How a Linkin Park Logo Tee From 2007 Became a Chinese Streetwear Phenomenon
After about a month in Shanghai, a visitor in 2017 noticed something weird. Everyone was wearing Linkin Park shirts. Specifically, a Linkin Park logo tee from the band’s 2007 album “Minutes to Midnight.” Confused, this amateur sleuth took to Reddit and asked what was up.
“I’ve been in Shanghai for about month,” the post says. “And I’ve seen at least like ten guys wearing the same Linkin Park shirt. Minutes to Midnight. Can you help me solve this mystery?”
“Oh man, I totally noticed them too,” one commenter responded.
“I’d see maybe one a day,” another said. "Funnily enough, I’ve seen some fakes recently where they don’t even spell Linkin correctly.”
Wired’s Noelle Mateer investigated the phenomenon, digging into Reddit threads full of more people noticing the odd trend seemingly taking over China, and why a band whose frontman died three years ago today is so well represented, namely this particular album (which most fans would tell you is far from their best).
— Noelle Mateer (@n_mateer) July 9, 2020
Mateer found that the Chinese bootleg market became obsessed with this shirt to the point where it became something bigger. The shirt itself, rather than the band, became a streetwear symbol. The same thing has happened with brands like Thrasher, which you could bet a lot of people rocking a T-shirt have never once read the magazine.
This happens plenty in the U.S., too, with artists that have since stopped making music or touring that now live on as “legacy” brands. Slayer announced that it would wind down its actual musical business in favor of the branding world. And bands like Nirvana, who are in a similar situation as Linkin Park with a deceased frontman, are still selling merchandise in greater numbers than their actual musical heyday.
Mateer noted in the Wired story that some of the sellers she talked to in China had no idea that the logo even represented a band. It was just a logo that they knew people were buying up like hotcakes (a thing people apparently buy en masse).
Mateer also got in touch with some members of the band. Here’s DJ Joe Hahn:
“The fact that the logo goes beyond its context and is loved by many people means that the logo is great.” He then mused on the general aesthetic. “Why China? It's very interesting. Chinese love the futuristic mood, technology.”
Here’s vocalist Mike Shinoda:
“We’ve had a strong fanbase in China for many years. It’s one of the stronger Linkin Park fanbases in the world. I can’t think of another market where we’ve found ‘Knkin Park’ or ‘Bnkin Park’ tees, but it makes sense why they exist there. While I obviously don’t condone the knock-off shirts, I do appreciate how much they love the band.”
In addition to the aesthetic, some industry experts say that the phenomenon is thanks in part to a huge surplus of T-shirts. In a manufacturing hub as major as China, there’s bound to be a few extra shirts that don’t get sold, and then those end up in the resale economy.
The “Knkin Park” typos are likely due to a game of telephone and translation issues as copycats try to recreate the originals.
“When I saw the English on the shirts start to deteriorate, I assumed the designs had been ‘reinterpreted’ as they found their way to factories further and further from the factory that was originally intended to make them, and further and further from your typical Linkin Park fan,” Alex Taggart of Outdustry, which manages artists’ rights in China, told Wired.
It’s funny how certain brands and logos catch on. A Linkin Park T-shirt, which would be a dime a dozen in America for the most part, is right up there with luxury bags from high end designers on sites like Taobao. When the culture decides something is cool, that’s it. It takes on new life.
Go into any expensive clothing store selling vintage-looking Van Halen shirts for $60. They’re the same ones that plenty of people probably got in a parking lot in 1981 for $5. But, the culture has decided that what this stands for in a fashion sense, not even taking the band’s music into account, is what sells.
The designers of Linking Park’s merch in 2007 probably had no idea their work would create a nationwide trend in one of the world’s largest consumer economies, but here we are.
It just goes to show you that design elements and aesthetic is important. Maybe some day, one of your clients’ products will find international success they never even dreamed of.