Arts Desk

Ian MacKaye Says Urban Outfitters’ Minor Threat T-Shirts Are Legitimate

minor-threat2Hey, look, teens of America: You can buy a kewl Minor Threat T-shirt for $28 at Urban Outfitters.

Hear something? That's the sound of a 45-year-old punk rocker punching a wall.

But wait just a second before you start groping for the lever on the ol' outrage machine. Turns out the T-shirt is not a bootleg like that Forever 21 design from 2009; it's licensed through Tsurt, a California-based company that Ian MacKaye and Co. hired to produce and oversee sales of the band's official shirts.

"Dischord doesn't make T-shirts," MacKaye clarifies in a phone call. But Minor Threat is another story. Because so many bootlegged Minor Threat shirts are constantly floating around the universe, MacKaye decided the band had to do something about it. The solution: Get another company to oversee their official shirts, and when a bootleg crops up, let them deal with it. "It's fucking absurd the amount of bootlegs are out there," MacKaye says, and "my time is better spent doing other things."

"It's not a political thing for me," MacKaye says. "I just don't give a fuck about T-shirts." At some point, the former Minor Threat frontman said to the band, "This is crazy. I spend so much of my time" chasing down bootleggers. He found that when he contacted the responsible parties about their bootlegs, they just gave him hell. "They get in your face... or they deny it," he says. "It's a complete waste of time."

Just because the shirt is licensed doesn't mean MacKaye approves of the sweatshoppy clothing chain selling his band's shirts, though. "Do I think it's absurd? Yes, I certainly do," he says. He also thinks the asking price is ridiculous, but he's more or less resigned to it. "Motherfuckers pay $28, that's what they wanna pay for their shirts."

He compares the pricey T-shirts to people happily blowing their money on expensive shoes. Why do they do it? "I guess it makes their feet feel fuckin' rich," he says.

Minor Threat is not the only D.C. punk band whose shirts are now for sale at Urban Outfitters. A Bad Brains shirt is on the website, too—also for $28.

Screenshot from Urban Outfitters' website

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  • Alice

    too bad the writer of this article couldn't get her tenses right. also what is the story here exactly?

  • SXE

    This is THE shirt to wear on the pub crawl off campus this fall. I'm just glad my mom's credit card is cached into the UO website on this browser.

  • KE

    I don't get why this is a big deal. AFAIK, Dischord doesn't refuse to sell records to awful chain stores either, and they don't have any control over how much those stores mark the records up.

    Their only responsibility is to make stuff available more directly to fans at a fair price. Which they do.

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  • Kristopher

    Seriously guys, who cares. If UO was the only place to buy a Minor Threat shirt then perhaps it would be an issue. And so what if people like to wear band t-shirts? To each their own. Last I checked punk rock/diy ethos was more of a statement about your own life. People who make judgements about how other people should be living theirs are exactly the goofs kids start going to punk shows to avoid.

  • roundincircles

    that 'Bottleman' t-shirt (at threat) looks like a huge erect penis. Which is exactly how I imagine a person to look in a $28 minor threat t-shirt too.

  • guano

    $28 ain't so bad if a portion of that is going to hire lawyers et cetera to protect said images from bootleggers as I'm sure UO are contractually obliged to do. I don't think even Ian would presume flooding the market would suffice to deter bootleggers.

    Just thought of something. Do I need to pay some sort of royalty to continue to wear my out of step tattoo? Haha

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  • uhh

    or you could just make your own shirt with a screen and emulsion and everything. it really isn't that difficult. or just not wear the stupid shirt.

  • Michaela

    I understand all the reasons why he did what he did (although I believe the way he speaks about it is a little cynical). The only thing that bothers me is that if I ever happen to step in Urban Outfitters again (which I doubt) and see a Minor Threat T-shirt, a little part of me is going to die.
    It's not because it makes me dislike Minor Threat or Ian in any way. It's because I hate Urban Outfitters for what they stand for - they have stores on the main squares of the biggest cities and offer a big range and amounts of things that used to be hard to find. Now, what is the bad thing about that? Well... Don't you love the feeling when you find your favorite LP after 1 hour of digging through all the records in a small stinky shop? A Minor Threat T-shirt bought in the very centre of Copenhagen, Denmark will never be precious for me. A Minor Threat T-shirt bought at a smaller store close to UO will never be as precious for me either. Urban Outfitters along with hipsters popularize subcultures - they're doing the same thing Andy Warhol did with the face of Monroe - he made it slowly lose its original meaning and importance.
    it's OK with me what Ian decided to do but I think he doesn't realize he made quite a mistake choosing Urban Outfitters, a store that is synonymous with "evil" to most of the potential buyers.

  • NE John

    Michaela: like the "ed meese is a pig" shirt

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  • matt

    i'm not buying his line of bullshit. this guy has been self righteous and holier than thou indie/d.i.y for the last 30 years. all of the sudden he has no problems selling out to a trendy ripoff clothing company. if you don't "care" about t shirts then why are you going after bootleggers in the first place? i'm sure you could find a smaller company to make and sell them cheaper.

  • Gregg Ginn

    You really shouldn't be wearing band shirts past a certain age anyway. If you're older than 21 it's plain block colours or button downs from here on out.

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  • Jet Age Eric

    It's weird that the article doesn't mention you can buy the t-shirt for much less elsewhere. I never would've known had I not read these comments, and the takeaway otherwise is that Ian's in bed with UO, rather than Ian finally agreed to license tees and UO buys and then re-sells them. Pretty big difference. Young writer + no editor?

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  • J.R.

    Hey assholes, quit stealing the mans work!

  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Jet Age Eric,
    The point is not that you can buy the T-shirt somewhere else. It's that you can buy a non-bootlegged Minor Threat T-shirt at Urban Outfitters, a major national retailer. This is interesting mostly because other major retailers and companies (Nike and Forever 21, for example) have ripped off Minor Threat's image in the past, and many people assume when a Minor Threat T-shirt crops up in a store like this, it's a bootleg. That is not the case here. I also say quite clearly that Ian agreed to license the T-shirts. Whether people choose to interpret that business relationship as being "in bed" with Urban Outfitters is their choice, but it's not what I wrote or implied. Do you need me to repeat any other information easily found in my blog post? Fortunately for readers like yourself, I provide this service for no charge.

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  • Judge Mental

    Damn shame that lil scene we all grew up in 1979-1983 had to become so twisted perverted & stupid. We all should have preserved the integrity of it all and just blown our brains out before that stupid pretentious "revolution summer". Today's PTA = yesterdays Positive Force. Whatever.

  • Peteo

    One of the main reasons I buy a T-shirt with a bands name on it is to support them. I buy them @ shows so I know they are the ones making money. I know most bands I listen to do not make sh*t and want to support them to be able to tour and make more music. Also like wearing band shirts out to show the type of music I like and I'm not ashamed about it. Like being around people who like the type of music i'm into and interested in bands they have seen. Basicly I love music and one of the best ways to keep hearing what you love is to support it by buying merch/music right from the band

  • Peteykins

    Ian MacKaye: Punk rock's premiere holier-than-thou, judgmental douchebag.

  • kat

    i am gonna make my own minor threat t shirt right now... for free

  • Joey


    I call BS on this. You have clearly spent a long time mapping out how to sound super cool and aloof, when really forgetting to address the issue. Instead telling us all about YOU and how 'not' trendy you are; which ultimately, plays into you coming off like a hipster.

    I dont expect people to get it, or agree with me. But I am calling BS on you.

  • pat

    85% of these comments remind me of the reason why i could never be a punk. i love punk music, i play punk music. but if some fuckhead started to brow beat me over what i wear i'd tell them to get fucked. think you are non conformist? fuck off.......

  • pat

    oi joey mate.
    spot -fucking- on
    who the fuck thinks about a tshirt that much? what a cock!! haha

  • joey

    thanks pat, glad i am not on my own.

    I totally with you on your comment also; i think we have all established that urban outfitters is not the place for punk ethos. but then equally, there is little to no more merit in making a statement so visciously opposed like the guy i mention above.

    all that matters is a love of the music and a decent outlook on life. and as for the t shirt you wear; $1? $28? $200? i dont really care. and yea, i buy the odd bit in urban outfitters; but this post isnt about me, or us, or anyone...its about music meeting fashion and this is something that has existed for all of time. This is nothing new;

    "Style in subculture is pregnant with significance" - Dick Hebdige

  • Simon

    Do any of the pollyannas here actually understand that Dischord isn't licensing t-shirts to Urban Outfitters, regardless of the misleading headline? They simply got tired of bootleggers selling their shirts without any contribution to the people who actually made the music/art, so reluctantly licensed the rights to a legit company. That means you can buy them at a reasonable enough price from various indie sources. It also means that vendors like Urban Outfitters are free to buy them wholesale (since a producer is obliged to sell to any vendor who will pay for their product) and sell them at much higher margins in their own stores. If you wish to pay absurd prices when you don't need to, go nuts. Otherwise, don't. But at least make some basic attempt at understanding what it is you're supposed to be rejecting.

  • Jack

    Simon is right. The reason people are confused is because the person who wrote this article was misleading with the headline and the way it was written. The writer implies a lot of things . Ian's quote says the band made the decision to do the shirts but the article makes it sound like Ian just made this decision.

    Also a company that makes t shirts isn't hired , they are given a license that is a set time limit and could be exclusive or non exclusive I"m guessing and gets a flat rate or % per sale. That is different than hiring someone. When you do this, its up to the company who they sell to.

    If the City Paper is going to write a business article at least get the lingo and facts right and get more information like asking Urban Outfitters why they mark things up so much and how many of these even sold and write something informative and not something that seems like a 14 year old posted on their facebook wall.

  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Jack, my headline really isn't misleading. It's very straightforward. Actually, the rest of the blog post is, too. "Hired" is shorthand, and I don't think it distorts the type of relationship Minor Threat has with Tsurt. I make it pretty clear that the company is responsible for the T-shirts' sales.

    I'd gladly call up Urban Outfitters and ask why they mark up their products---if this blog post was about retail markups at UO. It isn't. It's about UO selling a Minor Threat T-shirt that, as it turns out, is not a bootleg.

  • Gregg Ginn

    Hey Ally, just be a big kid and admit your blog post wasn't so hot.

  • Jack

    i don't think that real journalist shorthand things. next time you decide to write something maybe you should spend more time checking your work and maybe even have someone proof it. what happened to real journalism?

  • Ally Schweitzer

    @Jack, I've already addressed your qualms with my post. You ain't saving journalism by trolling my comment section under three different usernames. Your complaints are duly noted---I need an editor, journalism's dead, I'm a big dummy dumb dumb, etc. Got it!

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  • Wiz Garber

    I used to do some of the business dealings with a DC band named Dead Meadow. We had the same issues and ended up doing the same thing. If my memory serves correctly we made about a dollar off of each shirt sold, regardless of where it sold and for how much.

  • steve

    @Ally, the possessive on Urban Outfitters suggests the relationship between UO and the Minor Threat shirts is a little closer than the retailer merely carrying them. A clearer headline would have been: "Minor Threat Shirts Carried By Urban Outfitters Legitimate, Says Ian MacKaye"

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  • In other older news

    Here's a long interview from the end of 2012 that lays out the a bit of the Dischord ethos as espoused by Ian MacKaye. It's pretty simple and straight forward; the man loves his town and has worked to bring attention to the swirling hive that surrounds the seat of American power.

  • In other older news
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  • Names are names

    Nevermind what's been selling it's what you're buying

  • buck

    ugly ass shirt either way