Is Church Merch the Next Big Thing in Streetwear?

Don't laugh it off — with the power to attract fans like Justin Bieber and Hailey Baldwin, this is a serious question.
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It's not an unfamiliar Los Angeles scene: Two famous streetwear dudes in baggy tees and destroyed denim are walking side-by-side, wearing hypebeast-approved pieces from Fear of God and the Louis Vuitton x Supreme collaboration and trying to avoid the paparazzi. There's only one item of clothing in the picture that's hard for the average streetwear snob to place, and it's the older guy's long-sleeved T-shirt. The distinctive checkerboard pattern running up the sleeve seems like it should help identify the brand immediately, even in the absence of a logo, just like Off-White's famous diagonal stripes do, and yet the name of the up-and-coming label it belongs to is hard to put a finger on.

Why is the brand so elusive? That might have something to do with the fact that you can't buy it by standing in line on a Thursday morning in Soho or visiting the nearest Kith. There's only one place to get it: church.

In this specific instance, the church in question is Zoe Church. And the two streetwear dudes happen to be Justin Bieber and his pal/pastor Chad Veach. (GQ recently coined the term "Hypepriest" to describe this exact type of sartorially savvy character.) Besides the bright Heron Preston-esque orange T-shirt and matching shorts, Zoe's other clothing offerings include a white hoodie-and-shorts set and branded athletic socks that would pair nicely with a fresh pair of Vans or Yeezys.

And while there's nothing new about churches making clothing with their logo or name emblazoned on it — anyone who's ever attended a summer Vacation Bible School could tell you that — there is something new and noteworthy about the level of cool employed in Zoe's designs. They look just as at home in a picture of Bieber and his pastor as they do sandwiched between Supreme and Champion in your Instagram feed.

Zoe Church isn't alone in occupying this space. Other megachurches all over the country have debuted similarly street-appropriate merch in the past few years. Montana- and Utah-based Fresh Life Church has "Snakebird" shirts inspired by Jesus' command to his disciples that they be "wise as serpents and innocent as doves." The youth ministry of Christ Tabernacle Church in New York has "Misfit"-branded sweats and denim that allude to the way that Christians are encouraged to see themselves as "in the world but not of it."

Miami-based Vous Church, which is pastored by the guy who officiated Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's wedding, presents perhaps the best example of fashion-forward church merch. For its 2015 conference, the church tapped Fear of God designer (and outspoken Christian) Jerry Lorenzo to design its T-shirts. As with any hot streetwear drop, some of those pieces found their way to resale sites like Grailed, where they sold for as much as $190. It's worth noting that this was before Bieber's own collaboration with Lorenzo on his Purpose tour merch ignited a flurry of sales amongst Beliebers and jawnz enthusiasts alike.

So is church merch going to disrupt streetwear the way music merch disrupted fashion in general? Maybe not, considering that most of the churches in question seem less invested in scaling fashion businesses than they are in getting people to attend their services. But it's worth noting that churches actually started doing this before Kanye, Drake and Bieber's merch pop-ups rocked the fashion world in 2016. And since fashion-influencing celebs like Bieber and Hailey Baldwin have been known to attend gatherings at these merch-making churches, it wouldn't be surprising if those Scripture-inspired logos became a lot more familiar to the fashion-savvy both inside and outside the fold.

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