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Favorite Bitch Collection

Momotachi • Fierce T-shirts is an American clothing and retail company founded by business partners, Miss Tiger and Khanh Tran. The company recently made its debut with three collections of graphic t-shirts that range from self-proclamations to mythical and anthropomorphic characters, all featuring textual slang prevalent in urban and queer popular culture.  The products are designed and made in the USA of a patented fabric and sold on their company website, FierceTshirt.com.  Momotachi is recognized for being made in the United States by the Save The Garment Center, a non-profit organization who advocates the preservation of products and jobs within New York City’s Garment District.  In a recent interview for Runway Passport, Momotachi’s designer, Miss Tiger stated that “This country should be self-sufficient and source within, this is why all of our shirts are made here and will always be made here at home.”  A surprisingly political statement, and more surprisingly, she didn’t drop one F-bomb in that interview.  Momotachi’s use of clever expletives combined with rich and colorful graphics, allow it to stand out among the mundane or even controversial t-shirts that flood the market.  The fact that the company uses luxurious printing processes and exclusive fabrics, in contrast with the irreverent text placed on the shirts, make it an interesting study.  Further fascinating, is that the collections are designed by a female impersonator, Miss Tiger, who is also a syndicated advice columnist and radio personality on The Derek and Romaine Show on SiriusXM.  Momotachi is unique in the t-shirt marketplace, as it uses transcultural messages combined with irreverent humor to appeal to various markets, which has resulted in gaining unintended followers of various lifestyles and thus, newly formed brand cultures within Momotachi.  Mike Featherstone’s Lifestyle and Consumer Culture  describes lifestyle as “connotes individuality, self-expression, and a stylistic self-consciousness.  One’s body, clothes, speech and pastimes … are to be regarded as indicators of the the individuality of taste and sense of style of the owner consumer” Momotachi remains neutral while letting various lifestyles assemble around a brand that offers a product in which the consumer interprets its message.

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Japan Collection

 Momotachi’s use of transcultural citations, for example, their Japan Collection includes the use of the tanuki, a traditional and mythical Japanese cultural icon, and fuses it with reggae aesthetics along with American slang.  In today’s global market, Néstor García Canclini states that the “circulation of people, capital, and messages brings us into daily contact with many cultures,” futhermore, “our identity can no longer be defined by an exclusive belonging to a national community.”  Miss Tiger is reinterpreting themes from other countries, and her defolklorized reinvented themes serve to broaden the consumer base, in which an act of cultural leveling occurs that that appeals to acts of mesticized consumption.  Cultural intermediaries translate and interpret meanings from cultural industries and they have inherent skills to interpret this to everyday consumers.  Lury describes these intermediaries as having “Positions of power and control in the mass media occupied by members of this group allowed the assembly and circulations of cultural products that embody new tastes and values.”   The brand designer, Miss Tiger, acts as a cultural intermediary who understands various lifestyles and chooses various aspects of her cultural capital gathering to present a product that appeals to high cultural capital consumers, in its individualistic aesthetics, as well as low cultural capital consumers who are attracted to the durability and sense of community or brand citizenship, that’s forged when wearing something identifiable within urban and/or LGBT communities.  Miss Tiger designing shirts is an act of further self-branding herself as a commodity which is reinforced by her other projects including her advice column(s) and radio appearances.  In terms of communities outside of their LGBT target market, Momotachi has a collection of t-shirts called, “Favorite Bitch,” possibly marketed to women engaging in commodity feminism and appealing to feminists who’ve taken claim to the word ‘bitch,’ as an act of empowerment.  Appealing to an urban market, Miss Tiger designed the NYC Collection, which remediates our ideas of traditional yard gnomes.  With no front lawn to guard, a gnome in Manhattan would find any sidewalk a welcoming place to chill.

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NYC Collection

Momotachi is a new brand, therefore, there is limited media representation on their site and social networks that determine who their ideal customer is.  On their website there is a promotional video embedded to the front page via their company Vimeo account.  In this minute long promo, the brand tells a story of what appears to be the relationship between their designer to the brand consumers.  The video contains excerpts of an attractive male model in his early twenties who is coyly posing, playing with his body in a sexually suggestively manner and modeling the various t-shirts.  The video offers an insight into who they may be trying to target, which is gay men and straight women, both of whom would be drawn to the model’s sex appeal.  Intermixed with the male model imagery, are clips from vintage cartoons which assist in constructing a narrative of how their t-shirts make you transform into a fierce person, while adhering to their ideal of attractiveness and cool.  Cue cards with the names of the company, the designer and urban slang are woven throughout these model and animated images.  Fun fact: The promo contains a highly recognizable font and cue card style used in the drag documentary, Paris Is Burning. This could be a way that the brand is signifying their embrace of a pansexual, gay, lesbian and trans demographic.  These cards also have a Japanese translation of the cue card text .  Along with the company name, the use of the tanuki and embedded Japanese text, these factors suggest that Momotachi is further emphasizing their transcultural appeal or emergence in a dual marketplace that includes Japan or Asia in general.  The name Momotachi is Japanese, however, the company offers no insight as to what it means.

The male subject in their promo and catalogue photos has an athletic build, meticulously groomed body and appears to enjoy being the subject of voyeurs, as he plays with his nipples, shows his buttocks and looks directly at the viewer in a coy and overtly sexual manner.  We find this in underwear campaigns, but it isn’t necessarily something commonplace to a t-shirt company, therefore,  Momotachi uses a commodified sex appeal to advertise and sell their products.  Typically, heterosexual men do not perform in this way to sell clothing to other guys, which makes for a very homoerotic production; displaying the sexual attraction between male members of the same sex.  The brand doesn’t directly state that they’re a gay owned company and/or specifically target gay male consumers, however, their products have a queerness about them with not only the video, but by the fact that their range of t-shirts showcase expletive gay slang packaged with highly stylized, almost cuddly anime-like graphics.  Gay men are receiving this signal, as a recent gay lifetyle blog, MiSTER SCANDAL proclaimed Momotachi as a “New gay t-shirt company!” Throughout their website one finds their creative ways of describing their products with an emphasis on gay pop cultural slang such as, their tanuki who “Transforms any occasion into an Xtravaganza!”  Taking all of this into consideration, their main target demographic appears to be a urban, hip, young, gay male, varying ethnicities, early twenties, fashionable, into street wear and most definitely gay or at the very least, a metrosexual comfortable enough in his sexuality to be okay with wearing and appreciating their brand of humor.  When further exploring their site, there is a mention in the FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) that suggests girls “most often wear a size down” from their male size chart.  This indicates an attempt at recognizing that females may be inclusive to their customer base. The designer is a drag queen, so overall there’s a very open, pansexual dichotomy within the brand.  The female present in the promo video, who is grooming the male, is effective in the brand not appearing as exclusively gay themed.  By introducing the female into the narrative, it removes the potential of the brand appearing as a ‘boys club.’  Upon further exploration on the internet, I discovered their emerging female client base.  Obviously the line appeals to women and is evident on the social networks.

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Companies will often use their ‘About Us’ and Mission Statements on their websites as a platform to generate meaning behind their product.  It’s in this forum that consumers see, from a company perspective, how their product may fit into a particular lifestyle.  When reading Momotachi’s statement, it is clear that they are appealing to a pansexual audience in an urban setting.  They have a fun, unconventional way of approaching their brand that’s often juxtaposed with an environmental consciousness and business savvy.  This is related in the ‘ABOUT US’ description of their work environment, as having “more drama than a drag queen fightin‘ for cash, crown and prizes.”  They also describe their team as consisting of “upward mobile street thugs.”  It is apparent that they are appealing to an audience that is bold enough to wear their shirts and comfortable in social settings in which people of various sexual orientations intersect.  Clearly, they’re not looking for consumers who shop at dusty and conservative retailers.  Their mission further communicates the high quality of their products, attention to detail and eco-friendly ink.  The Mission Statement emphasizes that although they are irreverent in their designs and branding tactics, they want to be taken seriously as a competitive company.  Other than the descriptions of the graphics on their t-shirts, the only other statement that is conveyed on the site is contained in the promo video.

Miss Tiger actively promotes the brand on her personal Twitter and FaceBook social networks.  These personal accounts are the forum in which most of the Momotachi consumer interaction/dialogue takes place.  Her tweets appear genuine for the reason that she doesn’t send promotional sounding tweets, instead they are personable; exchanging compliments and even special discount codes to followers only.  The dialogue between the designer and consumers is creating a brand culture with a sense of authenticity.  Banet-Weiser cites contemporary brand culture in Authentic™: Politics and Ambivalence in a Brand Culture as “not as concerned with individual shoppers, as it is with cultivating authentic relationships with consumers and communities that work to further extend and build upon the brand individual.”  The brand itself interacts very little on their Twitter and Facebook accounts, but frequently shares Miss Tiger and customer interactions.  Momotachi appears to be neutral and proper on social networks, perhaps they’re merely observing their customers or keeping it clean.  Looking through the Twitter feeds of both the designer and the company brand, I came across interactions indicating that Miss Tiger promoted the brand during her segments on a national radio show, Derek and Romaine, which is geared toward an LGBT audience.  This further concludes that they in fact address and engage with a gay market.  SiriusXM is an ideal forum in that it allows the feisty Miss Tiger and her t-shirt company a place in which to express themselves as irreverently as possible since the satellite company does not fall under FCC guidelines.  This talk show forum allowed Momotachi to discuss and portray information of an adult nature; e.g. the expletive slang on the t-shirts.  Momotachi appears to highlight and endorse irreverent behavior as part of the lifestyle of their brand.  Although this is an endorsement they choose not to be so blatant about, as their website is very much about building a brand with no real controversy to be found within the site itself.  The website is organized in a clean and concise way, so much so that customers may not notice the hard core aspect to the shirts and actually approach the company as a retailer comparable to TopMan, TopShop or even Uniqlo.  The price point of Momotachi shirts are $50USD, suggesting they’re looking for an affluent or fashionista type of customer, reagardless of who is is.

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The company Instagram and Tumblr is very safely constructed, without any expletives or bad behavior that one might expect.  Both of these SNSs feature design sketches, CAD and vector art images and all sorts of concept images, but nothing controversial, thus performing in a way that engages the lowest common denominator of viewers.  They also use these forums to convey images of consumers who endorse the brand.  I was quite surprised to see photos of women on the company Instagram.  They’ve made no attempt to visually include or market to a female specific market, therefore, one could speculate they’re playing a neutral field until they see who the brand appeals to outside of the (assumed) gay male demographic.  Their highly stylized imagery, video and website leads me to believe that while they are testing out the waters of various customer demographics, this brand may not be trying to market themselves to the likes of a Honey BooBoo type of customer … not even their gay relative, Uncle Poodle or those not used to paying premium prices for a t-shirt.

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Momotachi is a new company, however, for a company that has no national or local advertising, they’ve received  press from OUT, a popular, national gay magazine and from the Logo owned website, NEWNOWNEXT. OUT is one of the premiere national magazines geared for a LGBT audience and offers fashion, entertainment, travel and nightlife stories.  Their feature on Momotachi, indicates that the gay appeal the company is embracing is working in their favor.  It’s also evident that the brand appeals to a gay consumer in that NewNowNext featured the line in a holiday gift guide.  Products chosen for both of these features are selected by the editors and not from any advertising on the part of Momotachi.  When visiting the Momotachi post on OUT Magazine’s FaceBook page, all the comments were from men who were either sexually attracted to the male model in the video or those commenting that they had purchased t-shirts from Momotachi.  The video has over 4000 views from a company that hasn’t done any advertising.  The men on FaceBook were coming together over a company promo video that appeared to embrace their gay lifestyle.  I think this solidifies that gay men identify with the brand.  The adopted use of the company’s combining of text and visual representations allow Momotachi enthusiasts to create their own story as they view the story to be.  As cited by Lury in Consumer Culture, “Rather than unreflectively adopting a lifestyle, through tradition or habit, the new heroes of consumer culture make lifestyle a life project and display their individuality and sense of style in the particularity of the assemblage of goods, clothes, practices, experiences, appearances and bodily dispositions they design together into a lifestyle.”

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When viewing the other various social networks the brand maintains, their carefully archived Tumblr contains pictures of female consumers posing with their newly purchased shirts.  Showcasing these pictures connotes a constructed effort of Momotachi to tap into a consumer base that was not represented in their OUT magazine feature – nor any of their promotional materials.  This indicates that women are also consuming the product.  The social media interactions indicate that the female consumers are interacting with the men to form one social community around Momotachi.  The company is placing the female response on different social media networks, as it appears  they’ve tapped into an unexpected community that is consuming their products. Had they anticipated a female audience, I believe they would have included women in their canpaign ads and video promo.  Bloggers have begun to discover the brand.  UK based blogger, Sabrina Carder of The Young Eccentric, purchased a shirt and wrote a review on the Favorite Bitch t-shirt.  Sabrina picked up on the pansexual appeal and mentioned that Momotachi shirts were suitable for guys, gals and anyone in-between, while she posed in various photos while wearing the Favorite Bitch shirt.  The brand community Sabrina interrogates is diverse, as how Muniz and O’Guinn define brand community in Journal of Consumer Research, as “A specialized, non-geographically bound community, based on a structured set of social relationships among admirers of the brand.”  On the company Twitter, again, we find various tweets from female admirers/consumers of the brand.  When visiting the designer’s personal Twitter account, there are comments from both men and women.  The designer is very engaging with all consumers, creating a personal bond that most consumers do not have with a company.  This could be because it’s a new company and she is actively engaging people in order to drive sales or she is building a brand loyalty by grooming relationships with the community that is beginning to form around the brand.

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There aren’t any sources of resistance, other than, because of their flamboyant, often campy approach to design and slang, they may be omitting an entire audience of heterosexual men who are not comfortable wearing such shirts.  I don’t feel the ‘pretty’ male model helps to attract this demographic either.  I believe that various groups of straight men could be excluded from the brand.  It will be interesting to see if this usually privledged target market will respond and whether or not Momotachi will include them in future collections!  Right now their consumer base is forming with communities that are usually excluded from the privileged target market.  Momotachi’s brand community recalls Muñiz and O’Guinn’s theory that their “intrinsic connection that members feel toward one another, and the collective sense of difference from others not in the community.”  However, within the heterosexual male category, the brand has opportunitties to design collections that attract metro-sexuals, skaters, goths and punks.  The social fluidity within these groups could prove for a strong crossover market for Momotachi.  They have a unique opportunity to access brand citizenship into various societies because their products appeal to various demographics looking for a sense of belonging, whether it be a gay person exerting the freedom to wear products clearly representing their community, women asserting themselves as a bitch thus removing any societal misogynistic meanings behind the word ‘bitch‘ or people simply co-signing on to the transcultural messages behind some of their collections.

Bibliography

Featherstone, Mike. Lifestyle and Consumer Culture. London: Sage 1987 (P. 55)

Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Authentic™: The Politics of Ambivalence in a Brand Culture. New York: New York University Press, 2012. (P. 138)

Canclini, Néstor García. Consumers and Citizens: Globilization and Multicultural Conflicts. University of Minnesota Press, 2001 (P. 91)

Lury, Celia. Consumer Culture. Malden: Polity Press, 2011 (Pp.95, 101)

Muñiz, Albert; O’Guinn, Thomas. Brand Community: Journal of Consumer Research, Inc. Vol. 27, March 2001 (P.412, 413)

Web Links

Momotachi.com

MissTiger.com

FavoriteBitch.com

Facebook.com/FierceTShirt.com

Facebook.com/MissTigerRadio

MisterScandal.com/?tag=momotachi

NewNowNext.com/newnownext-holiday-gift-guide-perfect-presents-for-travelers-and-fashionistas/12/2013/

OUT.com/fashion/truman-says/2013/11/12/daily-crush-werk-it-bitch-t-shirts-momotachi-nsfw

news.RunwayPassport.com/post/69860041038/momotachi-by-khanh-tran-and-miss-tiger-who-is

SaveTheGarmentCenter.org/madeinusa/

SiriusOutQ.com

Twitter.com/FierceTshirt

Twitter.com/MissTiger

TopShop.com

TopMan.com

Uniqlo.com

TheYoungEccentric.blogspot.com/2013/12/abracadabra-nope-youre-still-bitch.html

WerkItBitch.com

Vimeo.com/78962914

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