry?
       On its website, Out of Print describes its mission as one that "celebrates the world’s great stories through fashion. Our products feature iconic and often out of print book covers. Some are classics, some are just curious enough to make great t-shirts, but all are striking works of art.” They also describe their partnership with the nonprofit organization Books for Africa while expressing their commitment to expanding the availability of physical books worldwide, by donating one book to a community in need for each product sold. The company’s mission statement also recognizes the importance of physical books and likens their products to the books they represent: “Each product is treated to feel soft and worn like a well-read book.” Out of Print even recognizes their connection with the new digital age of the book industry: “It’s unclear what the role of the book cover will be in this new era, but we feel it’s more important than ever to reflect on our own individual experiences with great literary art before it’s forever changed.”
      These snippets outline Out of Print’s values regarding its products, but these also speak to the specific audience the company has in mind: not (just) fashion lovers but book lovers, the kind of consumer who’d equally appreciate the art and tactile feel of books as much as the literacy outreach that’s part of the company’s focus. Indeed, the most prominent factor drawing in customers seems to be that simple love of the source material, as customer Kayla Shinabargar admits: “I just really love books. And now I can wear them on my body.” Courtney Johnson expressed similar thoughts: “I buy them because I like books.” The love for certain books is so strong for these customers that the desire to buy Out of Print clothing is a gut reaction, a visceral need to own anything associated with their favorite books. In other words, owning a shirt, necklace, or tote bag makes them feel more connected to the story that they know and love, and thus makes the item valuable in its own right.
  Many people who buy things from Out of Print also consider their own audience when making their purchase; the products, after all, are meant to be seen in public, so it makes sense that this would have an effect on why people purchase the items they do. Some use the t-shirts as a conversation starter, looking to find people with similar literary tastes, and some take it even further, as customer Melanie Espinoza explains: “The books that mean the most to me sort of become a part of who I am. The characters become friends and the story is part of my life. So I find wearing a picture of a book cover or a quote from a book is like showing the world who I am without me having to say anything.” This communication through fashion goes deeper than simply expressing a feeling about the book the shirt depicts; it’s meant to imply something about the character (no pun) of the consumer.
  One also wonders if the success of Out of Print furthers the perception of physical books and their art as, increasingly, “novelty” items, as remnants of the past, given a publishing industry that’s steadily advancing toward becoming more and more digital  But the company’s success seems to have more than nostalgia behind it; these products remind us of the importance and beauty of physical books and their design, which is a welcome thing for book lovers everywhere.

  • About the Author
    Samantha Coman is a longtime book fanatic and current English Literature major at Miami University of Ohio. When she isn't reading or writing, Sam enjoys dancing, singing, making (bad) puns, and volunteering.

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